The Smartwool PhD is a high-performance, fitted merino-blend wool sock that earns a notable mention for comfort and versatility. It is best worn alone, a bonus for minimalists, but a fact that might dissuade buyers accustomed to a dual layer sock system. The PhD is ultra-versatile and comfortable in almost any conditions except for the extreme cold, similar to all other socks tested. We brought it everywhere with us during this testing period. It fits both men and women well because of its compressive paneling and fitted design. There are women-specific options available.
We love it for hiking, trail running, backpacking, biking, bouldering, and more. In all conditions, it performed beautifully. While other socks might claim a specific advantage, this sock is all around versatile. Its most significant competitor was our Darn Tough Hiker Full Cushion, our men's Editors' Choice winner that won for its ability to breathe better. We also appreciate that it was much more durable than the Smartwool PhD and comes with a lifetime guarantee. However, it doesn't compare to the level of comfort that the Smartwool PhD has to offer. This is a fantastic sock, and a notable mention because of its great performance across a wide range of conditions.
Smartwool PhD Outdoor Medium Crew Review
Cons: Not as breathable as other socks, pills easily
Bottom line: This notable mention is super comfortable and provides great temperature regulation in a plethora of conditions.
Sock Category: Mid-weight
Length: Lower calf
RELATED REVIEW: The Best Hiking Socks of 2017
Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results
The Smartwool PhD is comfortable and versatile. Take this merino-wool blend sock with you anywhere you please!
Of all socks tested, this reigned king in the area of comfort! The merino-wool blend (63% Merino Wool, 35% Nylon, 2% Elastane) construction, coupled with strategically placed areas of compression under the arch and around the ankle, ensures a nice fit similar to the Darn Tough Light Hiker Micro Crew. The fabric itself is plump and plush with lots of cushion in the heel and forefoot; this made it a great compadre for long days on the trail. As a result of all these great comfort features, it earns a nine out of ten in this category.
Our testers agree that the Smartwool PhD is more comfortable that in the area of our male Editors' Choice winner - the Darn Tough Full Cushion. The materials are softer and offer more cushioning. That said, in comparison to our women's Editor's Choice winner - the Smartwool Hike Medium Crew scored about the same providing a similar level of comfort. While the Smartwool Medium Crew doesn't have the tight compression panels, it has a thicker design with a longer length that kept our testers' feet protected while hiking and even cozier while sleeping in a tent at night. As a result, both scored high in this category.
In addition to the excellent materials, our testers appreciated the height of the sock. It is compatible with both hiking boots and shoes and isn't too long. What's more is that it comes with a "no itch guarantee". Like all the models tested hosting merino wool, you won't find any itchiness while hiking or when the sock gets wet! Overall, if you're looking for a contender that just makes your feet feel cush, this is the one to choose. Wear it on the trail - or to bed.
The thick woven fabric with a 63% concentration of merino wool fibers provides fantastical warmth in both wet and dry conditions. It earned an eight out of ten in this category. When we were armored with this crucial piece of gear in a thin pair of down booties in sub 30 temperatures, it kept our feet the warm just a touch shorter than the Darn Tough Full Cushion, our male Editors' Choice winner. The Smartwool Hike Medium Crew for women also kept our feet a little bit warmer than the Smartwool PhD on the coldest days standing around in the snow.
Wicking and Breathability
While this sock it relatively warm, it doesn't breathe as well as other contenders. It does wick well though. During our testing, we went running in temperatures that ranged from 60-80 degrees and our feet were happy as clams. The merino fibers are fine enough to allow proper wicking action that is superior to the Darn Tough Full Cushion. However, some points were lost for breathability. As a result, it earned a six out of ten for wicking and breathability.
Even though our feet didn't feel clammy during high-intensity exercise, we noticed our foot wasn't as cool as other contenders like the Darn Tough Light Hiker Micro Crew. In fact, we decided to keep this sock at home and opted for more breathable and thin options like the Injinji Midweight Crew on warmer days. Overall - the Smartwool PhD is quick to wick, but not the most breathable option out there. Choose a thinner option like the Danish Unisex Merino Wool sock if you're looking for an option that breathes well.
We put this sock through a lot while testing and it earned a lower score of six out of ten after our testing period. We wore it while running 28 mile days through the Andes and while backpacking on multi-day trips. We also wore it to work and while day hiking. Through this testing period, the cushioning packed down quite a bit, and we observed some major pilling on both the inside and outside of the sock. We weren't impressed with the wear at the sole of the sock. As a result, this was our least durable socks tested. If you're interested in the most durable option tested, check out the Wigwam Pro Hiker (a synthetic blend) or the Darn Tough Full Cushion.
During our dryer tests, we learned was the fifth fastest to dry, drying out completely in 110 minutes. In full sun (on just a warm day) it takes roughly four hours to dry. That said, it's quick to dry, but not the quickest of all tested! While the Smartwool PhD dries just about as fast as the Darn Tough Light Hiker Micro Crew. The Wigwam Hiker Pro was the fastest to dry in this review, drying out thirty minutes faster, this synthetic is the fastest drying sock in this review. If you're in the market for a sock with a little merino wool, the Danish Unisex Merino Wool Socks is also a great option, drying out in only 100 minutes.
As an awesome all-around contender, this warm and plush option is cozy and versatile! It performed fantastically in all conditions. We love it for backpacking, day hiking, mountaineering, and more! It functions well in both warm and cold temperatures and in all sorts of conditions. Its major limitation is super hot weather, as it's not the most breathable. Choose a sock like the Darn Tough Light Micro Crew Cushion, our Top Pick for Warm weather (for women). Or check out the Darn Tough Light Hiker Micro Crew for men.
For a price of $24, this sock sits at the high end of price spectrum. Unlike the Darn Tough Full Cushion that offers a lifetime warranty for the same price, it offers just a two-year warranty and is one of the least durable socks tested. That said, it has a decent value as it performs well in the field, but we think there are better value options. Take for example our Best Buy winner - the Wigwam Hiker Pro for just $14. The Danish Unisex Merino Wool is a super affordable option that goes for just $10 per pair, while the People's Merino Wool is an ankle-length sock that is super affordable, going at just $9 per sock.
Enjoy lavish warm and comfort with this Notable Mention for Comfort and Versatility.
— Amber King