Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Product Review: Smart Wools

Socks are important, just ask Lieutenant Dan. Today's post will be about socks; the Smart Wool brand, in particular. No individual Smart Wool product will be reviewed. Instead Smart Wool's general approach to socks will be discussed. There are many varieties of Smart Wool socks, as the picture below shows.

Smart Wools typically look like the picture on the left. The more dapper hiker may opt for the sock on the right. The average hiking sock costs about $18.95. A bit steep for a pair of socks, but this is one instance where the cost is reflected in the quality. Smart Wool's are knitted from merino wool with a small percentage of synthetic material added for elasticity at the top and around the middle of the foot.

The merino wool is the real key. Merino is quite a remarkable material. It is temperature regulating to keep the foot warm, however it is breathable and does not overheat the wearer. Merino is a naturally wicking fiber, meaning it draws sweat away from the body. In the event the socks do get wet, they will retain water without sacrificing the warmth of the foot. Cotton socks become useless when wet. Merino wool contains lanolin, a fatty substance naturally occurring in wool. Lanolin is naturally antibacterial, preventing problems with the feet during long hikes -- and also limiting odor.

Smart Wool offers a wide array of options, including youth sizes. Pictured below is the kids' hike. As with the adult sizes, the kids variety comes in small, medium, and large as well as many different colors. Obviously this is a product a young camper will out grow, but they'll grow out of all their socks, so they might as well have a strong product for camp.

Generic brand options exist. REI has a similar product for a few dollars less. EMS also offers a merino wool hiking sock. The difference between the store brands and the Smart Wools is the percentage of merino wool in the blend. The REI and EMS socks add a higher percentage of synthetic fibers. Buy a pair of each and see how they hold up over a few summers worth of hiking trips and washes.

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