The Smartwool Experiment

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


with 18 comments

This blog is an everyday sort of experiment by Beck Tench, who is me.  (Shout out to science!  Yay science!)

I’m a huge fan of Smartwool socks, but have become increasingly disillusioned by how quickly they wear, especially because they are pricey ($18/pair).  When I bought my first pair years ago on the recommendation of a friend, they started to wear on the heel within the first three months.  They heel, by the way, is the first and most common place they wear according to my qualitative cocktail party conversation studies.  After a year, my Smartwools were worn on the bottoms of the ball of my foot and in the toe region (see a video with examples of the wear and tear of my socks).

I’ve talked with many other Smartwool wearers who’ve experienced the same.  I’ve also written Smartwool to complain and have been told that if I’m unsatisfied with their socks, I can return them for a refund or a new pair.  While I commend Smartwool for having a liberal return policy, I am also skeptical of how many people feel comfortable handing over their holey socks to a complete stranger in hopes of a refund or exchange.

Is my hypothesis that the seemingly thoughtful and awfully cool folks at Smartwool are actually total lame-os who are building in a product lifecycle so that I must buy their expensive socks more frequently?  I’m not sure yet, but maybe.

That’s why I’m conducting The Smartwool Experiment.  I’ll chart the wear and tear of four Smartwool socks over the next year.  Because I can, I’m combining video, photo and narrative to share my results and opinions.  This experiment and the four Smartwool socks I purchased to conduct it, may potentially end my relationship with Smartwool.  The socks are so damn comfortable, I sure do hope they win.

If you would like to contact me directly, please email

Oh and in case there was any question about it, this site is is no way affliated with Smartwool or any other sock manufacturer.


Written by Beck Tench

November 2, 2008 at 7:21 pm

18 Responses

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  1. You are hysterical!! I am ticked that I (or should I say Santa) has been buying socks that wear out too fast! haha! I can hardly wait for the next episode to compare how they are wearing. Love you… come home soon. ;))

    This is DOD…I think the ones that are hand washed and air dried will be the winners. It’s a good thing they weren’t named “Dumbwool socks”…Love you too…DOD

    Wicked Stepmother

    November 11, 2008 at 11:04 pm

  2. Hey Beck,
    Great site and experiment. Don’t know if you plan on doing this but you should track the number of times you wear / wash in addition to how long they last.

    For example. Because someone *really* loves SW socks they might pick them out of the drawer more often than other socks. Which might lead to the perception of wearing out faster than other socks.

    From what I’ve experienced, other brands tend to last longer. Darn Tough and TEKO in particular. May have something to do with blend of wool/nylon and what percentage of each is on the interior/exterior.

    I used to be a custom hiking boot fitter for 12 years and I currently work in the outdoor industry.
    Holes in the socks are signs of friction. Friction comes from usually two sources. Big toe / Ball of foot sock holes are usually a result of pronation. Everyone does it, some more than others. If you have some calluses on those places when you wear sandals in the summer it’s getting transferred to your socks when you wear shoes. Holes in the heel seem to happen from shoe fit – the heel lifting up and down with each step or not tying/untying shoes with each wearing.

    Some additional factors will contribute to sock wear beyond just washing…

    Could you also set up a twitter feed? It would be interesting for me (and others) to follow in that way too.

    Good luck!
    – David.


    November 16, 2008 at 7:14 pm

  3. David,

    Thank you for such an informative comment. I’ll be sure to track usage to see if that gives us any insight. I think I’m going to have to add a control into the experiment (a non-Smartwool sock that is also made of smartish wool). What would you recommend? Ideally it’d be cheaper than $18/pair since part of my gripe is how pricey the Smartwools are.

    As for the twitter feed, I’ll consider it! I already twitter as @10ch, but there may be some benefit to tweeting Smartwool Experiment stuff all on it’s own – especially in terms of usage and cleaning combined with data viz tools – though that may make for some pretty boring tweet consumption.

    Thanks again,

    Beck Tench

    November 16, 2008 at 8:02 pm

  4. My recommendations on socks…

    I used wigwam’s merino lite hiker when I was on my feet everyday in a shop. They retailed for like $12-$15 I think I remember them having a higher percentage of nylon on the exterior so they wore like iron. It’s a less “techy” sock than the adrenaline – which effects the price and maybe a more appropriate everyday sock.

    I’d also look at Darn Tough. I think I have some of the “In Country : 1/4 Sock : Cushion” ($15) that are real nice. I believe Darn Tough has a more dense terry loop per square inch than smartwool = better durability.

    You should setup a twitter feed for the experiment. There’s already some outdoor industry types that have just picked this up on their radar.

    It would be an interesting side experiment to see how the story spreads.

    – D.


    November 16, 2008 at 9:17 pm

  5. Another tangent for your experiment could be how the commodity price for merino wool effects the end price of socks.

    For example, the price of high quality merino wool in 2006 saw a 400% increase.

    Maybe this resulted in either a SW price increase to consumers or SW choosing lower quality / less expensive merino.

    Either way, the demand for merino wool has been rapidly growing and there are only so many sheep…
    – D.


    November 16, 2008 at 9:31 pm

  6. I agree with trying Darn Tough. They are fantastic — I even wear them around the house like slippers (my Mom always yelled at me when I tried to do this as a kid), and I still haven’t gotten a hole in any of them. And I do machine wash/dry them. My only advice – double check your size because they can run a little small.
    Added bonus – made in Vermont!


    November 19, 2008 at 2:25 pm

  7. TM, thank you for the recommendation!

    Beck Tench

    November 21, 2008 at 7:32 am

  8. Smartwool socks are comfortable but , unlike any other socks I’ve ever owned, develop holes after only a very few wearings—I’ve had to throw many away over the last two years–I’m lucky if they last a month or two ( and I’m not hard on them–only wear them occasionally)—I’m glad I found your site—Just wrote the company that makes them, asking for replacements of the last 6 holey pairs I have —and urging them to improve their product. Anybody up for petitions , demonstrating( I’m very busy but still feel tempted to stand in front of their local outlet with a sign saying “SmartWool is a rip-off!”, etc. ?—If so, count me in .

    joe rodgers

    October 25, 2009 at 3:45 am

  9. Just adding this line to enable the “notify me of follow-up comments” option below . -:)

    joe rodgers

    October 25, 2009 at 3:46 am

  10. I am interested if you have tested the warmth & durability of SW vs Darn Tough socks. I love SW but my sister, a Vermonter, swears (through the salesman she bought them from) that Darn Tough are better all-around socks than SW. I do agree that SW show signs of wear and tear after a reasonable amount of time – for me in the heel from wearing them for platform tennis, hiking and other outdoor winter sports. I am curious and somewhat reluctant to relinquish my support for SW as my favorite socks.

    J. O'Connor

    December 28, 2010 at 9:43 am

    • J – If the contest is between Smartwool and Darn Tough, DT is more durable and SW is warmer and more comfortable, in my experience. Considering other socks, though, my money’s on Bridgedale. Bridgedales are more comfortable and more durable than either DT or SW (again, in my experience).

      Beck Tench

      December 28, 2010 at 11:40 am

  11. Hello, I have been wearing SW for many years. I get several pairs once a year as Christmas presents-because they are so expensive! I love them, but as you attest, they wear out pretty quickly. I wear my socks all the time, and by the end of the year they are thread bare well before the next Christmas. The issue for me isn’t that they wear out, although that’s part of it, but that they cost sooo much to replace. I am interested in this experiment of yours because I am ready to switch if I can find another sock that is comparable in comfort and moisture wicking. Good luck!

    Lana Raposo

    January 9, 2011 at 9:41 pm

  12. Hi,
    Holding my new Smart Wools now (Christmas resents!)looking down at the gaping holes that have already developed. I have used Smart Wools for skiing and yes, they are lightweight and very warm. However, if worn throughout the house, without boots or shoes, they wear ridiculously quickly. Wood floors are their nemesis. Why can’t they fix this problem?? I think I’m finally fed up and very interested in the outcome of your experiment. Good luck!!


    January 14, 2011 at 10:05 am

  13. Hi there,

    I just came across your site and think it is great. I run a new blog called All Things Merino. I am in the process of converting my entire wardrobe to merino wool and am going to chart my transition as well as how my products wear over time. I love my merino wool socks, but once you go merino baselayers you don’t want to ever wear a synthetic again. I would love for you to stop by and check out the site.


    February 13, 2011 at 7:19 pm

  14. My husbands Smartwool socks fall apart within months. Mine last years. He wears the thinner running socks, and they just don’t hold up. Smartwool needs to do some reinforcing in the heel and toe for 18 bucks a pair!


    September 30, 2011 at 10:03 am

  15. I’ve been wearing smart wool socks for as long as they have been around. I live in Alaska. It is comin practice to remove shoes in the house. I have noticed that since buying the lighter dress smart wool that they wear out way too soon. The heavier socks obviously last longer. For me, it is the ball of the feet that wears out. I have started wearing house slippers now instead of just bare socks. Not sure if that will
    Help. Personally I think they have an issue. I read that you can send them back for a new pair, heck if I had known that. For me, I don’t think a pair lasts more than 6-9 months.

    Richard Thummel

    May 16, 2012 at 9:51 pm

  16. I’ll right away grasp your rss feed as I can’t in finding your e-mail subscription link or newsletter service. Do you have any? Kindly permit me recognize so that I could subscribe. Thanks.

    ssh Hosting

    July 8, 2012 at 7:34 pm

  17. My smartwool thick hiking socks are most comfortable I’ve ever owned, but they wear holes in the heels after just a few uses. I wear them with the holes, since they are at the bottome of the heel and don’t show.

    paul sailer

    September 24, 2014 at 9:29 pm

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