Gear Test: Merino vs. Synthetic Socks

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written by Kelly Bauer

Have you ever walked into a store with just one thing on your list: socks? Or maybe you’re buying some socks as a gift. “This should be easy” you say to yourself. Then you walk back to the socks and realize there seem to be an infinite number of choices. How do you choose between the different weights, fabrics, and styles? When buying a quality pair of socks you want to know that you’re investing your money wisely. How will the sock handle moisture management? What about elasticity? Durability? And of course, odor control. The Summiteers want to help you feel confident when buying your next hiking socks and to do this we decided to perform a field test. As the primary investigator I wore the same mismatched pair of socks for 12 days straight and kept a journal to record data on how each sock performed.

Research Parameters:

On my right foot, I wore a merino wool-blend hiking sock. On my left foot, I wore a synthetic fabric hiking sock. My test was done in the high desert of southwest Utah. The areas I was in ranged from very sandy to rocky and snowy. To evaluate the socks performance I collected data on four qualities using the following questions:

  1. Durability – Do the socks show signs of wear, including pilling, holes, stray threads, and has the general shape of sock changed?
  2. Comfort – Do the socks cause any rubbing or pinching resulting in irritation or blisters?
  3. Smell – How do the socks smell? Is there a distinct difference between socks? 
  4. Moisture Management – Is there a measurable difference in the weight of the sock from the beginning of the day to the end? *

* Socks were weighed at the beginning of the trial to establish a base-line weight and then weighed at the beginning and end of each day to asses moisture retention as a means of evaluating how well each sock is able to wick moisture and allow adequate evaporation.

The trial began December 24th, 2015 and ended January 4th, 2016. Temperatures ranged from the teens after sunset to the mid-forties during the day. When I do expeditions, I always keep a separate pair of socks for sleeping in my bag so I did not wear the test pairs overnight.  Overnight, I kept my day socks in my sleeping bag to keep them warm. I weighed my socks each morning with a scale before wearing them and weighed them again at night. On days that we hiked or my feet got particularly sweaty, I weighed them once immediately after taking them off then again after drying them by the fire. The smell of the socks was evaluated by an independent party four times during the trial period: after 3 days, after 6 days, after 9 days, and a final test after 12 days. This was conducted as a blind test where the independent party was blindfolded and asked to smell each sock and provide tasting notes. I made personal notes on the durability and comfort of the socks on each of the four review days when smell tests were conducted. I wore my socks a majority of the days with a few exceptions when the weather stayed in the forties. For shoes, I wore a combination of Chaco Z1 sandals and Salewa Gore-Tex Mountain Trainers boots.

My Results:

SocksGraph

Additional Notes and Conclusions:

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Wool sock after 12 days

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Synthetic sock after 12 days

By the last couple days, the most noticeable difference was how much shape the synthetic sock had lost. I was frequently pulling it up to prevent rubbing and blisters. Had I not been wearing chacos in the sand this may have been less of an issue as the sand moved the sock around and added abrasion. What surprised me the most was the odor control of the wool sock. On the last day I had multiple testers smell the sock and none of them were able to even tell when the sock was in front of their face. My partner was in such disbelief that he tried smelling the wool socks as well and also could not see any noticeable difference. The synthetic sock did really well with odor but was still noticeable. In terms of weight, the synthetic sock added a total of .81 ounces and the wool a total of .31 ounces. Which means my feet stayed dryer in the merino sock and were less prone to blisters. A majority of the weight in the synthetic sock was added immediately after wearing them and then steadily climbed from there. On the occasions when I had to dry my socks because they were so wet, they seemed to have very similar rates of water retention.

Most people don’t wear their socks twelve days in a row and with proper care the life of a sock can be measured in years not days. Our aim was to push these socks to their limits to give you confidence in choosing the right socks for your adventures.We also want to hear your feedback to add to our research. What has been your experience with socks? Share your sock stories online on our facebook page or stop in to the store, we’d love to see you and your socks.

 

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