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Reviews > Clothing > Socks > Swiftwick Four Merino Hiking Socks > Test Report by Tim Earley

SWIFTWICK FOUR MERINO HIKING SOCKS

INITIAL REPORT - March 21, 2010
FIELD REPORT - June 1, 2010
LONG TERM REPORT - August 3, 2010

Tester Information

NAME:         Tim Earley
EMAIL:         timothyDOTearleyATgmailDOTcom
AGE:             26
LOCATION: Yonkers, New York, USA
GENDER:     M
HEIGHT:      6' 0" (1.8 m)
WEIGHT:     185 lb (84 kg)
SHOE SIZE  12 1/2 (45-46 European)

My first exposure to backpacking was about seven years ago in the Army where I learned everything I needed to learn about being comfortable in the wilderness with little to no “comfort gear.”  I primarily do day hikes now, with the occasional overnight jaunt thrown in whenever possible.  I consider myself a lightweight packer, though not a minimalist.  My favorite hikes are those that have significant elevation change as these provide the best views, most challenge and best reward.  I am most comfortable in cool to cold weather as I tend to overheat in other seasons. 



Product Information

Manufacturer: Swiftwick International LLC.
Web site: www.swiftwick.com
Product: Four Merino Hiking Socks
Year manufactured/received: 2009
MSRP: $16.95
Size reviewed: Large/XL, fits US Men's 10-14 (European 43 to 47)
Other sizes available: Small/Medium
Color tested: Heather, also available in black
Actual weight per pair (average of three pairs): 2.5 oz (70 grams)

Product Description

The Swiftwick Four Merino hiking socks (hereafter called the socks) are a blend of merino wool (67%), nylon (29%) and Lycra (4%).  The name Four Merino is derived from the four inch (10 cm) neck of the socks.  Swiftwick also manufactures socks of different heights with appropriate numbers in the name.  The socks are colored heather with black piping and design throughout as can be seen in the picture below.  There seem to be three main areas of construction: the top of the foot, the bottom of the foot and the neck of the sock.  The neck is beefy and elastic which gives the impression that the neck shouldn't wear out on these socks any time soon (fingers crossed).  The top of the foot is also predominantly stretch fibers but is thinner than the neck of the sock.  The base of the sock (starting at the heel, covering the bottom of the foot and looping up and over the toes) is thick with the least amount of stretch of the three sections.  It has plenty of padding and seems to have plenty of merino fibers though it does stretch somewhat as well.

INITIAL REPORT


First Impressions:

I received three pairs of these socks in a small brown box.  Each pair came encased in the typical cardboard sock "hanger."  The back of the hanger has some marketing hype on it bragging about "graduated compression, moisture wicking technology and a sculpted footbed."  I believe the graduated compression and sculpted footbed claims as these socks really seem to custom fit themselves the moment I put the socks on.  The placing of stretch materials seems to be such that the socks compress around spots that normal socks slide off like the back of the heel, the arch and the front of the ankle joint.  I have noticed one issue with the sculpted footbed: the padding does not cover my pinky toe top at all and only covers half to a third of the tops of my other toes.  In fact, the seam runs straight across from the middle of my biggest toe (right foot) to the right.  It does not curve backwards at all, leading to less coverage on each toe thereafter.  My pinky toe has no coverage and the seam is directly in front, leading to blister worries.  I will be sure to report on the condition of my toe tops as testing proceeds.

The socks seem to be in good order although the first pair I opened showed a pulled fiber as can be seen below (small white circle in middle of picture).  I don't perceive this to be a problem as it's minor and the threads won't be exposed to any tree branches or other snagging obstacles.  Otherwise the socks seem very well designed, have appropriate reinforcement in high wear areas and have a feeling of solid durability.  I am particularly impressed with how snugly these socks fit without feeling restricting.  It's actually quite remarkable.



The socks are thinner than I am used to wearing as I hike exclusively in boots, normally with heavyweight socks.  I think I'm going to need a liner underneath for the proper fit, but again, time will tell.  I am also concerned about the thin material on top of the foot not providing enough protection for the tops of my toes and foot.  Only time will tell with these concerns and they will surely be noted in the field report. 

I plan to use these as my primary hiking socks through an upcoming multi-day backpack along the Appalachian Trail as well as numerous day hikes throughout the Hudson Valley area.  I will test them in the current cooler weather as well as the upcoming warm weather to test both blister prevention and moisture management capabilities.  All in all, they seem to be very well made, fit very well and I am really looking forward to putting them through their paces, no pun intended.

This concludes my Initial Report.  The Field Report will be amended to this report in approximately two months from the date of this report .  Please check back then for further information.

FIELD REPORT - June 1, 2010


FIELD CONDITIONS:

I have used these socks extensively for hiking as well as some mountain biking.  I have worn these socks on approximately six or seven day trips.  I have not had the opportunity to test them on an overnight trip as of yet.  My day trips were anywhere from 5 to 12 miles (8 to 19 km) in length with a light pack consisting mostly of water, food and some layers.  Elevation gains ranged from minimal to 1500 feet (457 meters).  Temperature ranged from approximately 5 F (-15 C) to approximately 80 F (27 C).  Wind chills bottomed out at approximately -15 F (-26 C).  Terrain was mostly established trails with occasional bushwhacking once or twice a trip and variable amounts of fresh or compacted snow on the ground.  Some terrain was rocky and required scrambling but overall, I wore these socks on smooth terrain.

OBSERVATIONS:

These socks have performed wonderfully.  Blister protection has been excellent and there has been no noticeable slippage or bunching of the socks.  I believe this to be a result of the excellent use of stretch materials throughout which provide a snug, supportive, yet comfortable fit.  I was initially concerned that they would be too thin for use with my hiking boots and while they are just a bit thin, they still work just fine.  The difference is small enough that I do not require any additional socks or liners to fill the gap, so to speak.  Also, the seams that initially concerned me have not caused any discomfort in any of my toes.

The socks have also proven to be durable despite significant and early pilling along the entire footbed.  I immediately noticed that the socks were getting very "fuzzy" after the first or second wash and thought they might not make it two months.  I continued to monitor this and began to wear one pair in non-hiking situations to increase the wear and tear as well as frequency of washes.  The socks showed no additional "fuzziness" thereafter.  This fuzziness did not seem to affect the thickness, padding or comfort of the socks.  Additionally, the stretch fabric has maintained its original elasticity.

Some pilling and fuzz on the bottom of one sock
Picture of pilling and "fuzziness"

SUMMARY:
Overall, there is not a whole lot to say about a pair of socks.  What I can say is that I never thought about my feet while hiking.  I consider this a good thing because if I'm thinking about my feet, they probably hurt.  I am pleased with the durability and comfort so far and look forward to more thoroughly testing the moisture management capabilities of these socks in the warmer weather.  Please check back in a couple months for my Long Term Report.


LONG TERM REPORT - August 3, 2010

Field Conditions:

Since my field report, I have worn these socks on approximately ten outings including day hikes and overnight trips.  I have also worn them day to day when I know I'll be putting a lot of non-hiking around-town mileage on my feet.  This summer has been quite a scorcher so far with temperatures consistently above 90 F (32 C) and as such almost all of my uses since the field report have been hot weather above 80 F (27C).  My overnight trip saw low temperatures of about 60 F (10 C) and high temperatures of about 85 F (29 C).  Most of my day hikes saw temperatures from 80 F (27 C) to 90 F (32 C).  Elevation gains were similar to my field testing conditions (0-1500 feet or 0-450 meters).

Observations:

I have to say, I've been very impressed with the performance of these socks.  Initially I was concerned that the socks were both too thin and too lightly padded to be suitable for my boots.  Over the past several months, however, they have proven to be more than up to the challenge.  I never had to resort to liners and I have never had any discomfort in my feet while wearing these socks.  I believe the effective use of stretch materials throughout really creates an almost automatic custom fit that prevents the sock from sliding.  No sock sliding means less friction and more comfort.  I would like to emphasize that I did not experience a single hot spot or blister during this entire test period.

My concern about padding above the toes (mentioned in my initial impressions section) was proven almost entirely false.  I did feel the seam on my pinky toe from time to time but nothing that really bothered me.  In no case did it cause discomfort, just a sense that the seam was, in fact, above my toe.  I did not feel the seam on any of my other toes.

As for durability, these socks got off to a rocky cosmetic start (as illustrated by pilling in the field report) but have held up well in the long run.  There has been no measurable decrease in padding or elasticity.  In addition, I believe they have remained almost exactly the same size; I have the feeling they might have shrunk just a tiny bit, but nothing to make them unusable.  I am most impressed with the durability of the elastic in the upper neck of the sock.  It is just as strong as it was the first time I pulled the socks out of the box.  I particularly appreciate this as these socks always hold themselves up, providing a bit of minimal protection from scree, gravel, twigs, etc.

Despite my love for it, the strength of the elastic neck has proven to be a double edged sword.  The neck is, in my opinion, too tight.  It's not uncomfortable at all on the trail but when I take off my boots I get the insatiable urge to scratch my upper ankles.  I think it's from the socks hugging so tightly.  I wouldn't consider this a major defect and it might not manifest itself to all users, but I found it worth mentioning.

Finally, these socks rock in the warm weather.  They manage moisture and smell better (relatively speaking, of course) than any I've used.  I'm sure their thin profile has a lot to do with warm weather management.  My feet did feel warm when on the trails in the warm weather of this test period but I consider this a function of two things.  Firstly, my feet just tend to get hot and sweat.  Secondly, I wear somewhat heavy boots year round.  These two things conspire to make my feet sweat regardless of temperatures.

As for odor control, I wore one pair for 4 days straight to see how the socks held up.  I am happy to report that they did not smell (at all) and they did not stand up like they were professionally dry-cleaned and starched.  I truly can't recall one time in the test period where I thought the socks smelled foul.  This is truly a tall order with my feet.

Summary:

Overall I think these socks are great.  They are everything I need in a hiking sock and have actually made me consider switching to a lighter boot to take advantage of their thickness and maybe do something about my nasty foot sweat.  They are comfortable, durable, odor-resistant and provide all the protection my feet needed.  In short, if I wear through these three pairs, I would purchase additional pairs.

Things I like:

1. I love the use of stretch fabrics throughout.  They felt like they were custom made for my feet and never slip.
2. They are more durable than they appear. 
3. Odor control is fantastic.

Things I don't like:

1. The tightness of the sock neck.  I would prefer it a bit looser.

I would like to thank Swiftwick International LLC and BackpackGearTest.org for the opportunity to test this item.

Read more gear reviews by Tim Earley

Reviews > Clothing > Socks > Swiftwick Four Merino Hiking Socks > Test Report by Tim Earley



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