Spring Sock Review

Socks can be an under appreciated factor in a successful training or race situation. The wrong footwear in particular conditions can leave you with blisters, allow debris in next to your skin, and then there is the absolute worst sock malfunction……Quitters! Nobody can stand the feeling of socks slipping down into your shoes causing hot spots and mental distraction. The good news is that there are no quitters in this bunch.

I have enjoyed testing socks from three different manufacturers, Swiftwick, Darn Tough, and Drymax, over the winter months and I was impressed with the construction and durability of each brand. It should be noted that despite putting each model through many training runs and washing them weekly, there was not a single durability issue among the bunch. Not even a loose stitch. All socks tested also have flat toe seems and I didn’t experience any rubbing anywhere on my feet.

All socks are made in the USA, and all feature product guarantees stating that if you don’t like them you can send them back for a refund or new socks. I guess you get what you pay for.

Swiftwick
Swiftwick logoThe Swiftwick brand sent me a few models to try out. Some consisted of merino wool, a tried and true favorite, and others were made of nylon and Olefin, which is a moisture wicking and abrasion resistance fiber that does not hold odors.

Zero Performance Olefin ($9.99)
The Swiftwick Zero Performance Olefin is surprisingly thin and represents the “warmth without the weight” idea of using Olefin fiber. The “zero” (i.e, no) cuff of these socks comes up just above the collar of my trail shoes and there was no slippage. When these socks got wet they did not hold any moisture and my feet were dry very quickly. One drawback, in cold and wet conditions my feet suffered due to the thinness of the sock. These socks have become my go-to for road races, speedwork, or anytime I’m wearing racing flats.  I’ve also worn them almost every day for my runs now that the weather is warmer.

One Pursuit Merino ($16.99)
The Swiftwick One Pursuit Merino is still a short sock, the “one” refers to height and this sock is designed to sit at the ankle. A thin merino sock perfect for running, the One Pursuit Merino was my go-to sock for winter running and long trail runs when varying conditions were involved. No slip, and absolutely no debris getting into the sock.

Drymax
Drymax logoTrail Running v4 ($13.95)
Drymax socks have a dual layer moisture elimination system is designed to repel water from the layers nears the skin rather than spreading out the moisture evenly through wicking. The Trail Running v4 sock comes up higher above the ankle, which is double padded for extra protection. These socks also feature a anti-microbial resin that fights odors. These socks are bulkier and more cushioned inside the shoe than any other sock tested, and I felt that this bulkiness effected the fit of my shoe. Some people prefer a thicker sock, and while I appreciate the extra cushioning, this sock made my shoes feel too tight at times.

Drymax Maximum Protection Trail Running v4 ($27.95 – best price on web $19.95)
The Drymax Maximum Protection Trail Running v4 sock was another 1/4 crew from Drymax that seemed to fit me better. In addition, the collar of the sock really hugged my leg to keep debris out. This sock also features the enhanced cushioning of a Drymax sock and it did keep my feet warm and dry. Of the two Drymax socks, I preferred this model which fit tighter and rubbed less due to the better fit. Certainly the most expensive sock of the bunch, but one that will last you for a lifetime.

[Editor’s Note: The “Maximum Protection” refers to the inclusion of PTFE (what Teflon is made of), which minimizes friction and the blisters it causes.]

Reviewer’s Note re Drymax
It should be noted that many trail runners love Drymax socks, and that they sponsor more trail runners than any sock company I have seen. I just prefer, and have always worn, thinner socks. Drymax does make thinner socks, including the Lite Trail model, but they were not submitted for review. They have a guarantee on their website stating that if you are not satisfied you can send back your socks and receipt for a full refund.

Darn Tough
Darn Tough logoNo-Show Merino Mesh ($13.95)
Despite the unfortunate green and orange appearance of the Darn Tough No-Show Merino, this thin merino sock has become my favorite of the entire bunch. Thin enough to be a race sock, warm enough to be warn in cold or wet conditions, seamless durability, and the comfort of merino wool. The feeling of a natural fiber seems to be the ideal level of comfort for my feet. Combine that with thin functionality and I’m sold. The Darn Tough’s are also incredibly lightweight and were the only company that posts a “Lifetime Guarantee” on their webpage. The key word being “lifetime.”

Conclusion
Each of these companies makes fantastic products with guarantees, that will trump most of what you have in your sock drawer. Mine contains a lot of Smartwool socks, Nike socks, various coolmax and moisture wicking socks, and all the models reviewed above blow them away. Since receiving these socks for testing, I have not worn a single pair of my old socks, so I’d like to personally thank the manufacturers for providing such a quality product. Great socks make a difference!

Call for Comments
Have you ever used Swiftwick, Drymax, or Darn Tough socks? If so, what did you think?

Tom Caughlan

is iRunFar's Minimalist Gear Editor. Tom’s passion for trail running and specialty running retail experience shine through in all of his highly technical reviews, which do range outside minimalist shoes.

There are 28 comments

  1. Blake

    A number of years ago I switched to trail running exclusively in wool socks. I started out with DeFeet which I liked, I was disappointed in SmartWool and now I'm running in Darn Tough. I have both the mesh and the cushion versions. The mesh are as thin as any synthetic bike sock, but the wool works so much better with my feet. the cushion version isn't super thick(I wore them this past weekend in DC) but add a little warmth and cushioning. No pilling, no visible wear after a year. I have no plans to switch from my Darn Tough socks.

  2. BigToe

    Smartwool has always been my go to sock for training and their new Graduated Compression is actually the best performance compression sock I've tried. I like a little cushion, and their compression comes in an ultra light version, or my favorite, a light cushion. I've tried Darn Tough, and was not as impressed when compared to Smartwool, but Drymax has a place in my drawer. I have a couple pairs for when the weather is truly unruly.

  3. Jeremy

    Swiftwick is tops for me. I don't like to buy much gear and it is the durability of these that sets them apart. From April 2010 to April 2011, I relied on only 2 pairs of Swiftwick Zero Performance Olefin socks for every single mile I ran. Most of my runs involve filling my shoes with mud and granite debris and soaking them in snow and creek crossings. To this day, those 2 pairs are still going strong and are in my rotation of 6 pairs of Swiftwicks. I added 4 new pairs of their "Olefin Aspire" series socks. Just about the same fit, but even better than the original Ole's because of the flat toe seam (never had an issue with the old version though). I wear a men's size 9 and the old version of the sock, I wore a Zero version (low cut). In the Aspire, I have to use a One to get the same fit, so the Aspire seems to run a little smaller. The durability of the Aspires is no issue so far, but I will be amazed if they last like the originals.

    Jeremy

  4. Kim

    I wear wool socks for winter and cold weather running, but prefer a thinner synthetic sock, with a somewhat smooth interior (not too much yarn loop sticking up) for hot summer running. I have had good luck with Balga, REI brand Eco-coolmax, and Thorlo Experia. I tried and really wanted to like the Drymax also. But the fit was never right (tried two different sizes) and the yarn loop on the inside was too thick and abrasive. Just my two cents. Thanks for the sock review.

  5. Eddy

    I tried drymax lite trail sock for the last 6 months, wore only on my long runs…so once a week, one pair:

    comfort/fit: very good

    durability: not so good, the heel part is completely worn out…big hole on both socks.

  6. John

    I was a die-hard defeet wool sock wearer until about two years ago. I started wearing Darn Tough 1/4 wool socks for a few ultras and haven't found anything better. Last summer I thru-hiked the entire 2665 mile PCT in two pairs of darn toughs. They are incredible socks. Just wore them last weekend for the Rothrock challenge again, and they held up no problem (same pair from last summer's PCT hike).

    -John
    http://lakewoodhiker.blogspot.com

  7. Tony Mollica

    I haven't worn the Drymax socks tested; however once I tried the Drymax brand I have used nothing but. I have trail running pairs and regular road running socks. Since I switched a couple of years ago I have never had a blister!!

  8. Andy

    Interesting to hear about the great durability of some of these socks. I have been a stalwart Injinji user since I endured bloodied toes at a hot road marathon 3 years ago and was looking for something to reduce heat and friction. I have loved the toe socks, and wear them for all ultras and any run over an hour or two, but their durability is terrible – they unravel quickly and wear through soon after. Have wondered for a while why Injinji can't improve the construction of their socks, or why other companies like Swiftwick or Drymax can't put their quality construction and engineering into a toe sock. I do have a few older conventional socks with olefin and agree these feel and perform great and seem to last forever.

  9. Matt Smith

    I'm a huge DryMax fan.

    I used to run in various brands of merino wool socks – mostly SmartWool – but they wore out quickly, lost their cushioning and were finicky about laundering.

    When I tried my first pair of DryMax Trail socks, I was amazed at how quickly my feet dried after stream crossings and how dry they stayed in damp/muddy conditions. I had no idea what I was missing!

    I don't find the thicker trail socks to be too hot for summer running – maybe the evaporative cooling from the moisture transfer keeps them cool?

    The sizing of DryMax socks is way off – I wear a size 12 shoe and wear a medium DryMax sock (usually L or XL in other brands.)

    1. Anonymous

      I agree Matt. The Drymax sizing is both inconsistent between models of Dry Max socks as well as way too large compared to usual sock sizes.

  10. Troy Scott

    I was a dyed in the Smartwool owner for 4+ years until I was introduced to the Swiftwick merino wool sock. What I found I like better from the Swiftwick product is the greater durability, compression from long days on my feet, the ability to keep my feet cool in the summer and warm in the winter. Those made me purchase the Olefin product. I found the Olefin thickness great on 60K+ bike rides combined with better foot bed compression and combination of wicking to make a most comfortable cycling sock I have ever owned. I cherish the 12” for after ride recovery and anytime I fly. I found that my go to everyday wear is the 4”. The 4” sock is just high enough to not peek out from slacks and refreshing to the last moment of a long day on my feet til I get in to bed. Please do the obvious thing by trying them, they guarantee you like them or they will replace them with an equal valued pair.

    Troy

  11. Roy Wells

    I'm a huge Swiftwick fan!!!

    I have used every brand named wicking or wool sock known to man and I have found none better to fit my needs more than Swiftwick. In the summer I olefin socks to turn to and in the winter the buttery smooth merino wool keeps me blister free and warm. As a long time Smartwool wearer the man difference I have found with the Swiftick brand is the lasting quality. I put these sock through 6/7 hour trail runs as well as short 5ks and all they do is perform. My current sock for ultra's is the the Aspire One's and for long and hot bike ride the Aspire fours. As a gear junkie I test everything and while there is a lot of great sock company out there Swiftwick is the cream of the crop.

    Roy

  12. Marcy

    Head Power Cushioned Socks, last year $9 for 6 pair, this year 2011 $12 – 6 pair, made in USA. Internet stores big A and the bay well all of them push them for $27 etc. for 6 pair, they are really $9 to $12 at the most. Heavy cushion sole only, best protection, very comfy at office, all year around. These are near to impossible to find, I probably can't name the place I found them, hint, you need your card to get in. I've been trying to tell people about these socks, low price and quality.

  13. Marcy

    Wow, allows posting, no 3 or 4 form input pages HA! okay! This site is the best!

    Another WOW! Lots of good information in here, excellent website!

  14. KA

    I've not worn any of those socks myself, but your post reminded me that Jonathan Savage (http://fellrnr.com) was testing out some DryMax socks about a month ago and mentioned that "petroleum based lubricant or powder can destroy the water repellent properties." Vaseline is not their friend. Anyhow, I thought that was useful to note, especially considering how pricy good socks are.

  15. John Dees

    I have been wearing Drymax trail socks for the past couple of months and love them.

    Sizing issues could be a result of the version you own. Despite ordering 2 pairs of the same model and size at the same time from an online vendor, I received one v4.0 and one v4.4 (labels stitched inside cuff). The v4.0 fit perfectly but the v4.4 are nearly an inch longer.

    1. Anonymous

      My problematic DryMax socks were the max protection trail socks v4.2 and were about an inch longer than expected …

  16. Phillip Senter

    Did a quick internet search for these and seems these are 71% cotton. Don't know if all their models contain cotton.

  17. Olaf Wasternack

    Roy, I agree. I wear Swiftwicks for over 4 years now and still have my first pair. They went through many Bicycle Road Races and plenty of runs. I have never had a sock that lasts that long and never gave me a blister and I am running since I am 6 years old.

    However, the coolest thing is the new Aspire twelve compression sock. I am prepping for Boston 2012 and besides 70-80 mile as a week, recovery is just as important. I started wearing them after runs and races as they truely let me recover faster- I cant wait to get them on after training. The kicker is that I sit a lot at work, so I wear them at work too because my feet and legs wont swell, thus circulation is increased. The best thing is that they are only 34 bucks, so I got several of them.

    From a true Swifwick enthusiast and fan.

  18. Mary Lee

    Have you bought a pair of smartwool recently? I was wondering why my satisfaction level this year was so much lower -they've been bought out apparently. Bummer!

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