About four years ago as I was researching travel gear and just beginning to dip my toe into ‘tearwear’ I ordered a pair of Smartwool ‘classic rib socks’. Smartwool being one brand of merino wool socks that were always highly recommended. Up until that point in my life I simply hadn’t considered that were anything other than cotton socks. I, like many people still do today, used to wear cotton socks every day. I changed them every day because as with most cotton they get smelly and dirty very quickly. This all changed the moment I put on a pair of merino wool socks. I knew after the first day that I wouldn’t be going back to cotton.
So why is merino wool make such a great sock? There are a few reasons. First, merino wool is an excellent insulator, it keeps your feet warm when it’s cold and actually keeps them cool when it’s hot. They breath much better than cotton and wick moisture meaning that they won’t absorb sweat and will dry extremely quickly. The fibres of merino wool are much finer than traditional wool and as a result are not itchy like you would imagine. The fine wool fibres are also smoother than cotton making them antimicrobial and this means that they don’t smell bad even if you wear them for several days in a row.
There are several brands of merino wool socks to choose from. Even merino wool and possum fur blends. However the main two brands you’ll see most frequently are Smartwool and Icebreaker. Both of these companies make more than just merino wool socks. After wearing Smartwool socks for the past four years I can certainly vouch for the benefits I mentioned above. I’ve worn them for upwards of a week without washing in hot tropical summers and they don’t smell at all.
About a year ago I came across a slightly lesser known brand of merino wool socks called ‘Darn Tough’. People were mentioning that these were “much better than Smartwool” and that you “simply must try them out”. After a little searching around I found out that most places selling ‘Darn Tough’ were military surplus stores. So one can assume these are indeed tough socks made to military specs. So I ordered a pair of Darn Tough’s tactical ¾ ankle socks because I had been wearing a pair of Smartwool ankle socks up until that point. I wanted something roughly similar to compare between them.
Its worth noting too that the wool content between the two socks is not exactly the same. The Darn Tough pair is 71% merino wool while the Smartwool pair is only 54% merino wool. The merino wool content doesn’t necessarily make the socks more or less durable. The photo on the left is a pair of ‘Diamond Jim’ merino wool socks I wore for around the same time as my other Smartwool socks. All of the Smartwool socks I’ve tested ended up patchy eventually.
Its now been just shy of a year of testing the Darn Tough socks compared to the Smartwool and I can say that the smartwool socks have started to get thin and patchy in some areas. The smartwool socks do have a nylon structure that hold them together, they are noticeably thinner and see through in parts of the ankle and areas of higher abrasion.
So far I see no wear or thinning on the Darn Tough pair. Both socks have are very comfortable and both have the nice elastic contouring that firmly holds the sock in place across your foots arch. The Darn Tough pair does seem a little thicker and as a result is more comfortable in my opinion. Both socks have held up well after washing and both dry as quick as each other. They both exhibit the same excellent qualities of merino wool.
Overall I would have to say that I thoroughly recommend Darn Tough over Smartwool and I would say if you can find a pair to try them out you’ll definitely not regret it.