Gear Guy

    Photo: Joe Jackson

Q:

What Are the Best Socks for Winter Hiking?

A:Editors at Outside test socks perhaps more frequently than any other gear. If an employee finds himself sockless while prepping for a lunch run in the Santa Fe headquarters, he can always find a fresh pair that's ready to be put through the grind. With a staff of year-round ultrarunners, avid skiers, and even a nationally ranked snowshoe racer, it says a lot that there is one clear favorite sock brand in the office: Fits.

Fits socks are made in the U.S., about halfway between Knoxville and Chatanooga in the tiny town of Niota, Tennessee. Fits is only four years old, but the plant were the socks are produced has been churning out socks since 1902.

As the name suggests, Fits fit a wide range of feet, well. The primarily wool socks comfortably grip feet while running, hiking, or skiing. I have run more than 400 miles in a single pair of Fits Light Runner Lows ($16) and have washed and dried them more than 100 times, and they barely look worse for the wear. They also, remarkably, have never slipped on my feet during a run. 

Fits explains its "Full Contact Fit" on its website, but the description reads too simply to describe something so magical. To figure out exactly how the company dialed its fit so well, I called Jack Ewing, a 68-year-old consultant who worked in the Niota plant for 50 years.

"The heel pocket is much deeper than other socks in the industry, which locks it in place," says Ewing, also pointing out that Fits uses elastic to graduate the instep from the heel to the toe to help lock the fit throughout the foot.

Fits worked on this design with engineers and had a dream product tester in Ewing who—on top of managing the plant for 40-plus years—has a size 12, double E foot. "My toes are as wide as any part of my foot," he says.

Ewing, who lives on a 130-acre ranch in Ten Mile, Tennessee, would test new sock designs after work by putting on his old L.L.Bean work boots and "walk to the ridge and back," a distance of about four miles. If the socks slipped, he'd take a picture and notify engineers. It took them about six months and many designs to get one that fit Ewing perfectly. 

Ewing suggests the Rugged Crew ($18) for a winter hiking sock because he claims his feet never get cold in the midweight, 69 percent merino wool. Merino's moisture-wicking and funk-destroying nature also make these socks Ewing's choice for athletic socks through the summer.

If you're in the market for a heavier sock, consider the Big Game ($19). On the lighter side, the Light Hiker Crew ($20) might be more your style. Either way, Fits will get you through the winter comfortably and warmly (but not too warmly, of course).

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