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Reviews > Clothing > Socks > DeFeet Blaze > Andre Corterier > Test Report by Andre Corterier

DeFeet (Charcoal Wool) Blaze Socks

Report Series by André Corterier
Initial Report (June 2007)
Field Report (September 2007)
Long Term Report (December 2007)

Picture by manufacturer

Personal Biographical Information:
Name: André Corterier
Gender: M
Age: 35
Height: 1.85 m (6 ft 1 in)
Weight: 80 kg (175 lb)
Shoe Size: 46 (EUR), 12 (US)
Email: andreDOTcorterierATfreenetDOTde
Home: Bonn, Germany

Backpacking Background:
I have started out with backpacking slowly – single-day 24 km (15 mi) jaunts by myself or even shorter hikes in the company of my little daughter. I am getting started on longer hikes, as a lightweight packer and tarp or hammock-camper. I’ve begun upgrading my old gear and am now carrying a dry FSO weight (everything carried From the Skin Out except food, fuel and water) of about 9 kg (20 lb) for three-season camping.

Year of manufacture: 2007?
Date received: 15 June 2007
Manufacturer: DeFeet International
URL: http://www.defeet.com
MSRP: 13 USD

Weight (size XL): 95 g (3.35 oz)
(as measured - no listed weight given)

Material: 63% wool, 27% nylon, 10% Lycra

Initial Impression:
These are textile sheaths for the feet, which I found unsurprising seeing as how they're marketed as socks. Which is what they are. Hm. Closer inspection reveals that they appear to be made out of five different types of weave. There's (1) the solid black sole of the socks, (2) a different weave at the forefoot and heel, (3) is a greyish band above the sole and around the (4) lace pad, and yet a different weave (5) around the part of the foot/leg that would be visible above a low-cut shoe.

(1): The soles are moderately thick, still somewhat fluffy after having been washed.

(2): Forefoot and heel appear to be made out of a very similar material as the sole, though even thicker. This would seem to correspond to the areas in which socks (and feet!) experience the most stress. I'm hoping this will both allow the socks to last longer and cushion my feet better. The hangtag says these panels are "puncture-resistant". I'm not at all sure what to make of that. A thorn or needle punctures it quite easily (I checked). So what kind of "puncture" might the manufacturer (or marketing busybody) have had in mind? Is someone trying to tell me these socks won't wear through too quickly? All socks "resist" wearing through - though some do it for a shorter time than others. I guess I'll see how this pans out during the next four months.

(3): The greyish band around the lace pads looks thinnest and shows a rather open weave. This coincides nicely with the most open weave on my running shoes, in which I do most of my hiking nowadays. I am hoping that this will allow for good moisture management. These are wool socks, after all, and I will be testing them in summer.

(4): The lace pad is slightly thicker than the surrounding area, though not as thick as the sole. It's not a feature I find necessarily desirable in socks, as my running shoes do not exert the kind of pressure on my feet which would make me wish for cushioning in that direction (as opposed to the soles, where the combined weight of my body and pack exert enough pressure that I can't have enough, much less too much, cushioning). But this may be different in other shoes (I'll try this with my other shoes) and for other people. It doesn't appear to be an overbuilt feature, so I don't mind.

(5): I found the ankle area to be surprisingly thick. I sometimes wear running socks, and those tend to be really thin around the ankles. The Blazes are actually constructed of a double layer here. Effectively, it's as though a longer length sock had been folded down at the cuff with the top edge pulled down to a point about 2 fingers' widths above the heel area (and woven back into the sock's weave at that point). I am uncertain what this is meant to accomplish. I'm sure the manufacturer must have a reason for this, as it's a complicated thing to manufacture. Strangely, there's not even a marketing blurb hyping (or even mentioning) this feature. Without an idea of what additional benefit this might entail, it seems like dead weight to me.

I also note a stretchy band circling the foot perpendicular to its length, about halfway between forefoot and ankle, effectively wrapped around the metatarsal bones. I am guessing this is meant to keep the sock snug around all of the foot (and it seems to be doing that).

Fit:
The socks fit well. I see that my feet are at the lower range for XL size socks. While I dislike socks that are too tight, I dislike socks that feel loose around my feet even more (this sometimes leads to little folds bunching up in my shoes, one of the few scenarios in which I develop hot spots). These fit comfortably snugly, without undue pressure. I like it.

Comfort:
The Blazes are quite comfortable on my feet. I note the cushioning the sole provided while I walk around in them inside the house (without shoes). It's nice.

Test Plan:
I will be taking these socks on all of my hikes during the test period. I'll try to be testing them in much of my footwear, weather permitting. The main outing will be a projected 320 km (200 mi) hike along the "Rheinsteig", a trail following roughly the ridgeline of the hills along the Rhine River from Bonn (where I live) to Wiesbaden. I'll likely bring one other pair of socks and may be using the Blazes with liner socks inside some of the time.


FIELD REPORT:

Field Experience:
I've been using these socks inside the house, at work and other places, dayhiking in the local foothills (temps between 10 and 20 C / 50 and 70 F, elevation between 100 and 500 m / 330 and 1550 ft) with varying forms of precipitation, in really hot temps in Syria (supposedly up to 45 C / 113 F) and on a week-long excursion along the Rheinsteig, in temps between 5 and 35 C / 40 and 95 F, elevation between 80 and 465 m (260 and 1520 ft) in dry, wet and really wet weather.

I've worn them without shoes and in dress shoes, but mostly in my running shoes (in which I do most of my hiking), but also in a pair of Columbia Black Rock XCR (waterproof/water vapour permeable) hiking shoes and with a very old pair of Teva hiking sandals.

Dayhiking:
My experience with these socks when dayhiking has been entirely positive. They provided some additional cushioning to my feet, which was quite unnecessary but nevertheless entirely welcome, kept them warm enough during the cooler days without overheating them on the warmer (20 C / 70 F) days. I wore them mostly inside my Asics Gel Cumulus running shoes (in which I do most of my hiking), but also inside pairs of Columbia Black Rock XCR hiking shoes and Columbia DayPack XCR hiking shoes (the former are low cut, the latter high cut). The socks were comfortable throughout. I did not develop hot spots or any other type of discomfort. I should note, however, that I am not generally prone to such problems, particularly as I have found well-fitting shoes.

Syria:
The temperatures in Syria were reported to have reached 45 C (113 F) in the shade while I was there. I'm not sure where they measured this, because I did not see much shade... I tried wearing them both inside my running shoes and with Teva sandals, but felt like my feet were beginning to swim shortly after I started walking. This was not much of a surprise - after all, it was so warm I didn't need socks at night, certainly not during the day!

Rheinsteig:
This one week tour in July put the Blazes (and another pair of socks which they took turns with) through their paces. The week started with weather cool and rainy enough for nearly everyone I met to extend their commiseration to me to be hiking in such bad weather (I don't know what their problem was - it was still fun, and I had the trail all to myself). It warmed up towards the end of the week and the weekend turned into the kind of scorcher one might have expected of July around here. I was wearing running shoes for the whole stretch.

The cool weather (down to about 5 C / 40 F) again was fine. It's weather in which really thin socks can make my feet feel a little cool in the thin shoes (the tops are about 50 % mesh), but they remained warm and dry (absent rain). I got a load of rain and hail dropped on me so suddenly that I was soaked before I could set up my hammock in order to cower underneath its rainfly (which was my rainy weather technique - given the time of year, I had left my rain gear at home). After the squall had blown past, I wrung the Blazes out and hung them from my pack while I continued in the other pair of socks. My impression was that, given the low ambient temperature, the Blazes did not let go of any moisture by air drying beyond what I had squeezed out of them already. So, once my feet were warm again, I put the Blazes on wet in order to dry them out by wearing them. Putting them on wet was difficult, particularly to get a fit without any small folds, because the sock material clung to the skin of my feet. But I managed eventually. The icky, clammy feeling I got when pulling them on went away pretty much the moment I started walking. While they seemed a little less comfortable to walk in when wet, there were no noticeable problems. Of course, it was still rather cool weather and any heat generated by my feet was countered by evaporative cooling, so one didn't have to expect blisters. Still, I am happy to report that no blisters or even hotspots occurred and that the socks were indeed considerably drier after two hours of walking (as were my shoes).

In warmer weather of the 10 to 20 C (50 to 70 F) variety, my experience was much the same as when dayhiking. It's not a particularly challenging temperature range, and there were no temperature-related issues. There was one issue related to terrain. I was following a trail for a few hours which had a lot of sections with a certain degree of lateral slant to them. While the Rheinsteig is pretty much always either going up or down, this section's trail was also inclined left-to-right as I walked across it. When walking across such terrain in light running shoes, I have a tendency to move my foot inside the shoes. As I put my foot down, the downhill side of its sole descends beneath the level of the uphill side until the sole is flat against the (slanted) ground. I guess it would be possible for me to roll my ankle all the way so that the sole of my foot stayed oriented with the sole of my shoes and make up for the angle required to keep my body upright with my ankles. That doesn't feel good, however. I believe heavier hiking boots are designed precisely to prevent this - by locking in the ankle, they require to keep the sole of the boot horizontal, so that one walks on the uphill edge of the soles on slanted paths. In my case, I make up for this "locking" of the ankle by keeping it semi-locked through musculature. This means that the foot turns a little inside the shoe. In these instances, I noticed a tendency for the Blaze socks to stay oriented with the shoe rather than the foot, which meant that the friction generated thereby was generated on the inside surface of the socks, rather than on their outside surface. This did not entirely defeat the purpose of wearing socks, and the sections of trail so inclined were short enough not to create serious hotspots, though walking them did feel uncomfortable. I noticed no such tendencies on sections of trail which were horizontal in lateral orientation, no matter how steeply they led uphill or downhill.

The weekend had temperatures well above 30 C (85 F) and, as luck would have it, this was the section of trail which was predominantly in the open, rather than covered by trees, so there was little shade to be found. My personal feeling was that 30 C (85 F) was about the upper temperature limit in which I found the Blazes to be comfortable. This was during early and late morning and after sundown. Between noon and dusk I began noticeably "swimming" in my shoes as the moisture generated by my feet to cool them down could not evaporate quickly enough. This wasn't really a problem on the horizontal sections of trail (luckily, the weekend stretch also featured some of those opposed to the Rheinsteig's more usual up/down/up/down combinations). On the inclines and declines, however, this led to some slight slipping inside my shoes (though I tied them tightly). This did not lead to hotspots as such, but I did notice a bit of pressure along the lace pad and experienced an uncomfortable tingling sensation on the entire soles of both feet. The effect described here was marginally less pronounced in the other pair of socks I had with me - slightly thinner with a smaller wool content - but still present. On the Sunday - which really lived up to its name - this turned into a marginally painful burning sensation which abated only slightly during rest breaks. I even tried walking barefoot for a while. This exchanged the burning sensation for various prickly, raspy, pointy and other marginally painful sensations *and* slowed me down, so I gave up on that. I expect I would have walked a little further on that day if this problem had not occurred, but I was already pretty beat any way so called it a hike in the early afternoon.

I should point out at this time that this was the first week-long hike I have ever undertaken. It was also the seventh day, and I'd been making pretty good mileage (particularly considering the ups and downs) every day, so I figure my feet were in for a day of rest no matter what.


LONG TERM REPORT:

Field Experience:
My field experience with these socks has been rather more sedate during the past two months than during the previous time. I've mostly worn them dayhiking and on three overnighters. I've not been on longer trips at all. I have worn them inside my dress shoes on a couple of business trips in colder weather. Temperatures have been around freezing, elevation generally not much of a factor. I've worn them in rain, but in waterproof shoes.

Wicking:
Regarding use in waterproof shoes, I have found them to wick moisture away from my feet well and they seem to do so in a form which allows the moisture to pass through the permeable membrane in the shoes pretty well. In the case of the waterproof shoes I used them with, these were Gore-Tex XCR membranes in both cases. While on the subject of sweat, I've been able to wear them for several consecutive days without them generating a noticeable smell. Because I could not undertake any longer trips during the immediate past, these were not consecutive days of hard hiking. However, I'm sure my feet did generate some sweat (beyond the normal insensible perspiration). I'm happy with this finding.

Durability:
The socks continue to hold up well. Of course, I've put *much* less distance on them in the past couple of weeks than in the Field Report phase. They do not seem significantly changed from my earlier report - I can see some pilling and thinning of the weave on heel and forefoot, as indicated in my Field Report. This is the area which experiences the most stress, and also the area in which the socks are the thickest (with the exception of the peculiarly rolled top of the sock).

Comfort:
While the amount of cushioning imparted by these socks is very likely reduced due to the thinning of the padded areas, this has not been a problem. Of course, I am unable to do a direct comparison between these socks in their current and their new state. But the amount of use my feet have seen within them has also not been highly stressful, so I've not felt any negative impact in this regard.

Warmth:
The socks have been nicely warm in temperatures down to freezing, in moderately heavy shoes (Columbia DayPack XCR - marketed as lightweight trekking shoes, they are the heaviest shoes I own since I've focussed on lightweight backpacking). In temperatures below that, my feet felt fine as long as I was moderately active, but got a little cold when I stopped moving for a while.

Summary:
On the negative side, the lace pad seems somewhat overbuilt to me, the double layer of sock around the ankle still seems like unreasonable excess and the socks rolled around my feet a little on trail sections slanted sideways. I note that I'm at the very bottom end of the sock's XL size range (and also note that the last time I checked, the Blaze socks weren't even available in XL any more). This may have something to do with it. Smaller size ranges might address this.

On the up side, they have been comfortable in all other terrains and in temperatures from just below freezing up to 30 C (85 F). For wool socks, I consider this to be an impressive temperature range. They have also held up rather well so far. I've put a guesstimated 300+ km (200 mi) on them so far, about 200 km (125 mi) on the Rheinsteig with a LOT of ups and downs. They are fuzzing a bit underneath heel and forefoot, which indicates some thinning of the weave, but still provide some cushioning there (particularly after washing).

I'd like to thank BackpackGearTest.org and the DeFeet company for letting me test these socks.



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