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Reviews > Clothing > Socks > Smartwool PhD Outdoor Light Crew > Test Report by Brett Haydin

Smartwool PhD Outdoor Light Crew Socks

Initial Report - September 19, 2016
Long Term Report - February 7, 2017


TesterNAME:            Brett Haydin
EMAIL:            bhaydin AT hotmail DOT com
AGE:                43
LOCATION:     Madison, Wisconsin, USA
GENDER:         M
HEIGHT:          5' 11" (1.80 m)
WEIGHT:         200 lb (90.70 kg)
SHOE:             10.5 US

I started backpacking in Wisconsin as a youth, being involved in the Boy Scouts programs. As a young adult, I worked at a summer camp leading backpacking, canoeing and mountain biking trips. I now generally take short weekend or day trips. I plan several longer trips each year in different parts of the US, where I typically carry about 40 lb (18 kg). I prefer to be prepared and comfortable, but I have taken lightweight trips as well.

Initial Report

Product Information & Specifications

Smartwool Socks
Photo: From Smartwool's website
Manufacturer: Smartwool Corporation
Year of Manufacture:  2016
Manufacturer's Website:
MSRP: $21.95 US
Listed Weight: n/a
Measured Weight: 2.4 oz (68 g) per pair
Color Tested: Oatmeal (also available in black, taupe and medium grey)
Size Tested: Large (also available in medium and XL)
Material: 58% Merino Wool, 41% Nylon, 3% Elastane
Warranty: Returns within 2 years for any reason and they will "make it right".

Other Details provided by Manufacturer

  • Virtually seamless toe
  • 8.5 in (21.6 cm) overall height
  • PhD - Performance in the Highest Degree
  • 4 Degree Elite Fit System
  • Indestructawool
  • Mesh Venting
  • Light Cushion

Product Description

At first glance, the Smartwool PhD Outdoor Light Crew sock may look like any other hiking sock. Upon closer examination, they are anything but ordinary! I ordered the color "oatmeal" mostly to hide any muddy stains. However, the padding at the heel and the ball of the foot are quite noticeable. The socks have several areas  called "mesh ventilation zones" - I count four of them. These are there to allow for greater breathability. There is one just before my toe, two on the sides and one above my ankle.

Another feature is the 4 Degree Elite Fit System. This is a combination of two elastics that stretch over the top of the foot. I can tell by an "X" that crosses my foot! This is supposed to help keep the sock in place. Glad to have that! Smartwool also references "Indestructawool" as a construction method for increased durability.

The socks come with cardboard packaging that has a little more information on it. It says these are "trail tested/ exceptional fit/ mountain tough". Well, I hope so and look forward to putting it to the test! Smartwool has stitched their name near the toe box. Inside the sock, the words "feels good" and the size are also stitched into the sock. The logo is also stitched on the back of each sock. 

Initial Impressions

I tried the socks on and right away I could tell that they fit well. The 4 Degree Elite Fit System seems to make the socks feel more like an extension of my feet. It is weird to say, but many other socks slip and slide a little but these hold firm even when I walk on carpet! I can also feel a difference in the cushioning. I wasn't expecting such a soft bottom from a lighter sock. Looking over the construction, the craftsmanship is exemplary. There are no loose threads or defects that I could find.

I took a pair out with me for a short hike and the socks are nice and cozy. I'll be interested to see how they hold up to multiple days of abuse!

Reading the Instructions

I wanted to see what the manufacturer says about laundering these socks. It is pretty simple. First, turn them inside out. Sigh... that will add to my folding time. The next steps are to wash in cool or warm water with mild soap (no bleach or fabric softener) and then dry on low. However, it does go on to say that they won't need to be laundered every wearing. Can I tell my wife that the socks are "airing out" when I leave them on the floor?  Probably not, but at least I can cut down on washings!

Long Term Report

Field Conditions

Sock in action
Out on the trail with the socks

Over the test period, I was able to wear the PhD socks on five backpacking trips as well as numerous day hikes, dog walks, hunting and lounging around the house. My first trip was an overnight camping trip at Hendy Woods State Park in Northern California. I spent a couple of days exploring this beautiful old growth redwood forest. The temperature was great with a high of 85 F (29 C) and a low of 65 F (18 C). I hiked approximately 9 mi (14 km), but spent much of my time relaxing. 

I next took an overnight along a section of the Ice Age Trail backpacking 23 mi (37 km) in Chippewa County, Wisconsin. The terrain was fairly hilly with elevation gain on some hills over 300 ft (90 m). That isn't a lot compared to the mountains, but western Wisconsin is not flat! Temperatures were a little more moderate between 58 and 72 F (14 and 22 C). It rained most of the afternoon and into the evening on my first day.

My third trip was a 9.2 mi (14.8 km) loop in the Mendocino National Forest in Northern California. The temperatures were between 60 and 80 F (16 and 27 C) with no precipitation. The terrain was rocky, mountainous and breathtaking!

My next trip was an overnight trip in Southern Wisconsin in the Kettle Moraine State Forest along the Ice Age Tail to Whitewater Lake. We had some unseasonably warm weather so I took advantage of the break in the cold to take the 8.9 mi (14.3 km) hike and soak in the views. The temperatures were between 45 and 65 F (7 and 18 C) with no precipitation. The trail was hilly and dirt-packed.

My last trip wearing the socks was an overnight in the Joshua Tree National Park in California. I hiked 8 mi (13 km) along the Boy Scout Trail which was a rocky, dirt-packed desert hike among the iconic trees. There was a moderate amount of elevation gain - 1,000 ft (300 m) - since I did just a shuttle hike. Typical of Southern California, I saw no rain with temperatures between 60-70 F (16-21 C) and an overnight low at about 40 F (4 C).
Base Camp
Lounging around, the socks still keep my toes warm!


My experience with the Smartwool PhD socks has been just what the doctor ordered! The socks have provided a noticeable cushion while hiking, much more than I had thought. Whether in the mountains in California or on the dirt-packed trails in Wisconsin, my feet could tell that there was extra padding to keep me going.  I have also worn the socks on a number of winter excursions. While not advertised as cold-weather socks, I felt comfortable in the socks in temperatures at or just below freezing. While hunting this fall, the socks did get wet on a few occasions, but my feet never felt cold as a result. The mesh ventilation also seemed to help with keeping my feet cool in the hotter weather.

The socks fit really well. I did not notice the socks slipping at all. The socks don't bunch up and as a result I didn't have any odd friction points. This meant less blisters! It would seem that the 4 Degree Elite Fit System performed as advertised.

I think one of my favorite aspects of these socks, however, is the resistance to maintaining odors. Just for the sake of testing, I wore one pair for a full week without laundering. After the week was over, a quick sniff test confirmed that they smelled just fine, albeit used. The manufacturer only stated they did not need to be laundered after every use, but this was somewhat unexpected!

The socks have held up very well for the abuse that they have taken. I can see no spots of obvious wear, other than some minor pilling.  Most importantly, the cushioning is still thicker than the rest of the sock so the extra comfort should certainly remain.


The Smartwool PhD socks have been a reliable addition to my gear closet. They have performed higher than my expectations and will easily become my "go to" for spring, summer and fall.

: Comfortable fit, nice cushioning, does not retain odors, doesn't slip.  
Cons: Absolutely none.

This concludes this test series. I would like to thank Smartwool and for allowing me to be a part of this test series.

Read more reviews of Smartwool gear
Read more gear reviews by Brett Haydin

Reviews > Clothing > Socks > Smartwool PhD Outdoor Light Crew > Test Report by Brett Haydin

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