It’s a shame that socks are the number one holiday present cliche. They’re the gift your out-of-touch, slightly weird family member (or your mom) is supposed to give you. And society has conditioned us to feel disappointed anytime they end up under the tree.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Socks are my favorite presents, and they can be yours, too, if we all rethink what kinds make good gifts. Let’s stop giving bland, white department-store bundles and instead shop for more creative and useful pairs.
I love getting a good pair of merino socks. They keep my feet toasty when I ride or walk to work in mid-January. They feel great in a pair of slippers around the house. And they’re trusty hiking socks when spring rolls around. My favorite pairs are Darn Tough’s Uncle Buck, Voormi’s Light Hike, and American Trench’s Activity Sock.
The Uncle Buck feels as thick as two pairs of socks (without the chafing). The extra cushion is a huge plus when you’re constantly on your feet, and Darn Tough gets bonus points for the dive-bar buck graphic. Voormi’s Light Hike is a favorite because of its fit. When you first slide the sock on, it feels so loose and nonconstricting that it might slide down your calf. But somehow, thanks to a little bit of wizardry in the tailoring, the Light Hike never moves, making it the most comfortable mid-high sock I’ve ever worn. The Activity Sock makes my list because, in addition to odor-fighting merino, it has an antimicrobial silver additive in the toe and heel, so you can wear them for days while traveling and not worry about stinky feet. If you ever feel befuddled by your choices or don’t know what kind of merino socks your giftee will like, stop by an outdoor store like REI, and their well-versed employees will be more than happy to help you shop.
Beyond merino, I’m a big fan of bright and loud socks—pairs that get comments around the office. The Athletic’s PDX Airport Carpet sock is a classic. The pattern is the same one that used to be on the old carpet in Portland’s airport (a famous Instagram spot). Ten Speed Hero is a Chicago company that caters to cyclists, but I wear its cleverly designed socks to work all the time. And if you’re looking for bright merino numbers, Smartwool has the best patterns. When shopping for loud socks, go online. Retail spots stock a tame selection, but you can find some truly wild patterns when you visit sock-brand websites.
There are tons of nice ski socks to choose from, but I always go with something from Fits. In fact, my foot will not enter a ski boot unless I’m wearing something from that brand. I’ve never—not once—gotten a blister while skinning in a pair. I mostly use its Light Ski-OTC sock, which doesn’t bunch up in a boot yet comes with a little padding in the shin, toe, and heel for a comfortable fit and solid warmth. Pro tip: Always get a gift receipt when purchasing ski socks. Some people are very particular when it comes to how their socks fit in their boots.
The one gripe you might have about my list is that these socks are pricey. You’re right. But you don’t need to ask for ten of them. A couple pairs of merino, some bright and loud numbers, and one good pair of ski socks is enough to last you a few years. You’ll be much happier on Hanukkah nights or Christmas mornings when you know high-quality socks are waiting.