One of the staples of any good outdoors kit is a clean pair of socks. Having a decent pair for every climate is not just a convenience but a necessity. Everyone seems to focus on shoes, belts, tactical pants, packs, and various other gear when they completely overlook the foundation of their footwear.
If you’ve read many of my articles in the past, you know I am a big proponent of wool. Wool is becoming new again through revolutionizing the industry to offer more options and comfort which was never possible in the past. Not just is it credible, it’s becoming more affordable than ever.
Darn Tough is made in Vermont and comes in a variety of wool percentages. Having been in business for 40 years means they have obviously done something right. To prove they have what it takes, Darn Tough has provided a lifetime warranty on all of their products. This is called their “Unconditionally Guaranteed For Life.”
Normally, when I see a company offering a warranty like Darn Tough I begin to wonder how high of a quality their merchandise is. It seems to me that a low quality, low-cost product that can be produced in high volumes would be more beneficial to a company’s bottom line than a high-quality alternative. I decided that looking for the flaws in Darn Tough’s products would be a good start. We tested several Men’s and Women’s styles, but will only focus on some specifics.
The Men’s Hiker ¼ Sock Cushion had arrived in our hands. Made from 61% Merino wool, 37% Nylon, and 2% spandex. This seemed like a legitimate option for summer to fall hiking, while the weather was still warm in the day and temperatures would drop in the evening. It could easily be worn by those who prefer low to mid-height boots. It wouldn’t be recommended to be used with tall hiking boots as a Hiker Boot Sock from Darn Tough would be more accommodating.
Our hikes are generally long and uneasy. As we have set up several Bushcraft sites, they are predominantly places in remote or difficult to reach areas. I’m not indicating the top of mountains, but when privacy is preferred the trail is usually uncomfortable. Using the socks as anyone normally would we were impressed with a few things.
The socks stayed in place with little to no movement. These socks didn’t fit fight or push uncomfortably. In fact, they did the exact opposite. They fit like a dream right out of the packaging. The cushion effect was plain to see and feel. No, it didn’t feel like we were walking on air, but it did offer extra support when using boots which did not have the insoles replaced.
Contrastingly, they provided just the right additional cushion for an average foot. This is a little too much for a narrow foot, as it would thicken onto the side and less than recommended for a wide foot.
They held up incredibly well during small to long hikes performing just as a 100% wool sock would, wicking moisture away from the skin. They also insulated incredibly well when in cold climates, snow, and water. What surprised me, was even though it’s not 100% wool it insulated close to what 100% wool does.
There is a minor sacrifice, according to wool purists. Darn Tough don’t produce any (or very few) socks that are almost completely wool. That means manmade materials like Nylon and Lycra are substituted. This adds to the overall durability and fit of the sock but is considered a big ‘no-no’ by wool purists. Another thing to consider is that Nylon and Lycra are able to melt when put too close to the heat. Obviously, no one is putting their foot inside of a fire, but a stray ember may find its way.
The most distinct difference between many of the Darn Tough socks is that not all of them are meant to be used exclusively for hiking. Yes, jogging, running, mountaineering, biking, etc. are all various activates that Darn Tough has tried to implement unique designs and thicknesses. This was clearly evident in the women’s socks which were intended for all-around use to specific functions.
Our Women’s socks performed equally to the men. The fit, structure, and overall durability matched the same craftsmanship we began to expect. We tested both the Garden Crew Light and Vertex Tab Ultralight. The Garden Crew performed well during hiking or various outdoor/indoor activities. The Vertex is considered to be much better suited for working out and running and will not provide much insulation being 54% Nylon and only 40% Merino Wool.
- Performance Fit: No slipping, no bunching, and no blisters. True Seamless: Undetectable seam fusion for an ultrasmooth, invisible feel.
- Fine Gauge Knitting: Unprecedented durability and our unique "put it on, forget it's on" feel.
- Fast Action Wicking: Pulls moisture away from skin. Fast drying; Naturally Antimicrobial: Repels bacteria and odor.
Overall, Darn Tough has developed a very good product. While it’s foolproof for running, hiking, camping, etc. there are a few concerns.
Their products cannot be cared for in a traditional manner. When using a washing machine and harsh detergents, fabric softeners are to be avoided. Darn Tough recommends Machine wash warm and tumble or line dry. While this may be a convenient way to clean their socks, they begin to look worn quickly. I would dare say, after 1 wash they look pretty ‘rugged.’ Granted, this doesn’t do anything to the performance of their socks. It is something to keep in mind if you live in or are visiting a shoe free home. None showed more fatigue from washing than the women’s Vertex.
We washed them with smoke and air which did wonders. They did not feel as clean as 100% wool socks would feel, but it was pretty close. So, if you’re a wool purist (like me) who are looking for a cost-effective, quality alternative Darn Tough seems like the perfect option.
Particular care should also be taken when selecting Darn Tough socks. Since the wool content varies from style to style, attention is needed. They produce socks well suited for an intended use, but not all of their products in the same category are created equal.
With a proper warranty and guarantee, American craftsmanship, and designs that can nearly suit anyone, Darn Tough pulls ahead of the pack as an aggressive producer of Wool-heavy socks. The substitution of wool for manmade materials may be of little concern in over-all performance. It is hard to gauge unless you’re inclined to risk frostbite.
Price for performance is an equally as critical and a contributing factor when choosing a sock. Wool tends to run pricy. Darn Tough has eliminated that worry by making each pair run between $15-28 USD. There’s not a great deal to complain about there. Overall, Darn tough is a decent sock, quality performance, and a price that is highly competitive. Check it out for yourself and be the judge.