The Smartwool Experiment

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

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Playing Catch Up

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Playing Catch Up  (CC photo by Automania)

CC photo by Automania on Flickr

It can be tricky keeping up with things that are commented on slowly and over time.  Not to mention, many of the conversations I have about this experiment happen face-to-face.  So, with that I’d thought I’d update/point you to some bits of interestingness.

On Washing Socks

Ken, who runs a dyehouse and washroom at a sock manufacturing plant had this to say about washing socks.

if you stuff your washing machine full , or use only enough water to cover the socks , then they will beat against the machine and all the other clothes causing more wear on them .. handwashing , if done roughly can be even worse , more so if you wring them out by hand .. to wash i would suggest a low temperature (low warm , or even cold) and lots of water to give the socks room to move and not beat against other material. that will help prevent some of the pilling effect . as for drying , less heat is much better. For the same reasons as washing, using a machine to dry is worse .. my suggestion would be cool or cold wash in a machine that has a light load, use a lot of water and air dry .

On Getting Socks for Free

Brad, featured in Episode 7: Go Hike has received a pair of free socks from Bridgedale.  He loves ’em.  Word on the email wire is I may have a pair in the mail, too.  I’ll report back.

On Good Smartwool Experiences

Three commenters have posted their positive experiences with Smartwool socks.  Click their names to read the whole comment:

Dave Matusiak: What are you doing to these poor socks? Do you walk around on sandpaper while not wearing shoes? I have Smartwools that have lasted for 4-5 years or more.

Marilyn: I have never had a problem with any of my SmartWool socks. I have worn them for years and not even one sock has ever worn out. I still own other socks, but only wear them reluctantly.

Tia: I have two pairs of Smartwools and I wear them everyday for a week without washing. I love them and there are no signs of wear yet! Heck, sometimes I even sleep with them on!

On Predicting the Result of this Experiment

For those that made a declaration, three think the socks will last the year, seven think they’ll wear before the year’s up.


Written by Beck Tench

February 10, 2009 at 9:51 am

Fan Mail

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Fan Mail

Fan Mail

I discovered this postcard in my mailbox at work this morning.  Awesome.

Written by Beck Tench

December 15, 2008 at 1:56 pm

Sock Tester Spotting: Gregor Sieböck

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Over at Patagonia’s blog The Cleanest Line, they’ve reported ultra-long distance walker Gregor Sieböck‘s experience with a Patagonia sock prototype. (Thanks to @dvdsweeney for the heads up.)

This is truly awesome that the socks have lasted so long, thus they are much better quality than the lightweight hiking socks I have been using so far, which always got at least one big (!!!) hole at the heel of the socks (roughly a square inch of size) after only 1000 kilometers of walking. the ultra lightweight hiking crew socks did not show any holes at all at the heel (actually they still hold very well here as you can see on the next photographs, all taken this morning after 1780 km). Only on top of the toes and on one sock I got two little holes by the ankle (they appeared already after 600 km but did not get bigger and only appeared on one sock).

Read the entire post here.

Gregor and I are different kinds of hardcore, but his mileage data make me wonder… would a pedometer be an interesting addition to the experiment?

In a related note, I’ll soon be interviewing a friend who walked 2,000 miles in the same pair of socks.  He still has the pair (they’re Bridgedale’s) and they will be making a cameo appearance.

Written by Beck Tench

December 2, 2008 at 10:34 pm

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On Brand Loyalty

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Traffic to my personal website from the Smartwool domain.

A sock designer from Smartwool wrote me today and explained some of the reasons why my socks wore and what they’ve 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 in its entirety and any questions I still have. I hope that the folks who’ve been visiting from both Timberland and Smartwool chime in on the comments of that post and any other that they feel so compelled.

In 2001, a co-worker who I very much adored recommended Smartwool socks to me almost like it was a secret.  Even after wearing Smartwools nearly everyday in the years since, the memory of her sharing that secret with me is one of the first things I think about when I think about the brand.

I’ve only been at this experiment for a couple weeks and I’m already feeling quite conflicted because I’ve identified myself for a long time as the kind of person who loves Smartwool.  I’ve spent a lot of money on their merchandise over the past several years – a conservative guess would be $500-$600 (socks, scarves, sweaters, gifts) – and in justifying those purchases I’ve convinced myself that I’m worth it and so are my friends and family.

I know and appreciate the difference between a luxurious experience and an average one.
I am a generous person.
I support a company of folks like myself.
My money is going towards good.

Brand loyalty, in at least one sense, is knowing one’s self (or some glowy fantasy of who one might want to be) and accepting/honoring that.

Pitting myself against Smartwool to conduct this experiment is unexpectedly fraught.  I feel like I’m betraying good people.  That I’m not who I thought I was.  Like I’m ganging up on my own kind.

But I feel manipulated.  I’ve put my money and my recommendation behind a brand that has disappointed me.  I want them to redeem themselves or to be outed for not performing to (my) expectations (that quality/expensive socks should last longer than mine do).

Written by Beck Tench

November 20, 2008 at 10:46 pm

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Smartwool says that socks should last about a year.

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This is the email I wrote to Smartwool.

This is the email I wrote to Smartwool.

I wrote the following email (seen above) to Smartwool last night:

Smartwool, hi.

I am a long time customer and fan.  I have, however, been disillusioned with how long my Smartwools last before wearing in the heel/ball-of-foot region.  In the case that my expectations are set too high, I am asking you to help me understand how long I should expect these socks to last.

On your website you list the following four factors in wear and tear:

– How the product is worn
– How often it is worn
– Proper shoe fit
– Ensuring proper care instructions are followed

Could please elaborate on those factors in the following ways?

1) How should a Smartwool sock be worn?
2) How often do you recommend wearing Smartwool socks?
3) What are the indicators that proper shoe fit is the culprit of my socks’ wear and tear?
4) According to the packaging, I should machine wash warm, tumble dry low, no bleach.  Is this all I should consider in proper care?

I am asking these questions for my own edification and plan to share this email and whatever clarifications you provide with readers of my blog –

Thank you,
Beck Tench

And received the following response this morning from a customer service representative:

Hi Beck,

Thank you for your email.  The ideal wearing of a sock is with a shoe.  Walk on carpet with no shoe will wear the sock out faster than normal.  The shoe should fit to size.  You will start to see weird wearing (examples: on top of the sock, on the side of the foot area) if the shoe doesn’t fit properly.   I would recommend wearing the socks in a rotation with other socks.  If you rotate your socks weekly they should last about a year.  The washing directions you have are correct.  I would also recommend not washing your socks with a liquid fabric softer.

Thank you,

(Name of Customer Service Rep)

The big takeaways for me in this exchange are:

  • Don’t wear socks on carpet (not a problem, we have no carpet in the house).
  • Weird wearing (top of sock and side of foot) are indicators of poor shoe fit (this is not where my socks are wearing).
  • Smartwools should only last a year if worn weekly (see my question to you below).
  • Don’t use fabric softener (also not a problem).

So my question to readers is now this: How long do you expect your socks to last? Please indicate in the poll below.

Written by Beck Tench

November 17, 2008 at 5:56 pm

Episode 4: Evidence

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Beck raids her own sock drawer to show evidence of Smartwool wear and tear.

Written by Beck Tench

November 17, 2008 at 1:21 am

Posted in The Show, Uncategorized

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The process I’ll use for handwashing Smartwool socks.

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Based on her advice, I have decided to use the following process for the handwashing of my brown (adrenaline outdoor) and gray (adrenaline hiking) socks.

handwash and air dry. i’m a knitter and i suspect that smartwool is a combo of superwash wool (wool chemically treated to resist felting) and nylon (and lycra).

still, i wouldn’t trust the superwash thing– all wool will felt over time with constant agitation and definitely will shrink with machine drying (ask me how i know…a certain superwash wool scarf shrunk over time).

what i’ve done with woolens is to wait until they all get dirty, fill a bowl or sink with luke warm water and no rinse detergent like soak or eucalan (not woolite), put the woolens in, squeeze gently to let water flow through, and after 15 minutes, take them out and put them in washer using spin cycle only. then i put them flat on a towel, roll up towel, stamp on the towel to soak up any remaining moisture, and then lay them flat on another (dry) towel and let airdry.

a bit laborious but my handknits have survived pretty well and those that i’ve machine washed and dried look worse.

Thank you sleepyneko!

Written by Beck Tench

November 3, 2008 at 11:55 pm

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