I spend a lot of time writing about trail shoes on this blog, but to optimize the performance, health, and comfort of your feet, you have to select a great sock as well. Socks are your first line of defense against blisters, chaffing, and sweaty feet. Much like choosing a shoe, personal preference plays a large role in sock selection as well. Hiking and running socks come in a wide variety of shapes, fabrics, colors, and thicknesses, so selecting the right sock for your activities and preferences is very important.
My grandpa says, “only a rich man can afford to buy cheap shoes”. I extend this advice to the sock market as well. Premium socks can be expensive, with prices reaching up to $25 per pair, but I’ve found them to be worth every penny in my experience. Lately, I’ve been wearing merino wool socks from a company in Vermont, called Darn Tough. Much like the name implies, these socks can do it all. I like the 1/4 Light Cushion socks best, but have also worn a few of their other offerings. For this review, I will focus solely on the 1/4 Light Cushion Socks.
I rotated 3 pair of the Darn Tough 1/4 Light Cushion socks on the John Muir Trail and absolutely loved having them on my feet. They were tough and durable, they washed and dried quickly, and they were comfortable to wear all day with dry or wet feet.
From Darn Tough: Light Cushioning is “just right” cushioning. With half the wool yarn weight of our cushion socks, our lightweight cushion socks deliver lightweight performance with the perfect amount of cushioning along the base of your foot. Runners and cyclists love its streamlined performance fit while 17.2 micron wool brings home the goods in the comfort department. True Seamless construction assures a smooth fit and reduces blisters and hot spots. No slipping, no bunching, no bull. Fine gauge Merino Wool makes this a fast drying and breathable “all weather” sock that stays cool in the summer and warm in the winter. And since Merino Wool is naturally antimicrobial this sock repels bacteria and odor when you’re putting on the miles. Still made in Vermont. Guaranteed for life.
Fit and Feel:
I have a size 12.5 foot, and the Large fits me perfectly. The sock hugs my foot nicely, with no bunching or loose hanging sections. The elastic in the ankle provides just the right amount of hold and keeps the sock completley secure around my ankle with too much constriction. The thing I really like about these 1/4 cushion socks is the design on the top of the sock, as it’s thinner than the bottom. This thickness difference allows for the maximal feeling of cushion underneath, but allows for the top of the foot to breathe and release heat.
What I really like about the fit of this sock is how it held up after 200+ miles of hiking on the JMT. After multiple creek rinses, wring-outs, and abuse, they still fit great. Because they’re wool and not fully synthetic, they do temporarily lose a little bit of their shape after wringing them out, but things go right back to normal as soon as they’re in the dryer. This was a little bit of an issue towards the end of the JMT, as there was a little pocket of loose sock on my achilles, but nothing major.
I’ve found the durability of the Darn Tough 1/4 Light Cushion Sock to be superb. I’ve worn these socks on many 20 mile days with tons of dirt and grit in my shoes and on my feet. Usually that can really wear a sock down, but these just seem to keep getting better. At first, the lifetime guarantee from Darn Tough seemed crazy, but I’m starting to understand how they can afford to stand by their socks in this way. These things are going to last a very long time. I’ve only put a few hundred miles on my pairs, but this is the “go-to” sock of a lot of hikers on the PCT. They rack up a few thousand miles from Mexico to Canada, and have written glowingly about how durable Darn Tough socks are.
I hike in a lot of brutally hot environments her in Southern California, which means I really need a sock that can control moisture. The merino wool is perfect for this. I first tried the standard Darn Tough hiking sock, but this was a little too much wool and caused my feet to overheat. The 1/4 cushion is the perfect amount, providing plenty of underfoot comfort without the added warmth. I’ll wear the thicker socks in the winter. For those of you who don’t know, Merino wool is naturally anti-microbial. This means you’re feet won’t stink like they do in a cotton or synthetic sock! I can’t even begin to tell you how awesome this was on the John Muir Trail. After long days of hiking in the heat, my feet were always dry and free from odor.
One of the other wonder properties of Merino wool is that it stays warm and insulates, even when wet. We had quite a bit of rain on the JMT this year, and I personally had a few lazy moments were I got my feet wet trying to rock hop over creeks. Over the cold windy passes, my feet stayed nice and warm even after a quick downpour. Most importantly, my socks dried very quickly once the rain stopped.
I give the Darn Tough 1/4 Light Cushion Socks my stamp of approval and suggest you give them a try if you’re looking for a great hiking sock. They also come in many different colors, lengths, and levels of thickness.
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