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Reviews > Clothing > Socks > SmartWool PhD Outdoor Approach socks > Test Report by Robb Pratt

November 01, 2018



NAME: Robb Pratt
EMAIL: unicornv007 AT
AGE: 48
LOCATION: Canton, Michigan, USA
HEIGHT: 5' 10" (1.80 m)
WEIGHT: 165 lb (74.80 kg)

I backpacked sporadically growing up and rediscovered it back in 2011. Since then, I've taken several weekend long trips a year. I also car camp with my family roughly a dozen nights a year when we use tents unless I can convince them I might snore and it would be better for all for me to use my hammock rig. I prefer a light pack (weight without food or water under 20 pounds / 9 kg). My backpacking stomping ground is northern Michigan that has small hills and I typically camp late spring, summer and early fall months.



Manufacturer: Smartwool
Year of Manufacture: 2018
Manufacturer's Website:
MSRP: US $24.95
Measured Weight: 2.15 oz (61 g)
Other details:
* Dimensions: Sock Size XL - US Men's Size 12-14.5, Euro 46-49, UK 11-13.5
* Product description: These Smartwool socks boast of being the next evolution with enhanced technology. They have multiple levels of thickness throughout the sock - with near mesh-like areas for breathability and moisture control near the top of the foot to thicker, cushioned padding along the toes, heels and even running up the Achilles tendon to protect the sensitive areas. They are designed to be nearly seamless across the toes and are made with two different elastics to provide greater stretch and help keep the sock in place. They are also made of a patent-pending material called Indestructawool.
* Colors: 2 choices - Medium gray and black though neither is a true mono-color. They both have additional shades and colors. I received the medium gray.
* Material: Knit in USA with 54% merino wool, 43% nylon, 3% elastane
* Care: Machine wash warm, wash inside-out, do not bleach. Tumble dry low. Do not iron. Do not dry clean.
Arrival Packaging


Overall, the cut is very stylish. I like the multiple colors woven into the socks (two shades of green, black and gray) as well as the designs. From construction standpoint, what stitching I can see appears very clean. I had to turn them inside out to better see the stitching which, although rough appearing, still felt very soft to the touch.
Socks Unpacked and Laid Out

Socks Insideout


They did not come with any instructions, but then again, for socks, I do not expect much. The key thing to note though is the cleaning instructions and for that, I went to their website to verify: Machine wash warm, wash inside-out and do not use bleach. I will follow those instructions over the next few months, especially as I have an older pair of wool socks from years ago that would be perfect for baby bunny feet when they were washed in my general laundry by mistake under heat.


Trying socks out is pretty easy - hey, they are socks. They are not complicated. There is not a designation for left or right and there is only one entrance hole in each one so I call that pretty idiot proof. They are, however, different from my usual socks. The elastic bands around the main tube grip my ankle tight, like a compression shirt does my torso. I am not a big fan of compression shirts though as I always feel like a miniature version of Captain America, except I am rocking the dad-bod instead of a well-toned muscular one. The constricting tightness is a bit disconcerting as I usually wear socks that are looser in the ankle. But the padding on the soles and toes feels spectacular - almost like a soft fuzzy slipper when I step on the hardwood at my house. Furthermore, I did not detect any tightness around the toebox area.

After putting them on, I wore them for several hours around the house. The constricting feeling slowly vanished. If I think about it, they still feel tight around the ankles but it is otherwise not noticeable and I never had to worry about them sliding down.

Suffering through a heat wave, I waited until the sun went down to take an evening walk. It still was pretty warm at 78F (26C) with high humidity, but I took a brisk 2 mile (3 km) walk around the neighborhood. At the end, my cotton shirt felt damp and I had some sweat on my face, but the socks did not feel moist. Removing my socks, the bottoms of my feet felt warm to the touch and my ankles had some trace dampness. I did not however, have any noticeable hotspots, unusual rubbing or even any signs of heat rash around the ankles. It did take a few minutes for the indentation marks on my ankles where the elastic bands rest to vanish.

Upon arriving home, I was also very curious about their dry-time so I decided to soak a pair briefly in cold water, wring them out and hang them up for the night to dry. In the morning, they were still damp in the toe and heel area where the extra padding is, but dry around the ankle and top of the foot. I put them on anyway as if I was on the trail and they got wet because this is exactly what I would be dealing with. At this point, they felt cool but not clammy like a pair of cotton socks. Considering the temperature and humidity outside over the last few days, I did not mind this feeling at all. Within an hour, my body heat had fully dried them.

One thing to note though and I'm not sure whether I missed this in my initial inspection or if perhaps it's a user error here, but I do have a small hole about the size of pinhead on one of the socks. It's on the top of a foot, very unlikely to have been caused by wear and I do not see any jagged edge to it that implies I snagged it on something. The other two pairs that I have look pristine. I will continue to monitor that to see if it grows or not.
Small Hole in Sock


Overall, I'm going to enjoy testing the Smartwool PhD Outdoor Approach socks over the next few months. I especially like the fit and feel of them - they are roomy and have great cushioning. They also dry relatively quickly and do not feel clammy when wet. From a design standpoint, they are stylish. I only have one small concern that I will be watching closely. The jury is still out for me concerning the compression grip around the ankle. It worked well for a brief evening pack-less hike but I'm hoping they will continue to work well after a long day of backpacking.

This concludes my initial report. The long term field report will be amended to this report in approximately four months from the date of this report. Please check back then for further information.

I'd also like to thank both Smartwool and BackpackGearTest.Org for letting me take part in this test.




* 5 Nights base camping - at Blackwoods Campground in Acadia National Park (Bar Harbor, MAINE - USA) from July 9-15, 2018 - this is a large campground within a 5-minute walk to the Atlantic Ocean. It has heavy tree coverage. The ground in camp was mostly dirt with leaves and twigs while the hiking trails and seashore were covered with both large and small granite rocks. The weather during this time ranged between 48 to 81F (9 to 27C) but felt much warmer due to the higher humidity. There was, however, no precipitation. I camped in a tent.
* 5 Days / 4 Night Backpacking - 23 miles (37 km) at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore (Munising, MICHIGAN - USA) from August 1-5, 2018. This is a scenic backpacking trail running next to Lake Superior. The trail is mostly under forest coverage and runs atop cliffs or along a beach. The terrain is sand with a heavy amount of sandstone and other rocks. We did a small section where we put in at Little Beaver Lake Campground and hiked between multiple group sites (Lowney, Coves and Mosquito) and ended at Miner's Castle. Temperature for the week ranged between 49-64F (9-18C) at night to 57-80F (14-27C) during the day. It rained three times during the trip - the first while we were hiking on the first day, then early in the morning while were sleeping on the second day and lastly after breakfast while we were in basecamp on the fourth day. As this was for supporting a Boy Scout troop trip, my pack weight came in at a hefty 41-45 lb. (19-20 kg) including food, water and camping gear. I hammock camped every night.
* 3 Days / 2 Night Backpacking - 18 miles on Jordan River Pathway (Alba, MICHIGAN - USA) from August 11-13, 2018. This is a green tunnel-like trail that is heavily forested and runs next to a river. The ground is mostly dirt with significant sections of sand underneath and in/along the river. There also small mud sections where springs and streams flow across the trail and multiple open fields and roller-coaster-like hills at times. Peak elevation is 1329 ft. (405m). Campsites are situated near the half-way point where we were tent camping. In the past, I have done this trip as an overnight-only trip but this time we took a day in camp to relax and play games. Temperature ranged from cool nights (55F / 13C) to hot days (85F / 29C). There was no rain during this time. My pack weighed near 25 lb. (11 kg) including all food, water, camping gear and games. I hammock camped every night.
* 3 Days / 2 Night Base Camping - at Private Grounds (Farmington Hills, MICHIGAN - USA) from August 31 to September 2, 2018. This area is moderately covered with trees. The ground is dirt with a heavy mix of tree roots. Daytime temperatures were near 90F (32C) while nighttime cooled off to 70F (21C). We had a nice thunderstorm during the daytime and gentle rain throughout the second night. I estimated the water accumulation at 0.2 inches (0.5 cm) and the wind gusts up to 30 mph (48 kph). I hammock camped both nights.
* 2 Nights - at Kensington Metro Park (Milford, MICHIGAN - USA) from September 28-30, 2018. Daytime temperature reached 60F (16C) while nighttime dropped down to 38F (3C). This area has sections with heavy tree coverage and other sections with large open fields. There was very little wind and a lot of sunshine throughout the daytime. On the second night, it rained from midnight until well after we broke camp. I went canoeing down the Huron River on the second day and slept in a hammock both nights.
* 2 Nights - at D-Bar-A Scout Camp (Metamora, MICHIGAN - USA) from October 19-21st, 2018. Daytime temperatures reached 60F (16C) while nighttime dropped down to a chilly 28F (-2C). It rained and sleeted during the second day and into the evening hours. I slept in a hammock.
* Dayhikes for Pack Shakedowns - Maybury State Park (Northville, MICHIGAN - USA). This park has significant tree coverage. The terrain is mostly dirt with an occasional wooden bridge to cross small streams and creeks. There are also a lot of small, gentle, rolling hills. For these hikes, I have been experimenting on my equipment to dial it in for future trips (as well as enjoying the weather and the fall coverage coming in). I typically did 3 to 5 miles (4.8 to 8 km), hiking at a pace over 3 mph (4.8 kph).
- Sept 19: Weather: 77F (25C), Dry and Sunny. Pack weight:
- Sept 24: Weather: 65F (18C), Dry and Sunny. Pack weight:
- Oct 3: Weather 75F (24C), Humid (but dry) and Sunny. Pack weight: 32 lb. (14.5 kg)


Heading off to Acadia National Park, we had a few days of car travel and hotels until we got there. I was looking forward to arriving in Maine and camping. To start our adventure, I was using a cheap pair of athletic cotton socks. Those worked OK until we hit Niagara Falls and got wet. I had expected that and the socks took a long time to dry.

That lead me to the perfect opportunity to tryout the Smartwool's PHD Outdoor Approach Crew Socks. I donned a pair for travel as we left Niagara Falls. They worked great in Boston as we hiked the Freedom Trail (and even climbed all 275+ steps of Bunker Hill Memorial) and in Salem as we explored the Pirate and Witch museums.

After we arrived in Acadia, they got quite a workout. I slept in a clean pair every night. During the daytime, I changed back every day into the same pair for the entire week. This was to both stress test the socks and also to stench test them. Okay, my family was a bit grossed out by the concept, but I will say they never once noticed any kind of negative smell from my socks, either in the tent or in the ride home. My kids, though, with their wet cotton socks were an entirely different story. Those bad boys were wrapped up and stuffed in a sealed bag in the trunk for the ride home. The socks, not my kids. In spite of sibling arguments that always blossom during long drives, the kids ride in the backseat.

We did one major hike while there, up to the top of Cadillac Mountain. This is a trek from near sea-level elevation up to 1500 ft. (457 m) and back down over a distance of 7 miles (11.3 km). The terrain is granite boulders embedded in the ground combined with lots of looser small rocks and pebbles. The trail includes multiple rock scrambles both uphill and downhill and occasionally has metal rungs imbedded into the stones to aid hikers. I used trekking poles and hiking boots. As the day was very hot and humid, my feet did get warm. I was also sweating. I checked multiple times throughout the day and never developed any hot spots or blisters. The socks were moist in the padded sections near the heel and toe but they dried quickly whenever I aired out my feet.


I also used the socks extensively for all of our day trips which included a whale watching tour deep out in the ocean, walking the streets of Bar Harbor and beach combing along the Atlantic Ocean. In these cases, the socks never actually got wet from the ocean but they were in an environment saturated with high humidity and I could taste the salt in the air.

My concerns earlier about the tighter grip around the ankle were unwarranted. After my initial trial on the first day, I never noticed any negative feeling of them around my ankles. If anything, I found they worked great around this area. The socks stayed tight up against my ankle, never falling down.

Once home, I actually deviated slightly from the washing instructions and treated them as I did all my other hiking gear. I put them inside-out into the washing machine on cold-wash only (the instructions state to use warm-wash). After the rinse cycle, I hung them up to dry. Within a few hours, they were dry and looked like new. The only complaint I had was after washing with the rest of my clothes, I had small white specs littered among my darker shirts that I had to pick off.

The socks still fit great and the small hole noted earlier has not grown at all.

A few weeks later, I took them out to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore for a backpacking trip. While my pack was loaded up well past the point of comfort for me, the distance for each day was shorter than I am used to traveling. For several of those days, I used silk sock liners in combination with the Smartwool PhD Outdoor Approach socks. For one long day however where we hiked nearly 8 miles (12.9 km), I skipped the liners and only wore the Smartwool socks. I never had any hot spots or blisters develop. The socks also felt comfortable with my trail runners throughout the trip. During the entire experience, I used only one pair of socks for hiking. I used the second pair only for sleeping. At one campsite, I did rinse out the hiking pair of socks in Lake Superior and hung them up to dry. We also took several side hikes without our packs to nearby waterfalls.


Less than a week after Pictured Rocks, I was off again to the Jordan River Pathway. I used only one pair of socks (and a pair of liners and my trail runners) for hiking and a different pair for sleeping. As the weather was disgustingly hot on the morning of day two, I rinsed out the socks in the nearby river. This was an opportunity for me to see how fast they dried in the field. I am very pleased to report that they were fully dry in less than two hours. Again, I had no blisters or hot spots on my feet throughout the trek. Granted, my weight load was half of what I had at Pictured Rocks, but our daily distance was double that previous trip.

As for the ankle compression I had noted early, I have adapted to it quite easily. I do not think my feet swell up as much with these socks. I will say that after removing the socks, it does leave a mark on my ankles for at least twenty minutes. It is not really a bad thing; I am just noting the experience. They do have a tight grip.

In late September, I used them again for a base camping trip. As I have done on previous trips, I used one pair for sleeping and a different pair during the daytime. On the first night, my feet were chilly due to a setup mistake I made with my underquilt. For the second night (after I had found and fixed my problem), I tried going to bed with two pairs of socks on. I gave this up after a few minutes as it was too much compression on my feet. As it turns out, the corrections I made worked great and my feet were toasty warm with just a single pair of Smartwool Approach Socks. Also during this trip, we went canoeing for 4 to 5 hours. As it was cold out, I wore a pair of sandals as well as a pair of socks. The socks did a great job keeping my feet warm even when they got wet. I found they dried very quickly from my body heat. The only issue I had is one of the socks has developed a hole in it on the side below the ankle.

In mid-October, I used them on an additional base camping trip. For this trip, the weather was unseasonably cold and wet. The first full day, we had a thunderstorm roll through camp that brought sleet and made everything wet for the entire day. I used one pair of Smartwool Approach Crew Socks during the daytime with my hiking boots. While my boots are not waterproof and designed to breath well, I never did suffer from wet feet in spite of all the walking we did on the trails and through wet grass. Any dampness dried very quickly. At night, I still changed to a clean (and guaranteed dry) pair of socks. The temperature was below freezing but my feet were warm and cozy throughout the night.

For my fall-time day hikes I have pushed my hiking speed to as fast as I can manage to generate a lot of sweat. I can confidently say, these socks (even without a liner) do a fantastic job of keeping my feet comfortable and wicking the sweat away. In spite of having sweat pouring down my face and body, my feet felt only slightly warm and were not even noticeably damp.

I have also machine washed and air dried the socks at least five times now. The size has not changed and they still fit my feet comfortably. I have also not had any additional white specs reappear on any of my other clothing like I did on the first washing.


Initially, I found one of the socks with a hole in it just after I received them. I have watched that hole and it has not grown. I believe it is in a low-stress area which is on the top-center of my foot, about the length of my pinky finger from the end of my toes.

After several backpacking and base camping trips, I now have a hole that has developed in another one of the socks. This one is on the side on the sock near the bottom of my ankle. It is under a significant amount of stretching stress and is where two different materials meet.

It is difficult for me to assess the amount of usage on the other socks but I can guarantee they have all been used either for backpacking, day-hiking or night-time sleeping. The remaining socks do not show any signs of wear.


Overall, I like how these socks feel on my feet. They are what I call "ridiculously comfortable". I was initially leery of the ankle compression but have grown to enjoy how they prevent my feet from swelling up and I feel better at the end of the day. They also have a lot of cushion on the heel and balls of my feet while also providing enough ventilation to prevent my feet from sweating or overheating. I also like how they look. I will definitely be using them on future camping trips - both backpacking as well as base camping. I will not, however, be wearing them around the house as normal socks. That is because I do not want to accidentally have them mixed in with my general laundry and sent through the dryer. Also, considering I had a hole develop in one of the socks, I do not want them wearing out too quickly. For me this is a standard practice on all my backpacking and camping gear that I learned from past experience. Better to keep them protected and in as pristine shape as possible for when I need to depend on them out in the woods.


1. Comfort
2. Drying time
3. Ankle compression keeps socks up and swelling down
4. Stylish design


1. Small hole on one of the socks noted within a day of receiving them.
2. Additional hole developed in another sock leaving me with some durability concerns.

This concludes my Field Report. Thank you to both and Smartwool for allowing me to test the PhD Approach Crew Socks.

This report was created with the Report Writer Version 1. Copyright 2018. All rights reserved.

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