Hands-on Gear Review
Compare hiking socks - midweight ratings side-by-side >
Street Price: Varies from $15 - $24 | Compare prices at 7 resellers
Pros: Comfortable, insulates well when wet, dries quickly.
Cons: Expensive, cannot take liner.
Best Uses: Three-season backpacking, canoe tripping, mild-weather hiking and trekking.
The Smartwool PhD is a high-performing, fitted wool sock. It is at its best when used alone, a bonus for minimalists but a fact that might dissuade buyers used to a dual layer sock system. The PhD is ultra-versatile and comfortable in almost any conditions with the exception of extreme cold. We brought it hiking, trad climbing, backpacking, kayaking, biking, bouldering, buildering, even to activities that we made up ourselves (see extreme top-hatting), and the Smartwool PhD performed beautifully. While other socks might claim a specific advantage, no sock beat the all-around, aggressive performance of the Smartwool PhD.
If you were to buy only one mid-weight trekking sock, the Smartwool PhD should be it. The Lorpen Primaloft, (2nd highest performing sock) is just as comfortable and dries significantly faster than the PhD, but the PhD can be used over a much wider range of temperatures, making it more suitable for a “one and done” purchase. The REI Light Hiker sock, another high performer, (also the “Best Buy” winner,) is more comfortable in colder temperatures than the PhD, but can’t hold a candle to its aggressive, compression-paneled fit. However, if you are looking for a casual fit and cozy wool, the Light Hiker is your sock.
Compare top rated competitors side-by-side >
OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
Credit: SuperTopo Review Team
While the PhD is an all-around high-performer, its comfort is what really distinguished itself. The sock is fitted and snug, there is heavy padding on high wear areas, such as the toes and heel, and compression panels keep the sock motionless during activity. The PhD was one of only two socks to produce no blisters, a real boon on multi-day trips. Relative to the sock’s thickness, the PhD insulates well, especially when wet. While we would prefer a thicker sock for pure winter travel, the PhD preformed remarkably well in soggy spring conditions.
Credit: SuperTopo Review Team
As (mostly) wool socks go, the PhD’s dried quickly. During our “sunny slab” testing, the socks took about six hours to dry completely, although they reached bearably damp condition well before then. Nylon socks might dry faster, but the insulation value of wool is well worth it.
With the PhD come the limitations of a high-performing sock. The sock is extremely well fitted, but cannot accommodate a liner, a key layering piece for many. With an average price tag of $21.95, the PhD is among the more expensive of the socks tested. And finally, the sock is a slim and sleek performer, but lacks the snuggly warmth of some of the other socks tested. Call me old fashioned, but there are some who still think that’s important.
This sock excels in any situation that demands a sock with a tight fit and warm-while-wet insulation. For multi-day backpacking trips, this sock will keep the wearer from nursing blisters. The socks are thin enough to fit into a pair of climbing shoes while still retaining some sensitivity, making them ideal for alpine ascents or cold-weather cragging. Finally, the socks insulate well enough while wet to warrant use on any canoe tripping, canyoneering, or kayaking adventure.
The Smartwool PhD. is about as high quality of a sock as they come. For the price range, you will not find a better combination of warmth, comfort, and all-around performance.
The PhD is sold in a variety of sizes and styles, from mini to crew to mid-calf, intended for everything from snowboarding to cycling. See Smartwool.com for a complete list.
— Atherton Phleger
Compare this product side-by-side to top competitors >
OutdoorGearLab Member Reviews
Most recent review: June 20, 2011
Where's the Best Price?
*Help support OutdoorGearLab. If you click on one of the seller links and make a purchase, a portion of the sale helps support this site
Related Best-in-Class Review
Helpful Buying Tips
Midweight Sock Buying Advice
by Atherton Phleger
Get More OutdoorGearLab
Follow us on Twitter, be a fan on Facebook!
Related Gear Reviews
Other Gear by Smartwool
Recent Best-in-Class Reviews