Gear Review: Darn Tough Vermont Merino Wool Socks

posted in: Gear Reviews, Hiking Gear | 2

Why Buy?

Merino wool is an amazing material. After using it throughout the spring and summer, I was convinced of it’s antibacterial (odor preventing) and wicking properties. Testing mostly socks and shirts in temperatures ranging from the 30s to 90s, I was continually impressed how well merino regulated my body temperature and was especially impressed with how much merino could be worn between washes. For those not familiar with merino wool, Wikipedia has a good summary:

Several properties contribute to merino’s popularity for exercise clothing, compared to wool in general and to other types of fabric:

  • Merino is excellent at regulating body temperature, especially when worn against the skin. The wool provides some warmth, without overheating the wearer. It draws moisture (sweat) away from the skin, a phenomenon known as wicking. The fabric is slightly moisture repellent (keratin fibers are hydrophobic at one end and hydrophilic at the other), allowing the user to avoid the feeling of wetness.[8]
  • Like cotton, wool absorbs water (up to 1/3 its weight), but, unlike cotton, wool retains warmth when wet,[9] thus helping wearers avoid hypothermia after sweating from strenuous exercise or getting rained on when outside.[8]
  • Like most wools, merino contains lanolin, which has antibacterial properties.[10]
  • Merino is one of the softest types of wool available, due to finer fibers and smaller scales.[9]
  • Merino has an excellent warmth-to-weight ratio compared to other wools, in part because the smaller fibers have microscopic cortices of dead air, trapping body heat similar to the way a sleeping bag warms its occupant.[11]

source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Merino

While I was very impressed with the merino socks I used on my High Sierra Trail hike, the training hikes leading up to it, as well as those that followed, I’m always trying to see if there’s something better out there. One company that kept coming up in my discussions regarding socks was Darn Tough Vermont.


My Observations

After talking with Darn Tough several times about their products, I ended up with five pairs of socks – 3 that were provided by Darn Tough and 2 that I purchased with my own funds. From October 2015 though January 2016, I wore Darn Tough socks 3+ days per week, testing socks in the Hike/Trek category. I was so impressed with their hiking socks that I began looking at their other categories to find some socks for everyday use.  From February – May 2016, I tested some of Darn Tough’s “non-hiking” socks, essentially wearing socks from their Run or Work category everyday during this time period. The observations below include notes from my hikes since the end of August 2015 and testing at the gym, work and around the house.

Hiker 1/4 Sock CushionATC Sock Micro Crew Cushion

I found these two models of socks to be very similar. All observations apply to both, unless otherwise noted. While these socks are heavier than I would normally want for everyday use, I wore them to work and to the gym several days per week to test their durability and antibacterial properties. I used the Hiker 1/4 on some of my shorter training hikes (low top shoes) and the ATC Sock Micro Crew Cushion on some long trips (with mid-height or backpacking boots).

  • The Good
    • The antibacterial and odor resistant qualities of these socks are amazing. If I aired them out at night, I found that I could wear them 2 or 3 long days between washes without them stinking or becoming stiff.
    • They are durable. I’ve worn them every week for the last 3 months, usually 3 days in a row without washing. That’s 8 hours at work, an hour in the gym, 4-5 hours after work, much of it in stocking feet.
    • Offer more arch support than the other merino wool socks I’ve tested.
    • On long hikes, I usually prefer socks with more bottom of foot cushioning. I am surprised at how well these socks protect the bottoms of my feet without the bulk. I wore the ATC Sock Micro Crew Cushions on two 20+ mile days (one with over 10,000 ft of elevation gain) and had minimal foot pain.     
  • The Bad 
    • Sticker shock! When you look at the prices of any merino wool products, you’ll notice that they’re expensive. When you consider that these socks have a lifetime warranty and will be replaced if you wear a hole in them though, the cost is justified in my opinion.
    • The bottoms of the Hiker 1/4 initially showed some pilling after the first couple of weeks, but it hasn’t increased since. I believe this is mostly due to wearing the socks with no shoes around the house.
  • The Bottom Line 
    • If you wear trail runners, low to mid height boots, or don’t need ankle cushioning from your hiking socks, these are an excellent socks!

Mountaineering Sock Over-the-Calf Extra Cushion

  • The Good
    • Less bulky than the other full cushion socks I’ve used, while providing the same amount of performance and comfort.
    • I’ve been able to wear them for 2 or 3 warm weather (these are really meant for cold weather) hikes between washes – antibacterial and odor resistant qualities of these socks are amazing.
    • I’ve used them down to 3 degrees with non-insulated boots and they have kept my feet warm. In cold weather, I believe I could wear them 4+ times between washes.
    • No signs of pilling or wear after 60+ miles and some use in the gym.
  • The Bad
    • N/A – when used in their intended environment (cold weather), I see no negatives, not even the price. If you consider the cost of other mountaineering socks and Darn Tough’s performance, the pricing is in line.
  • The Bottom Line
    • If you need mountaineering socks, I highly recommend these. I bought a second pair with my own funds a few weeks ago.

Darn Tough’s “Non-Hiking” Socks

Run
I’ve been using these as “everyday” socks. The models I used were the Vertex Tab No Show Ultra-Light Cushion (style #1769), Double Cross Tab No Show Light Cushion (style #1756) and No Show Ultralight (style #1437). As I transition to using trail runners more for hiking, I believe I will want to use lighter, quicker drying socks. All observations apply to all three models, unless otherwise noted.

  • The Good
    • Lightweight; very breathable and fast drying.
    • Durable; they don’t show any signs of wear after several months of use.
    • The “tabs”  on the Double Cross Tab and Vertex Tab are a nice addition when walking or hiking. The tabs prevent the achilles irritation that can happen with no show socks and makes the socks easier to pull on.
    • I could wear these models for 2 days without washing. I can only wear cotton or synthetic socks for a 1/2 day before they need to be washed.
  • The Bad
    • Sticker shock! When you look at the prices of any merino wool products, you’ll notice that they’re expensive. When you consider that these socks have a lifetime warranty and will be replaced if you wear a hole in them though, the cost is justified in my opinion.
  • The Bottom Line
    • If possible, I’d wear flip-flops all day, every day. For me, the closest I can get is wearing a light, airy sneaker. These socks work very well with these type of shoes. I plan to replace my everyday socks with Darn Tough Running/Endurance socks as my budget allows. If trail runners become my preferred footwear for hiking, I plan to use the Double Cross Tab as my primary hiking socks.
Work

In this category, I tested the Steely Micro Crew Cushion w/ Extra Cushion Toe (style #2007) and Standard Issue Mid-Calf Light Cushion (style #1474). The Steely Micro Crew were very similar to the hiking socks I tested, but with added cushioning in the toe box. They got lots of use on the trail and while I did chores around the house. The Standard Issue is similar to the Run socks in terms of fabric weight, but they rise to mid-calf. I’ve worn them with everything from dress shoes to mid-height hiking boots. All observations apply to both models, unless otherwise noted.

  • The Good
    • Durable; they don’t show any signs of wear after several months of use.
    • I could wear both of these models for two days without washing and possibly push the Steely Micro Crew to a third day, depending on what I was doing while wearing them.
  • The Bad
    • Sticker shock! When you look at the prices of any merino wool products, you’ll notice that they’re expensive. When you consider that these socks have a lifetime warranty and will be replaced if you wear a hole in them though, the cost is justified in my opinion.
  • The Bottom Line
    • The Steely Micro Crew is a great, full cushion hiking sock. The Standard Issue works well for hiking if you’re looking for a lightweight mid-calf sock.

Final (& somewhat random) Thoughts

  • Over the years, I’ve tried socks from various manufacturers, as well as different “models” from those manufacturers. I believe that Darn Tough makes the most durable socks I’ve ever used.
  • In addition to the Mountaineering Sock Over-the-Calf Extra Cushion socks I purchased with my own funds, I also bought a pair of Hiker Boot Sock Full Cushion. In my opinion, these are essentially the ATC Sock Micro Crew Cushion with the added benefit of extra cushioning throughout the ankle area for use with mid height or backpacking boots. These will likely become my go-to socks when I use backpacking boots in warm weather.
  • Darn Tough has the best warranty I have seen – a lifetime, no conditions, no strings attached, 100% guarantee!
  • Lots of companies sell Darn Tough socks online. With a little searching online, you can find them on sale!
  • While I would consider merino wool an expensive option for everyday use, all of my hiking and backpacking socks have been replaced with merino wool. I have also purchased a couple of pairs for gym use.
  • One bonus of using merino wool on a daily basis is less laundry. If you’re conscious of water usage (as most residents of California should be), or just hate doing laundry, it may be something to consider for everyday use.


Disclaimer: The products reviewed in this entry were provided to HikingGeek.com by Darn Tough Vermont.

2 Responses

  1. calvin

    what’s your comparison for the mountaineering socks?

    • TheHikingGeek

      Well the closest thing may be cold weather military/combat book socks. Here’s some things that came up in a quick amazon search.

      1.

      2.

      3.

      4.

      If you look around, I’m guessing you can find the socks above for cheaper than Amazon, but they withing range of the Darn Toughs. I don’t remember which heavyweight Thorlos I was buying for hiking, but they weren’t merino and still cost about $16 per pair. They definitely weren’t as durable as the Darn Toughs.

      The thing that really sells me on Darn Tough is the warranty.