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Merino wool socks are the best socks for hiking, backpacking, hunting, fishing and pretty much everything active outdoors — and Darn Tough merino wool socks are the best of the best.
I’ve been wearing merino wool socks for the last two decades — from several great manufacturers — and my all-time favorite merino wool socks have been Darn Tough merino wool socks. They’ve been my go-to socks for hiking, backpacking, fishing, camping, hunting and doing pretty much anything outdoors.
I even wear Darn Tough socks while playing basketball. And better yet, I abuse my Darn Tough socks and they hold strong.
So when Darn Tough reached out to see if I wanted to try a few new pairs to review, I took all of three seconds to think it over. Absolutely.
Darn Tough Merino Wool Socks Review: Lifetime Guarantee and Made in America
There is quite a bit to unpack here: I haven’t bothered writing about socks before this because, well, socks are far less interesting than activities or other gear I’m using. And yet, great socks are the foundation for many outdoor experiences. Bad socks can mean blisters, sloppy shoe fit or funky feet.
Let’s start with the company: Darn Tough, a.k.a. Darn Tough Vermont, makes a wide variety of merino wool socks. Darn Tough also makes socks made with synthetic materials, but I just don’t care. Merino wool is where it’s at, and I’ll get to why in a minute.
First, you should know about the Darn Tough Lifetime Guarantee. If you wear a hole in your Darn Tough socks, Darn Tough will replace them, no questions asked. That’s an outstanding warranty. In addition, Darn Tough socks are made in America. In Vermont. If the USA counts for anything at all to you, it means you should error toward Darn Tough socks. Of course, it helps that Darn Tough merino wool socks are truly great.
Why Are Merino Wool Socks the Best for Everything?
Merino wool is an astounding natural material. First, merino wool is thermostatic in that it is able to insulate for warmth when you need warmth but it doesn’t overheat when you start to overheat. Sounds crazy, I know, but wearing wool socks in the summer doesn’t necessarily mean your feet will get hot.
How does this work? The shape of wool fibers offer great dead-air space insulating properties, which keeps you warm when it’s cold. As you sweat and your body produces water vapor, wool can absorb and wick moisture away from your skin, keeping you warm even if the wool becomes wet. And if it is wet, it still does a good job of maintaining insulating properties.
How does merino wool keep you cool? Because wool is so good at moisture management, as you heat up, the moisture is able to evaporate, which can create a cooling effect. It sounds like magic, I know.
Finally, merino wool may have some antibacterial properties. The science is still a little hard to nail down, but here are the basics: Wool comes from sheep and sheep produce lanolin. Lanolin is an oily, waxy substance that has some antibiotic properties. Trouble is, by the time wool gets through the manufacturing process, most of the lanolin is likely gone. And yet, somehow merino wool socks don’t get funky and stink like synthetic socks do. In fact, wool socks pretty much never get stinky. This means you can wear wool socks many days between washings, which is why most every long-term, thru-hiking backpacker wears wool socks.
Does Wool Kill Bacteria?
Is the wool itself in socks killing bacteria? It sure seems that way, but it’s not likely. What is more likely is that the moisture-management properties of wool move moisture in ways that make it harder for bacteria to propagate over time and produce excretions that smell. Basically, wool does not easily become an ideal environment in which bacteria can thrive. (There is also a chance that the wool absorbs some of the bacterial odors that are created so that we don’t smell them.)
The net result is that wool socks seem to be cleaner than synthetics after wearing them many times. That may not be exactly true, but ask anyone this question: Would you rather wear a stinking synthetic sock or a non-smelly wool sock? In addition, as near as I can tell, wool socks also help limit the likelihood of your boots or shoes becoming stinky, too.
Meanwhile, some synthetics are weaving antibacterial fibers (like silver) into them or using special coatings. Their effectiveness still seems to fall short of merino wool’s natural abilities. For me, merino wool isn’t broken, so I’m not going to try to fix it with a synthetic.
Does Merino Wool Have any Cons?
Merino wool does have some minor cons. For instance, wool can absorb water. For most people most of the time, this results in the moisture-wicking sort of action mentioned above that helps keep your feet mostly dry. After wool is saturated, some synthetics can dry out faster. However, wool can absorb more moisture than many synthetics, so this isn’t exactly a fair point. Either way, in most instances I’d rather put on a slightly wet wool sock than a dry synthetic sock.
So are there any cons? Not really. Merino wool is generally pretty soft but it can be slightly more scratchy for some people than some other types of fibers. Merino wool socks also usually cost more than synthetics.
Are Darn Tough Socks Worth It?
Short answer: Yes, Darn Tough socks are worth it. In my opinion, Darn Tough makes the best merino wool socks. For starters, Darn Tough’s merino wool socks retain all the benefits of merino wool, but they get a boost from Darn Tough. What’s the boost? Made in America manufacturing, a rock-solid lifetime warranty, and a sock that’s simply built to fit and built to last.
I have put hundreds of miles in Darn Tough socks hiking, backpacking, fishing and hunting. I have yet to need to return any of them. In addition, I have worn two pairs of Darn Tough Hiker 1/4 Sock Cushion socks, cycling through them for basketball for the last three years. I wear them for 60-90 minutes, covering 2-5 miles on the basketball court about twice per week. Conservatively speaking, I would say I have at least 500 miles on each pair of Darn Tough socks that I wear for basketball . . . and they’re still going strong. Other wool socks I’ve worn for this purpose haven’t lasted as long.
That said, it’s important to note that most Darn Tough merino wool socks are not 100% merino wool. Darn Tough knows how to blend the merino with synthetics like nylon and lycra spandex to foster better fit and durability. When I buy any merino wool sock, I look for socks that have at least 60% merino wool. Darn Tough has nailed the construction and the blend: They hold their structure when wet or damp, making them fit well regardless of the conditions.
While other merino wool socks can fit and feel great, I turn to Darn Tough because I can simply abuse them more than most other socks. For instance, remember the basketball socks? I toss these socks in the washing machine with my other sweaty basketball shorts and shirts. And then I throw it all in the dryer.
Not only am I washing the wool socks when I technically could simply let them dry out on their own, I’m also subjecting them to the heat of a dryer.
As you might guess, all the wash and dry cycles cause some shrinkage . . . but it’s convenient so I do it anyway — and the Darn Tough socks survive just fine. That’s why I’m such a fan.
Do Darn Tough Socks Shrink?
If you wash and tumble dry Darn Tough wool socks, they will shrink a little, but not much. Darn Tough wool socks come pre-shrunk, but in my experience, they will still shrink a bit if you dry them in a clothes dryer. If you cold wash and line dry? Nope.
What does this do to the fit? I wear a size 14 so the Darn Tough XL, which is aimed at size 12.5-14.5, fits perfectly right out of the gate; however, after I abuse them in the washer and dryer, they shrink a bit so the XL fits snug after several washings — but I wear them anyway.
The best way to keep the sock perfect would be to air-dry them, but that’s too much maintenance for me. So what do I do? I size up to the XXL. The XXL starts out too long, but after several washings . . . they fit well no matter how much I abuse them in the washer and dryer.
And if they wear out, Darn Tough will still replace them.
That’s just outstanding.
Of course, I must admit that I would feel too guilty to actually send in a pair of Darn Tough socks for replacement after hundreds of miles and many many abusive wash/dry cycles. But if a pair actually failed or wore out too soon? I’m confident Darn Tough would replace them.
How Does the Darn Tough Sock Warranty Work?
If you wear a hole in your Darn Tough socks, Darn Tough will replace them free of charge, for life. Darn Tough says that if you are, for some reason, dissatisfied with your purchase, all you have to do is visit the company’s Unconditional Lifetime Guarantee page, fill out the online warranty form and return the worn out socks.
What About Competitive Wool Socks?
I also like Smartwool, Icebreaker, Wigwam, Fox River and L.L.Bean wool socks. These companies also produce great merino wool socks. In my experience, any merino wool sock from a quality brand is better than any other sock.
All that said, I’ve turned into an 80% Darn Tough loyalist. What’s that mean? Four out of five times, when I go to buy a new wool sock, I look at Darn Tough first. They are made in America and they come with an unconditional warranty. I can’t ignore that. It also helps that I believe Darn Tough makes the best wool socks. If the availability of Darn Tough in the moment isn’t right, sure, I’ll consider a competitive sock — just not very often. What I wear most often is my Darn Tough merino wool socks. They are alll made with fine gauge knitting that is very durable. They don’t itch and they feel great overall. Plus, Darn Tough makes nearly undetectable seams, so if seams bother you, try Darn Tough socks.
Best Darn Tough Wool Socks
Darn Tough Hiker 1/4 Sock Cushion — This mid-level cushion sock sits just above the ankle. I wear it on its own for hiking, and sometimes as a first layer sock when my boots fit a bit big. 61% Merino Wool, 37% Nylon, 2% Lycra Spandex.
Darn Tough John Henry Boot Sock Cushion — This mid-calf height cushion sock is designed as a work sock. It is similar to the Hiker Boot Sock Full Cushion, but the top part of your foot has a thinner layer. So you get decent cushion underfoot but the lighter top material helps keep your foot cooler as you work. 64% Merino Wool, 33% Nylon, 3% Lycra Spandex.
Darn Tough Mountaineering Micro Crew Extra Cushion — This may be Darn Tough’s warmest sock, and while it has extra cushion, it’s still designed to fit well. It’s very similar to the Hiker Boot Sock Full Cushion but it has a bit more wool in a thicker construction. 70% Merino Wool, 28% Nylon, 2% Lycra Spandex. (Also available in a taller, over-the-calf version.)
Darn Tough Hunter Boot Sock Full Cushion — The Hunter Boot Sock Full Cushion seems to fit in between the Hiker Boot Sock Full Cushion and the Mountaineering Micro Crew Extra Cushion. It also has a bit more spandex wrapping around middle/arch area of your foot. Very nice. 69% Merino Wool, 27% Nylon, 4% Lycra Spandex.
Darn Tough Over-the-Calf Padded Cushion — These are aimed at skiers and snowboarders. They have a bit more cushion in the bottom of the foot and shin. Still, they’re not super thick and they fit well. Incidentally, ski socks should be fairly thin, which works great when you have boots that fit well. If you boots fit very snug like they’re supposed to, you could go with any of Darn Tough’s regular ski/ride socks. 60% Merino Wool, 36% Nylon, 4% Lycra Spandex.
As you can see, I prefer full cushion and extra cushion, primarily because my foot is slightly small for most size 14 shoes and boots (but too big for 13 shoes) so I like the extra cushion to help create a better fit since I’m unlikely to find many boots or shoes that fit perfectly with thinner socks . . . because pretty much nobody makes a size 13.5 shoe or boot.
If your shoes and boots fit spot-on, you can safely skip the extra cushion and gain a sock that will dry out faster than the thicker versions. They’re all good!