The REI Light Hiker II
The REI Light Hiker II is a medium-performance, ultra-cozy sock that can bring a bit of luxury into the backcountry. While it didn't have the super-aggressive fit of some of the other high-performing socks, the Light Hiker II does have a compression band around the arch that keeps the sock more in less in place. The band didn't completely eliminate blisters but it made the sock overall more comfortable than some of its competitors. (It should be noted that because the REI Light hiker is loose-fitting enough to accommodate a liner, the blister problem could be eliminated.)
The REI Light Hikers after a preliminary round of testing.
Detail of compression band
For whatever reason, the wool used to create the REI Light Hiker is the most fantastically cozy wool we've come across. It reminded testers of rainy days at home, hot chocolate, knitted rugs, and mom's homemade cookies. After long, wet slogs, there is nothing better than a dry pair.
Finally, these socks are warm. They have a great insulation-to-weight ratio, especially when dry. They didn't insulate quite as well as we expected when wet, but they performed adequately. The REI Light Hikers are at their best re-warming cold, wet toes.
The overwhelming coziness of the REI Light Hikers comes at a price. The loose knit is highly prone to catching on branches, barbed-wire fences, and errant brambles. The socks had a hole in the upper shin within the first six hours of preliminary testing.
The least whole-y and most hole-y of the socks tested.
The REI Light Hikers do not wick very well. During testing in hot weather, testers found their socks soaked and their feet overheated. These socks are at their best in cold weather.
Hiking and backpacking in cold weather, winter climbing. The REI Light Hiker II might not handle heat very well, but they perform beautifully when the temperature drops, keeping toes toasty well below freezing. They're thick enough to insulate well, but can also fit into a pair of generously sized climbing shoes, though not as well as the Lorpen Primaloft or Smartwool PhD. This makes them great for mountaineering or spring climbing, although you would want something burlier for winter climbs and major peaks. That said, a dry pair of REI Light Hikers deserves a place on any trip where you can spare a few grams for home-style luxury.
The REI Light Hikers gracefully handling winter conditions in Camp 4, spring 2011.
With a retail price of $17, the REI Light Hikers are a great value, and our Best Buy.