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Tough as Steel Travel Socks: Keen Olympus

Olympus Lite socksWould you feel better about buying a pair of socks if you knew there was no way you could wear them out? With these Keen Olympus Lite ones, you are getting some socks that could last as long as you do.

If you’re doing some serious hiking or just spending your days walking as you travel around the world, the unglamorous pieces of fabric covering your feet are a crucial wardrobe item. Wear crappy cotton ones and you’ll regret it sooner or later. If the higher quality ones you’ve packed wear out mid-trip, your replacement selection in some remote corner of the Earth may be limited.

People often have a tough time justifying spending $15-$20 for a pair of socks, even though the wrong ones can mean serious discomfort and delays and good ones can stave off fatigue as much as well-designed shoes can. Great socks can often outlast those $120 shoes you just bought. These are definitely worth the price, with high-tenacity nylon fibers in key areas advertised as “15X stronger than steel.”

They’re contoured to fit your left and right feet and I like how these are clearly marked, with a “L” or “R” in a yellow rectangle. There’s no seam on top your toes and there’s serious cushion where it needs to be, in the high-impact areas. You also get a contoured arch support. So they protect your abrasion areas and are supremely comfortable.

There’s quite a cocktail of ingredients going into the weave here: Merino Wool 48%, Nylon 36%, Dyneema Polyethylene 10%, Polyester 3%, Spandex 3%. Apparently this is a winning combination. When they put these socks through abrasion testing rigors in a lab, the technicians usually see a hiking sock withstand 8,000 to 9,000 abrasions. These went past that and kept going, and going, and going—past 75,000 and as high as 95,000. So behold some new “guaranteed for life” socks, made in the USA.

Keen Olympus socksThere are several versions of this sock style for men and women, in different lengths and three colors. If you want something heavier, you can also get an Olympus Crew that doesn’t have “Lite” in the name, pictured here. The fiber composition is a little different to make them thicker and warmer, but they’re just as tough.

These socks are tough in another way too: you don’t have to treat them like they’re something precious. Throw them in the washing machine on cold or warm and you can even toss them in the dryer (on low) without them shrinking. Or of course you can sink wash them on the go at night and they’ll probably be dry by morning.

Pick up a pair of the Keen Olympus Crew socks at the Keen site, Amazon, or Zappos. Pick up a few and you might not have to buy any more travel socks again.

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Farm to Feet Socks Grown and Made in the USA

Farm to feet socksAre you tired of seeing a “Made in China” tag on most of the travel and adventure gear you buy? Well if you need some quality American-made socks for walking or hiking, these Farm to Feet socks will make you feel better twice.

There’s been a small but growing trend the past few years to bring more manufacturing back to the USA instead of making China our de facto factory. As expected, much of this is going on outside the apparel space, in big machinery and things that are heavy to ship, but one of the biggest categories for it has surprisingly been socks. Not dollar tube socks, no, but quality hiking and adventure socks from the likes of Farm to Feet.

During this recent cold snap my Farm to Feet Jamestown 73% wool socks have been one of my heavy rotation items, These are warm socks good for hiking—or for just keeping your toes toasty. There’s full density cushioning that’s especially thick around the heel and a seamless toe area. They’re some of the most comfortable socks I own and after attending a bunch of outdoor gear industry trade shows, I have ended up with a lot of socks.

Before the weather turned I was also trying out a pair of Greensboro Low merino wool adventure sports socks. They’re coming out in the spring and from what I’ve experienced, they’re competitive with the Thurlos and Lorpens in this space—but with Made in the USA cred.

Concord socks reviewYes ladies, there are also some women’s styles with more pizazz in the design. Like these Concord ones pictured here.

In all fairness, this is one of several sock companies producing American-made ones. We did a whole round-up on Made in the USA socks way back in February of 2010. But with these guys the wool, spandex, and nylon is all sourced stateside, as is the paperboard and ink for the packaging. See the details here.

Be advised that these socks aren’t cheap. You won’t find 50-cents-an-hour workers in North America to shear the sheep or run the factory machines. So the Jamestowns carry a list price of $19 and others run up to $24. But hey, they’re guaranteed for life, which you probably can’t say for much else in your sock drawer. Or those t-shirts you paid more than $24 for.

Here’s a guide to retailers carrying Farm to Feet and you can find them at the Cabelas chain.

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Injinji Toe Socks for Hiking, Running, or Yoga

performance toe socks

Going well beyond the novelty of looking interesting and keeping your toes warm, these Injiji socks are great for preventing blisters and stemming fatigue.

Good travel socks are super-important. A blister or rubbed-sore heel will put a serious crimp in your plans since travel usually involves a good bit of walking. The wrong socks on a hiking trip can ruin everything. Last year when I was exploring the Atacama Desert in Chile, I asked a man who had just come from a hiking trip in Patagonia what advice he would give to people packing for a trip there. “Spend the money on really good socks,” he replied.

For a travel gear blog though, there’s just one problem: socks are pretty boring to write about. Judging from our stats, people also find them pretty boring to read about. And unless you work for a sock company, you’ll have a pretty hard time telling most of the really good brands apart in a blind feeling or walking test.

Not so with these Injiji ones though. Each of your toes gets its own special compartment.

Toe socks are nothing new. They’ve been around for decades as something people who get cold feet—literally—would wear during the winter as they cozied up by the fire. These are different though because they’re performance socks. They have as much design and care in the construction of them as you find in any pair of $15+ socks on the rack at REI or Academy Sports. The distinctive look is for a reason, not just to get attention.

Long-distance runners who have used these socks will rave about them. I’ve worn them on multiple hikes and have zero fear that I’ll get a blister, even if I’m going for hours on end up and down ridges. With this design there’s just less skin-on-skin friction, plus the construction ensures you got extra padding in the right places.

yoga toe socksMy wife is a personal trainer and yoga instructor and also gives them high marks. She’s found that her feet get less fatigued in the running socks whether she’s working out or just on her feet for hours helping clients.

I had her be the guinea pig on these yoga socks too. They’ve got little nibs on the bottom that help your feet grip the yoga mat. Or they would enable you to do yoga on surfaces that are normally too slippery.

Most Injinji socks are made from an all-synthetic wicking blend or a mix of synthetic and wool fibers, with some being treated with a silver-based odor-fighting element. They come in three weight thicknesses and heights ranging from no-show to crew, performance and outdoor.

The main downside of these socks is they definitely require a bit more effort to pull on—kind of like getting on a pair of stretchy gloves. Each toe has to go in a separate hole, after all. Some of the models have a little pull tab built in, which helps a bit. Worth the payoff though once they’re on.

Prices range from a low of $8 each when buying a 3-pack on sale to a high of $16 for the thickest versions. You can order direct from Injinji or find a whole range of them online at Zappos, Backcountry, PlanetShoes , and Moosejaw.


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Darn Tough Winter Round-Up for Women and Kids

I can’t say enough good things about Darn Tough Vermont. Last season, I reviewed their mesh run/bike and hiking styles in our women’s sock round-up, and I’m pleased to be back singing the praises of their winter offerings for women and children, just in time for stocking stuffer season. (Don’t worry guys: Darn Tough has a great selection for men as well.)

New to me this season is Darn Tough’s ‘Coolmax’ option, which is a wool-alternative. Though I never had any complaints about Darn Tough’s merino wool, I have to admit to loving the softness of Coolmax. So far, it’s performed every bit as well as wool, wicking away moisture and keeping my feet warm and dry, all with a more breathable, more flexible feel.

run bike no showBelow are my top three favorites for winter wear, whether you’re hiking, biking, walking, or skiing.

1. Run/Bike sock: In the summer, you can opt for the mesh version of the Run/Bike sock, and in winter, just switch to the Coolmax or wool version. I like mine cushioned, but you can opt to go without cushion as well. The no-show length stops right at the ankle, but the Run/Bike is also available in a 1/4 sock or crew. Basically, there are about as many ways to order up this sock as there ways to order a latte at Starbucks. I decided to try out one No-Show Merino wool cushioned Bike/Run sock and one No-Show Coolmax cushioned Rike/Run sock, and truly, it’s like Sophie’s Choice: the Coolmax feels softer to me, but darn it if the wool doesn’t feel more substantial. It comes down to personal preference (as long as you’re not of two minds like me). Additional things to love the Run/Bike for: reinforced construction at the toe and heel, and seamless design. I’ve yet to get a blister in these socks. Pick some up from between $13-$15 at Amazon or CampMor.

Darn Tough coolmax hike trek2. Hike/Trek boot sock: Just like the Run/Bike socks, the Hike/Trek is available with our without Coolmax, although instead of the choice between cushion or no cushion, you get to choose between cushion or extra cushion. No doubt about it, the Hike/Trek socks are more rugged than the Run/Bike, meant for serious winter trekking, snowshoeing, and the like. I wore my pair of boot socks with full cushion all day on a soggy sports field in pouring rain, and my feet survived to freeze another day.

Adventurers choose between a 1/4 sock, micro crew, boot sock, or mountaineering sock, and all come in fun colors and patterns. I like the crew for everyday winter wear, because it comes up just high enough to cover low boots or the fit snug around leggings without encasing my whole calf. While in the elements, give me the boot version. The wool versions include 67% Merino wool with some Nylon and Lycra to add some elasticity, and the Coolmax versions are made with Coolmax Polyester, Nylon, and Spandex. Pick up any version of the Hike/Trek for between $20-$29 at Amazon, CampMor, or Backcountry.

Darn Tough kids ski sock3. Kids Ski/Ride sock: I’ve already mentioned how my kids embraced Darn Tough’s kids’ Hike/Trek socks, and they love the ski socks for the same reason: minimum squeezing, itching, and general irritation. Their Ultra Light ski sock is still padded, and comes up over the calf, but is so lightweight, the kids don’t mind it on (and their feet stay warm). If your kids aren’t weirded out by weighty socks like mine are, they have the option for the cushioned padded ski sock as well. The bright colors are fun (and easy to spot in the ski gear bag). Put them in the kids’ stocking after buying from Amazon or CampMor for around $14.

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LORPEN Weekender/Chillax Comfort Line Socks

This soft line of socks is the perfect blend for the on-the-go business traveler and occasional adventurer. The Lorpen line has a long history in creating socks that sustain a full day of durability with the elements, but this casual series is set on being comfortable enough for daily use while still maintaining a focus on long-term travel.

As a business traveler, this is especially important for me. I am often on the go with just one carry-on bag for more than two weeks so stinky socks are not a pleasurable travel accessory.

The Comfort Life line of socks is an excellent addition to my slim line of travel gear that earns its respective spot in my suitcase of dwindling size (you heard about Air France’s influence on Brookstone convincing the American company to produce smaller bags to meet its ridiculously stringent code of carry-on bag requirements).

Anyway, most cotton socks absorb and retain moisture, which can result in blisters. And even if you trade out your socks regularly, carrying them around is not a pleasant experience. This Comfort Life line retains water but remains breathable, which reduces odor.

This special fabric, known as Modal, is made by spinning reconstituted cellulose from beech trees into a yarn that is soft without fading its color over time.

The Weekender and Chillax pairs seemed especially interesting for a business traveler such as myself. Over a two-week travel period, I traveled with both pairs. Each were worn for a couple of days maximum, and then I placed them into a laundry bag with odor protection.

Despite my own efforts, socks are not the best to keep quiet in a laundry bag. However, this pair was a winner.

I also appreciated the dual function use that worked for me if I were crossing time zones since the Merino wool keeps it feels soft and warm in winter and cool in summer.

These and other pairs are available on Lorpen’s website or Amazon for an extremely affordable price of $10-15 making them a great gift for frequent travelers. There’s also a good selection at the Sierra Trading Post site.

See more reviews of travel socks, including others from Lorpen. 

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