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.