Merino wool socks are all the rage these days, and for a good reason. I get it; I truly do. Once I tried merino wool socks like those from Smartwool vs Darn Tough for my hiking trips, I experienced firsthand the benefits these kinds of socks have to offer. It’s all about comfort, durability, keeping your feet dry with the moisture wicking properties, and superior thermoregulation.
But as we know all too well, not every sock, merino wool or not, is made the same. So today, I’m stacking up Smartwool and Darn Tough to find out which sock brand is the best.
Spoiler Alert!Darn Tough wins (again). These tough socks are perfect if you are looking to buy a pair of durable socks that scores high in the comfort factor. The merino wool is responsibly sourced, and while I love the other benefits merino wool offers, I’m definitely in favor of the company’s “Guaranteed for Life” warranty (and who wouldn’t be?).
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A Definitions of Smartwool and Darn Tough
Socks are often underrated, whether you are walking, running, rucking, hiking, cycling, or traveling. But these babies are super important for your feet. Did you know there are 250,000 sweat glands in one foot sole, and that if you want to measure how much sweat your feet produce, it’ll fill a 96-ounce jug in a day?
Yup, I’m sold on the importance of socks for feet. You’ll never see socks in quite the same light again. So when it comes to socks, what exactly are Smartwool and Darn Tough socks?
Smartwool is an American outdoor apparel company that was established by Patty and Peter Duke, two ski instructors, in Colorado in 1994. Eleven years later, The Timberland Company acquired Smartwool, and then in 2011, the brand became a VF Corporation subsidiary. Smartwool produces clothing, accessories, and socks for men, women, and children in the running, hiking, biking, travel, hunting, skiing, and snowboarding spaces.
Socks from Smartwoolaren’t 100% merino wool. Instead, the socks are made from 57% to 73% (or more) merino wool and nylon, recycled nylon, and elastane. These socks sport features like the various sock cushioning degrees that make them suitable for the athleisure category they are in.
The company partners with organizations that align with their values. They also use plant-based dyes, which are more sustainable, and work with the New Zealand Merino Company to introduce regenerative merino wool. Plus, there’s their Second Cut Project, which requires you to send Smartwool your old socks, which are then repurposed and given a so-called second life.
Another popular brand in the sports sock space is Darn Tough. The company operates under Cabot Hosiery Mills, which was established by March Cabot in Vermont in 1978. Darn Tough produces socks, hats, and T-shirts for those who are into hiking, running, athletics, ski and snowboarding, hunting, and tactical sports. They also have socks for work and athleisure.
Like Smartwool, the socks from Darn Tough aren’t made 100% from merino wool, even though the company is all about ethically sourced materials. Every pair of Darn Tough socks is made from a composite of low micron merino wool (that’s 100% wool), nylon, and lycra to ensure the socks are less bulky for a better fit so they last longer.
In 2022, the company launchedKnit to Give, which is a program where Darn Tough releases a new sock every three months with the proceeds being donated to the Foodbank. Darn Tough supports the Responsible Wool Standard, ensuring the merino wool used in their socks originates from farmers who aim to protect animal welfare and preserve land health.
Smartwool Pros and Cons
Pros of Smartwool
The socks from Smartwool come in seven various heights – no show, low ankle, ankle, mid crew, crew, tall crew, and over-the-calf. Height is an important factor when choosing socks because it helps ensure a snug fit so your socks don’t slip lower and disappear into your shoes. Plus, it helps prevent blisters. So consider your sport shoes and preferences, know that the perfect Smartwool sock with the right height is there for you.
You don’t need to worry about the toe area wearing through. Some Smartwool socks feature Shred Shield anti-wear technology to increase the toe area’s durability so you can run or hike more than 1,000 miles with one pair of Smartwool socks.
The socks come with a built-in arch support system. This helps the sock hug your feet, providing a better and snugger fit so the socks don’t slip down as your exercise.
If you aren’t sure which Smartwool socks are the best for you and your sporting needs, use Smartwool’s Sock Finder feature. The site asks you a few questions and then recommends the best sock variety for you.
Smartwool offers a “Go Far. Feel Good. Guarantee,” which is a two-year guarantee of your Smartwool socks (or apparel). For U.S. based customers, you no longer need to return your product to improve sustainability efforts and customer experiences. If your claim is approved, the company will reimburse you with a digital gift card, which you can use to buy a new Smartwool product.
The Smartwool socks aren’t as densely knit as those from Darn Tough, so they don’t absorb as much moisture. If you are prone to sweaty feet, then Smartwool socks won’t keep your feet sufficiently dry, which is essential if you want no blisters and to enjoy your sport activity or workout.
The socks are thin, so with a lot of wear and tear, they won’t last forever. So the Smartwool socks don’t score so great durability wise.
The toe areas of the socks are not 100% seam-free; they are only Virtually Seamless. If you have sensitive toes and are conscious about seams in the toe area, then even a Virtually Seamless toe area might not be comfortable.
The major component of Darn Tough socks is responsibly sourced merino wool. The biggest benefits of choosing socks that are made from merino wool is that they are odor-resistant, thermoregulate your feet so they don’t overheat or get too cold, and wicks moisture to ensure your feet stay dry.
You have various cushioning options when you choose Darn Tough socks. Cushioning helps absorb shock, whether you are walking, running, or hiking. And the cushioned parts also make the socks more comfortable as they add softness and make your Achilles heel less vulnerable.
Darn Tough has a Sock Finder feature so you can easily find the best socks for you, your partner, friend, or children.
There are few things worse than a sock toe seam that just doesn’t sit right and keeps irritating you, no matter how many times you’ve taken off your shoe and adjusted the sock. You don’t have to worry about this with Darn Tough socks because the socks sport a truly seamless toe area.
The company’s “Unconditionally Guaranteed for Life” warranty. You can return your Darn Tough socks at any stage if you aren’t happy with them and they aren’t the longest pair of socks you have. You don’t need to provide a reason for the return, and you don’t even need to have a receipt.
Generally, Darn Tough socks are slightly more expensive than Smartwool’s; however, they are more durable, costing you less in the long run.
The only caveats to returning your pair of Darn Tough socks under the warranty is that you can’t give them back if you lost a sock in the dryer, they got burned in a fire, or if your furry bestie (dog or cat) had a field day with them.
The thicker construction of the Darn Tough socks, especially if you opt for more cushioning, makes the socks warmer on hot days. So while the merino socks are breathable and sweat-absorbing, your feet may feel too hot and you may feel uncomfortable.
To Sum up the Pros and Cons…
For a short summary if you are still not sure whether Darn Tough vs Smartwool socks are right for you, here’s an infographic to help you:
How to Decide Between Smartwool and Darn Tough
Smartwool used to be THE name brand for durable socks when you do tough outdoor sports … That is, until Darn Tough came along, giving Smartwool a run for its money.
Choose Smartwool socks if:
Prefer thin socks for every-day wear or when you work out
Want arch support to ensure your socks don’t slide down into your shoes
Want fewer sock height options so you can find the ideal socks without feeling overwhelmed by all the options
You don’t mind seams, no matter how minimal they may be, in the sock toe area
You work out for shorter, less intense periods when your feet don’t sweat too much
You don’t like your feet getting overly hot or when you work out in hot climates
Buying the first pair of socks you find online or at a brick-and-mortar store shouldn’t be how you choose the socks you are going to use when you exercise, whether you are going running, walking, hunting, rucking, hiking, or skiing. You need to carefully consider the features of each sock brand and sock type and then determine which ones suit your needs best.
Do you need socks that are moisture-wicking, comfortable, durable, and thermoregulating? Then socks made from merino wool are your best bet.
Both Smartwool vs Darn Tough are popular sock choices for the adventurer, and ultimately, which one is best depends on what you need the socks for.
Here at Endurancely, however, we still recommend Darn Tough. These socks are darn tough (pun intended) and, ultimately, you just can’t go wrong with a pair of these.
Now that you know Darn Tough socks beat those from Smartwool, who is the winner between Darn Tough and Bombas? Read our Bombas vs Darn Tough sock guide to find out.