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There are times when conventional wisdom holds true. ‘Don’t skimp on anything that goes between you and the ground,’ the saying goes. Tires, mattresses, shoes – these are items were trying to save a little money can cost you dearly in terms of comfort, safety, or both. But does the same hold true for socks? Is it worth coughing up the seemingly exorbitant price for a pair of performance wool socks like those offered by Darn Tough?
If you do any sort of outdoor activity, the answer is yes. I don’t want to bury the lede, so let’s make this clear right at the outset: Darn Tough socks are excellent, and I strongly, strongly, recommend them. But to understand why so let’s take a deep dive into socks and the role they play in the outdoors.
If you’ve spent any time amongst outdoorsy folks, you’ve probably heard that cotton kills. Or, if you’re less lucky, the downsides of cotton socks may be something you’ve experienced yourself. Cotton is soft and warm, but it dries slowly and doesn’t wick moisture away, meaning that once your feet get wet in cotton socks, they stay wet. Wet feet are uncomfortable, and feet that stay wet are often going to blister or develop even worse conditions. That means that cheap 5- and 10-pack cotton socks from the department store are out.
Plastic, nylon, and polyester socks can keep your feet a lot cooler than cotton, which might be good for summer activities, but they’re not particularly breathable, and they’re not going to keep your feet warm when it gets cold. That makes them a less-than-ideal choice for a wide variety of outdoor activities.
Newer synthetic fabrics perform better, but when it comes to the ideal sock material for outdoor enthusiasts, there’s really only one answer: merino wool. It’s about as close as we’ve come to a miracle fabric: merino will keep your feet cool in summer and warm in winter; it’s wicking and breathable, it’s durable, and it’s naturally antimicrobial. It even dries quickly. There’s really only one downside to merino wool, and that’s price. But when you consider the cost over a sock’s lifetime, the calculus is pretty clear. That’s especially true when it comes to Darn Tough.
Darn Tough is a Vermont-based sock brand that makes socks with a blend of merino wool and synthetic fabrics. They offer a wide variety of styles and aesthetics, with offerings tuned for everything from hot summer runs to frigid mountaineering expeditions, all made of mostly merino wool. They also all sport prices that might make cotton sock shoppers’ jaws drop, with a pair in almost any style typically costing somewhere between $15 to $25 (Check the latest rates here!).
Those high prices, however, are offset by the fact that when you buy a pair of Darn Tough socks, you may not ever have to buy another pair. The company offers an unconditional lifetime guarantee (lifetime warranty) on all of its socks, and if your socks wear out or you’re otherwise unsatisfied, you can return them for a new pair, even if they’re years old.
That’s a pretty awesome testament to their durability!
Does Darn Tough honor that guarantee? By all reports, yes. But most Darn Tough owners – myself included – will likely never test it because their socks are as close to perfect as I can imagine a sock being.
Of course, Darn Tough offers a variety of models, and I haven’t tried every single one. But I do own Darn Tough socks that run the gamut of thickness and size, from three pairs of thin, low-cut running socks to some cushioned ¼ hiking socks and even a pair of their ultra-cushioned (extra cushion), ultra-thick, over-the-calf mountaineering socks, and I love all of them.
I started with running socks. Around four years ago, as I built up my running mileage, I realized that my regular cotton socks simply weren’t getting it done. They were uncomfortable, they were getting destroyed by my runs, and on longer runs, they’d get soaked by sweat and cause blisters. I’d heard of the hype about Darn Tough, so I decided to take the plunge and spring for a couple of pairs when I spotted a rare sale.
I have to admit, I was skeptical when I first slipped them onto my feet. Merino wool isn’t nearly as soft as cotton, and they felt a bit hard/scratchy. They also felt a bit thick for a hot summer run, and I started worrying that the thicker, harder socks were going to meet a whole bunch of blisters. But I ran in them anyway and noticed…nothing. No hotness, no sweat, certainly no blisters. My feet felt comfortable and dry that entire run, and every run I’ve taken since.
These days, I won’t do a run in anything but Darn Tough socks if it’s longer than a few miles, and I’ve probably put at least two thousand miles into my three pairs of running socks. Despite that, they’re all still in excellent condition, barely distinguishable from new. I’ve never gotten a blister in any of them, and they’re just as comfortable on frigid winter runs as they are on hot summer runs.
Perhaps equally important, I realized quickly that I could even use my Darn Tough socks for more than one run without washing them if I had to. It’s not something I do often, but they dry fast and they don’t tend to smell even if you – like me – have sweaty feet. I’d still recommend washing them after use when it’s possible, but if you’ve forgotten (or you’re out in the backcountry and you can’t) they’re more reusable (and reusing them is less gross) than any other socks I’ve owned.
They’re about as close as socks come to magic.
Having had that experience with the running socks, I picked up a couple of pairs for hiking and one massive over-the-calf pair for mountaineering, and I’ve had the same experience with those, too. The hiking socks are incredibly comfortable – they’re cushion socks, and feel much softer than the running socks – and I’ve worn them on hot summer days, snowy winter days, and everything in between without any discomfort. Nor have I ever gotten a blister on my feet. And of course, with hiking socks, the reusable factor is key for multi-day trips. In a pinch, you can pack a couple pairs and alternate them for multi-day hikes, rinse dirty pairs off when you get a chance, and you’re likely to be comfortable and relatively smell-free throughout the entire trip
The mountaineering socks are similar, although for me they take a little more engineering because my mountaineering boots are very thick, rigid, and not even remotely breathable. I typically wear them with a very thin inner liner sock to speed the moisture-wicking (since the mountaineering socks are thick), and I tape up my heels before putting them on just as an extra defense against blisters in my boots’ hottest “hot spot.” But taking those precautions, I haven’t had any issues with these socks, and I’ve worn them in temperatures well below zero and in what felt like absolutely blazing heat on a summer slog up Mount Rainier’s Muir snowfield. No problems and, like my running and hiking socks, they still look and smell as good as new despite the abuse and sweat I’ve thrown at them.
The price. That’s honestly the only real disadvantage I’ve experienced, and it’s the only thing that prevents me from tossing out all of my other socks and replacing everything with Darn Tough right now. You certainly get what you pay for – in my experience Darn Tough socks are incredibly worth it – but it can still be tough to stomach the up-front costs, especially if you’re active a lot and are going to need more than one or two pairs. If you do a variety of outdoor activities across all four seasons, you’d almost certainly have to spend at least $100 (and probably quite a bit more) to cover all of your socks needs with
But then again, that’s $100 you only need to spend once, because those socks will take years and years to wear out (if they ever do).
The only other potential disadvantage could be the aesthetics, depending on your taste. They come in some crazy colors and patterns, and depending on which model you want, you may not have a lot of choices. I’ve never loved the look of any of my Darn Tough socks, to be totally honest, but they perform so well that I really don’t care. (And they’re socks, so it’s not like anyone really sees them anyway; they’re almost always hidden under shoes, boots, and pant legs).
If you do anything athletic or outdoorsy, the answer is an unqualified, wholehearted yes. Every pair of Darn Tough I’ve tried has kept my feet incredibly comfortable while proving remarkably durable and shockingly versatile across every season. If you’re not doing anything athletic or outdoorsy they may not be worth the expense – your feet don’t need high-tier moisture wicking for a trip to the grocery store – although they’ll keep your feet comfortable even when doing mundane tasks. But for anything active, I can’t recommend them highly enough. After my experience with them over the past four years, I wouldn’t buy anything else.
Sam Hardy is an outdoor enthusiast with a penchant for survival skills. He writes about the great outdoors and his favorite equipment here.