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Reviews > Clothing > Socks > SmartWool PhD Outdoor Light Socks > Test Report by Steven M Kidd


INITIAL REPORT - June 05, 2011
FIELD REPORT - August 05, 2011
LONG TERM REPORT - October 10, 2011


NAME: Steven M. Kidd
EMAIL: ftroop94ATgmailDOTcom
AGE: 39
LOCATION: Franklin, Tennessee, USA
HEIGHT: 5' 9" (1.75 m)
WEIGHT: 220 lb (99.80 kg)

Backpacking Background: I've been a backpacker on and off for over 25 years. I backpacked as a Boy Scout, and then again almost every month in my twenties, while packing an average weight of 50+ lbs (23+ kg). In the last several years I have gained a renewed enthusiasm for the back country. I generally go on one or two night outings and now try to average a 30 lb (14 kg) pack.



Image Courtesy Smartwool

Manufacturer: Smartwool Corporation (Subsidiary of The Timberland Company)
Year of Manufacture: 2011
Manufacturer's Website:
MSRP: US $19.95
Measured Weight: 1.27 oz/sock~2.54 oz/pair (36 g/sock~72 g/pair)
Colors: Denim/Gray, Taupe/Cardinal, Medium Gray/Black, Oatmeal/Natural White
Sizes: Medium, Large, Extra Large
Materials: 70% Wool; 28% Nylon; 2% Elastane

Smartwool boasts on their website, "Our light half-cushioned PhD Outdoor Light Crew is our most versatile outdoor sock. Thanks to WOW™ technology in high density impact zones, shock and abrasion are reduced. The 4-Degree Fit System keeps the sock in place. Made in the USA of New Zealand Zque™ Merino wool."

The 4 Degree Fit System is designed to provide a high performance all day fit. WOW™ technology is wool on wool, a higher density Smartwool Duroyarn in the heel and metatarsal areas for added protection. The Light Half-cushioning in the heel is to protect against shock and abrasion while the Mesh MVT zones allow for maximum ventilation. Finally, the toe is a flat knit seam for comfort and durability.

See Corresponding Notes
Sock Packaging
A - 4 Degree Fit System
A1) Ankle Band
A2) Arch Band
A3) Upper Instep Band
A4) Lower Instep Band
A5) Contour Flex Zone

B - WOW™ Technology

C - Light Half-cushioning

D - Mesh MVT Zones

E - Flat- Knit Toe Seam


I was excited to receive the Smartwool PHD Outdoor Light socks. I am testing a large pair in the Oatmeal and Natural White color scheme. The socks arrived in a stock paper holder that detailed them.

IMAGE 4After looking the socks over I saw no defects and the craftsmanship appears in order. I inspected and photographed them and I decided to try them on. I wore them around the house for several hours and honestly didn't want to take them off. They felt great! In fact I'd chased my kids around the pool for several hours earlier in the day and rubbed a spot raw on the bottom of my big toe and this didn't even feel uncomfortable in the sock. In the time I wore them I will have to agree the 4 Degree fit system certainly worked. The socks never slipped and noticing the mesh area on the instep I believe they certainly have the potential to be quite breathable. They are crew socks but rise just below my calves. I appreciate this because my calves are rather large and tend to stretch socks out and cause them to sag over time. Fortunately the socks never slipped or sagged on my legs just as they didn't on the foot.

The cushioning in the heel area feels great and the toe seam isn't noticeable. I tried them on with a pair of ECCO Tahoe Trail shoes that I am reporting on in a separate BGT test, and they feel like they were made to complement one another. I'm excited to hit the trail with both in the near future.

The company offers the "Smartwool Guarantee" for performance and comfort. If they don't meet the user's satisfaction, simply return them with a receipt for replacement or a refund. The socks may be machine washed and dried using warm water and a low tumble dryer setting. Fabric softener is not required and bleach, ironing and dry cleaning is not suggested. I've noticed many technical sock manufacturers are now suggesting their socks are dryer safe, and maybe I'm antiquated but I still prefer to air dry mine. I will give them a spin in old washing machine to see how they hold up.


Smartwool PHD's and ECCO Tahoe's
The socks appear to be well made, comfortable, and dare I say stylish? The latter has little impact on my intended use for them, but it is a nice feature. I'm excited to hit the trail with them and see how they handle. I've very rarely found a pair of socks that aren't quite damp with perspiration after a full day on the trail...even in the winter. If these Smartwool PHD's can wick moisture away and keep my feet cool and dry in the hot Tennessee summer I will be thoroughly impressed.

I'm excited to learn if they are as cozy on the trail as they have been around the house, and most importantly if they keep my feet dry and free from blisters. I am fortunate to rarely deal with the latter, but as just mentioned I quite often battle with damp socks. I have even had to change a pair mid-day in extreme situations.



15 - 18, June, 2011: Big South Fork National River & Recreational Area, Tennessee/Kentucky along the John Muir Trail. Elevations ranging from around 850 ft (259 m) to 1300 ft (396 m). Temperatures ranged from a low of 72 F (22 C) in the evening to a high of 94 F (34 C) during the day. The weather was dry and hot with no rain.

29 - 31, July 2011: Coalmont, Tennessee. Public and Private Trails. Elevations averaging 1800 - 2000 ft (549 - 610 m) with temperatures ranging from 76 - 103 F (24 - 39 C). Conditions were very dry and hot. Rain fed mountaintop creek beds were completely dry.


I've worn these Smartwool socks on two backpacking excursions, a few day hikes and several times in business and casual wear. I'm completely impressed with them. I received the socks several weeks before any scheduled outings, and being anxious to try them out I ended up wearing them several times at work while wearing a beige colored suit. The socks performed excellently in my opinion and in fact my feet were generally drier at the end of the day than they would have been in a pair of dress socks. I was excited by this, as I was wearing wool in hot summer conditions and staying dry.

I've been accustomed recently to using synthetic trail socks, but they are often damp after a day on the trail. This wasn't the case with the PHD socks. They did a fine job of wicking the moisture away from my feet. I also intentionally wore them without liner socks, of which I almost exclusively wear on the trail. On one really hot hike I feared I may have been getting a hotspot, but after a quick check and some attention my concern faded. The temperature that day was above 100 F (38 C) and I was testing a new pair of trail shoes. Therefore I can't ascertain whether the concern was from the socks, shoes, temperature or a combination of all three. In the end I had no hotspot or blister so I was happy.
Pilling Fibers

Smartwool suggests washing and tumble drying the socks. I typically always air dry my trail socks, but I have followed the manufacturer's instructions and they have held up well after being placed in the dryer. In fact the wool has tended to regain its shape after washing and drying. The socks did take on some of the orange dye and begin to pill when worn with a new pair of ECCO shoes I've been testing. After laundering them the color returned to normal, but some of the pilling remains. This is in the padded heel area of the sock and it has yet to affect the performance.

Air Drying in Camp

I'm a person that typically changes socks on multi-day trips due to my excess perspiration. In fact I often do so mid-day during extremely hot and muggy conditions. This is something I hoped to avoid during this trial. In order to wear the socks again on the succeeding days of a trip I made sure to turn them inside out and dry them in the evening while in camp. I was excited that I was able to do this and was even impressed when on one trip when I inadvertently left them in the open air over night and dewy moisture accumulated on the socks. I was still able to don the socks and the moisture was wicked away from my feet as I hit the trail that morning.


Relaxing like a PHD
To date I've been quite impressed with the Smartwool PHD Outdoor Light socks. In fact I have a renewed appreciation for wool. The Smartwool technology certainly isn't 'my grandfather's wool'. I have recollections of wearing military issued wool socks that were itchy, uncomfortable on the legs and did not wick away moisture to nearly the degree this product has.

The cushioning feels good against my skin and I've worn them over 12 - 14 hours on multiple occasions without issue. My only concern to date is the potential of long term durability of the heel. The socks have some serious pilling for a product of its age and use. It has yet to depreciate their performance, but I wonder if continued deterioration will do so in the future? I hope not.



1 - 5, September 2011: Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area, Tennessee/Kentucky. This was a 5-day and 4-night trip covering 16 mi (26 km) with approximate elevations of 350 - 450 ft (107 - 137 m) and temperatures ranging from 70 - 89 F (21 - 32 C). I backpacked and slept in a hammock. Conditions were dry and warm, but breaks in the humidity made backpacking much more pleasant for me than what I've hike in the better part of the summer.

7 - 8, October 2011: Arrington, Tennessee. This was an overnight outing to a local farm with a fishing pond that I took with my children. We fished and hiked the fields and wooded areas around the water. Elevations were approximately 750 ft (229 m) and temperatures ranged from 52 - 84 F (11 - 29 C). I packed our gear in and out which was a little under a mile (1.5 km) in each direction and my pedometer showed that we hiked an additional 3 mi (4.8 km) during the outing. The three of us managed to sleep snugly in a two man tent.


During the Long Term phase of the test I wore the socks on one long term trip and an overnight backpacking outing. I also wore them on multiple occasions in combination with a pair of cowboy boots. I'm thoroughly impressed with the Smartwool PHD socks. Having used synthetic socks quite extensively of late, I was concerned how well this wool product would perform over the hot summer months. I can only say they were great.

I was impressed with how they wicked moisture and kept odors at bay. On my five day outing I wore them on the first two days, allowed them to dry on the third and again wore them for the remainder of the trip. It was warm out, so I can't say my feet were completely dry at the end of each day, but they worked magnificently at pulling the bulk of the moisture away from my feet. I never received any hot spots or blisters, and that is of key importance to me.

Though not a first thought to the average outdoorsman, I've found the socks work great with cowboy boots. I can wear a pair all day and have dry feet at the end of the day with these socks.

The heels have about the same amount of pilling that they did during the Field Report and what I believe to be some permanent orange stains from a pair of shoes I was testing. I washed and dried the socks as the manufacturer suggested. I do believe I will discontinue using a dryer now that the test has ended and begin to air dry the socks. They have held up well to the dryer, but I'm partial to air drying my technical socks.


In retrospect, I really only have positive things to say about the Smartwool PHD socks. I was originally concerned about the pilling issue during the Field Report, but I've noticed no more deterioration since then and may attribute some of that to it being a natural fiber. I plan to continue using them as both a trail and casual sock. When on the trail I will begin using liner socks as I find them more helpful in wicking moisture and will also begin to air dry the socks now the test series is complete. I also see myself purchasing an additional pair or two this fall.

I'd like to thank BackpackGearTest and the Smartwool Corporation for allowing me the opportunity to test these socks.

This report was created with the Report Writer Version 1.5 Copyright 2011. All rights reserved.

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