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How We Tested Hiking Socks

Thursday October 20, 2022

We put each pair of our tested socks through the wringer. From the high mountain peaks of Colorado, Alaska, and Peru to the deserts of southern Utah to the coastal redwood trails of California, we hiked, backpacked, boarded, and ran backcountry trails to test the limits of each contender. We tested in all types of weather through a wide range of temperatures, from the hottest days of summer to the coldest of winter nights. In addition to field tests, we performed in-lab tests to determine performance differences. Each sock was rated based on its comfort, warmth, breathability, durability, and drying speed. Below we outline the specific tests for each.

hiking socks - the cold conditions of the alaskan range proved to be a perfect...
The cold conditions of the Alaskan range proved to be a perfect testing ground for warmth, breathability, and wicking. Gosh it's fun to be a tester!
Credit: Highline Running Adventures

Comfort


When considering comfort, we compared the level of cushion, the amount of compression paneling, relative fit, and overall coziness. The testing was simple. We tried each on, slept with them, hiked in them, and compared their properties. We even wore different socks on each foot to compare the relative cushioning and hiking capabilities side by side.

hiking socks - hiking through rugged wet terrain while testing hiking socks. we...
Hiking through rugged wet terrain while testing hiking socks. We assessed comfort and performance in a lot of beautiful places.
Credit: Jon Oleson

Wicking and Breathability


To test breathability and wicking capabilities, we wore each pair while performing high and low-intensity activities. Trail running in each sock in warm weather was the best tell-tale sign of wicking and breathability. Wearing different socks allowed us to see which foot felt hotter or less comfortable. We ran through the high Peruvian Andes, the jagged Colorado Rocky Mountains, and on lonely, hot desert trails. We also took the socks skiing to determine how well they wicked away moisture in cold environments.

hiking socks - the darn tough light hiker makes an excellent trail running sock due...
The Darn Tough Light Hiker makes an excellent trail running sock due to its ample cushioning and superior breathability.
Credit: Jon Oleson

Warmth


This was measured using two sub-metrics: wet warmth and dry warmth. For wet warmth, we soaked each sock in water, put it on, and walked around in the cold to evaluate if the model held its warm. For dry warmth, we stood around on cold winterish nights or slept in the socks to note whether our toes stayed warm. We also wore different socks on each foot to get a specific comparison.

hiking socks - testing hiking socks while hiking uphill and splitboarding down in...
Testing hiking socks while hiking uphill and splitboarding down in the mountains of the Rocky Mountains. Over the last four years, we've logged 1000+ miles in just our testing process.
Credit: Amber King

Durability


To test durability, we looked at relative wear and tear over roughly 60 miles of testing. This included compression of cushioning, holes, pilling, misshapen fabrics, etc. We even hiked around in bare sock feet on the pavement (yikes!) to determine which were most susceptible to sole wear. We noted the quality of fabric before and after this testing period. Products that demonstrated little to no wear scored high, while those that showed obvious wear scored low.

hiking socks - after miles and days on the trail and all of our durability tests...
After miles and days on the trail and all of our durability tests, the Darn Tough Light Hiker has held up to any warm weather challenge we've thrown its way. Even if we did somehow wear a hole in these bomber socks, we rest comfortably knowing that they're backed by an amazing lifetime guarantee.
Credit: Jon Oleson

Drying Speed


Our drying tests were two-fold. First, we took each sock into the field and got it soaked. We then put them on rocks to dry out. This provided us with real-field-based data that yielded decent results but not objective ones. So we confirmed our outdoor tests with a much more objective in-lab test. Each sock was soaked, wrung out, hung on a line, and weighed every ten minutes to determine the relative amount of moisture in the sock. This allowed us to determine which socks dried fastest, which held the most water, and which dried the slowest.

hiking socks - one of several tests to determine the dry time of all our hiking...
One of several tests to determine the dry time of all our hiking socks.
Credit: Jon Oleson

The steps of our dryer tests:
  • Step 1: weigh (in grams) each sock when dry - this is our control weight
  • Step 2: dunk each sock underwater and squish around for one minute
  • Step 3: wring each sock out as best we can until no more drops of water come from the fabric
  • Step 4: weigh each sock when wet (this is time = zero minutes)
  • Step 5: hang on the line
  • Step 6: at 10-minute intervals, weigh each sock and record the weight in grams - continue until the sock is back to its dry weight and record dry time for each sock
  • Step 7: evaluate and analyze data

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GearLab is founded on the principle of honest, objective, reviews. Our experts test thousands of products each year using thoughtful test plans that bring out key performance differences between competing products. And, to assure complete independence, we buy all the products we test ourselves. No cherry-picked units sent by manufacturers. No sponsored content. No ads. Just real, honest, side-by-side testing and comparison.

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