Traveler's Gear Box: What Protects Your Foot From Your Boot?

So tough are Darn Tough socks that the company promotes them with a sketch of a smithy whacking one of their socks on an anvil! Darn Tough logo.

What you put between your foot and your boot when hiking, say, down the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, is just as important as the boot you slip your foot into. Which is why I wanted to update you with what's out there on the sock market.

There are a great variety of competitors for you to choose from. Some believe in building their socks with a mix of fabrics both natural and synthetic, others believe only natural yarns should embrace your feet, as I noted two years ago when this topic arose. I've long been a fan of Lorpen, a sock that traces its wooly roots to Spain's Basque region. This company turns to a mix of fabrics -- natural Merino wools, cellulose yarns, and synthetics like Coolmax and Lycra. Combined, these layers help wick moisture away from your feet and are intended to dry rather quickly. So happy have I been with the Lorpens that I've found I can set off on long-distance backpack treks without a liner sock.

But more than a few folks swear by Thorlos, which claims to have mastered sock making by using different sized cushions, or pads, sewn into the ball and heel of their socks. These cushions are intended to compensate for the natural wearing-down of your heel and toe pads as you age. Teko, which even makes wool liner socks, does make a sock from recycled polyester that it calls tekoPOLY, but this material is used for running and cycling socks -- high-intensity, relatively short duration sports where you're not worried about high insulating values in your socks -- while its hikers are made from organic tekoMERINO.

Darn Tough

Among the newcomers I've found is this Vermont-based company. While the name is a tad unusual, the point the company is trying to get across is that their socks will stand up to anything you can dish out.

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The special edition Appalachian Trail Conservancy model.

So tough are these socks, the company believes, that their packaging includes a sketch of a blacksmith pounding one of their socks on an anvil.

The first thing I noticed out of the box was the coloring of their Boot Sock Cushion (MSRP: $22) model -- basic black with shades of grey and green in the toe and heel, with the company's orange logo around the top of the sock and name across your toes. (Of course, different models of their socks have different coloring schemes...)

The first thing I noticed when I slipped them on was how comfortable they are. That, no doubt, is due to the 100 percent Merino wool that goes into the construction, along with some nylon and Lycra Spandex to provide some elasticity. The yarn is relatively fine -- 21.5 microns -- so it's almost silky smooth, and the 1,441-stitches-per-inch in the knitting accounts for the company's claim about how tough these socks are. So tough, Darn Tough adds, that they offer an "unconditional lifetime guarantee" on their socks: "If you can wear these socks out, we'll replace them. Free of charge. No questions asked. For life."

While the Merino wool for these socks is sourced mainly from New Zealand, the socks are made entirely in Vermont. The company currently is giving back to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy with a special edition sock. A portion of the sales of that sock is donated to the Conservancy.

KEEN

This constantly evolving company -- remember when all it made was shoes? -- also has socks (MSRP: $17-$18) in their product quiver. Which makes sense, in light of their primary product.

But they didn't stop with one or two models. Nope. For this fall and winter KEEN will be offering 55 styles for hiking, multi-sports, casual wear, kids, as well as for professionals who rely on proper fit and support to do their jobs every day.

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KEEN's North Country hiking sock.

One of the things that KEEN believes sets its socks apart from the crowd is where they placed the toe seam -- out of the way so it doesn't irritate you. In the case of the hikers I've been wearing, that seam -- which the company has dubbed the Wunderseam -- is in the natural crook beneath your toes.

Plus, the socks are made to be anatomically correct -- one for your left foot, one for your right. And KEEN helps you put the right sock on the right foot by stitching a small "L" or "R" into the sock. Too, the arch has supported knitted into it, and the heel is designed to cup your foot to help keep the sock where it belongs.

Depending which model you go with -- and KEEN has lots of models, ranging from cycling socks and hiking socks to dress socks -- as much as 78 percent of the yarns will be Merino wool. They also come in three different weights, which depend on how much cushioning they factor in (just toe and heel, along entire sole, or from welt to toe).

Traveler Giveaway

Need some socks for your kidlets? We've some brand new pairs of Kid's Light Hikers from Lorpen, sizes Large (3.5-6) and Medium (1-3) that we're tossing into the giveaway pool. To claim a pair, be one of the first eight readers to comment "I need socks for my kids!" on this post at 10 a.m. Mountain (noon Eastern, 11 a.m. Central, and 9 a.m. Pacific) this Saturday, May 26. Be sure to include your email address so we can track you down for shipping information!

Comments

I swore by Darn Tough for quite sometime, then I tried a pair of Fits. They have been around since 1902 and have the sock thing pretty much figured out, ...jus'sayin'

Last September, we hiked around Yellowstone for a week. I hiked in Cabela's lightweight hiking socks and my Merrill lightweight hiking boots... no blisters to be had.

Thanks for the review Kurt, I haven't tried any of these socks but I'm always experimenting. I've been a smartwool fan for a few years now and they've been great for my feet.

I'm one of those hikers who swear by Thorlo.

And they're made in North Carolina

Danny - www.hikertohiker.com

OK it's Sunday night but I still need socks for my kids!!!

Ok, Anonymous, contact me at and we'll get some socks to your kids!