I always advise people, if they want to have a comfortable outdoor adventure, to focus firstly on your back and feet. If you are wearing a poorly fitting rucksack you will soon know about it – especially if you have significant weight on board.
Similarly, what you wear on your feet is extremely important. Footwear needs to be comfortable, protective and supportive because, if you have poorly fitting boots or shoes, then soon enough you will find that to be the only thing you can focus on.
Finally, what goes inside your shoes is crucial and so I always advise people not to scrimp on socks. They keep your feet warm, wick moisture when you are building up sweat, cushion your feet from impact and help to prevent blister causing friction. They are a vital piece of equipment.
Of course, there are lots of other bits of equipment that are important too, but thinking about your feet and back is vital. Besides that, how you wear your socks and what type of socks you choose is also surprisingly important. Your needs will vary according to the time of year, the type of activity undertaken and the footwear choice, but should always be considered.
Sometimes I wear a thin wicking liner sock with a midweight sock on top and at other times I wear a much thicker sock for summit days or cold winter excursions. I also vary between a shorter or longer length option depending on the type and ankle height of footwear. If you like doing a broad range of different activities you will often end up with quite an impressive sock selection.
Sock manufacturers also know that outdoor users need various types and so, if you go into your local gear shop, you’ll be likely to see a wall stacked out with socks in various colours, in different lengths and thicknesses and made from various materials. The choice can be quite overwhelming.
So, we thought we’d help. At Peak Mountaineering we get to use a lot of different socks and, as summer is here, we thought we’d take a look at five brands whose socks we use a lot and whose products we turn too again and again. Here, put simply, is five of our favourite sock brands and models for your summer adventures. For each manufacturer we tested a men’s and women’s sock type and here is what we think……
Regular readers of the Peak Mountaineering blog will know that we are big fans of Patagonia. Their products are great and their environmental ethos is without compare. We have used their socks a lot and really rate them. They only have a few models in their sock range, but as is usual with socks there is lots of crossover between the models available. For this test Cal has been wearing their Daily Quarter model and I’ve been trying their Everyday socks.
Patagonia use Merino wool for all their socks. They produce them in US factories using responsibly sourced wool and combine the Merino with nylon to help with durability, wickability and to help them keep their shape. Merino is naturally odour repellent, wicks moisture well, is warm for its weight and wears well.
Cal – I’ve been using Patagonia Daily Quarter socks. As the name suggests, they are a low cut sock designed for regular use. Patagonia combine 10% nylon with Merino which helps with wicking and helps them keep their shape. They really have kept their shape so far (I’ve been wearing them for several months) and are also still looking as good as new despite regular use for cycling, walking in approach shoes and gym visits. I really like these socks.
Paul – I’ve been using the Patagonia Lightweight Daily Crew Socks. Patagonia describe them as durable and comfortable for everyday wear and that is certainly my experience. A few months of regular wear and they are still looking as good as new. I have tended to use them as everyday socks, but also use them when wearing approach shoes and so they get pretty regular off the beaten track use too. They are very comfortable and the combination of Merino wool and 10% nylon means they keep their shape well. They also seem to wick really well and still smell fresh at the end of a long day. The ones I have have some ankle top stripes and a coloured heel and toe box and I also think they look really good.
Bridgedale need little introduction. Their website describes them as a ‘global market leader in the design and manufacture of technical socks.’ As they are widely available in over 40 countries, that sounds about right. Bridgedale are also the sock brand we have most experience with (we’ve both used their socks for years) and so, inevitably, they are the benchmark by which the others in this test are judged. They have been in business since the early 1980’s and are still based in their original factory in Northern Ireland.
Bridgedale offer socks for a very wide range of activities – infact, they now have over 500 styles in their range. By any standards, this is an amazing selection. Bridgedale focus on fit, durability and performance and their socks feature a lifetime guarantee.
Cal – I’ve using Bridgedale’s Hike Lightweight T2 model. Described by Bridgedale as a non wool sock for all day hiking in warm weather, the Hike is constructed from Coolmax (Polyester), Nylon and Elastane. The ones I have used are ankle height. I was unsure how these would perform in warm conditions, but I soon found that I needn’t have worried – Coolmax is renowned for it’s moisture wicking qualities and the socks have held their shape extremely well throughout a broad range of activity. The T2 described in the sock title refers to Bridgedale’s anti shock cushioning which is a clever system where an inner fabric loop is combined with an outer loop and this is said to provide a higher level of impact protection. I can’t honestly say this means a lot when you are wearing them except to say that they certainly cushion your foot well even after many hours on the go. A great sock that certainly matches up to other Bridgedale’s I have used.
Paul – I was sent some of the Bridgedale Hike Midweight socks in a rather jazzy light and dark blue colour. They are a calf length sock. These socks are a combination of New Wool, Merino Wool, Nylon, Endurofil (Polypropylene) and Elastane. The socks, as the name suggests, are a midweight model and they have plenty of padding for use with walking boots and over longer distances. They wick moisture well, have stayed impressively pong free when used for long days and they are holding their shape really well. The Hike’s are up there with the best socks I have ever used.
Darn Tough are a specialist producer of socks based in Vermont, USA. They pride themselves on keeping their sock production in house and they are very clear about the benefits of managing their own production – their website states “nobody ever outsourced anything for quality.” A great ethos. What I also like is that they are a family business – infact, with over 40 years of production under their belt, they are better described as a very long standing family business.
Darn Tough have a broad range of models catering for many activities. They use Merino wool as they believe that is the best material and they are focussed on responsible sourcing. Their website explains that their ethos is to hold material suppliers to the highest standards of scrutiny and to ensure the sheep from which the wool is obtained aren’t subject to the practice of ‘mulesing’. This is a controversial technique where strips of wool-bearing skin are removed from around the breech (buttocks) of a sheep to prevent parasitic infection. Darn Tough are also leading players in the formation of the Responsible Wool Standard (RWS) which is an emerging international standard focussed on ensuring goo animal care, responsible land management and supply chain traceability. It is also important to mention that they back all products with a comprehensive guarantee.
This brand is relatively new to us and yet we’d kept hearing great things about their products. Infact, when we asked our Facebook users to comment on favourite sock brands, it was Darn Tough that was raved about most. We certainly haven’t been disappointed either. We tested some of their Hiker 1/4 Sock Cushion model.
Cal – I read up on these socks and the online reviews are gushing. Darn Tough say these are designed for long days on the trail and, although I haven’t yet been lucky enough to take them for a lap of the Appalachian Trail, they have covered considerable mileage since I received them. They are faultless. The fit is awesome, the construction quality is superb and they make an ideal warm weather trekking sock. They have become the ones which, when you look at the sock selection in your drawer, you always seem to find yourself pulling them out first!
Paul – As for Cal, I have used these socks for plenty of hot weather walking in various types of footwear. They strike a great balance of warmth and cushioning and I also really like the styling. I have to say that I also really wanted to like these socks because I’m always drawn to any brand with a back story of being a family business making ethically produced products. Luckily, liking them wasn’t difficult at all. A great product.
Smartwool is another brand that make a very broad range of socks designed for many activities. The company started way back in 1994 when some avid skiers wanted to create a better sock to keep their toes warm in frigid temperatures. They realised that nothing could beat the unique properties of Merino and it easily out performed the synthetic materials being used at the time. They experimented for a while but, in due course, the first Merino ski sock was born. The industry has never looked back.
Smartwool combine quality construction with careful attention to great fit and top quality materials. They combine responsibly sourced wool with a transparent supply chain and feel confident in their products to offer a 2 year no quibble guarantee – If you aren’t happy for any reason they will take the socks back. We have both been trialling their Hike Medium Crew model.
Cal – Smartwool are very familiar to me as I’ve been using their products for years. I have always valued their fit and durability. This model is designed to be durable enough for rugged day hikes and moderate backpacking and combines an arch brace (to hold the sock in place) and a flat-knit toe seam for maximum comfort. I have found them to be spot on for walking and general wear. The medium thickness hits a sweet spot between offering enough warmth and impact absorption without being over thick. They won’t be warm enough to winter (for me at least), but as a Spring to Autumn model they are very hard to beat.
Paul – Smartwool are another brand producing products in their home country (USA) and I support their conviction that this allows them to control the quality of their products. These socks are really well made. The socks are constructed from 66% Merino, 33% Nylon and 1% Elastane. This combination allows a good combination of durability and a stretchy fit which, given the addition of Elastane, fits snugly around the foot. They feel cosy on the feet and yet somehow still allow your feet not to become over warm in summer conditions. Another hit from Smartwool.
Injinji is a California based toe sock company formed by a group of adventurers. They have been making socks since 1999 and they offer a broad range of styles and colours for both men and women.
First appearances will soon show you that Injinji socks are something different – all their socks offer individual toe pockets. This, they say, has several advantages. Wrapping up your toes individually allows your feet to splay naturally and align properly which, they say, enables greater stability and comfort. They also say that, with each toe protected, skin on skin friction is reduced which eliminates the risk of blisters and hot spots. Finally, wrapping up each toe is said to help moisture wicking. We both tested their Performance Trail model which are made from a combo of Coolmax (Polyester), Nylon (Polyamide) and Lycra.
Cal – These felt a little weird at first and yet I soon got to grips with having my toes enclosed. Infact, once I did get used to them I have come to love this idea. I have used the socks a lot inside my running shoes and approach shoes and they feel very comfortable and well cushioned. I had wondered if the additional thickness created by having a fabric layer around every toe would widen my feet and cause them to be squashed into my shoes, but in reality I haven’t noticed this being a problem at all.
Paul – I felt pretty self conscious revealing these socks to my friends – I guess they are quite different to the sort thing I’d usually choose. But, once they are on I must say that the Injinji’s are a revelation. They are really onto something with that individual toe box design. I have worn these socks for running, mountain biking and plenty of everyday use. I really find myself pulling these out of my sock draw more and more and will definitely be using more from this brand.
It has been a real pleasure to wear every one of these products and, while all and any will perform really well, there are definitely some unique features being incorporated into some models and the choice of materials is also interesting. They are all premium products that will last well, won’t let you down and although you might outlay a little more for them at first, they will pay back in long term wear and the various manufacturers comprehensive guarantees. Oh, and we will be publishing a winter sock choice blog post a bit later in the year too – please watch this space.
Reviewed and posted by Paul and Cal