Traveling for long periods of time, in different kinds of weather, or through different types of terrain can be very taxing on the body. The best way to fight off fatigue is to always be dressed for the occasion from head to toe – literally. Most of the time, we obsess about the best and most durable footwear that can endure the constant pounding as we walk, run, or hike.
However, there’s a very important component when it comes to ensuring comfort on your feet (and the rest of your body) – socks. This is where two of the most debated brands come in: Darn Tough and Smartwool.
Any seasoned traveler and outdoor enthusiast know the feeling of tired feet. This pain doesn’t only stay there, but also crawls up to the legs and the lower back, and sometimes even the head resulting in a migraine. Not only that, cold weather numbs the feeling of extremities like hands and feet, in turn limiting mobility and agility.
While footwear plays a crucial role in solving these challenges, wearing the right socks provides you the much-needed support and comfort to get through even the toughest travels.
You’ll find a lot of support for both Darn Tough and Smartwool, claiming that one is better than the other. However, like many of the guides, you’ll see here, there’s no one absolute answer. The real consideration is what kind of travel you’ll be doing.
Wool used to be the go-to material to keep you warm in the winter. But with the innovation of Merino wool, it can now be used all year round for many reasons.
Both Darn Tough and Smartwool are made of this magical material. Merino wool is both breathable and absorbent, making it the perfect material for quality socks.
While both brands are well-known Merino wool socks, they are built differently for different purposes.
|Construction||Uniform construction; thicker material||Arch hugging/forming weave; less dense|
|Durability||Highly durable; Lifetime Warranty||Thinner; Wears faster; Free returns within two years|
|Absorption||More absorbent||Less absorbent|
|In-shoe fit||Less stable due to uniform construction; More comfortable due to thickness||Secure in-shoe fit; Prevents material build-up that can lead to hotspots and blisters|
|Function||Comfort; Moisture Absorption||Shock absorption; Arch support; Stability|
Darn Tough Merino Men’s
Darn Tough is known for the comfort it brings to the wearer. It has a more uniform construction, so cushioning is even all throughout the foot. The brand is made by a small family but has been running for 40 years. However, this uniform construction can have a little drawback in terms of slippage.
Since there’s nothing within the wool socks to hug the foot, there’s a tendency for the socks to slip within your footwear, especially once it has absorbed a bit of moisture. The brand does have a hiking range, which provides arch support cushioning.
This kind of construction also means that Darn Tough literally is darn tough. Even with heavy use, these socks can last years with negligible wear and tear. If you’re ever not happy with your pair, its lifetime warranty allows you to replace your socks with something better.
Smartwool is a US brand based in Colorado. While there are specific socks designed for specific activities, their low density and thickness make any pair a lot more versatile. The Merino wool keeps your feet warm and comfortable, but the arch support built into the sock is the kicker.
It’s designed to hug your foot to keep you from slipping inside your footwear, keeping you more stable, and absorbing the shock as you take every heavy step. If you’re going on long hikes with a heavy backpack, you’ll be thanking this arch support by the end of the day.
One important thing to consider is fit. Since the arch support is woven into the sock, finding the best fitting sock is important. If you go too big or too small, the placement of the arch becomes a little bit awkward. Eventually, if used for prolonged periods of time, the awkwardness can feel troublesome and you lose the benefit of having support in the first place.
On the downside, Smartwool is known to wear out much faster than Darn Tough. Since it’s thinner and less dense, intense usage can thin out these socks in no time. It’s covered with a 2-year replacement deal, so if you don’t get 2 years’ worth of use out of your socks, you can easily replace them with a new one.
Due to the higher density and thicker construction, Darn Tough is a lot more absorbent than Smartwool. This is great for those prone to sweaty feet. Merino wool is naturally antimicrobial, so the odor is kept at bay despite the moisture. While this sounds like good news, you need to be a bit careful about this feature.
If you’ll be going through streams or humid treks, then your Darn Tough will likely absorb as much moisture as it can – and keep it there. When the socks get too wet, it becomes slippery, uncomfortable, and eventually cold. Unfortunately, wringing out the socks doesn’t do much to expel excess moisture.
On the other hand, Smartwool doesn’t absorb as much moisture. It’s thinner and less dense, so sweaty feet might have a bit of a problem with this. However, it still has some absorption functionality, just not as strong as Darn Tough.
Darn Tough tends to be less stable for those more sensitive to mobility and agility. Because of its uniform construction, the sock is prone to slippage, especially when worn for prolonged periods of time. This may cause some discomfort such as hotspots and blisters. However, for casual travelers and hikers, the thick construction can be a godsend. It’s easier on the sole and feels softer in the shoe.
Smartwool isn’t as thick thus ideal for those who wear snug shoes. The arch support also hugs the foot very well, making it more secure on your feet and preventing slippage despite some moisture. Since the fit is very secure, you’ll be less prone to blisters and hotspots throughout the entire time you wear the socks.
Perhaps the most important part of this review is the functionality of both socks. While both brands have a wide range of designs, wool composition, and are fit to cater to different kinds of activities, the way Darn Tough and Smartwool are constructed cater to very different preferences.
Generally, Darn Tough is a lot more comfortable. Casual travelers and adventurers will appreciate the softness of the socks. Sweaty feet also won’t be a problem for Darn Tough, and those who want the most out of their money will definitely get it with the lifetime warranty.
For those with more technical requirements, Smartwool is a great choice. The arch support does wonders for those with heavy packs or who will be on their feet for extended periods of time. While it’s not as durable as Darn Tough, Smartwool is great for keeping the fatigue off any pair of tired feet.
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Roger is a little obsessed with travel. He has been to over 40 countries, broken 3 suitcases and owned over 10 backpacks in 12 months. What he doesn't know about travel, ain't worth knowing!