Summer wool: Sock makers lighten merino for running, cycling markets

Merino wool is making its case for summer socks. And we don’t just mean hiking styles. Outdoor sock brands are gunning for the fast-growing cycling and running categories with their latest hosiery lineups for 2013.
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Throughout the next month, SNEWS will recap its coverage of Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2012 with select stories from the O.R. Daily we published at the show Aug. 2-5. 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.

This SNEWS Outdoor Retailer Summer Market recap is brought to you by Cordura:

Merino wool is making its case for summer socks. And we don’t just mean hiking styles. Outdoor sock brands are gunning for the fast-growing cycling and running categories with their latest hosiery lineups for 2013.

The tough part will be convincing consumers that wool can work for high-endurance summer activities. The fiber has its advantages of temperature regulation and odor combative properties, but many consumers still associate wool with cold temperatures.

Point6 redesigns and expands its cycling collection from a few items to an entire category of 10 socks, including the Big Day (MSRP $17) made with an ultralight merino wool, minimal-to-no cushioning and a tall 7-inch cuff for protection plus style.

“Cyclists in different regions prefer different sock heights,” said Patty Duke, co-CEO and creative director for Point6. “And it’s not necessarily a matter of weather or climate. It’s more a matter of personal style preference.” The new cycling collection cuffs range from 1 to 7 inches.

Darn Tough Vermont lightens up with its new Light Cushion Run/Bike socks (MSRP $14), employing fine 17.5-micron merino wool yarns, which are half the weight of those used in the brand’s regular cushion socks, resulting in a low-volume, high-density sock designed for form-fitting shoes. SmartWool expands its PhD Run sock line with lighter weights and lower silhouettes, including the PhD Run Ultra Light Micro (MSRP $16, photo, left) featuring mesh ventilation zones. And Balega Outdoor introduces its Ultra Light (MSRP $12), also a low-profile sock with mesh panels, elastic arch and ankle support, and left/right fits. Injinji, with its five-toe fit system, also goes running with its new Run Original Weight No-Show (MSRP $15), and Thorlo turns to Coolmax fibers in its new Ultra Light Hiking socks (MSRP $16) for summer.

It’s not all about going light and low at Summer Market. There are still those consumers looking to buy burly socks for big mountain hikes. Enter Fits Socks new Expedition Boot sock (MSRP $19), which fills a hole for a heavyweight trekking sock in the company’s lineup, said U.S. Sales Director Luke Elderidge. Those who like to wear their hiking socks will appreciate Fits’ Full Contact Cuff, which provides a tighter ankle and looser calf so the sock naturally stays up on the leg. Lorpen beefs up with its Polartec Trekking Expedition sock (MSRP $50, photo, right), available in a crew overcalf height.

Compression remains a top sock trend with Dahlgren debuting its MultiSport Compression (MSRP $30) for summer recoveries, including weaved ventilation and wicking zones. CEP Compression provides an upgrade with its Knee High Progressive 2.0 Run Sock (photo, left), including greater ankle and arch support, plus a non-binding cuff that maintains CEP’s graduated level of medical grade compression.And Sockwell aims to attract female compression wearers with its cashmerino/bamboo mix of light fibers in the new Chevron Circulator.

Looking to gain a leg up on the compression, recovery and performance sock category, Point6 will preview a new relationship with Celliant, mixing merino wool with the Celliant’s mix of minerals that claim to absorb then reflect the body’s energy as infrared light to increase oxygenation and blood flow. Point6 plans to distribute pairs of unmarked socks with and without the technology to stakeholders to see if people can notice the difference in a blind test.

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There will plenty of lifestyle and casual sock debuts at Summer Market, too, as brands continue to try and spread the word of merino socks beyond outdoor.

“Summer fashion is taking a cue from winter fashion,” with consumers wanting to show off their high-crew sock designs as part of their summer styles, said Kris Dahlgren, president of Dahlgren Footwear. Products in the brand’s new Metro line (MSRP $19) are cushioned lightly under the foot and offer argyle styles for men and fun feminine patterns for women.

Fox River builds on its Everyday Merino line debuted last winter with 15 new styles and colors for spring and summer, including the Women’s Floral Bouquet Crew (MSRP $15, photo, right). And Fits Socks brings its new women’s Ultra Light Casual Crew (MSRP $19) for summer, the first time the brand a full line on non-cushioned women’s socks.

--David Clucas

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