Monday, February 4, 2008

The Greatest Socks Ever in the History of the World

Merino wool is a material no one ever badmouths. Ever. You already know its myriad qualities: keeps you warm in the cold, keeps you cool in the heat, wicks moisture from you like a paper towel in a TV ad, stinks like a dog when you ride in the rain but never when it’s dry and can leap tall buildings in a single bound. Okay, that last one not so much.

Merino’s miraculous abilities notwithstanding, socks made from the stuff rarely last. And the problem of course is not with the wonder wool. No, the problem is one of construction. A great product ruined by one unfortunate turn. It could be compared to the issue of making car bodies from stainless steel. The material’s combination of strength, corrosion resistance and futuristic good looks should have been an unbeatable combination—and nearly were. There is nothing inherently wrong with making a car from stainless steel--the material wasn't the problem. The DeLorean is by almost any account a brilliant piece of engineering, but between John DeLorean’s brush with the law and Back to the Future, the car is more laughingstock than legend. ‘Tis a pity. Where were we?

Right, construction. The first few pairs of Merino socks I ever wore were SmartWools, gifts given to me at Christmas—a fact one might consider in judging their relative expense at the time. I love everything about the brand, so it pains me to report how the elastic in each sock failed, one by one. The socks were comfortable, fit well, didn’t stretch out of shape, and were treated with reasonable care, washed in a mild detergent and dried on low. Regardless, the elastic failed, giving me the fashion statement equivalent of a pair of inverted bellbottoms.

Then in 2000 or 2001 I ran across the DeFeet WoolEator. That I can’t remember when I bought them is significant. I've had them so long I simply don't remember when I purchased them. These were my first wool cycling socks to last more than two seasons. They are so old they have the old DeFeet logo. I purchased a second pair the following season and can’t tell the two pair apart. I don’t know much about the art of garment making, but I believe the key to the WoolEator’s durability is that it is a knit rather than a weave incorporating elastic. They have retained their shape—a not insignificant achievement for a wool garment or a knit, and have developed no holes.

The charcoal grey color is a stroke of inspired genius; I’ve worn these socks in the nastiest of circumstances and after a single washing they look none the worse (as they say) for wear. Did I mention they fit? Someone at DeFeet figured out that a sock cannot possibly fit someone with size 6 feet and size 13 feet—except in science fiction—so they offer the WoolEator (as well as their other models) in four sizes.

They are also harder to lose than a bad debt … though I suspect the folks at DeFeet have nothing to do with my luck. And just to press said luck, I recently wore the socks for six straight rides just to see if they’d start to stink. A bottle of Windex couldn’t smell cleaner.

I seem to have forgotten something ... ah, the socks’ extraordinary comfort. There would be little point to wearing a durable technical garment if it were no more pleasant than hot coals. So it is that the WoolEators are also the most comfortable socks I own, by a country mile. Soft as a kitty cat’s belly, this stuff could save a lot of mink-wearing Beverly Hills housewives the scorn of PETA members.

The $10 price tag on these babies seems almost unjust. Surely Rapha would charge $40 or $50 for a pair of socks imbued with a magical ability to resist aging. After all, when did someone last describe a sock as impervious? Maybe DeFeet ought to make cars.

19 comments:

Anonymous said...

I with you P; I've been using their Woolie Boolies for so long I can't remember when I got them either. I keep adding a pair every year, but I still can't tell which one is the oldest! The Boolies are my sock of choice for mountainbiking, and the Wooleators are perfect for the road on the warmer days. I've yet to use any sock - bike specific or not - that compares to the Defeets in terms of function and durability. If only I could get ahold of some tall ones for the winter...

Baughb said...

Greatest Freddy?

sma said...

what's even better is the switch to a white background! now i can read the entries and not have my eyes freak out on me when i go to another web page.

gewilli said...

DeFeet BLAZE socks. Those are the best uber cold weather socks out there.

But i've been eyeballing those Woolies for awhile.

Although - the array of smartwool socks that my family wears never see the dryer. All hung on the rack to dry. No tumble drying unless we miss the contrast stitched letters.

And can I say?

It is finally a pleasure to read a review of a product that is NOT unobtanium (Assos, and various billion dollar bikes) ;)

Anonymous said...

oh thank the LORD for black text on white background!

FeralCyclist said...

Agree w/ gewilli on the no-dryer-for-wool-stuff policy. Our smartwool (and Ibex and Icebreaker) stuff is very durable as long as we don't throw them in the dryer, which is actually a rule for all our technical stuff.

bikesgonewild said...

...earth, wind & rider makes a really warm, comfortable & nice looking wool sock also...

...i'm going to put a pair on right now & go for a cross ride to thank the great spirit for the goodness of people like sheldon brown who unfortunately passed away last night...

sandyf said...

try the classicos also by defeet once the weather warms up a little further. same comfort, but a little extra stylistic genius! classy and warm. also available in full custom ;). cheers on the great blog mate.

Erik said...

Best socks EVAR.

Anonymous said...

Right on!
I'm wearing these things right now and they are the greatest. I need like five more pairs right now. Good post!

Anonymous said...

Hmm. I dry my Smartwools in the dryer on high with my cottons and they are just fine...?

Art said...

I've been riding with local favorite Darn Tough almost exclusively the last couple seasons. They're expensive, but absolutely bullet proof. They also make a lot of their socks on both merino and merino/coolmax blends.

tim said...

sorry to report sheldon brown died of a massive heart attack last night.

http://sheldonbrown.com/harris/

Alan said...

even better - Defeet wool classico. I bought these for cyclo-cross this year and haven't stopped wearing them since: http://www.defeet.com/products/product.php?a=socks&b=40&c=117

Anonymous said...

Just checked mine, they're DeFeet Blaze wool socks!

Soaked through in the rain after the neoprene booties are completely wet, the Shimano shoe is drenched and lastly we get to the real meat, DeFeet wool socks. These babies rock!

Of course, you need the other proper layers working but don't go halfway on the socks.

ensenadajim said...

After reading about the Wooleator, I went Performance and got the last two pairs on the shelf in my size. Rode the following day wearing them. Everything you said! Going back today to order some more with store delivery. May get a couple pairs of Blaze for general wear. Thanks for the great information in your blog - but then, what else is new


jim

Anonymous said...

Cycling-specific socks were impossible to find back in the 70's. When I started racing I chose a comfortable athletic tube sock that almost covered the calf, more stylish with Bermuda shorts than cycling shorts. At least the orange stripes matched my jersey.
Paris Roubaix, A Journey through Hell shows Josef Fischer with his high black socks and notes the legend that would-be German successors have failed at Roubaix because they didn't wear high socks. Maybe the new Euro-syle 12 cm cuff socks have a performance advantage. If not, they at least provide more space for advertising.

Anonymous said...

Wooleators ROCK! Mime are almosta decade old and still kicking... I found out DeFeet makes custom Wooleators. My club/team got a split order with Aireators for summer. They sold out as fast as they arrived! Sweeeeeeet!

Anonymous said...

I'm wearing some deFeet blaze right now. I have to agree that there are comfortable and warm. I wear them as dress socks as well.
I think the best thing is how they fit. I have small feet (no jokes please!) and I HATE having to cram an inch or three of extra heel sock into a shoe. Or having it stick out the back.
Has anyone tried the Woolistic socks?