The REI Light Hiker II is a great hybrid of performance and leisure, of old-school materials and updated design. If you are on a tight budget, this is the sock for you. That said, there are better socks out there. The Darn Tough and the SmartWool PhD Outdoor Medium Crew Socks dry faster, are tighter-fitting, and handle warm conditions better. The Darn Tough is much more durable.
But the REI Light Hiker, aside from being significantly cheaper, has its own appeal. The REI Light Hiker can fit in a liner without compromising performance, and insulates better than either of the two mentioned above.
Finally, there's the cozy factor. If the Lorpen Primaloft and Smartwool PhD represent the cutting edge of performance, then the REI Light Hikers are the pinnacle of leisure. A sock rarely changes your perspective, but the REI Light Hiker can make any mesa, meadow, mountain or moraine feel like home.
REI Merino Wool Light Hiker II Socks ReviewPrice: $15 List | $10.39 at REI Pros: Comfortable, cozy, warm.
Cons: Not very durable.
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Our Analysis and Test Results
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.)
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 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.
With a retail price of $10.50, the REI Light Hikers are a great value, and our Best Buy.
— Atherton Phleger
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Most recent review: June 17, 2011
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