Darn Tough vs. Smartwool

Hiking for long periods in different kinds of terrain or in different types of weather can be both mentally and physically taxing on the body. In particular, many experienced hikers know the feeling of exhausted feet.

But it doesn’t stop with the feet because the pain can crawl up to the legs, lower back, and even to the head, which sometimes results in a headache. This is the reason why having high-quality socks can be a lifesaver. Even though footwear is certainly essential for completing your outdoor activities, wearing the right socks will give you added comfort and support to get through your most challenging adventures.

Now, when it comes to hiking, running, and casual socks, there are two prominent brands that you should highly consider if you want to get the best value for money: Darn Tough and Smartwool. You can’t really tell which is a better brand unless you know your needs well. One might be better for hiking. The other one might be ideal for running or casual wear.

In this article, we will help you decide which brand is the best according to your needs by considering certain factors. These include price, durability, comfort, in-shoe fit, absorption, construction, and functionality.

To learn more, read on!

wool socks trek
via @darntoughvermont on Instagram

Back then, wool was only used to keep you warm during cold weather. However, with the increasing prominence of Merino wool, it can now be used throughout the year for various applications.

Both Darn Tough and Smartwool have incorporated Merino wool into their products. The good things about Merino wool are its absorbent and breathable qualities, which makes it an ideal fabric to use for crafting high-quality socks.

Even though both Darn Tough and Smartwool are prominent brands that use Merino wool, the products from these brands are distinct from each other.

Quick Comparison

SpecificationsDarn ToughSmartwool
Price$ - $$$
DurabilityUniform construction;
Thicker material;
Highly durable;
Lifetime Warranty
Wears faster:
Free returns within 2 years
In-Shoe FitLess stable due to uniform construction;
More comfortable due to thickness
Secure in-shoe fit;
Prevents material build-up that can lead
to hots pots and blisters
AbsorptionMore absorbentLess absorbent
ConstructionUniform construction;
Thicker material
Arch hugging/forming weave;
Less dense
Moisture Absorption;
For intense activities
Shock absorption;
Arch support;
Long walks

Our Favorites

Smartwool PhD Run Light Elite Pattern Micro

Are you looking for the best wool socks for running? The Smartwool PhD Run Light Elite Pattern Micro is perfect as running socks because they use Merino wool as the primary component of the fiber blend instead of other forms of polyesters. In order to effectively protect your feet for running, the manufacturer decided to use minimal amounts of targeted cushioning while maintaining cool and light.

Another great aspect of these socks is the Merino wool in the padded areas. This construction does an excellent task of wicking away moisture from the inside while gripping the feet. Because of these padded areas, the socks are also very comfortable against the skin.

The Smartwool PhD Run Light Elite Pattern Micro is made of high-quality natural fibers. As such, it is slightly above the average price for socks. But, you certainly get your money’s worth with its premium performance, especially if you love to run!

Darn Tough Vertex No Show Tab Ultra-Light Cushion Socks

The Darn Tough Vertex Now Show Tab Ultra-Light Cushion Socks are incredibly durable, which at the same time offer excellent value. They give good comfort and immense breathability for lightweight socks composed of Merino Wool. They are super lightweight running socks that come with no extra padding.

The materials used in these socks include 5% Lycra Spandex, 41% Merino Wool, and 54% Nylon, which are all comfortable against the foot and are not scratchy or itchy. Considering that they come with an ultralight design, these socks aren’t super-cushioned or plush either. The forefoot and heel come with a more condensed weave for enhanced durability with no extra padding.

All in all, the Darn Tough Vertex Ultralight Cushion Socks are durable and lightweight running socks that provide outstanding performance and moisture management. Even though they don’t really do well to prevent foot slippage, these socks are still a great choice for those where this issue doesn’t really matter that much. The Darn Tough Vertex Ultra Cushion Socks offer a myriad of applications and has great value for the money.

Smartwool Men's PhD Pro Light Crew Socks

If you’re searching for hiking socks that perform well through all seasons for any distance, the Smartwool PhD Pro Light Crew Socks are a great option. The cushioning underfoot is plentiful and plush because the socks span from heel to toe.

Also, the manufacturer put an excellent consideration for the socks’ fit. Around the arch is a band of compressive elastic that keeps the socks in place, which ultimately prevents foot slippage. The improved toe box is streamlined to fit both a woman or man’s feet with extra cushioning on the sides and top of the toes.

The Smartwool PhD Pro Light Crew Socks are perfect for those hikers who have sweaty feet because they come with ample breathability and cushioning. Thus they offer exceptional wicking capability. Thoughtfully designed by their manufacturer, these socks utilize less material at the top of the foot and along the shaft in order to give excellent breathability even in the hottest conditions. The only drawback for some users is that these socks’ price tag is a little bit high, and they dry slowly.

To sum it up, they are Merino wool-synthetic blend socks made to take on all kinds of hiking challenges. The Smartwool PhD Pro Light Crew provides a medium amount of cushioning underfoot, which is perfect for different levels of hiking adventures.

Darn Tough Light Hiker Micro Crew Light Cushion Socks - Men's

We highly recommend the Darn Tough Light Hiker Micro Crew if your favorite outdoor activity is hiking. They are lightweight cushioned socks that make them one of the best options for backpacking and similar activities. We like the fact that it is crafted with a 60% Merino wool blend and ample compression paneling. The 60% Merino wool blend feels soft against the skin while effectively providing insulation when wet.

Also, since Darn Tough Light Hiker Micro Crew socks are very breathable, you can also use them for running in warm weather. This makes the socks quite versatile.

They don’t dry out very fast since the Merino wool fabric is high-density. So, you may need extra time to dry them out if you sweat a lot. But, in terms of comfortability, we are confident that these are one of the best hiking socks, particularly in warmer conditions.

Smartwool Women's Margarita Crew Casual Socks

Smartwool Women’s Margarita Crew Casual Socks do an excellent job for general use, especially in cold weather adventures. You’ll have excellent freedom of movement with these socks because of their elastic design that provides excellent flexibility. They offer extended leg and foot coverage with their crew length height. Their wool construction provides great softness and warmth while their non-cushioned soles give a tighter fit.

The Smartwool Women’s Margarita Crew Casual Socks feature virtually seamless toes for improved comfort. They also come with a Four Degree Elite Fit System for a dialed, performance-based fit with flex zone at the ankle joint, which is pretty unique for socks.

But what really got our attention is that it is crafted with Indestructawool Technology for added comfort and durability. For sure, you’ll also like these socks’ body-mapped mesh zones that provide extra breathability for all-day use.

Darn Tough Micro Crew Light Cushion Socks

These lightweight Merino-wool blend socks aren’t super tall, which makes them a nice option to wear with either a pair of casual shoes or hiking boots. These socks are also very versatile to different weather seasons and levels of activities. The Darn Tough Micro Crew Light Cushion Socks also sport a balance of breathability and comfort.

These socks comprise of 2% Lycra Spandex, 39% Nylon, and 59% Merino Wool blend that gives excellent cushion underfoot with lighter materials on top to provide optimal breathability throughout the day. A nice feature of these socks is their above-ankle design, which is a must-have during warmer seasons. The elastic materials incorporated in the socks give great compression around the heel and arch.

On warmer days, they breathe and wick very effectively, all thanks to their fabric construction that utilizes a lightweight layer of both synthetic fibers and Merino wool. In conclusion, The Darn Tough Hiker Micro Crew Cushion Socks are our top pick when it comes to general use because they have outstanding versatility, comfortability, and work great throughout summer, spring, and fall. They are a must-have if you like high-quality lower cut socks.

In-Depth Comparison – Darn Tough vs. Smartwool

wool socks snow
via @socksaddictofficial on Instagram

If you want to determine which socks are the best for your needs, an in-depth comparison is crucial. Particularly if your choices are from prominent brands.

We will discuss six main factors that you should keep in mind when searching for the right socks. These include price, durability, comfort, absorption, in-shoe fit, and functionality. All of them play vital roles for different needs like hiking, running, or in general use.

To further understand each one of these factors, read on.


When it comes to prices, both Darn Tough and SmartWool don’t really have that much difference. But we found out that the general selections of SmartWool socks are usually more affordable compared to Darn Tough socks.


Durability is the main reason why Darn Tough socks got so popular. This could be the result of Darn Tough socks incorporating much higher density knit compared to most socks in the market. This makes the brand’s socks perfect as hiking socks.

Darn Tough socks generally last for many years regardless of negligible use. And even if you got worn out the socks, you can still redeem the lifetime warranty by just sending in the socks that you have.

As for SmartWool, their socks are usually thin. With daily use, the product will have a bit higher wear-and-tear rate. After using SmartWool socks intensively for months, you may notice they’re not as good as new.

All in all, we highly recommend Darn Tough socks if you’re more engaged in intense activities.


Darn Tough socks are famous for providing exceptional comfort to its users. They come with even construction, which makes the cushioning below the socks uniform. The only disadvantage is that you have a higher chance of slipping within your shoes.

On the other hand, SmartWool has an arch support system that is incorporated into their socks. This design makes the socks grip your feet, so there’s no slipping when you’re wearing your shoes.

The arch support system is an outstanding feature because it makes SmartWool socks ideal for everyday use. But the arch support system also requires some space within the socks. Thus, we think the arch support might be a bit limiting for some hikers.


Darn Tough socks are highly absorbent since they come with a thicker construction and denser knit compared to most socks. This construction also keeps your feet warm in colder conditions. This design makes Darn Tough socks a great choice for hikers who have very sweaty feet.

Moreover, the socks are primarily made with Merino wool – which is an antimicrobial fabric. That means the odor of your feet will be controlled effectively. On the flip side, because Darn Tough socks are highly-absorbent, you should be cautious of hiking through streams or near water sources.

As for SmartWool, their socks are much thinner than Darn Tough socks, which means they don’t absorb much moisture. SmartWool socks come with lower density knit, which is more suited for users who don’t have sweaty feet. With such properties, SmartWool socks are more suited for daily light activities.

wool socks for hiking
via @darntoughvermont on Instagram

In-Shoe Fit

Darn Tough socks’ uniform construction slightly affects stability. Thus, you have a higher chance of slippage within your footwear. The in-shoe fit is a crucial factor to consider, particularly if you are active. Otherwise, it can result in discomfort and sometimes blisters or hot spots on your feet.

On the other hand, SmartWool socks have a better in-shoe fit because their socks are incorporated with arch support. This system makes the socks grip your feet better. And with more secure socks on your feet, the fewer chances of slippage even with moisture build-up. You won’t also need to worry about getting hot spots or blisters.


Darn Tough socks feel more comfortable for hikers who usually spend long periods of hiking and performing intense activities. Darn Tough socks are simply perfect for outdoor activities because of their exceptional softness.

Meanwhile, if you are just planning to walk or stand for long periods of time, then SmartWool socks have better value. Aside from keeping your feet feeling stronger, the arch support of SmartWool also ensures that the socks stay fitted on your feet throughout the day.

wool socks hiking
via @darntoughvermont on Instagram


Both Darn Tough and SmartWool have a wide range of fit, wool composition, and designs to cater to different types of activities. But the most crucial part of this review is the functionality of both socks.

Essentially, Darn Tough socks are more comfortable. Hikers and travelers will surely appreciate the softness of these socks. Also, they are ideal for people who have sweaty feet. And when it comes to the best value for your hard-earned money, Darn Tough socks are perfect for you because they also come with a lifetime warranty.

However, if you have more technical needs, then you should opt with SmartWool socks. These socks are ideal for those adventurers who will be on their feet for long periods of time or have heavy packs because of their arch support system.

Even though SmartWool socks are not as durable as Darn Tough socks, they still do a nice job of keeping your feet comfortable and less tired.

How about you? Which one do you prefer? Darn Tough or Smartwool?