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SmartWool PhD Ski Medium Review

SmartWool PhD Ski Medium
Editors' Choice Award
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Price:  $26 List | $18.09 at REI
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Pros:  Comfortable, durable, wicks moisture, warm
Cons:  Expensive, no lifetime guarantee
Manufacturer:   SmartWool
By Andrew Soleman ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  Nov 21, 2016
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90
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#1 of 5
  • Comfort - 30% 9
  • Warmth - 20% 9
  • Drying Speed - 20% 9
  • Fit - 20% 9
  • Durability - 10% 9

The Skinny

For those who demand the most out of their ski socks, Smartwool has created a new industry standard for quality. The PhD Medium Ski Sock fits like a glove (but on the opposite appendage) and is built to perform in both wet and cold environments, all season long. This winter and spring we put this sock through a gauntlet of skiing's demands: cross-country, alpine, telemark, backcountry touring, ski mountaineering, and quite a bit of mountain biking too. It not only kept us warm and dry, it had the most life left of any sock we tested at the end of our review. While other socks might claim a specific advantage over the PhD, no sock beat the all-around performance and dependability the PhD provides.

If you were to buy only one ski sock for the entire season, the PhD would be it. The Icebreaker Ski+ Light is similar in comfort, and dries notably faster than the PhD, but the PhD's durability set it apart. The Fox River Wilmot, which took our Best Buy Award, is equally as warm and comfortable as the PhD, but it can't hold a candle to the moisture wicking abilities or fit of the PhD. If you prefer a lighter sock, we recommend the more minimally cushioned PhD Ski Light. It has the ame design with less padding around the shin and underfoot.


Compare to Similar Products

Our Analysis and Test Results

The PhD Ski sock now features "indestructawool" technology. The heel and toe have been reinforced for increased durability while still maintaining the comfort and ventilation.

Hands-On Review


The SmartWool PhD ski sock is made of merino wool and nylon, along with a little elastic added for stretch. It's our favorite ski sock by a significant margin. The PhD possesses a unique and exceptional blend of comfort, warmth, and durability. With a snug fit and precisely placed padding, these socks keep your feet warm through a huge range of temperatures. It is comfortable in nearly any condition, from winter dumps to wet spring tours. These socks also have patented wool in high impact areas that make it the most durable model on the market. If we had to choose one sock among the top products, the SmartWool PhD Ski Sock would be it.

Performance Comparison


Having a comfortable ski sock can make your break your day. Here the well-fitting and durable SmartWool PhD is put to the test on an all-day spring ski traverse of the San Joaquin Ridge  from June Mountain to Mammoth Mountain  CA.
Having a comfortable ski sock can make your break your day. Here the well-fitting and durable SmartWool PhD is put to the test on an all-day spring ski traverse of the San Joaquin Ridge, from June Mountain to Mammoth Mountain, CA.

Comfort


The SmartWool PhD is the best fitting ski sock we tested. They fit "like a glove" on most feet, even the wide-footed testers, and were never found to be too tight. With ample padding on the shin and foot, this sock has a cozy feel from the start that we found to continue throughout the day. With a trademark 4-degree elite fit system that uses two elastics to keep the sock in place, they never suffer from bunching or scrunching and ensure a blister-free experience that is paramount to happy feet. At 14" in height, they cover more than enough of the leg, and some testers found the came over the knee, which made for an even more comfortable fit. Be careful, you may find yourself reaching for these instead of your slippers next time.

The Editors' Choice  SmartWool PhD Ski Medium comes all the way to the knee  which we like. It has cushion on the shin and foot.
The Editors' Choice, SmartWool PhD Ski Medium comes all the way to the knee, which we like. It has cushion on the shin and foot.

Warmth


The PhD is the warmest sock that we tested. It's a medium weight sock, and handles the heat almost as well as it handles the frigid cold. There was never a condition we found that this sock was not up for. Even in tightly fitting downhill boots, these socks maintain the same warm feel as when in looser fitting touring boots. When other socks got cold and clammy, the PhD continued to deliver warm, dry feet. In fact, the padding in these socks provides such great warmth, it was missed when testing other socks against it.

Wicking Ability & Drying Speed


Merino wool is exceptional at wicking away moisture by bringing vapor to the surface and helping it evaporate before it turns into sweat. These socks did this wonderfully and only suffered from saturation in the very warmest of conditions. It took a surprisingly long time for the socks to become damp, only the Icebreaker Ski+ Light was better at this. When high output is required in cold conditions, these socks rise to the occasion and can be counted on as a go-to performer.

Ski Boot Fit


We found the PhD to be the most boot friendly sock we tested. With great construction, it does not suffer from scrunching and holds its fit throughout the day. This sock does have some padding, and skiers who demand a tight fitting boot may find this model too bulky, and may want to opt for a thinner version such as the Darn Tough Over-the-Calf Ultralight.

Using two elastics to keep the sock in place  the Smartwool PhD never suffers from bunching or scrunching and ensures a blister free experience that is paramount to happy feet.
Using two elastics to keep the sock in place, the Smartwool PhD never suffers from bunching or scrunching and ensures a blister free experience that is paramount to happy feet.

Durability


When all the testing was said and done, the PhD was left with the most life in it. A perfect blend of merino wool, nylon, and elastic have created a sock that will perform AND stand up to heavy use. When other socks were becoming worn out in high impact areas, these socks returned with the same cozy, glove-like fit they started with. Though these socks are tough, they are not backed by a no-questions-asked-guarantee like some of its competitors. If this is an important factor, take a look at the Icebreaker Ski+ Light, which does have a lifetime guarantee.

The top contenders for most comfortable sock: the Icebreaker Ski+ Lite (left) and the SmartWool PhD Ski Medium (right). Ultimately  the Icebreaker is better at wicking  but the Smartwool is far more durable.
The top contenders for most comfortable sock: the Icebreaker Ski+ Lite (left) and the SmartWool PhD Ski Medium (right). Ultimately, the Icebreaker is better at wicking, but the Smartwool is far more durable.

Best Applications


The PhD excels in any type of cold weather activity where all day comfort, warmth, and moisture wicking cannot be compromised. Whether on a week-long family ski trip, a multi-day backcountry tour, or an afternoon at your local ski hill, these socks are ready to keep your feet happy so you can focus on what is important. They are so durable that we found them to perform beautifully as a mountain biking sock as well.

The SmartWool PhD Medium Ski sock is comfortable in any ski situation we found  but we think they prefer powder days (like us).
The SmartWool PhD Medium Ski sock is comfortable in any ski situation we found, but we think they prefer powder days (like us).

Value


At around $25, the SmartWool PhD is expensive. You could buy two pairs of other wool socks for this same price. But we believe that this ski sock is worth it. Quality is a value that is unmatched, because these socks will still be around when others will have been replaced many times over.

Conclusion


This is our choice if we were only going to buy one sock for the entire ski season. This comfortable, durable sock will easily outlast some of the other models and perform well every day. It wins our Editors' Choice award as our all-around favorite ski sock.


Andrew Soleman