It can be confusing to understand the true differences between socks when comparing multiple brands or even styles from the same brand.
“We make socks on over a half dozen different types of machines,” said David Petri, Farm to Feet’s VP of Marketing. “The amount of wool in a sock, the fiber micron, and various other details can vary widely between styles.”
Thanks to wool’s popularity in the outdoor market, consumers are fairly well educated on the benefits of merino wool. What they might not be aware of is the range in merino wool grades. Any wool that is less than 24-micron is considered merino. The smaller the micron, or diameter of the fiber, the more crimps it has per inch and the finer, softer, more itch-free, durable, and expensive the yarn is.
Another number that more manufacturers are publicizing is a sock’s needle count. The needle count refers to the number of needles on the inside of the knitting machine’s cylinder. The high the needle count, the tighter the knit structure and the finer gauge yarn required to knit on the machine. Beyond the needles there are also different cylinder sizes which require different weight yarns and produce different styles of socks.
As an example, Farm to Feet knits its Boulder series of traditional hiking socks with a 22-micron yarn on a 108 needle machine and its lightweight technical hiking socks with a 19.5-micron yarn on a 200 needle machine.
The composition of materials listed on packaging is often confusing to customers. Sock packaging lists the multiple fibers used to knit the sock, but they aren’t necessarily blended or twisted together to make the yarns. For instance, in a pair of Farm to Feet wool socks with 80 percent merino wool, the body yarn is made from 100 percent pure U.S. merino wool. The rest of the sock is comprised of other fibers that make up the skeletal, reinforcement, and elastic yarns, like nylon and spandex.
Stitches per Inch
Every stitch in a sock can include between two and four yarns. Skeletal yarns are often added or dropped out of stitches to create compression, cushioning, and reinforcement zones and are generally not included in a stitch count. Stitches per square inch, or stitch count, usually only applies to the number of body yarn stitches in one square inch, however some manufactures include additional yarns in their count.
The importance of stitches per square inch is how it affects a sock’s cross stretch or tension. A sock with a higher stitch count has tighter stitches resulting in less cross stretch and a tighter fit. A sock with a lower stitch count has a more relaxed and less restrictive fit.
“All these factors are intertwined,” said Petri. “When we develop a sock, the machine we select will, in part, determine the fiber micron and yarn gauge needed, the stitch count, and depending on the design, the final composition of the materials.”
While comparing wool socks by their packaging may not always be apples to apples, they are all bit like an apple pie. The results are heavenly when all the ingredients are perfect and it’s cooked to perfection.
However, if socks were actually like apple pies, you would also need to consider a different oven, pie tin, and crust type for every new recipe.