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Hiking Sock Field Test
By Rhett Olson

Imagine this.... You spent all yesterday on the Idaho Montana Border trail, and have just woken up from your first night of sleep. You poke your head out of your $500 down sleeping bag. It's rainy and cold. Good thing you have your $50 dollar Capaline underwear, $600 tent, $500 jacket and pants. You dress, then before slipping on your $200 pair of boots, you reach to the bottom of your bag for a pair of $2.50 cotton tube socks. Cotton tube socks? Not bad for basketball, but this is hiking, and cotton wonít cut it. Because the condition of your feet is so closely tied to your overall comfort, it only makes sense to spend the extra ten bucks on a pair of good socks. But what constitutes a good pair of hiking socks?

At GearReview.com, we feel that a good sock possesses a few essential qualities. One, and most importantly, it should be comfortable. Two, it should be tough. Three, it should keep moisture away from the skin. And four, it should be comfortable.

For the last several months, our field test crew has put some of the best hiking socks to the test. Although each manufacturer makes several types of socks, we opted for two sock types from each company based on the weight, or thickness of the socks. Our selection criteria favored socks designed for day to multi-day hiking or backpacking trips, and expedition weight socks designed for longer trips, mountaineering, or cold weather.

We reviewed the following Socks:
Smartwool Light Hiker
Thorlos Light Hiking
Fox River Outdoor
The North Face Trekking Sock
Dahlgren Hiking
Wigwam Outlast Hiker
Smartwool Expedition Trekking
Thorlos Trekking
Fox River Athletic: High Volume
The North Face Mountain Sock
Dahlgren Expedition

Hiking Weight

Smartwool Light Hiker

Smartwool claims to select only the highest grade Merino wool for extra comfort. Our experience suggests they have selected well--their Merino wool makes the Light Hiker very comfortable. Our testers found themselves wearing these socks not only with their boots, but with their casual shoes also.

Steve said that he liked the Smartwool socks and couldn't find anything negative to say about them. They were comfortable, didn't retain sweat, and fit well. However, he consistently found himself choosing the Thorlo or Fox River socks over the SmartWools. When pinned down for a reason, he said he preferred a thicker sock (Thorlo), but in the lighter socks he felt the Fox River socks kept his feet dryer longer.


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Thorlos Light Hiking

Light seems to be a bit of an over statement. While the Light Hiking socks are thinner than Thorlos hefty Trekking socks, I donít think any of Thorlo's socks could be categorized as light. The Light Hiking socks come in two versions. One made of CoolMax for warm conditions, and the other in ThermaStat for cooler weather. Both versions make use of Nylon and Spandex to secure the sock around the padded heel and toe. However, of all the hiking weight socks, these seemed slip around in the shoe most.

On the packaging, Thorlo gives suggestions for fitting your Thorlo socks with your boots. They suggest wearing your Thorlos when you try on your new pair of boots. For existing boots, you may find that the Thorlos are too thick, causing your boots to fit tightly. All of our reviewers reiterated this after their testing. Thorlo socks are very padded and bulky, so they may not fit in a shoe or boot that fits fine with other socks, so be careful of buying Thorlos with existing boots. Buy them when you buy new boots.

Thorlo socks consistently rated the most durable of all the socks we've tried. That extra padding seems to extend the life of the sock, giving you longer life for your money.


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Fox River Outdoor

The GearReview.com staff spends lots of time filed testing for Outfitter and for the web site in all kinds of outdoor activities. Over that time we have worn lots of different socks. However, none of our testers had tried Fox River socks prior to this review. And as any dedicated gear head knows, its always exciting to try a new brand.

Fox River's Outdoor sock is a thinner sock suitable for use in hiking or casual boots (not as thin as the North Face Trekking Sock but thinner than the Thorlo Light Hikers). The Outdoor uses a stretchy band around the arch of the foot to hold the sock in place. From the heel to the top of the toe is a thicker weave giving ample padding. The top of the foot is covered by a thinner weave that increases breathability.

Steve noted that the although the Outdoor was thinner than some of the socks, especially the Thorlos, they kept his feet just as dry and fit comfortably with just about every shoe he had. He also stated that the Fox River was the most versatile sock, working well in everything from backpacking to running, to everyday use at home or at the office. He suggested that if he had to choose just one pair of socks across all his activities, the Fox River Outdoor would be his choice.


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The North Face Trekking Sock

The Trekking sock, TNF's first entry into the hiking sock market, is well thought out. It is 11 inches tall and is no thicker than a regular cotton tube. The North Face employs a panel system to achieve an extremely fitted sock. Additional padding in the toe and heel, along with a Teflon knit gives superior protection against blisters. Elastic panels above the heel and around the arch of the feet keep the sock from shifting in your boots. The superior fit of this sock makes it a great choice for particularly active sports such as fastpacking or trail running.

Our reviewers found no wear in either the heel or toe after months of continuous wear. The Trekking sock is tough and comfortable. Overall, it offers the best fit of all the socks in the review.

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Dahlgren Hiking

Straight out of the box, I felt the Dahlgren socks were the most comfortable of the bunch. With a blend of wool, Duraspun Smart Yarn and stretch nylon, Dahlgren uses their patented ClimatKnit System to transfer moisture from the toe of the sock to the ankles, above the boot where it can then evaporate. To do this, the sock has panels of fibers and knits that allow the moisture to be drawn from one panel to another until it reaches the upper ankle.

All of the testers found the system very functional, keeping their feet dry, comfortable, and blister free. Despite their initial comfort, we did find two things we didn't like. First, we wore out the heels of several pair. This occurred after rigorous wear over a period of several months, however. We did not find similar wear in the Thorlos or The North Face socks after similar usage.

Second was that the comfort level seamed to diminish with use. After every washing, the socks became a little more scratchy and less supple. Although the socks didn't wear as long as the others reviewed, our reviewers felt the stiffer sock was still a fair tradeoff for their moisture management.


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Wigwam Outlast Hiker

Wigwam came upon a great idea when they decided to put Outlast in a pair of socks. Outlast is a termperature-regulating technology built-in to the Wigwam socks. Theoretically, it would make them perfect for use in both cold and warm weather. To an extent this worked. But once you really get going, your feet are going to sweat. Once wet, the sock preformed poorly. It left testersí feet hot and wet.

Testers also noticed the Outlast Hiker consistently slipped down off the calf and bunched around the ankle. I think weíve all had a pair of socks that do that. Uncomfortable.

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Expedition Weight

Smartwool Expedition Trekking

Much like the Light Hiker, this sock is Merino wool and virtually bomb proof. When ranking socks by favorites, Jeff said he put them right under the Thorlos.

I was partially taken back to my rag wool sock days after wearing these for a while. The Smartwool socks are far more comfortable, but they seemed to sweat my feet as the rag wool did. After a few blister infested trips, I got smart. I picked up a Smartwool liner and wore it in combination with the Expedition Trekking sock. It worked like a dream. The blistering stopped and I found the sock/liner combination to be very comfortable.

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Thorlos Trekking

A majority of the testers found the Trekking sock to be the best sock for mountaineering and extended use they have found. Jeff said they offer loads of padding in the heel and toe. He said he has never had a blister while wearing these socks, where other socks in the same boots produced blistering. I liked them but wouldnít put them at the top of my list for one reason. For me, they are too bulky, allowing bunching at the heel. However, their sheer durability is uncontested. And, despite the bulk they did do a fine job at wicking moisture away from the skin.

Steve also ranked this sock as his favorite. He wears the Trekking sock for everything from day hikes to extended backpacking trips and winter outings--just about any activity that requires boots rather than lightweight shoes. Steve did note that he couldn't wear the Thorlos until he got a new pair of boots 1/2 size larger than normal. In his existing boots, the thickness made the boots fit just too tight.

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Fox River Athletic: High Volume

Although these are considered "athletic" socks, we found the use of a CoolMax Teflon padded heel and toe, and left/right specific foot bed construction very suitable for use as an extended wear, expedition weight sock. Their feel is so soft it is hard to believe they are so durable.

Hailing from the Fox River Wick Dry series, these socks do what they say. Testers found they did an excellent job managing foot moisture. This was a popular sock with the test crew.

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The North Face Mountain Sock

The Mountain sock looks and feels just like the Trekking Sock. In fact the only thing different to us was the 13 inch length and darker color. There are technical differences, such as a lower knit count and added ThermaStat for warmth, but they made little difference. Our testers all preferred having a beefy expedition weight sock for extended wear and mountaineering. Therefore, this sock didnít rate highly with our crew. However, all agreed that if you prefer a thin mountaineering sock, the Mountain sock is highly fitted, very durable, breathable and seemed to be blister resistant.

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Dahlgren Expedition

With the same ClimatKnit System, the Dahlgren Expedition offers all of the initial comfort found in the hiking sock in a robust expedition weight sock. I instantly took a liking to them and longed to wear them the whole while I was testing other socks.

While wearing a big boot such as the Montrail Moraign AT, they did an excellent job of wicking the sweat up and away from my feet. Steve also commented that his feet felt great while wearing the socks and seemed to be less prone to blistering. And, unlike the Dahlgren Hiking sock, we had no problems with durability.

Although both Jeff and Steve picked the Thorlo Trekking sock to be their favorite, I have to go with the Dahlgren Expeditions because of their comfort and superior moisture management. Steve felt the Dahlgren was a close second choice to the Thorlo, and prefers the Dahlgren with existing boots, which aren't large enough to fit with the Thorlos.

Rhett Olson is a Contributing Editor at GearReview.com.


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