SMARTWOOL PHD OUTDOOR LIGHT CREW SOCKS
80g 8-10.5 as tested £18.99
Smartwool men’s PHD outdoor light crew socks are a long cuff model, which aren’t cycling specific and suit certain types of riding better than others. Additional bulk means they’re non-starters with second-skin close race slippers but sporty audax/touring shoes proved a surprisingly compatible mix.
PHD is the brands’ acronym meaning “Performance in the Highest Degree” and there’s plenty of science accompanying them, too.
Given the branding, you’d be forgiven for thinking they’d be nigh on 100% wool but they are in fact 63% merino, 34% nylon blend with our old friend elastane keeping things in situ. Talking of which, Smartwool employs a “four degree elite fit system”; a clever way of saying they’ve been engineered to stay put.
Reinforced toe and heel sections are designed to prevent blistering and other discomfort, though this will be more significant to walkers/hikers than riders per se. Then we have a series of mesh ventilation zones to compensate for the synthetic components’ less proficient wicking prowess.
Ours were the black versions with red contrast, which might sound a bit eighties, though worked rather well for me. Fit was absolutely bang on and the elastic unobtrusive, though completely dependable. Several weeks and five hundred miles plus in; I’ve been impressed by their comfort and wicking prowess-even wearing shoes with faux leather uppers and nylon/composite soles.
Admittedly, moisture transfer isn’t quite on par with pure Merino-some trace dampness becomes apparent for a few minutes every so-often but this quickly evaporates. Even after wearing them continuously for a week - without hand-washing - nasty niffs were a moot point and though vulnerable to athletes’ foot/similarly unpleasant fungal infections.
Drying times are firmly in merino territory - we’re talking twenty minutes straight from the machine wash and similar timescales following short, sharp summer showers when I’d thought better of packing overshoes.
In the style stakes, 8.5 inch (21.6cm) cuffs aren’t everyone’s cuppa, despite increasing acceptance in road circles these past ten years. However, they come into their own when blasting through bracken and tall grass - so well suited to mountain biking.
Staying with this theme, the additional, localised cushioning was particularly welcome on mixed terrain rides, where more technical sections demand shouldering and running with the bike.
This translates well to other sports - running and walking being the most obvious. I’ve regularly walked 12miles or so in budget boots with no bunching, gathering or blisters.
Overall, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by their versatility and performance.
The higher than typical synthetic content hasn’t been an issue and I’d recommend them for touring/mountain biking. However, sizing is a little limited and roadies are spoilt for choice. Several brands offering packs of three Merino socks for £10-even Rapha’s only command £15 a pair, although we have seen the phd discounted on several retailer’s websites.
Verdict: 3.5/5 Great fitting, versatile socks but quite pricey and best suited to touring and mountain biking,
Colours: Black/Red, medium grey, oatmeal
Sizes 5-7.5 8-10.5
PUBLISHED JULY 2016