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Reviews > Clothing > Socks > SmartWool PhD Outdoor Light Socks > Test Report by Lori Pontious

October 10, 2011



NAME: Lori Pontious
AGE: 44
LOCATION: Fresno County, California
HEIGHT: 5' 7" (1.70 m)
WEIGHT: 165 lb (74.80 kg)

I hiked, camped and fished with my family as a kid, and began to do it again after many years about five years ago. I dayhike or backpack every month, as much as possible. I am generally light to ultralight but function comes first. I take whatever shelter is necessary but default to my hammock when I can. My base weight depends on where and when I go.



Manufacturer: Smartwool Corporation
Manufacturer's Website:
MSRP: US$19.95
Measured Weight: 1.4 oz (39.7 g) per sock
Color: Denim/Gray
Size: Large (US Men's 9 - 11.5 ; US Women's 10 - 12.5)
Sock Height: Crew


The Smartwool PhD Outdoor Light Hiker Socks (hereinafter known as "the socks") went on my feet the minute I got them.



A diagram on the packaging outlines the ways in which the sock is unique; the PhD line of Smartwool socks feature their 4 Degree Fit System, designed to provide secure fit around the arch, heel and instep. There is an ankle band, an arch band, an upper instep band, a lower instep band, and a contour flex zone. Also these socks feature WOW technology (Wool on Wool) which explains the thickness of the sock in the heel and forefoot area. A higher density Smartwool Duroyarn is used for added protection and durability. Smartwool advertises the socks as also having improved moisture management, temperature control, and odor control.

On the website, Smartwool describes the socks as being 77% Merino Wool, 22% Nylon, 1% Elastic. On the packaging, the percentages are slightly different - 70% wool, 28% nylon, 2% Elastane.

I did not see any flaws in the socks I received - no fraying, missed stitches, or other visible imperfection. The seam over the toes is flat enough that it's not perceptible to me while wearing the sock. The bands on the sock are not seamed, so do not feel any different than the rest of the sock fabric. On the inside of the cuff, there is lettering - on one side, "LG" and on the other, "FEELS GOOD." Since the socks are a size large and they do feel good to me so far, I find these to be accurate labels.

As I wore the socks around the house, I do note that they fit nicely and that I do not experience the slight itch that I have when wearing lower quality wool socks. Smartwool makes their socks in the USA, and these socks are reported on their website to be made of New Zealand Zque Merino wool (Zque being a collective of socially and environmentally responsible wool producers who are dedicated to the welfare of their animals and providing high quality wool). Having had many pairs of wool socks in the past, all of varying quality, I think the PhD Outdoor Light Hiker socks are made of very good quality wool - the socks feel good on my feet, soft against my skin. The fit of the socks does feel quite secure and snug.

The packaging provides care instructions that indicate I can machine wash and dry the socks, using warm water and drying on a low setting. The socks should be turned inside out and no fabric softener used.

The Smartwool guarantee on the inside of the packaging says that if they do not "perform to your satisfaction" I should return the socks with a receipt to the store in which I bought the socks, for a full refund or replacement.

I am looking forward to using and washing these socks, to see if they are as durable and comfortable as claimed.


June 19 - Devil's Dance Floor, Yosemite National Park, California - 8 miles ( 13 km)

June 25 - Kings River, Sierra National Forest, California - 2 miles ( 3 km).

July 2 - 4 - Ostrander/Hart Lakes, Yosemite National Park, California - 18 miles ( 29 k)

July 9 - Florence Lake, Sierra National Forest, California - 5 miles (8 km)

July 22 - 24 - Tuolumne Meadows, Yosemite National Forest, California - 8 miles (13 km)

July 30 - Bunnell Cascades, Yosemite National Forest, California - 22 miles (35 km)

August 13 - 14 - Dinkey Lakes Wilderness, Sierra National Forest, California - 16 miles (26 km)


I have worn these socks for about 79 miles (127 km) since I got them. On multi day outings I wore them continuously for the duration of the trip. Temperatures ranged from 40 to 85 F (4 -29 C) while I was active in the socks.

I have washed them after each period of use and dried them in the dryer, or allowed them to air dry with other wool garments. I note no pilling or fading as of this writing. The socks have maintained their shape; there are no apparent worn spots or fraying, nor are they notably loosening on the foot as some of my socks have done over time. The cuffs are tight without binding and have remained so despite frequent washing and drying.

The socks have been comfortable no matter how long I wore them, up to 72 hours. I have not experienced itchiness as I sometimes do with wool socks I've worn for extended periods. The socks wick moisture very well. I have not perceived moisture on my feet until removal of my shoes.

During a recovery operation with the Search and Rescue (SAR) team in the Kings River canyon below Wishon Reservoir, I hiked in temperatures up to 85 F (29 C), and did not find my feet overly hot. The socks are not so warm that I can't wear them when summer and low elevation threaten to bake the rest of me!

On another SAR mission, I marched up the trail as part of the first team deployed, faster than my usual pace, and noted no increased soreness or friction due to the increase in activity. I tackled a longer than usual dayhike to Bunnell Cascades, a full 22 miles (35 km), and the socks held up well and were comfortable for the duration.

The socks have not developed any noticeable odor even when they were on my feet for three full days. I take off my shoes at the end of the day on most backpacking trips and put on my rubber camp shoes; the socks stayed on my feet. At the end of the trip I even went so far as to resort to the sniff test - they smelled fainly of my stinky feet. After washing they retain no smell at all.

On my last trip, I experienced a single blister on the inside of my second toe. I attribute this to the ongoing fungal issue I developed last year, due to the placement of the blister in an area where there is no friction from the sock. An increase in use of closed toe shoes at work is the more likely culprit. If there had been an issue related to the sock, I would expect that blistering would have taken place in the first 73 miles ( 118 km) of use, not the last six. However, I will continue to use the socks while treating the fungus, and follow up with a report after treatment.


The Smartwool PhD Outdoor Light Socks have proved to be some of the most comfortable and durable socks I've worn. I have enjoyed the moisture management and durability of the sock, not to mention the odor control. Given that my feet are prone to fungal issues that are aggravated by moisture, I am pleased to report that I have experienced very little difficulty while using these socks.



August 20 - 21 - Search and Rescue Training, Dinkey Wilderness - 8 miles (13 km)

August 27 - 28 - Moose Lake, Sequoia National Park - 22 miles ( 35 km)

September 3 - Search and Rescue Mutual Aid, Yosemite National Park, - 6 miles (10 km)

September 17 - Moraine Dome, Yosemite National Park - 21 miles (34 km)

September 18 - Sentinel Dome, Yosemite National Park - 4 miles (6 km)

September 24 - 25 - Montana de Oro State Park - 10 miles (16 km)

(All locations listed are in California)


Following my Field Report, I have worn the socks for an additional 71 miles (114 km). By the end of August I noticed that the socks have started to pill around the ball of the foot, at two points - the base of the little toe and the base of the big toe, along the outside edge of the foot. This is a fairly typical wear pattern for socks over time, for my rather large feet. In addition to these signs of wear I noticed at the same time a hole about the size of a pencil eraser had developed on the top of the left sock. The hole has not increased in size.


I have continued to wash, dry and wear the socks on a regular basis, and they continue to function as noted in the field report, other than the above noted wear and tear. They wick well and are still quite comfortable. They continue to hold their shape and feel about the same on my foot as they did when I first got them.


Over the course of the testing period I have found the Smartwool PhD Outdoor Light Socks to be comfortable and to provide excellent odor control and wicking. I have had such a good experience that I have purchased two additional pairs of the socks and will continue to wear the original pair so long as they hold together. In placing the new socks next to the old, I find that if not for the pilling and the hole on the pair I have been using for 150+ miles (242 km), I would not be able to tell them apart - the new socks are the same color as the ones I have been testing.

I have had no recurrence of the blistering mentioned in the field report, following a course of treatment for my foot fungus issue. The hole that developed is not in an area of the sock that is subjected to a high degree of friction, therefore I presume that this was perhaps a weakness in the fabric rather than a reflection of the overall durability of the sock. The bottoms of the socks are intact, even at high wear points like the sides of my feet where the pilling is occuring.

I have very much enjoyed testing the Smartwool PhD Outdoor Light Socks. Thanks again to Backpack Gear Test and to Smartwool for the opportunity to review these wonderful socks.

This report was created with the Report Writer Version 1. Copyright 2011. All rights reserved.

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