I love new socks. For me, the best socks are the ones that feel like they are new every time I put them on. That is my standard, along with comfort and wicking properties.
For me, Smartwool is the winner, but the comparison is very close. Below, I will explain why.
If you’re a hiker, you probably know everything about the importance of having dry and warm feet. However, wearing a pair of snug hiking shoes is not enough to keep your feet warm. You also need a pair of quality all-weather socks. And when it comes to the best socks for hiking, none are as absorbent, breathable, and warm as the ones made from Merino wool.
In this post, I am comparing the two best known manufacturers of Merino wool socks, Smartwool and Darn Tough. Many people who decide to get themselves a pair of socks manufactured from Merino wool end up choosing between these two brands. If you’re one of them, have no worries, I’m here to help.
This Darn Tough vs Smartwool review will look at a few different categories, such as in-shoe fit, absorption, durability, and others. An important thing to mention here is that we’ll be comparing the general characteristics of socks manufactured by both companies, not just a couple of particular models.
Smartwool vs Darn Tough: The Background
Established in 1994 by Peter and Patty Duke, Smartwool is famous for advancing the frontiers of Merino Wool products through constant innovation.
This Colorado-based company designs and sells clothes that are manufactured primarily from wool. They source Merino Wool from a company based in New Zealand and offer apparel for men, women, and kids. However, Smartwool’s main focus is individuals with an active outdoor lifestyle.
About Darn Tough
Behind this unusual name is a clothing brand established in 1978 by Cabot Hosiery. Darn Tough was only a small clothing store 40 years ago. Today, it is a $40 million business.
Taking advantage of Vermont’s harsh winters, Darn Tough creates socks and a wide range of other clothes that appeal to hunters, hikers, skiers, and bikers. The company sells close to 5 million pairs of socks every year. Pretty impressive, wouldn’t you say?
Smartwool vs Darn Tough: In-Depth Comparison
To make this article as comprehensive and informative as possible, I’ve compared the Merino socks designed by Darn Tough and Smartwool in the following categories:
Smartwool hiking socks come with a built-in arch support system. This arch-hugging section of the sock reduces the chances of slipping.
The integrated arch support system is, in fact, one of the best features of Smartwool socks. Unlike socks manufactured by other companies, these won’t get saggy after a couple of hours of walking. This turns them into a fantastic choice for added arch support.
Darn Tough socks are more than capable of bringing comfort to their wearers. The socks manufactured by this brand sport a uniform construction. In other words, the cushioning that’s located below the socks is always even.
Unfortunately, this uniform construction has a downside. Darn Tough socks are much more prone to slipping than Smartwool socks.
The integrated arch support precisely gives the Smartwool socks such a snug fit. As they provide a secure in-shoe fit, socks manufactured by Smartwool won’t become slippery once they are exposed to moisture. Because of this, you’ll never have to worry about hot spots or blisters.
The hiking and running socks manufactured by Darn Tough aren’t as stable as the ones offered by its main competitor. This is the direct result of their uniform construction. This can be the deciding factor for individuals who are sensitive to mobility.
In simple terms, the thing that makes these socks “less stable” is that they become slippery when they are worn for too many hours. This often leads to discomfort and sometimes blisters, which is not something anyone wants to experience during their day hikes.
In general, products manufactured by Smartwool are thin and light, even their shirts. When used daily, they tend to come apart. (Their winter gear is more robust)
Once they have been used for a long time, the Smartwool socks will start developing holes. The same cannot be said for the socks manufactured by Darn Tough because they are, well, darn tough. Smartwool socks may not be the best choice if you often go on ultra-long hikes.
As mentioned above, the Darn Tough socks are a clear winner in terms of longevity. In fact, we think that it’s pretty safe to say that their durability is unmatched in the entire socks industry.
This is because the Darn Tough socks have a much higher density knit than those manufactured by other brands. They can easily withstand years of negligible use. Even if they get worn out, you can replace them for free. More on that later.
Since it’s thinner and sports a lower-density knit, a Smartwool hiking sock will never absorb much moisture. If your feet are prone to sweating, the sweat will stay right there on them.
While this may not be a problem regarding day hikes, it can create significant issues during intense, long-distance adventures in warm weather.
Darn Tough socks are very absorbent. This makes them an excellent choice for people like me that have sweaty feet. An important thing to mention here is that Merino wool keeps your feet odorless due to its antimicrobial properties – you won’t have to worry about the bad smell of your socks.
However, keep in mind that this also comes with a disadvantage. While they work great for people with sweaty feet, the highly-absorbent Darn Tough hiking socks will also suck up water whenever you’re wading through streams.
Smartwool’s wool socks are great for those who stand or walk for long hours. This is due mainly to the fact that they provide excellent arch support.
Not only will this arch support ensure that the sock stays stable on your foot, but it also prevents blisters from forming and keeps one’s feet energetic.
As we’ve already mentioned, the Darn Tough socks are high-density socks and, as such, they provide unmatched durability. This makes them an excellent choice for those often engaged in intense outdoor activities.
However, this doesn’t mean that these socks aren’t comfortable. Due to the even cushion area below each sock, they provide sufficient comfort for most hikes.
Both Darn Tough and Smartwool are great when it comes to warranty deals. In Smartwool’s case, the company provides something called “Smartwool Promise.”
Basically, this policy allows purchasers to return the socks they have bought within two years from the date of purchase. All that the buyer has to do is to fill out a form, which can be found on Smartwool’s website, and the manufacturer will do the rest.
Smartwool’s 2-year warranty is great, but Darn Tough is a clear winner. This is because the company provides an unconditional lifetime warranty on all of its socks. No conditions are attached, in case the socks you’ve bought aren’t comfortable enough, you can return them and replace them with another pair.
With most of us being outdoor enthusiasts, we thought it would be fitting to compare each brand’s warmest socks in terms of price. In this context, we’ll be comparing the prices of Smartwool Extra-Heavy Hunt OTC Socks and Darn Tough Extra-Cushion Hunter OTC Socks.
For a pair of their , you’ll have to pay around $32.95.
On the other hand, the Extra-Cushion Hunter OTC Socks made by Darn Tough will cost you $32.
(Prices last checked November 2022)
Obviously, the 95 cent difference between these two models isn’t something that will affect my buying decision.
Darn Tough vs Smartwool: Popular Products
In this part of the article, I’ll take a quick look at some of the most popular socks offered by Smartwool and Darn Tough.
Smartwool Pro Light Crew Socks
Besides offering ample cushioning and breathability, these crew socks provide good arch support as they feature a band of compressive elastic. It’s a synthetic-Merino wool-blend sock that successfully prevents foot slippage.
Darn Tough Light Hiker Micro Crew
This high-quality Merino wool sock is very light but still well-cushioned and provides an excellent fit. It feels exceptionally comfortable on foot due to its ample compression paneling. The socks are also very breathable, wear them in warm weather, and you’ll feel comfortable.
Smartwool Run Light Elite
To successfully protect the wearer’s feet while running, this sock features a minimal amount of targeted cushion while still being light and cool. It’s one of the better choices if you are looking for a comfortable Merino sock with a construction that grips the feet while wicking away moisture.
Darn Tough Vertex Ultra-Light
Combining Merino wool, nylon, and Lycra Spandex, this sock is perfect for your day hikes. The materials used in its construction work together to provide sufficient comfort, breathability, and longevity. You’ll be able to wear this hiking sock year-round – its performance is truly outstanding.
Smartwool Margarita Crew
This casual women’s crew sock provides a tighter fit than most socks on our list. However, it is very soft and successfully keeps the feet warm during cold-weather hikes. Another thing to like about these socks is that they use the so-called “Indestructawool Technology,” meaning they are very durable.
Darn Tough Micro Crew Light
Here we have yet another pair of women’s crew socks made by Darn Tough. Combining Merino wool, nylon, and Lycra Spandex, these socks provide outstanding underfoot cushioning and optimal breathability. And let’s not forget about the lifetime warranty!
Darn Tough vs. Smartwool: The Verdict
So, which one of these two brands is a better choice? Whose socks should you use for your outdoor adventures, the ones made by Darn Tough or Smartwool?
Both brands make socks that wear great and provide sufficient warmth and comfort to your feet. However, Smartwool socks are better for good arch support and a secure in-shoe fit. They have a two year replacement warrenty.
Darn Tough is the best when it comes to durability and absorption. In addition, their socks come accompanied by an impressive lifetime warranty.
As far as I’m concerned, it all comes down to one’s personal preference. Bear in mind that both brands have different levels of quality at different price points. That can make direct comparisons between socks impossible. I own both brands, I use Smartwool mainly during the winter, and my Darn Tough socks are more warm weather.
Though, if I had to choose only one, it would be Smartwool. My Smartwool socks have lasted years while staying soft, keeping their shape, and staying comfortable.
For daily hikes, either of these brands will keep your feet comfortable and happy.
- Salomon vs North Face Hiking Shoes
- Teva Vs Keen – The Ultimate Sports Sandals
- Icebreaker vs Smartwool: Comprehensive Comparison
Is Merino Wool the same as Smartwool?
Merino Wool is the main wool that is used for Smartwool socks and gear. Most Smartwool products are a blend; therefore, the two are not the same.
What is comparable to Smartwool?
The two leading brands that are comparable to Smartwool are Icebreaker and Darn Tough.
Is Smartwool owned by timberland?
Smartwool was acquired and owned by Timberland in 2005. Then in 2011, Smartwool became a VF Corporation subsidiary after Timberland was acquired.
I love hiking, backpacking, and camping. From the Camino de Santiago to the West Highland Way in Scotland or simply a great day hike on the weekend. Hiking refreshes me, my mind, and keeps my body reasonably fit. So far I have walked three Camino routes and many other long distance hikes in the UK, Canada, and around the rest of Europe. One of the best was my hike up Ben Nevis.
4 thoughts on “Smartwool vs Darn Tough Review – Which is the Better Hiking Sock?”
Walked five Caminos , 4 of which were done wearing Smart Wool. Latest Camino was the Primitivo where I wore Darn tough just to see how they would be–Had two pair of smartwool in pack, just in case!
On all five Caminos I wore the same brand and model of expensive sneakers–on 3 they were fine; on 2 they fell apart.
Over all? The Smartwool sox held up better than my shoes! But I had zero problems with the Darn Tough sox either. Noticed that other hikers rarely were wearing thick sox like smartwool. In fact right after Sarria , a new hiker, who was just starting, saw my Smartwool sox clipped to my pack and said they would never last to Santiago. Told him I had already walked from SJPDP wearing them and they would be fine
Thank you for the very useful and balanced report. Feet are so important on any hikes but particularly on one of the Camino trails and socks are key to that enjoyment of a good hike. I hope Santa drops a pair of each make into my stocking. Happy Christmas.
I am a big fan of 1,000 mile socks. Bought some for my first Camino and not a mark on my feet! Double layered with a cotton blend inner lining. Highly recommended them!
I don’t know where you’re paying $33 for a pair of DT socks, but the ones you have pictured in your article are more in the $21-25 range–and that’s at REI where you’re already paying a tad more. Even Amazon has the hikers at sub-$23. You chose the full heavyweight hunter leg tubes that go to your knees. No one (I hope) is hitting the Camino with those.
For me, DT is the clear winner on wear. They are my go-to hiking sock and have become my daily-wear sock, too. I’ve had SW socks in the past and the always seem to wear out just past the 2-year limit–kind of like that transmission in your car that konks out at 48,001 miles.
Although I have had a bit of slipping (only on my right foot), it’s not a sock issue. I’ve gone to the running shoe store and it turns out my right foot is about 2mm smaller than my left. I’m getting that with any sock brand.