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Reviews > Clothing > Socks > Dahlgren Backpacking Socks > Test Report by Richard Lyon
DAHLGREN MEN'S BACKPACKING CREW SOCKS
Test Series by Richard Lyon
Initial Report November 17, 2012
Long Term Report March 21, 2013
Personal Details and Backpacking Background
Male, 66 years old
Height: 6'4" [1.91 m], Weight 205 lb [91 kg]
Home: Bozeman, Montana USA
Email: Montana DOT angler AT gmail DOT com
Shoe size: 13 US, 47 European
I've been backpacking regularly in the Rockies since 1986. I do at least one weeklong trip every summer, and often take three-day trips. I'm usually camping in alpine terrain, at altitudes 5000 to 10000 ft (1500-3000 m). I prefer base camp backpacking, a long hike in with day trips from camp. Recently I've been actively reducing my pack weight, but still sleep in a floored tent and often include my favorite camp conveniences. Outdoor activities in winter are often on telemark or touring skis.
INITIAL REPORT - November 17, 2012
Dahlgren's Backpacking socks are crew length (over-the-ankle) wool socks listed by that company as "Heavy Weight" and intended for, well, backpacking. In addition to Dahlgren's signature use of alpaca these socks feature its new Dri-Stride technology. To summarize from Dahlgren's website, Dri-Stride employs Wicking Rings and Wicking Channels (both of these are patented and trademarked) in the Transfer Zone - the fabric encircling the arch/instep area of the sock - to increase significantly the wicking from the Absorption Zones (heel and toe). The different areas of the sock have different fabric content, presumably to facilitate wicking and add strength. The toe and heel [solid brown in the photo below] are 55% merino wool, 28% nylon, 17% alpaca; the arch/instep and Wicking Rings [double-knit flecked tan, then oblong pattern] 70% recycled polyester 17% merino, 8% nylon, 5% alpaca; and the upper [tan "striped"] 75% recycled polyester, 23% nylon, 2% Spandex. From a diagram on the tag attached to the socks (which I tried unsuccessfully to copy) Dri-Stride works by having each sock's construction drive the wicked-away perspiration to the transfer zone and up to the top of the sock for evaporation.
Manufacturer: Dahlgren Footwear, Inc.
Product: Backpacking socks [located in Dahlgren's "Outdoor/Hiking" category]
Size: XL [for Men's US 11-13; also available in L for 8-10˝]
Color: Bark [the only color for size L; also available in XL in Moss or Pitch]
Weight, measured: 4.0 oz (113 g) per pair
Height, measured heel to top: 9.5 in (24 cm)
MSRP: $20.95 US
Country of origin: All Dahlgren socks are made "exclusively" in the United States.
Warranty: I couldn't find one on Dahlgren's website, though the company does provide instructions on returns and suggests that it will replace defective products. Customer pays for return to Dahlgren's facility in Oregon.
"Cozy" may not be a word often associated with backpacking gear, but it's the best one-word description of these socks. The alpaca makes these socks exceptionally soft against my skin, and they have kept my feet warm on a couple of chilly days around the house and on my daily walks with my dog. Another first impression is that these are relatively thick for crew-length socks, which in my experience more closely resemble street-wear bulk in this category.
Fit is good, in fact just about perfect, with my heel sitting flush inside the heel of the sock, even though I am at the upper end of Dahlgren's stated size range. The socks come several inches/centimeters above the cuff of the boots (one pair full-grain leather, one pair GORE-TEX) I ordinarily wear when hiking or snowshoeing in winter. The same is true of my ski touring boots, but, alas, the socks are too short to wear with either my telemark or randonče ski boots. Fit is tight but not constraining at the top of the socks.
These socks are so comfortable that but for this test and my reporting obligations I'd be tempted to limit their use to the front country. But I'll do my best to put them through their outdoor paces, when hiking, snowshoeing, and ski touring this winter in the Rockies.
LONG TERM REPORT - March 21, 2013
I have worn my Dahlgren Backpacking socks on all or a portion of about twenty days since filing my Initial Report. This includes some limited everyday wear, but I tried to reserve the Dahlgrens for outdoor activities. Included were three weekend overnight hikes to nearby US Forest Service cabins, twice on snowshoes and once on cross-country skis; perhaps a dozen days when cross-country skiing either at a local ranch or hiking trails; some local hikes on snowshoes; and treks with my dog on the roads and trails near my house.
When wearing snowshoes I wore the Dahlgrens with the Chaco Tedinho Waterproof Boots that I have also been testing. (These boots are pictured in my Initial Report.) Most hikes were also in the Tedinhos, though occasionally I wore trail runners. When cross-country skiing I wore standard classic ski boots, a bit higher and stiffer than the Tedinhos. On a few of the ski trips I wore the Dahlgrens over thin liner socks to reduce the blister risk as my cross-country boots are a bit loose in the heel. I didn't add the liners for any reason related to the Dahlgrens' performance.
It's safe to say that I encountered snow on every outing. My home base of Bridger Canyon, just north and east of Bozeman, has been covered with snow since early December. The only relief has been slush caused by somewhat higher temperatures over the past ten days or so. Outside temperatures have ranged from about -5 to 45 F (-23 to 8 C) and weather has been most frequently overcast with occasional snow showers, though I've met with heavy snow and clear sunny days from time to time.
Most of the time I've washed the Dahlgrens with other socks and wool garments, in my front-loading washer with non-detergent soap and cold water, followed by drying in the dryer on medium heat. Usually I remembered to wash and dry socks inside out. On one overnight I stepped into a puddle in the cabin, wearing only the socks on my feet. I immediately rinsed them with clean water and air-dried them over the stove. Home washings usually took place after two or three days' wearing the socks for outdoor activities.
Fit. These socks still fit well, as well as the first time I put them on. I suspect that the sectional Dri-Stride technology has something to do with this. Separating the socks into segments that are then stitched together minimizes or eliminates distortion. Whatever the reason, I haven't noticed any stretching of the toe-to-heel portion of a sock that, with some other socks I've worn, extends the heel cup. This bothersome phenomenon accelerates wear and facilitates unhealthy foot movement inside the sock. The photo at left, by itself or compared to the top photo in my Initial Report, shows no significant (even insignificant) change from the socks' brand-new shape. Of particular importance is the wicking rings' retaining their narrower profile, which helps hold the socks in place when I'm wearing them. The fact that I haven't had a blister, even when wearing my slightly-too-wide-at-the-heel cross-country boots, bears out this observation and is the top compliment to the socks.
Warmth. They're still cozy - soft and warm. Because I've been testing the Tedinho boots, this winter my boots have been somewhat less insulated than those I have worn in the past. But my feet have stayed warm when wearing the Dahlgrens, with or without a silk liner. This has been most noticeable during non-athletic use, such as watching the collegiate regional cross-country ski championships at nearby Bohart Ranch on a windy, 15 F/-10 C day. I sense cold feet more when I'm standing around than when I'm hiking or skiing. Thanks to the Dahlgrens, no problem during those chilly three hours. If anything I'm worried that the Backpacking socks might be too warm for summer hiking wear. (If that turns out to be the case I have another use for them in warmer weather - see The Bottom Line below.)
Wicking. The Dahlgrens are slightly damp when I remove them after a hike or ski. That hasn't approached saturation or even an instance when my feet felt damp immediately after exercise, such as a rest stop after a climb on skis. Entirely satisfactory performance.
Odor Management. After a few days' wear without a wash the Dahlgrens have a bit of odor, but much less than other socks I've tried that have a lower wool content. Air-drying them overnight, either at home in my basement (about 50 F/10 C) or in the Forest Service Cabin (32-40 F/0-4 C after the woodstove fire died down) has eliminated the odor.
Durability. As noted and pictured above, these socks have kept their integrity notwithstanding continued use and several machine washings and drying during the past four months. Even more impressively, I can detect no wear at the top of the heel from rubbing against my boots or shoes. That's the good news (and I deem it very good news). Less than good news is a bit of pilling on the upper portion of the socks, faintly visible in the photo above. This surprised me, as it hasn't occurred with several other pairs of Dahlgren socks that I've owned for a couple of years. What's especially odd is that the pilling is on the outside of the socks, which most of the time is not exposed to other items in the dryer. I consider this a minor defect that so far hasn't impacted performance.
The Bottom Line. The Dahlgren Backpacking socks have been excellent all-around performance socks for winter outdoor activities here in the Northern Rocky Mountains. I have no complaints regarding their use when hiking, snowshoeing, or skiing. As is true of my other Dahlgren socks, their stickout feature, to my feet at least, is how soft and warm they are. The alpaca really shines through. For this reason I have often used my other Dahlgren socks (also solid performers when hiking) as my sleep socks in the backcountry, a pair of socks in my kit that are only worn in my sleeping bag or around camp, or maybe on the last day of hiking. The Backpacking socks may fill the same important niche, though I'm going to see how well they do as hiking socks when the weather warms up.
My Test Report ends here, with thanks to Dahlgren and BackpackGearTest.org for the chance to test these socks.
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