Outdoor Retail Gear Trends: 2016 Socks

Check out the top trends and products in socks headed for outdoor retail shelves in 2016.

Are those compression socks? Or, do they have graduated compression?

Yes, even outdoor socks have their own technical lingo. And, indeed, medical-grade graduated compression and compression knits are two different, independent styles.

For 2016, a wave of these varying compression styles weave their way into hosiery product lines, alongside other breakthrough recovery features, including an emphasis on fine-gauge knit counts, and even recycled cotton.

For year-round professional and athletic use, Vim & Vigr debuts the graduated Compression Leg Sleeve (MSRP $25), an above-the-ankle to below-the-knee option with 50 to 20 mmHg (that’s the amount of compression) with 75-percent moisture-wicking polyester. Then there’s the lightweight, super-thin 440 needle count Versatile.


“Compression versus graduated compression: It’s a misnomer that’s being used too much and has become ubiquitous,” said Vim & Vigr Founder Michelle Huie, who approves and lists all of the company’s pairs with the Food and Drug Administration in order “to bring home the product claim.”

Verification methods for graduated compression socks also include third-party testing facilities — such as Manufacturing Solutions Center in North Carolina — knitting the socks with specific medical-stocking manufacturing machines, and working alongside physicians to create and test designs. Also, physician prescribed pairs are reimbursable under a Flexible Spending Account (FSA) and some health care providers.

“Medical compression terminology is used very loosely in the market and there’s no governance, validation or testing methodology to use the term ‘medical grade compression,’” said Brandt Furgerson, Director of CEP North America. “We manufacture our products under ISO standard, which we live by because we’re a medical manufacturing company.” CEP Compression Sportswear launches the knee-high Progressive Outdoor Light Merino (MSRP $60), a lightweight merino-wool-blended sock with a three-prong approach — medical-grade compression, consistent over-the-calf pressure and targeted compression in the ankle and foot — in a slimmer design that isn’t easy to nail down. While cutting weight, the compression profile needs to maintain consistency and durability, and when a new yarn is introduced, the recipe is altered.

“It might take us 6 or 7 months to find a new design with a new yarn because with each yarn supplier, consistency and color could require us to change our compression profile to combine it with a medical design,” Furgerson said.

Also employing recovery technology, Lorpen North America spotlights Innergy — a nylon microfiber with “far infrared ray” (FIR) properties that claim to help improve blood flow and reduce lactic acid for muscle recovery post exercise. Find it in the new LorpeNRG T3 socks (MSRPs $12-$35), which include a variety of ultra trail running and light hiker pairs and a graduated compression calf sleeve.


“We step out of the athletic realm for a second with the calf sleeve, and it can be matched up with any sock that works well with your footwear, which gives great recovery for travel and standing at trade shows,” said Bruce Barrows, Lorpen VP of Sales and Marketing. “We’re seeing more excitement in the versatility of use of a product rather than a specialty product.”

In a similar thread, Zensah introduces Innergy in the Ski Sock (MSRP $40) with shin-bang prevention padding.

Applying targeted pressure, Falke releases the knee-high Impulse Running sock with silicone nodules that stimulate fascia sensors in the foot soles and calves to help supination, overpronation, posture and movement. Preventing friction blisters with a Drynamix Mohair footbed, Balega International adds vibrant colors to the Blister Resist in no-show, quarter and crew cuts (MSRPs $13-$15). With a dual lifestyle-sport focus Sockwell brings the Plantar Ease Sport Quarter for women and men (MSRP $20), showcasing Plantar Fasciitis Relief Technology: A compressive fit that grips and supports the plantar fascia and Achilles tendon, like an ace bandage, to help soothe foot pain.


Fine-gauge knit socks are also sweeping over the foot scene. Icebreaker establishes a range of 200-gauge low profiles including the Women’s Lifestyle Mini radius and Men’s Lifestyle Crew Approach (MSRPs $18-$20) with a lifestyle and travel crossover. The series, coined the Art of Nature, is illustrated by artist Bill Carden-Horton, who drew his inspiration from sketchbooks that he filled while road-tripping around New Zealand. With lightweight, merino wool fibers the pairs compliment globetrotting.


“From the perspective of the indie-traveler, merino has a wash-dry wear combined with being lightweight, so it’s a brilliant combination,” said Mark Koppes, Icebreaker vice president of product. “The line is fun because when you peel it back there’s a lot of intention behind the design. We asked if Bill could do this road trip series for us and be a part of a wider message, which falls deeper into this idea of the adventure travel consumer: The person that wants to carry the smallest possible bag and has a few cool pieces to wear.”

Farm to Feet releases the densely stitched Damascus (MSRPs $17-$24) for hiking with crew and quarter-crew cuts and varying cushions. Feetures! expands its high-density knit High Performance 2.0 (MSRP $12) with limited-edition stripe designs. And knitting 1,441 stitches per square inch, Darn Tough Vermont queues up the super-durable Vertex (MSRPs $15-$18) for ultra, marathon and 5k runners.


“The Vertex protects against blisters and absorbs sweat but is only 13 grams per sock, which is 27 percent lighter than our current existing Ultra Light. It’s the idea that you don’t even know it’s there — we were able to leave only what is truly needed,” said Brian Brand, Darn Tough Vermont director of marketing.

Taking a unique route, United By Blue designs the Bartrams Socks (MSRP $12) with recycled cotton, plus polyester and spandex. The recycled cotton is sourced from factory scraps and post-consumer cotton garments, which compliments the environmental benefits gained by sourcing organic cotton. Committed to water cleanups and sustainable production, United By Blue’s in-house organization removes one pound of trash from oceans and waterways for every product sold.

“Using responsible, durable goods is the governing doctrine of what we do with our product making,” said Founder Brian Linton. “The importance of reusing cotton is that we’re not creating anything new and, in many ways, we’re reducing the need to use pesticides and fertilizers, again.”

Finally, it’s just not outdoor enthusiasts clamoring for performance socks these days. Point6 has received steady calls from manual laborers, workers, army affiliates and tradesfolk for its durable, moisture-wicking Boot line (MSRP $22-$25). So, the brand heightened the collection from a crew-cut to a mid-calf, just above the boot.


--Morgan Tilton



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