The outdoor sock business is a crowded field.
Every month it seems a new merino sock brand hits the market. When you can sell a pair for $20-$30 — we’ve even seen socks priced at $60 — why not? The boom also is being fueled by a comeback in American manufacturing, as historic U.S. hosieries have found a calling making high-end socks.
In the outdoor industry, many credit SmartWool with making merino popular again, and it’s likely the company dominates your sock wall. But many more specialty brands have joined the category, including a second-generation of wool socks that fit and perform better than the originals.
If your customers haven’t upgraded socks in a while, challenge them to step up to the next level with even just a pair of socks from one of our top 10 favorite brands today.
We think they’ll be hooked, just like we are.
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You won’t meet more passionate and knowledgeable minds of merino wool than Point6 founders Peter and Patty Duke. The couple that started SmartWool nearly 20 years ago is back with another Steamboat Springs, Colo.-based sock company we feel is better than the first in some categories. Point6’s line of Hiking Tech socks rank as our favorite for hikes, with some of the softest merino wool and high-quality construction that cushions and fits perfectly without constriction. The Hiking Tech Medium Crew (MSRP $19.95) is made with 67.4 percent merino wool, 30.1 percent nylon and 2.5 percent spandex.
Point6 Hiking Tech Medium Crew
We also liked the new Point6 Celliant knee-high compression socks, which helped with muscle recovery after long runs better than any other sock we tested. The Celliant technology claims to radiate a person’s energy output back to their body, increasing blood flow and oxygenation. We’re not sure if it was the Celliant, the sock or perhaps a placebo effect that actually works, but in any case the comfort and soft feel of these socks makes for a great investment.
Point6 Celliant Compression
Balega has been a staple on the sock walls of many a specialty running retailer for years, but recently added focus into the outdoor category. We fell in love with our Moh-rino Trail Crew socks (MSRP $17.50), intricately constructed for warmth (with a merino/mohair mix on the bottom and sides) and breathability with a synthetic mesh panels up top. Materials include 61 percent moh-rino (merino and mohair), 19 percent ployamide, 4 percent drynamix, 15 percent polyester and 2 percent elastane.
Balega Moh-rino Trail Crew
For running, the company boasts the No. 1 selling sock in run specialty — the Hidden Comfort (MSRP $12) — and after running in it for a few months, we can see what all the fuss is about. The socks are lightweight yet provide a bit of cushion in high-impact zones like the ball of the foot. Its mesh ventilation panel kept our feet dry, and a high-tab heel prevented the socks from sliding down into our shoes. Another top performer was the Enduro 4, which is made of 81 percent drynamix polyester, 17 percent nylon/polyamide and 2 percent elastane.
Balega Enduro 4
While SmartWool, now owned by VF Corp., is facing a lot more competition these days, the company is still king in the category with sales. And its PhD line raises the bar from its popular originals with sport-specific highlights. Our latest favorite is the PhD Ultra Light Micro (MSRP $16.95). Though SmartWool said these socks are best for mild weather and shorter distances, we’ve successfully used them for some long and cold-weather runs. The durable wool in high-density impact zones helped prevent blisters and the snug fit kept the socks from shifting during our runs. The sock is 54 percent merino wool, 44 percent nylon and 2 percent elastane.
SmartWool PhD Ultra Light Micro
Another top performer was the PhD Ski Medium (MSRP $25.95) with 70 percent merino wool, 28 percent nylon and 2 percent elastane.
SmartWool PhD Ski Medium
4. Darn Tough Vermont
Some customers might balk at merino wool socks for being too expensive for a product that can easily wear out. If so, introduce them to Darn Tough socks, where the name really backs the product. Out of all the socks we tested, the Hike/Trek Boot Full Cushion (MSRP $22.95) held up no matter what we threw at them, including multi-day hikes and high-heat dryers. They’re made with 69 percent merino wool, 27 percent nylon and 4 percent Lycra Spandex. Even if the customers wear these socks out, Darn Tough offers a lifetime guarantee of free replacements with no questions asked. These socks were also best for wider feet.
Darn Tough Vermont Hike/Trek Boot Full Cushion
We are also fans of the women’s Galaxy No Show running socks (MSRP $15). These lightweight runners provide high-density cushioning on the ball of the foot and a practically seamless toe construction for added comfort. The elastic band around the arch provides an added element of support. They are 67 percent merino wool, 29 percent nylon and 4 percent Lycra Spandex.
Any socks we can wear with flip-flops are OK in our book. We’ve been running in the Injinji Run Midweight (MSRP $14) and Injinji Trail (MSRP $15), followed by recovery using the Injinji Performance Compression sock. We like the fact that the digits are separated in these socks, making it less likely we’ll get blisters. Our favorite in the bunch is the Injinji Performance Compression sock (MSRP $55). Our routine includes a post-run Icy Hot calf rub down, followed by slipping on these socks and wearing our Oofos Sport Recovery flip-flops. Our muscles feel nice and spry the next day with that winning combination. The socks are designed with a graduated lower leg compression that increases muscle recovery and improves circulation.
Injinji Performance Compression
6. Fits Socks
Fit Socks have exaggerated fit features that will be a hit with some customers, but perhaps not all. Best for smaller and slimmer feet, we liked the Light Runner No Show Women’s sock (MSRP $15.99). This lightweight runner stayed in place from the toe to the cuff and the cute flower design was a plus with our female testers. It’s made from 73 percent wool, 21 percent nylon, 6 percent polyester and 2 percent Lycra Spandex. But on some models, we found the super-deep heel pocket to be a little too deep (leading to bunching and discomfort in the heel), while the snug fit occasionally was too snug and felt constricting.
Fits Light Runner No Show
Your runner customers probably have heard this advice: Don’t run in anything new on race day. We’ve heard the advice but chose to ignore it when we bought and raced in Thorlo’s Experia running socks at the Rock ‘N’ Roll Denver Marathon. The socks feature the companies engineered padding in high-impact areas like the ball of the foot and heel to prevent blisters and chafing. We’re especially a fan of the Experia Coolmax socks (MSRP $16), which include the Coolmax fiber (66 percent) to wick moisture from the feet, polyester (13 percent) for increased breathability, along with 20 percent nylon and 1 percent Lycra.
Thorlo Experia Coolmax
For a sustainable story in socks, turn customers to Teko, which provides similar performance benefits with a different sourcing story than most brands. We liked the Organic SIN3RGI Midweight Hiking sock (MSRP $20.95), which mixes 64 percent organic Argentine wool with 23 percent recycled polyester, 11 percent nylon and 2 percent Lycra Spandex.
Teko Organic SIN3RGI Midweight Hiking
Warm up customers who complain of cold feet with Dahlgren’s socks, as they contain warmer alpaca wool. We noticed the difference and appreciated it for cold days on the slopes with the Sno (MSRP $26). The sock features 55 percent merino wool, 28 percent nylon and 17 percent alpaca in the toe, heel and wicking rings and channels with 75 percent recycled polyester, 23 percent nylon and 2 percent Spandex in leg and other areas of the sock. There's also a compression version.
Columbia isn’t known for socks, but perhaps it should be. If your customers are looking for a versatile sock that can be used on hikes and during wet, wintery trail and city runs, point them in the direction of Columbia’s Hiker Lite II Socks (MSRP $18). We wore these socks every day of a five-day backpacking trip in Yosemite, and they are our go-to socks for winter runs as they provide just the right amount of thickness and keep our feet warm and dry even if our shoes get soaked through on a run through fresh powder, thanks to the Omni-Wick evaporation system. This sock is 33 percent acrylic, 33 percent merino wool, 25 percent nylon, 7 percent polyester, 1 percent elastane and 1 percent other fiber. We also enjoyed Columbia’s Bugaboo Omni-Heat Ski Sock (MSRP $45) for snowboarding, snowshoeing and general keeping feet toasty while walking around the house. The over-the-calf socks have the company’s Omni-Heat dots on the inside of the forefoot to reflect the body’s heat. It’s made of 34 percent merino wool, 34 percent acrylic, 24 percent nylon, 5 percent polyester and 2 percent elastane.
Columbia Hiker Lite II
Sometimes a good product finds its way to our hands, or in this case, our feet. We’re not sure how we came across Outback — perhaps its because we share offices with our sister equine group of publications — but the Koala Paws Dry-Zone socks (MSRPs $15.39-$18.69) have impressed us with their fit and performance especially since the poly/cotton blend includes no merino.
Outback Trading Koala Paws