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The Sock-o a Sock-o Darn Tough vs. Smartwool vs. Icebreaker Thread

 
rancher
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This winter, three pairs of socks will do battle.

Prologue: I've worn out three pairs of Darn Tough socks in the past couple of years (and had two pairs replaced, free of charge from the company, although paying for shipping made replacements not actually free to me. ) I was very happy when I first tried the Darn Toughs, as they are far more comfortable then most socks I'd worn until finding them. It's also more then possible to wear them two or three times before having to wash them without feeling particularly grungy. Which is especially useful for camping trips. However, they are expensive, and I have never been able to find them on sale locally. I have, however, come across some other high-end socks at discounted prices, so I want to try them out and compare and determine for myself which socks are really the best deal.

Disclaimer: If you're in a different location and have different access to sock possibilities then I do, then the cost comparisons will be different for you. Also, if you wear your socks in different situations then I do, and have different feet then I do, and cut your toenails at a different frequency then I do, use a different washing machine then I do, etc., then your sock longevity will be different then mine.

Proclamation: I had to buy these socks, and no sock company has offered to send me money or free sock samples.

I will be testing and comparing these three (women's medium size) pairs of socks over the winter (and likely the next winter as well, as my past Darn Tough socks have lasted about two, two and a half winter seasons, and besides, Smartwool guarantees their socks for two years. Soooo then, these should last at least two years, right?)

Competitor One - Darn Tough's Cushion Boot Sock - 64% Wool, 33% Nylon and 3% Lycra - purchased at full price $31 CDN

Competitor Two - Smartwool's Light Cushion Hike  - 62%Wool 37% Nylon 2% Elastane - purchased on sale for $13 CDN

Competitor Three - Icebreaker's Merino Light Cushion Hike, Left and Right Anatomic Fit,  - 61% Wool, 37% Nylon 2% Elastane - purchased on sale for $12.50 CDN


It's not a typo, both the Smartwool and Icebreaker do indeed state they have the exact same ingredients.

Now, the Darn Tough pair has an unintended advantage, as I should have purchased one of their light cushion pairs, but what I actually have is their medium weight cushion. I haven't quite decided how to measure this yet, but I do expect the Darn Tough's (DT) to last longer because of the extra cushion. At the moment I'm planning to require a 10% longer life from the DT's because of their extra cushion - if they don't last 10% longer, then they don't win the longevity contest.

I can only wear these socks in the winter (for these purposes, September through to April) because in the summer I prefer being barefoot or in sandals.

Test conditions:

I will be wearing each pair of socks 2 days, and then washing all three pairs in the same wash load. (If I don't wear them all before I have a wash load, as I will be alternating them with other socks and stockings, then they'll all wait until they're all ready for the wash.)  All three call for warm water wash, no bleach, the Darn Tough's ask for gentle wash, the Darn Toughs and Icebreakers allow for drying by machine on low, which doesn't matter, because I dry everything on a line anyway. I will be using a front-load washer for the majority of the time, on regular cycle and use Nellie's brand laundry soda. ( I figure that a front-loader's regular cycle is like a top-loader's gentle cycle, so I don't think this will disadvantage the Darn Tough's.)

Every five washes, I will be making note of each pair's condition. (I won't necessarily post here unless something noticeable has changed.)

In the end, I hope to determine which stay comfortable longest, and which, for me, give the greatest comfortable lifespan per dollar.

The competition began on September 1st, and the competitors have just come out of their first wash and dry.

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The Contenders
 
master steward & author
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how exciting!

Can you tell us a bit about the fibre content (cotton, wool, &c) of each brand and what you think of the texture?  I'm also interested in how tight the tops are as I'm looking for socks for a Christmas present for a diabetic.
 
Marshal
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I love my Darn Toughs! I got a 6 pairs of them last August, and despite wearing those same 6 pairs of socks pretty much non-stop without alternating with any other socks, only two have worn holes. A few are getting thin, but considering I wore through 6 pairs of Costco's wool socks in 1-3 months, I'm really pleased with the Darn Tough socks' endurance. And, they have a life-time warranty, so I can mail the pair of holey socks to them, and they'll mail me new ones without any extra charge (speaking of which, I really need to get around to doing that!). These are the socks I bought from them, and have been wonderful in both the summer and winter (my feet never overheated this summer, though the rest of me did!). I find the socks a little itchy where the change from one color yarn to another (definitely perfer the solid-colored socks, but the ones I got were only $7 each, including shipping). Mine are knee highs, and they are snug but not too tight. I find them about as tight as any other knee-highs I've owned. My legs are average size, I think (I'm 5'4" and weigh 130 pounds when not pregnant, and I don't have stick legs).

As for their fiber composition, it really varies on how thick the socks are. They have "ultra-light" socks that are 46% Merino Wool, 50% Nylon, 4% Lycra® Spandex. The thicker "extra cushion" socks, however, are 73% Merino Wool, 25% Nylon, 2% Lycra® Spandex. It seems like the outside layer of thread/yarn is likely the nylon and spandex, while the inside is wool--probably since the nylon and spandex are more durable than the wool? So, the thicker the socks, the higher the wool percentage (except for their "Thermolite socks" which have no wool: 64% Thermolite Polyester, 32% Nylon, 4% Lycra® Spandex. I haven't tried those socks, nor do I really want to. I like my wool!)
 
Vera Stewart
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Notes from initial wearing:

Icebreakers - These felt very tight when I first put them on. I'm accustomed to folding over the top part of socks, to wear them doubled over my ankle, unless it's particularly cold, and I couldn't comfortably do that with this pair, at least not right now, right out of the box. After a little while, the sensation of tightness receded somewhat.

Smartwools - Certainly not as tight as the Icebreakers, I was able to turn the tops down. They weren't loose, but definitely looser then the Icebreakers (and the Darn Toughs as well.) The Smartwool pair doesn't seem as warm as the other two.

Darn Toughs - Felt the softest of the three. This fit is the fit that I've grown used to, so it was the most comfortable. Almost felt too warm for this early September weather.
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Icebreakers
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Smartwools
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Darn Toughs
 
Vera Stewart
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The sock competition continues.
There has been no noticeable change in any of the socks to date.
 
Vera Stewart
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The sock competitors have just emerged from their 10th washing.

So far, none have any visible changes.

However, the Smartwool pair are starting to feel a touch loose. They were the loosest to begin with, also they feel slightly "rougher" then the other two, which at first I didn't like, but it's growing on me. I think that the failing of the Smartwools may be an eventual loss of sufficient elasticity to keep them up properly. We're definitely not at that stage yet, though.

The Icebreakers are also feeling less tight then they did at the start of the competition, which in their case is a good thing.

The Darn Toughs have not seemed to change in any way.
 
rancher
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I am glad to have run across this thread!  I have become a fan of Darn Tough ever since an old neighbor introduced me to these locally made socks.  I have definitely worn holes through several pairs but I also wore them all winter long.  My husband and kids have Smartwool socks for skiing.  My husband prefers the Darn Tough socks for skiing but the kids were stuck with Smartwool because Darn Tough didn't make small enough socks when we bought them.  That may have changed now though.  I look forward to reading your conclusions.
 
Nicole Alderman
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Darn Tough does make smaller socks now. They have Junior size small, medium, and large. The small fits my three year old. He has large feet and has been wearing them since he was two. They were a little big then, but since they are so form-fitting (tighter around the arch), they have always stayed on better than any of his other socks. They also have never even worn thin, despite him wearing them for a year. They're not itchy, and he loves them!
 
Vera Stewart
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These socks have now been washed 20 times.

How are they doing?

As you can see from the photo, the Smartwools are becoming distended. The Icebreakers are starting to look a little thin at rub points under close inspection, and the Darn Toughs are still looking and feeling fine.
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Vera Stewart
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All these socks will go through their 25th wash in a few days. It will also probably be their last wear 'n' wash cycle until October, as it's becoming too warm for me to continue wearing wool socks comfortably.
I suspect there are some people who can wear wool all year long, but I'm not one of them.
After their last wash, one of the Smartwool socks disgorged a big ball of fluff from it's interior.
However, I will be keeping all three pairs until the return of the contest in the autumn!
 
Vera Stewart
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I took the three pairs of competing socks out from storage today - I will probably start wearing them again next week.
 
Vera Stewart
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The Icebreakers developed holes in both feet after their second wash this season!

I am shocked and a bit dissapointed. They seemed to be in good shape!

If it was only one sock, I would say I walked over something - I was out on the porch with them yesterday for a few minutes. But, I don't remember walking on anything dangerous, and BOTH socks have holes now

So I don't think it was the porch, I think it was the socks.




Now we have the Darn Toughs and the Smartwools remaining in the competition.

 
greenhorn
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I gave you a thumbs up but maybe it should have been a thumbs down. Sorry bout your holy socks! cool thread.
 
bartender
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This is excellent, thank you for doing the research! I bought a couple pairs of Darn Tough socks a while back with the idea of lifetime replacements. I found them nice and cool on warmer days, like they "breathed" really well.

I wonder if a thin piece of cardboard in front of returned socks, in a #10 envelope, would be light enough that 2 forever stamps would cover the weight? That would make shipping around $1 which seems like a good deal per pair of new socks.
 
Ghislaine de Lessines
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One thought I had reading through this thread again is that it would be interesting to know what factories these socks are made at.  I say this knowing that the Darn Tough socks come from a mill here in Vermont that was contracted to make all kinds of socks for other companies.  Darn Tough was created because they could not compete with overseas manufacturing,  but they knew they could make a better quality sock.  I wonder if either of the competitor socks were actually contracted to be made in the same factory.

Or maybe not.  This article mentions losing all of those contracts to overseas but now have military contracts.  https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.bostonglobe.com/business/2016/04/21/darn-tough/qYaTdRFEcFSIM35ZQVjUuM/amp.html
 
rancher
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I'm a SmartWool fan and have been for about 12 years from my first pair that I still have and still are in good shape. The pairs of SmartWool socks I have are varied in models, all at the crew length. Most of them I've had for more than five years. I don't have holes in any of these socks and they have performed beyond my expectation - especially that original pair. I'm torn as to the most important feature of the original pair: the ergonomic shape and arch support or its ability to wick moisture away from my foot. Both of those are highly desired qualities for me. That ergonomic structure is not built into the wooly extra thick winter SmartWool socks I have which I think are more for wearing in something like a muck boot. I wear all of them in a pair of Double-H work boots ( http://www.doublehboots.com/Product?stockNo=9714 ) that likely has aided in their long life. There is a bit of relaxing of the sock after many washings, but if put in a dryer, my experience is that it usually helps pull the sock back into form for me.

I'm not sure whether washing/drying machines are harder on socks than wearing a pair twice, which I do before putting into the dirty clothes.

It's been my experience that clothing will have benefits and drawbacks no matter what the article is. It's very rare to find a piece of clothing that has all the upsides and none of the downsides. From Vera's trial of socks, it seems as if the Darn Tough and the SmartWool will meet most people's needs. I'd also add to all this that because there are so many models (not just styles) of SmartWool socks that you need to purchase the sock model that suits your intended use. Work sock, hiking sock, running, casual, etc. They make them all and more, so be sure you're buying something designed to do what you want to do and you're not expecting a work sock to keep your feet warm in winter or the running sock to keep your foot from blistering in your leather hiking boot. I've settled on the medium hiking crew sock as the most versatile model for my needs around the homestead in all four seasons. Again, that's in a heavy leather work boot.

Love the review, Vera.
 
Vera Stewart
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Mark Tudor wrote:
I wonder if a thin piece of cardboard in front of returned socks, in a #10 envelope, would be light enough that 2 forever stamps would cover the weight? That would make shipping around $1 which seems like a good deal per pair of new socks.



I'm in Canada, and have shipped socks to the official Canadian address for Darn Tough returns - I believe the last time I did so, with two pairs of socks (not the socks included in this "contest"!) it cost about $6 CDN. They set me two brand new pair back, which still seems like a good deal!
 
Vera Stewart
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Just wanted to update that the two remaining competitor socks have been washed 10 times so far this year. I'm not wearing them as much this year as last because I was away in warmer parts for part of this winter. Haven't noticed any changes to them since the fall!
I've converted the icebreaker pair into a very warm (but unfortunately rather short) set of wrist-to-knuckle fingerless "gloves."
 
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Interested to see how the final appraisal shakes out for you.  My wife used to wear smartwool socks, but has discontinued their use due to wearing out earlier than she thought they should.  They wear well, but she says for the money she would have thought they would last longer than they do.
 
Vera Stewart
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Done for this year! Fourteen washes this year. Both socks still in contention, competition resumes next fall!
 
Vera Stewart
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I remembered! I have started wearing the darn toughs and smartwools again. One washing down in season three of the competition!
 
Vera Stewart
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Yesterday, the Smartwools got holes on the bottoms of the feet.

Icebreakers - withstood 27 washes
Smartwools - withstood 42 washes

Darn Toughs - 42 washes and counting.

Because the pair of Darn Tough socks that I have are a heavier cushion then the Icebreaker and Smartwool socks were, and because they cost me more than twice as much as each other pair of sock to purchase, even though they are the "last socks standing" - they haven't actually won this competition for me yet.

In order to prove the best buy for me, they need to last at least 2.4 times the smartwool socks - another 59 washes, or 100 washes in total.

In order to prove that they are actually tougher than the other socks, they should probably last another 20% or so of washes, due to them being built more 'cushiony/thicker in the first place - so another 8 or 9 washes, or 51 washes in total.

So, the sock washing documentation will continue in the Vera home.



 
Nicole Alderman
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Do smart wools have a life-time guarantee? I've eventually worn holes in my Darn Toughs, but I was able to mail them back and get new pairs for the cost it took to mail the socks to their factory. I just save up my pairs until I have enough to warrant shipping, and then ship them off. They then give me the worth of those socks (when they were new) in store credit, and I can then "buy" whatever socks I want, with zero cost and shipping to me. The cost to ship one pair of socks is about $3.50. So, you basically get the life-span of two socks for the initial cost+$3.50. I wonder if that would play into how much longer the socks need to last?

P.S. Thank you so much for this thread! I love the record keeping you've kept. This is such a great resource!
 
Vera Stewart
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Oops sorry, I missed your question!

SmartWools are guaranteed for two years.

I mislaid the DarnTough pair in this competition for several weeks just past - I was beginning to get worried I'd lost them entirely. Fortunately, I have re-discovered them! They have been washed nine times so far this season, despite going missing for a time.

They are starting to show a little thin particularly at the back of the ankle where they rub a little against my sneakers and or hiking boots, and under the balls of the feet. However they are still perfectly comfortable and have kept my feet warm despite getting wet on several occassions this season.

I now declare the DarnTough the winners of the Sock-o a Sock-o Competition!

They have proven to outlast their two competitors, and, if we take Nicole Alderman's suggestion of calculating how much DarnTough socks cost to have replaced into the value calculation...

I paid $31 Canadian for the pair of socks originally...
Lets say $5 Canadian for shipping per sock pair ('cause shipping costs are always getting higher) ...that would mean I could get two pairs (consecutively) for $36...or  about $13 each...

And so the DarnTough socks in this competition are likely within one or two washings of also being the best value of the three...provided that returns continue to be possible and relatively inexpensive. (There is some suggestion in the current wording of the guarantee that they will only replace a pair once...which seems fair enough, really, but I think it's new wording since I last looked at the guarantee., perhaps they're finding it necessary to tighten up replacement eligibility a bit.)

Congratulations, Darn Tough socks!



 
Vera Stewart
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I would like to run another sock competition starting next September - with DarnToughs again, as the defending champions, and perhaps giving a new pair of Smartwools a chance to redeem their brand ;)

If anyone has any suggestions for the third or fourth competitor - as long as I can order them from Canada! - please let me know! (Lot's of time to decide.) I would prefer if wool was the majority 'ingredient.' Thanks! This has been fun.
 
rancher
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I would love to see Farm to Feet https://www.farmtofeet.com/ as they boast "100% U.S. MATERIALS | 100% U.S. MANUFACTURING | 100% U.S. WORKERS", as well as having some nice attractive styles. Different socks they sell have different wool contents, so it would be very important to specify which version and the different fibers used. Their Damascus sock is highly praised by Appalachian Trail hikers, which is how I heard of the company.

Another that might be interesting is AIvada, https://www.amazon.com/AIvada-Merino-Hiking-Thermal-Winter/dp/B07F3FFTMK/ref=sr_1_1? mainly because it is a high wool content at 80% and it is a Amazon Choice not to mention a 3 pack is $25 US making a pair just over $8 US. Unfortunately I did not see them sold singly so if you would have to opt for the 3 pack.

Something else I would love to see tested, but doubt you would want to spend for it, is Possumdown Bushman's Friend Sock https://www.sweaterchalet.com/possumdown/possumdown-bushman-sock/#cc-m-product-12234718131 but at $45 US for a pair, they are expensive. The reason I would love to see them tested is the Possumdown is a mix of Merino wool and possum "wool" (actually fur made into a wool like fiber). Possum wool if you didn't know is warmer than sheep wool, warmer than Alpaca wool. The only thing warmer I hear is Buffalo "wool". The possum wool is part of what makes it expensive though, from what I understand it is not a farmed and needs to be collected from the wild in New Zealand where these possum are an invasive species.
 
Mark Brunnr
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I’ve purchased maybe 4 pairs of Darn Tough over the last year and all are doing well. I was a little surprised at the variation in size and thickness though. I wear a US size 15-16 shoe depending on the width so I ordered the large sock size each time. One or two pairs are almost too tight to wear though, and the pair I have on now feel twice as thick as another pair.
 
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Daughter gifted me a pair of SmartWool socks a half dozen years ago.  They were so comfortable, that it set me off in pursuit of good wool socks.  I browse Tractor Supply every year, and gave enough pairs out at Christmas that people cried "Enough!"  I'm not organized enough to keep the packaging or remember brands, but the hunt continues.  

Aldi's has been a surprising source for good wool socks, sold in their seasonal aisle.  Last year, they only had men's sizes, but this year they sold pretty women's style and colors.  

My main point is that I wash my wool socks by hand and hang them to dry.  That makes a world of difference in the wear life, I think.  The strain of washing machine and dryer is hard on the fibers.

Does anyone still darn socks?  It was one of my childhood chores; and I still have the basket full of supplies and some spun wool from a friend.  I'm ready.
 
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Now that I've discovered Darn Tough socks, it would be near impossible to get me to wear any other kind.
 
greenhorn
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What a wicked resource this is!

First off, I’m gonna check out Darn Tough socks.

I’ve tested out a few other sock brands I can add my two cents.

I bought a pair of Bridgedale light, padded hiking socks from MEC in 2011, and they lasted up until last year before they wore all the way through. That’s an impressive 7 years of extensive wear. I doubled up in winter and wore them with my other Costco wool hiking socks, and wore on many hikes and outdoor adventures over the years. I was very hard on them. They cost around $35 and were one of the most reliable articles of clothing I’ve ever owned!

Will buy again, but right now I’m testing some Smartwools I got as a gift, and a 70% Merino Blend work sock which I bought from a work-wear store.

I would second Nicole’s claim about the costco woolies not lasting more than 2 seasons! They’re super comfy and cheap, but I’d prefer something higher quality and sustainably produced!
 
Vera Stewart
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Hello!

While I intended to order some of the suggested socks, I've been quite busy this summer, and never got around to if. I find myself (this somewhat autumnal) today with these three contestants for the second round of Sock Vs. Sock.

Round 2 Competitors

Representing last round's champions: A new pair of women's Darn Tough Micro-Crew Cushion socks - 59% Merino Wool - 38% Nylon - 3% Lycra

Here to try and reclaim their brand's honour: A new pair of women's Smartwool Hike Medium Cushion socks - 66% Wool - 33% Nylon - 1% Elastane

And a new brand stepping into contention this round: Wigwam - Comfort Hiker - 62% Merino Wool - 34% Nylon - 2% Polyester - 2% Spandex

Every pair cost me approximately $14 Canadian.

As before, every pair will be worn and washed on a weekly-to-biweekly schedule. (Depending on weather.) No pair gets washed until each pair has been worn twice and is ready to join in the communal bath. That way they are all subject to exactly the same wash and dry cycles.

Socks, prepare thine selves for battle!



2019SockCompetitors.JPG
[Thumbnail for 2019SockCompetitors.JPG]
 
Devin Lavign
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Looking forward to the results of this next bout. Good socks make for a such a better time it is amazing.
 
Devin Lavign
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BTW this thread coming back up reminded me of this video recommending the two wool sock system. A thinner sock and thicker to prevent blistering. I have used this system on and off and have found it works pretty well. Typically I use it when doing a lot of hiking and blister issues are at their worst chances, but often forgo it when just average use.

 
Vera Stewart
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Interesting two sock suggestion! (I'm going to give one of my characters in a story two pairs of socks to wear now.)
 
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how is the research going vera? It is a very interesting thread and thank you for posting your findings.


I am wondering if anyone has worn or tried out JB fields socks  Made in Canada

They have great reviews. I am considering purchasing them.
 
Vera Stewart
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Hello!

One Darn Tough sock has sprung a loose thread (up at the cuff) and the two others pairs are looking a little fuzzy, however, they all remain fully functional and still very cushy.
 
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Devin Lavign wrote:BTW this thread coming back up reminded me of this video recommending the two wool sock system. A thinner sock and thicker to prevent blistering. I have used this system on and off and have found it works pretty well. Typically I use it when doing a lot of hiking and blister issues are at their worst chances, but often forgo it when just average use.



Wrightsocks use this idea for their double-layer socks.  I have a few pairs of these https://www.wrightsock.com/products/coolmesh-ii-quarter-socks?variant=228001496 though they're 20 years old so probably the CoolMesh I variant instead of CoolMesh II :)

They have lasted that long and have a few holes/runs in the outer layer, which don't bother me as the internal layer is intact and so I can't feel it.  However, I suspect they woudn't survive years of heavy wear - I am a city girl and up until recently wore flats with no socks during summer and whatever with tights during winter (until I got too fat for tights).  So the past few years they've seen regular winter wear but before that were only brought out for irregular hiking.

I will say that they were great for the trip I purchased them for.  I started to walk the GR20 along the spine of Corsica (and failed for reasons) and was paranoid about blisters.  So every 2 hours I would sit for a few minutes, swap my socks for a different pair, and let the old pair dry inside out off my pack.  If there was a stream I rinsed them.  This was probably massive overkill but no blisters.
 
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