You can tell a lot about a man by his socks. The inch or two of ankle you see peeking out between pant cuff and shoe speak volumes about his sartorial sensibility.
A sock can first and foremost be judged by the fiber. By the time you’re wearing good denim and getting good haircuts (read: not from Supercuts), you should be well past the cotton tube sock stage. Merino wool is the natural pick for quality, durability, warmth, softness, and style.
We field-tested the best Merino wool socks available in the most variable conditions you can imagine: the challenging terrain and unpredictable weather of a year in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. After enduring the rigors of muddy trails, slushy streets, alternating extremes of heat and cold, sun and rain, and a 6-foot snowdrift that had us tunneling out the door for our lives (true story), these socks have earned their place on The Manual’s “best of” list.
Darn Tough Micro Crew Light Cushion Socks
When I first put these on, my initial thought was, “These are the best socks I’ve ever worn.” Sit with that for a minute. After a year-plus of punishing all-season use, these socks have more than lived up to their name. With virtually no wear on the toes or heel, the only sign that they’ve ever come out of the package is the broken-in softness they now boast. They’re thin, but fit as snug as a fist in a jar, and to this day have never slid down the leg of any of our testers.
Best for: Hiking, outdoor sports, everyday wear
Farm to Feet
Farm to Feet Medium Weight Crew Socks
Farm to Feet socks just make us feel good. They’re tough, they’re warm, and they make us feel like we’re supporting a good cause, e.g., a farm. (Which is extra good on weekends when we oversleep and miss the farmers’ market.) The outer plaiting texture protects the integrity of the soft inner yarns, providing great feel and reliable insulation. Our first pair has lasted well over a year — our thrifty ancestors would approve.
Best for: General outdoor wear
Neverquit Apparel Merino Wool HexaShock Padded Crew Socks
This Canadian startup claims to have built the best socks ever — and they might be right. With marshmallowy soft hexagonal cushioning and ergonomically tailored construction, Neverquit’s Merino model is our go-to sock when snow begins to fall. They’ll make your heaviest boots feel like a pair of broken-in Clarks, while the hydrophobic custom Merino blend ensures that even if you post-hole up to your knees, your toes will stay dry and toasty. These ultra-technical socks are even infused with zinc oxide to combat odor, so you can prop those feet up by the woodstove with no shame.
Best for: Winter sports
Bombas Merino Wool Calf Socks
We’ll be honest: At first blush, these sweetheart-of-the-Internet socks seemed too cute to be contenders on our best sock list, but Bombas’ Merino wool delivers like a dream. Of all the socks we tested, these were by far the softest and most flexible — they fit like a glove without any washing or breaking-in period. Despite being fairly thin, they were surprisingly moisture absorbent, standing up to multiple days of wear without getting clammy. (Don’t judge — we did it for research.) While these socks are a little too fine for athletic/work endeavors (a particularly grueling hike left one tester with a busted-out toe), they get extra points for rich neutral colors and a marled texture, as well as the fact that each Bombas purchase sends a pair of socks to someone in need.
Best for: Gentle everyday wear
Smartwool Hunt Extra Heavy OTC Socks
Another well-deserved brand name for a line of well-engineered Merino socks that just don’t quit. The Smartwool sock catalog is so deep, it even has a Sock Finder feature on their website. Since we’re being pressed to choose just one pair to feature, we offer for your consideration the Hunt Extra Heavy OTC Sock. Its impact-absorbent cushioning, arch/ankle support and flat-knit toe seam keep you dancing along the most punishing terrain.
Best for: Hard wear on the trail
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