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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
Open any cycling magazine, and you'll see pages and pages of ads for all manner of cycling gear designed to make you ride faster and farther, more efficiently and sometimes with more comfort. Then look at the prices. Yeah, that's a let down. We all want that edge, but not if we'll need a 2nd mortgage. Surely there's a piece of equipment that anyone can afford, and will immediately offer a performance advantage, isn't there?

Socks. Yes, socks! Once upon a time, our athletic sock choices were white cotton with stripes, white cotton without stripes, or black nylon/polyester. Now we've got Lycra®, CoolMax®, nylon, merino wool, silk, alpaca, spandex, and all manner of proprietary blends and ingredients to make the strongest, lightest, best fitting, heat-regulating, moisture-wicking, most comfortable socks your money can buy. And they're not even expensive. Socks in this review run from about $6 up to the $20 range, and there are different options to suit your needs, budget, and fashion sense. I put them all through their paces, and there's not a single pair that isn't a winner - they'll all make your feet (and wallet) happy.

If you look at a plain cotton sock, it's got very little shape, with basically just a toe and a heel section at either end of the body. And it's probably the same density throughout. Turn it inside out at the heel, and hold it up to the light. If you see tiny spots of light, don't expect it to hold up too long under the pressure of running or cycling. A quality sock has very dense stitching in the fore and aft areas, to provide cushioning that doesn't mat down or hold moisture. The best designs use different fibers and layers, different weaves, and different densities, all aimed at providing comfort while controlling the dual enemies of our feet - moisture and heat, which can lead to blisters and decreased performance.

My unscientific testing consisted of biking, hiking, and walking, in a variety of footwear. I've also noted which socks serve more than one purpose, and should mention that each pair spent a few 14+ hour days in my work shoes, which breaks down cheap cotton socks into a damp and uncomfortable mess. While this would hardly be considered a comprehensive long-term test, consider the fact that one of the companies reviewed here has been in business for over 100 years, and all the others have at least a couple of decades of experience. They've clearly demonstrated that they will stand the test of time, with some even offering lifetime guarantees.

Also worth mentioning, nearly every brand profiled has made an impressive commitment to the environment through various means, be it manufacturing processes, the use of renewable resources, or something as simple as soy ink for their packaging. They all use state of the art technology and materials, with many of them holding patents for design, machinery, processes, and natural or synthetic fiber blends. Check out each manufacturer's website for more details, as well as their complete line of socks.

Some notes on materials:

Merino: Very fine wool, it repels dirt yet can absorb moisture. Doesn't itch like regular wool, and is a renewable resource.

Alpaca: Similar to wool, but warmer, its lack of lanolin makes it hypoallergenic. Also a renewable resource.

CoolMax®: A highly breathable synthetic fiber widely used in sportswear due to its ability to wick moisture from the skin so it can evaporate, leaving you dry and cool.

Spandex: Also known by the brand name Lycra®, is an exceptionally elastic synthetic fiber that is used in small quantities to help socks stretch to fit the contours of our feet while still retaining shape.

Nylon: A staple of most socks these days, nylon offers excellent strength and wear resistance, with minimal bulk.

This is a week-long review, covering different brands each day, so check back often.




Originally published on IndustryOutsider.com on 3/30/2011
 

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Discussion Starter #2 (Edited)
Joy of Sox, day 2 - Lorpen

Back in 1985, Industrias Savidai S.L. was basically what we would consider an OEM supplier, making socks for brands like Reebok and Adidas in Spain. When those companies shifted their production to China and Turkey, Industrias Savidai S.L. decided it was time to launch their own brand of technical socks. Lorpen (which means "achievement" in Basque) was the result of their efforts. From humble beginnings in 1997, the company quickly achieved success in Europe, then expanded to Canada in 2001, and the rest of North America in 2004. They're now leaders in technology and performance footwear, sold in 59 countries worldwide, with the original founding families still part of the day to day operations.

The socks I've reviewed are their new Tri Layer Trail Runner socks. They're constructed of three layers of yarn, with Coolmax against the skin for for comfort and moisture wicking. The middle layer is Tencel, which is a natural fiber utilized for its ability to hold the moisture that has been passed through the Coolmax. The outside layer is nylon, with extra material in the toe, heel, and shin, for maximum strength. Besides size options, they are available in men's XTR, which is lightly padded, and XTRU, which is ultralite. Women have the same options in the XTRW and XTRWU. Despite the name, this is an excellent cycling sock.

A highly technical piece of footgear, I'd consider this a middleweight sock - it's got some cushion, but not a lot of bulk. You can clearly see the difference in thickness at the front, from the the toes to the ball of your foot, and again at the heel, with a thinner middle section. This makes for a sock that fits well while regulating temperature, maintaining all day comfort. The tri layer design works as advertised, and that cushioning is appreciated when going for a run, or if you're the kind of mountain biker that has frequent (sometimes emergency) dismounts. After two months of testing, they're still quite soft and show no signs of wear, and I fully expect them to hold up to plenty more use. I found sizing to be accurate too. While Lorpen is hardly a household name in the states, they're certainly worth trying. If you can't find them locally using the Store Locater below, there are plenty of online retailers as well.

For more information about these and other great Lorpen socks, please visit Lorpen.com

Online retailers

Store locater



Originally published on IndustryOutsider.com on 3/21/2011
 

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Discussion Starter #3
Joy of Sox, day 3 - Darn Tough Vermont

Another family-owned company, Darn Tough Vermont got its start in 1978 in the town of Northfield, Vermont. Thirty+ years later, their insistence on using only the highest quality materials and strict quality control has earned them an enviable reputation for producing some of the finest socks available. Combining fine gauge Merino wool with their exclusive blend of Coolmax® and a high-density knitting technique, Darn Tough socks are not only comfortable, but durable enough to be backed by a lifetime guarantee.

While they offer a very comprehensive line of socks, my test samples were limited to two pairs of their size XL Run/Bike socks, - the No Show mesh ultra light, with no cushion, and the 1/4 sock with cushion on the bottom. Both are primarily Merino wool, with a blend of nylon and Lycra® Spandex. Merino is an excellent choice for these socks, as it naturally regulates temperature as well being antimicrobial without the addition of any additives or chemical treatments. It's also breathable, fast-drying, and when blended with Coolmax®, itch-free against your skin.

There are several features mentioned on the packaging that contribute to Darn Tough being able to offer an unconditional, lifetime, money back guarantee. Their fine gauge knitting, which provides excellent fit and comfort without bulk, combines carefully selected merino wool with 4-ply nylon, for increased abrasion resistance. While the No Show mesh ultra light is a very thin sock, it's incredibly dense across the bottom and at each end, with a more open stitch on the top of your foot, to help regulate heat. The deep heel pocket and mid foot support work to eliminate blisters and hotspots, as well as slipping and bunching. That's not just marketing talk - even this lightweight sock delivered all day comfort. For warm or cool weather cycling, they stand out as a top choice.

The 1/4 sock with cushion boasts all the same features and similar construction, but adds a generous amount of support without bulk. Again, it's the density of the stitching that makes all the difference here. The sock isn't terribly thick, but thanks to more stitches per inch, provides a gratifying experience for your feet. I don't have any way to test the density and compare them to other socks, but my feet could certainly feel the difference, regardless of how long I wore them, or which activities I engaged in. If you don't believe me, take Ric Cabot up on his risk-free guarantee. For running or cycling, these are probably the most durable socks you can find.

Darn Tough socks are also true to size, and their packaging consists of card stock made from recycled paper, using vegetable based inks all bonded together with water soluble glues.

For more information about these and other great socks, please visit the Darn Tough website.

If you want to get your feet in a pair right away, use their store locater to find your local or online retailer.

Originally published on IndustryOutsider.com on 3/22/2011
 

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Joy of Sox, day 4 - Dahlgren

Dahlgren Footwear got its start in 1978, when professional baseball player Ray Dahlgren and his wife Diane started producing hosiery that combined quality, performance, and comfort in a sock that kept feet cool and dry, even under the harsh conditions of professional athletics. With multiple patents for designs in footwear, they continue to innovate, while offering the level of customer service only a family-owned company can provide. Today, their daughter Kris runs Dahlgren, and while she's brought her own style and new technologies to the loom, so to speak, the company still produces every item in its growing product line right here in the USA, just outside Portland, Oregon.

The Ultra Light Trail socks are a combination of alpaca and merino wool, along with their own ECO-Dri™, which allows them to be soft yet durable, heat regulating, and moisture-wicking. Basically, everything one could ask for in a sock. This highly technical, yet minimally-designed sock is perfect for trail runners looking for the lightest sock possible, yet still provides moisture control. Of course, this makes it a prime choice for cyclists as well.

A truly lightweight sock, the Ultra Light Trail lacks cushion, but that doesn't mean it's short on comfort. A close look at the sock reveals just how much thought went into its design - it's like an eight panel bike short. By strategically varying the weave pattern and direction, this sock maintains perfect fit and comfort, while the materials used keep feet dry and blister-free. And from walking around on cold wood floors first thing in the morning to spending some time in hot and sweaty cycling shoes, my feet never once complained about the temperature. They stayed dry as a Utah summer, just not as miserable.

Also in this review are their best-selling Light Hiking sock. Like the Ultra Light, they use a blend of alpaca, merino, and ECO-Dri™, but they offer some cushion, along with a bit more coverage, running over the ankle to mid-calf. The same qualities that make this an excellent hiking sock - moisture and temperature control along with enviable comfort, likewise make them suitable for mountain bikers that prefer something more than an ankle sock.

The Light Hiking socks follow the same pattern as the Ultra Light, but the cushion throughout makes it more of a middleweight sock. One of the main issues with a cushioned sock is that as the day wears on, if they don't wick away the moisture, you can end up with a dank, compressed sock that's not only uncomfortable, but will lead to blisters as it allows your foot to move around in a damp shoe. Densely knit merino and alpaca provides an extra measure of comfort and prevention against this if your day involves long hours of dirt trails and climbing over rocks. Of course, if your workday involves industrial carpet and climbing stairs, they won't let you down either, even after ten hours. This might just be my personal favorite, and for anyone looking for an all around every day sock with a bit of cushion, this is certainly a contender.


For more information about these and other great Dahlgren socks, please visit Dahlgrenfootwear.com.

To find them online, locate a retail store, or contact their Canadian or Latin American distributors, click here.


Originally published on IndustryOutsider.com on 3/23/2011
 

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Joy of Sox, day 5 - Lin Socks​

Started by Ken Wong and Hillary Lin in 1991, Lin is today one of the largest hosiery manufacturers on the planet. A truly global company, Lin has factories all over the world, and they produce their own machinery, allowing them a very high level of control over design, quality, and distribution. They produce not just hiking and cycling socks, but also medical socks, compression socks, and custom socks. The breadth of their selections are almost overwhelming - I noted 82 designs in their Wild Habitat line alone.

Their Performance socks with CoolMax® are ones I've been wearing for years, literally. I nearly choked on paying AU$25 a pair in Australia, but five+ years later, they're still holding up just fine. And pricing in the US is far more reasonable, with the CoolMax® offered at $6 on their site. The selection of socks I received for this review included the Wooleez™ line, which is a mid weight sock, reinforced at the heel and toe, with a cushioned sole. It's constructed of merino wool and alpaca, with a little nylon and Lycra® thrown in. Like the other brands reviewed here, Lin socks run true to size.

I'd hazard to guess that anyone who's been cycling for a while either owns, or has owned, at least one pair of Lin socks. My own vast collection of them includes branded ones like Kona and Rock Shox, as well as a few pairs from various cycling retailers and charity events (Lin does custom orders at very reasonable prices). And there's a reason they are so popular - for a modest retail price, you get a very lightweight sock with a Lycra® core and CoolMax® shell, reinforced heel and toe, their Air-Out mesh top, and FlexGrip cuff. And a staggering choice of colors and designs. As I was writing this, I had a brand new pair on my desk, right next to my six year old Kona ones. Although they have some fading on the cuff, the Konas are just about as soft as the new ones, with no wear at either end.

The Wooleez™ are a newer blend, with my test pair utilizing 80% merino wool by content, rather than the usual 50% or so CoolMax® found in their other socks. To avoid any bias (it's obvious that I like Lin socks) I had my wife test a pair and offer feedback. She found the fit excellent, and noted that they were pleasantly warm for a thinner sock, but her feet never got too hot, even during a good workout. More often than not, I noticed she'd be wearing them around the house instead of her thick fleece socks when it was cold. But with the wicking properties of merino, they're not just a cold weather sock. These will perform well all year round.

For more information, and to view the largest variety of performance socks available, please visit Linsocks.com.

I'm not going to link to any store locater, as Lin is available pretty much anywhere on the planet that you can ride a bike.



Originally published on IndustryOutsider.com on 3/24/2011
 

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Discussion Starter #6
Joy of Sox, day 6 - Fox River

The oldest company in this review, Fox River Mills has been around since 1900. While they originally made socks (and a few other products) for lumberjacks and outdoorsmen, it wasn't until the 60's that they really started to address America's growing interest in outdoor sports. While they are no longer located in the Fox River Valley that gave them their name, they are still an American company, with their entire production coming out of Osage, Iowa. And like many other companies profiled in this review, they're family-owned and operated. They've also embraced technology in order to bring you outstanding socks. Their patented Wick Dry ® Health System™ incorporates an ingenious dual layer design where the inner yarn repels moisture, while the outer layer attracts moisture, keeping your feet dry, regardless of temperature. This is accomplished with a mix of natural and synthetic fibers.

In keeping with most of the other brands being reviewed, Fox River provided a pair of their lightweight x-training ankle socks, which is a CoolMax, nylon, and spandex blend sporting a nicely cushioned sole and the requisite flat toe seam. This would be the sock for running and cycling. In addition, I reviewed their All Sport Escape 1/4 sock, which is a lightweight sock, but with a bit more substance to it. Think of it as a hike and bike sock. It's constructed of Ingeo, a natural fiber derived from corn, along with nylon, recycled polyester, and spandex. Quite possibly one of the "greenest" socks in the bunch.

First off, I missed a minor detail worth mentioning. While the All Sport XL is for shoe sizes 12-14.5, the x-training XL is for sizes 13-15. So I ended up with a wonderfully fitted ankle sock that was just a bit too big. On the bright side, this didn't cause any major issues, other than a less than perfect fit. This sock is on the lighter side of middleweight, with high density cushioning in all the right places. At 65% CoolMax, 33% nylon, and 2% spandex, they are comprised of all man-made materials, (no merino or alpaca) and incredibly soft. Only one other brand came close to the softness of the Fox River socks. With that softness comes outstanding moisture management from the CoolMax, and plenty of durability as well, due to the nylon content. It should provide long lasting performance.

Another highly technical sock in both design and materials, the All Sport Escape 1/4 has so much going on, I could probably dedicate an entire post to just this sock. Besides the previously mentioned 40% Ingeo, the All Sport contains 23% polyester, which was sourced from reclaimed plastics, such as soda bottles that would normally end up as landfill. By the way, the environmentally friendly theme is continued in the packaging, which includes soy based inks printed on recycled card stock. With all that attention to raw materials, they had to create a sock that would put them to good use. Some of the noteworthy features incorporated into the design are mesh panels on the sides and over the toes for ventilation, a spandex arch support, dimensional knit which helps it to keep its shape, and dense cushioning in the heel and toe/ball of foot areas. This all adds up to an excellent all-around sock for sports use or every day wear. While I found that this sock does everything expected of it, performance-wise, they truly pamper your feet too.

For more information about Fox River socks, including the ones shown here, please visit FoxSox.com, or use their handy store locater to find out where you can purchase them.



Originally published on IndustryOutsider.com on 3/25/2011
 

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spin... spin.. spin
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i love the lin ones perfect length... i am picky about length.
a good pair of socks is the best gift a cyclists can recieve!
seriously, on my birthday and christmas... just get me socks
 

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Bummed wanted to order of couple of these but none in my size in stock....Support our troops BK10X002 - LIN

Browsing though I found they have a very limited stock (in anything that I liked) in LG socks so I'm going to assume it is due to the cost and quality of their socks.
 

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Discussion Starter #10
Bummed wanted to order of couple of these but none in my size in stock....Support our troops BK10X002 - LIN

Browsing though I found they have a very limited stock (in anything that I liked) in LG socks so I'm going to assume it is due to the cost and quality of their socks.
Are you saying you can't find ones you like in a size large?
 

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Great job, Hack! You've sold me on the Darn Tough socks. Most socks I have been buying don't survive two seasons before I'm wearing a hole in the toes and heels. Are you putting any links on Industry Outsider if we want to order them so the company knows the orders are because of you, or should we just order direct?
 

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There are links to each site from my blog, but it makes no difference to me how you go about making your purchase. I would try their store locater first, before ordering online.
 

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I'm a little torn with the online vs. local. The local store for the Darn Tough Socks is a shop that I don't think too highly of. Plus, I've never seen them in there anyway, so they'd probably have to order them as well.
 

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Fair enough. Our little climbing shop carries them. Their store is a mini version of Outdoor Retailer - it looks like they got all their stock right off the show floor.
 

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Discussion Starter #18
out of all the socks which did you like the best for average weather riding?
That's such a trick question. I could wear Lin socks all day with any shoe, and be happy. They're an awesome value, but don't take that to mean that they somehow lack the quality of more expensive socks.

You can't really go wrong with any of the brands in this review, but my preference seems to be for the thinner socks with a low cut. The Lorpen, Darn Tough, and Dahlgren are all excellent choices. The Fox River socks that I tested were thicker than some of the others, but the quality was exceptional. If you really pressed me to choose one, it would be Darn Tough. Everything about them, from the company's roots, materials and technology, guarantee, and even their packaging artwork impresses me. It's not enough to put out a great product - they also demonstrate concern for the environment and their employees as well. Again, that's not to say that other companies don't, but they really made a positive impression on me.
 

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spin... spin.. spin
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thanks hack, i will try the Darn Tough... i like Lin and like you generally like the thinner ones. thanks for a great review
 

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Discussion Starter #20
This may be one of my last multi-product reviews. It's too difficult to have to spread my favorite adjectives over six or more similar items. In the future, I'll probably compare no more than two or three at a time.
 
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