Mixing merino: In a crowded field, sock brands hunt for wool’s perfect partner

These days, practically every sock company uses merino in its winter performance line. So how can brands get a leg up? For many, the answer is in the fibers they choose to mix with merino.
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Throughout the next month, SNEWS will recap its coverage of Outdoor Retailer Winter Market 2013 with select stories from the O.R. Daily we published at the show Jan. 23-26. It’s an opportunity for you to catch up on stories you might have missed in O.R.D., and for us to update and upload the articles to our searchable archives.

These days, practically every sock company uses merino in its winter performance line. So how can brands get a leg up? For many, the answer is in the fibers they choose to mix with merino.

Designers continue to hunt for the best textiles and formulas to complement merino without compromising its warmth-to-weight ratio, wicking power and temperature-regulation benefits.

“Consumers are spending more time on socks and really taking the time to understand what’s going into it. Slight differences are noticed,” said Tanya Pictor, vice president of Balega Outdoor and Falke.

Balega Outdoor builds on its Moh-rino mix — merino and mohair — with the mid-calf, full cushion Moh-rino Performance Crew (MSRP $17). Point6 launches the Pulse Collection, a combo of merino and Celliant — a composite of minerals that claim to absorb and recycle infrared energy from the body to promote blood flow and oxygenation — in seven styles. It includes the ultra light, non-cushioned Pulse Celliant Compression OTC (MSRP $40), geared towards ultrarunning and triathletes, and the Pulse Celliant Extra Light Crew (MSRP $19) for backpacking and hiking with mesh insteps and extra-light cushion underfoot. Falke provides the ski racing, lightweight, body-mapped SK4 Falke Pro Race (MSRP $35) with polypropylene, merino and silk, and adds the winter hiking TKStabilizer (MSRP $28) with wool and nylon, left/right fits, and supportive crossbrace knitting.


Balega Moh-rino Performance CrewPoint6 Pulse Celliant Compression OTC

GT_WinterSocks_Balega_MerinoPerformanceCrew.jpg

For the first time, Wigwam knits merino into its Ultimax Pro Series with the midweight, shin-cushioned merino Air Flow Pro (MSRP $18), and the company premieres its winter trail or road running sock, the Merino Ridge Runner (MSRP $14), with seamless toe closure and breathable mesh insteps.


Wigwam Ultimax Air Flow Pro

Merino isn’t the only staple this winter season. Compression continues to gain ground in both performance and lifestyle categories. In the Peak Series, Fox River debuts Helix Fit Volumetric Compression in light- to midweight crew and quarter crew cuts, including the Stowe Lite (MSRP $17) and women’s Laurel (MSRP $19), with 8-15mmHg of continuous foot/leg compression.


Fix River Laurel

“People are looking for the next thing to give them a little bit of edge during their performance. Compression is that answer,” said Fox River’s Mike Tyer.

“For people that are active all the time, recovery is a big incentive to them after and during performance.”

Lorpen provides the Compression Calf Sleeve (MSRP $40-46) to pair with its Trilayer sport-specific socks. In casual wear, Sockwell releases the therapeutic performance Circulator Metatarsal Cushion (MSRP $25), graduated compression with 15-20mmHg metatarsal cushioning, which is meant to replace internal shoe modifiers.


Lorpen Compression Calf Sleeve Sockwell Circulator Metatarsal Cushion

GT_WinterSocks_Sockwell_MetatarsalCushion.jpg

New to the industry, Vim and Vigr introduces lifestyle knee-high compression socks for women in 10 styles, wool or nylon, including argyle, stripe and chevron in various colorways (MSRPs $28-$32).

For snow sports, SmartWool responds to a growing backcountry audience with the PhD Backcountry (MSRP $30), which has contour ankle and multidensity shin cushioning, and 4-Degree Elite Fit System, with bi-elastic stretch recovery. Darn Tough Vermont recreates the ultra-light ski sock in the F5 (MSRP $27), with strategic pads against the metatarsal, navicular, ankle, Achilles and shin. Dahlgren alters the knee-high Expedition to release the X2 (MSRP $26), with equal parts merino and alpaca absorption zones and toe-heel cushioning.
To satisfy demands for attractive multi-functional socks, several companies expand hues and patterns in sport and lifestyle lines.


SmartWool PhD Backcountry

“Our consumers want more color and patterns, so we’ll be shifting the outdoor core to have more turn over,” said Dahlgren President Kris Dahlgren. Dahlgren adds a targeted underfoot cushion, bright accents and stripes to its lightweight Dri-Stride casual in six styles, including the crew cut or women’s knee-high Transit (MSRP $22). Darn Tough Vermont releases the ski and ride Edelweiss Over-The-Calf (MSRP $26) with fine-gauge 21.5-micron merino wool yarn and fresh illustrations by outdoor apparel designer Poppy Gall. Goodhew delivers several new styles for everyday performance, including the women’s over-the-knee-fold-over Whirlwind Strike (MSRP $22) in gray, port and ruby hues. Fits Socks ups aesthetics and wool count with a new double cylinder machine, which allows a tighter knit of wool with less synthetic material, according to U.S. Sales Director Luke Elderidge. Fits offerings include the women’s Cable (MSRP $18) and men’s Classic Rib (MSRP $20).


Darn Tough Vermont Edelweiss Over-The-Calf Fits Cable Knit

To keep feet dry a
nd warm on wet trails or urban walks, Lizard Footwear introduces The Shield performance over-sock in mid-calf (MSRP $39) and OTC (MSRP $45), with a tri-layer polyurethane, polyester, nylon waterproof-breathable membrane to slide over any sock of choice.

On the lighter side of things, Keen expands its Olympus sock line with new men’s and women’s Ultralite Low Cut and Lite 1/4 Crew (MSRPs $18), mixing merino with Dura-Zone, a high-tenacity fiber to keep the sock together hike after hike.

--Morgan Tilton

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