The Smartwool Experiment

Charting the wear and tear on four pairs of Smartwool socks.

Episode 5: My Reply™

with 2 comments

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My video response (above) is to the letter Smartwool wrote me last week (below).

The SmartWool Experiment is a very interesting project. It feels good to see this work reinforce what we’ve observed, and validates all we’ve done in recent years to produce both more comfortable and more durable SmartWool socks. We’re going to try and do a better job at REALLY answering the question, “How long should my SmartWool socks last?”

It’s important to note that SmartWool is more than a company that churns out socks. We’re a group of people passionate about the products we make. There isn’t a day that goes by when we’re not outdoors wearing (out) SmartWool in whatever conditions the mountains throw at us.

We’re real people. We don’t like seeing our socks wear out, especially our favorite ones. In the end, though, SmartWool socks are special because they feel good. That’s what makes them our favorites. We make the most comfortable socks on the market, but that extraordinary SmartWool comfort comes from working with a natural (renewable) fiber. Wool is not traditionally as durable as a completely synthetic (non-renewable) fiber like nylon, but who wants to wear an all synthetic sock?

SmartWool IS striving to make the most durable WOOL socks on the market.

You will find about 4 distinct types of SmartWool socks:

  • Lifestyle Socks – These socks are designed primarily to deliver SmartWool comfort in a fun, stylish, way. They are not intended for heavy active use. In your “Evidence” video, you show a lifestyle sock (10-823) that we knit in 2006. (It’s not PhD, we just started making those this year, more on that later). We would expect this sock to eventually wear in the forefoot and under the heel. The wear you show on the back of the sock above the heel is outside the normal wear patterns that we see. Choice of shoe may be the culprit. (More on that later too.)
  • Outdoor Socks – The classic hiking styles you show in the “Evidence” video are some of our most popular and have been in the line virtually unchanged since the mid 1990’s. . They are extremely comfortable, and will wear longer than most of our lifestyle socks, because they have more wool underfoot and have a fully reinforced sole. They do have a lifespan, however, and we consider them worn out when they appear threadbare. What you see at this point is the lattice of nylon, designed to reinforce the high wear areas of the sock. When nothing but nylon is left, the socks are no longer delivering the benefits of wool. The wear patterns on the ball of the feet are normal for a well traveled sock. The wear spot on the back of the sock above the heel is unusual.
  • Adrenaline Socks – These are the ones you’re putting to the test in the experiment. We introduced Adrenaline 2004. They were the result of our effort to improve fit and durability as compared to the classic hiking socks you show in the Evidence video. It will be interesting to see your results. We test them both in labs and in the field under heavy active use conditions, such as hiking, running and biking. Even with the improved results that we found with Adrenaline, we just could not leave well enough alone, because we found a new way of constructing socks that allowed us to put more wool in and dramatically increase the durability. This led to the development of our latest sock line, PhD.
  • PhD Socks, with WOW Technology™. – We just introduced these socks this year. Our R&D team set out to create a new standard in comfort and durability. What sets these socks apart from all the others is the use of WOW technology™ in the high wear zones. WOW Technology™ incorporates the use of a very densely spun yarn, allowing us to increase the volume of wool in the sock resulting in increased comfort and durability. We’ve had the Hosiery Technology Center do independent abrasion testing on these socks, and we feel confident that there is not a more durable wool sock on the market today.

Our R&D team keeps a number of things in mind as they improve existing socks or develop new ones. Each decision they make will have an impact on the balance between Comfort, Fit, Durability, and Style. Our number one consideration will always be to create the most comfortable sock possible. How then, do we ensure we’re making a more durable product?

Choosing the right fiber – Historically more nylon was the formula for more durable socks. We’ve found that replacing Nylon with WOW Technology™ results in a sock that’s even more durable, and more environmentally friendly.

Putting it to work in the right places – We’ve studied how feet work. Our R&D team puts more fiber, or more cushioning, in areas where we have seen higher wear.

Design for end use – We make socks that are meant for running shoes, cycling shoes, hiking boots, ski boots, snowboard boots, dress shoes. . . the list goes on. Each sock is designed to offer an appropriate level of performance (combination of comfort & durability) for each activity.

What does our customer have to do with durability?

Ultimately, we could never predict how long any sock will last, as there are so many people using our products in different ways, with different habits, with different feet, with different shoes, in different climates, with different washing machines. . . you get the picture.

Here’s a list of things we’ve found can impact how long it takes to wear out a SmartWool sock:

  • Wearing them outside without shoes – Not recommended (though we’ve been caught doing it ourselves occasionally)
  • Wearing multiple times without washing in dusty environments – the grit they pick up will wear the fibers faster
  • Long toenails – This one is a killer, keep them smooth and trimmed
  • Wearing socks with footwear they are not designed for – Look at the wear pattern above the back of the heel in the “Evidence” video. These socks were designed with a heel zone that is much more durable than the portion of the sock above it. We see this type of wear when people wear socks that don’t match up with the footwear profile. A classic example of this type of mismatch would be a Converse All Star high top where the tight fitting top of the shoe is higher than the heel reinforcement in the sock. A sock and a shoe are a system, they need to work together properly.
  • Bleaching – Don’t do it. They’ll never feel the same again.
  • How often is it worn? – We wear our favorites more often. That means we wear out our favorites more often. We guess you will too.
  • Does the shoe fit? – Loose shoes will create more friction as you move.
  • Body chemistry – pH varies from person to person and during exercise

Seeing the passion you’ve put into The SmartWool Experiment makes us feel good about making great socks. We love our socks, and we know you do too. We’ll always be working to make SmartWool better, we’re glad that we’re already addressing the durability concern you’ve raised, and we look forward to being a favorite in everyone’s drawer for years to come.


Written by Beck Tench

November 23, 2008 at 9:51 pm

Posted in The Show

Tagged with , , ,

2 Responses

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  1. […] been doing to address the problem.  This post is mostly my initial response to that message.  I’ll be writing/taping a more detailed post this weekend that will include the email they sent… I hope that the folks who’ve been visiting from both Timberland and Smartwool chime in on the […]

  2. Great response, but probably too nice!

    This letter is so patronizing. They felt the need to try to convince you that they are “real people.” It’s like they’re trying to Jedi (TM) mind trick you!

    If it wasn’t written by a PR flack, the “sock designer” who wrote it ought to think about switching careers.


    Troy Livingston

    November 24, 2008 at 5:52 pm

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