sidebar

OutdoorGearLab Home

search
< Go to Hiking Socks

Smartwool PhD Outdoor Medium Crew Review

PhD outdoor Medium Crew Updated
Top Pick Award
Price:   $24 List | $16.77 at CampSaver
Compare prices at 4 resellers
Pros:  Warmth, comfort, ample cushioning, great compression, fitted, wicks well, no itch guarantee
Cons:  Not as breathable as other socks, pills easily
Editors' Rating:     
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
Manufacturer:   Smartwool
By Amber King ⋅ Senior Review Editor
Thursday

Our Verdict

The Smartwool PhD is a high-performance, fitted merino wool sock and winner of our Top Pick for Versatility. It is best used alone, a bonus for minimalists, but a fact that might dissuade buyers accustomed to a dual layer sock system. The PhD is ultra-versatile and comfortable in almost any conditions with the exception of extreme cold, similar to all other socks tested. We brought it everywhere with us in this testing period.

We took it hiking, trail running, backpacking, biking, bouldering, and more. In all conditions, the it performed beautifully. While other socks might claim a specific advantage, this sock is all around versatile. Its' biggest competitor was our Editors' Choice winner, the Darn Tough Hiker Full Cushion, who won for its ability to dry faster and breathe better. We also appreciated that it was much more durable than the Smartwool and came with a lifetime guarantee. However, it doesn't compare to the level of comfort or warmth that the Smartwool PhD has to offer. This is a fantastic sock, and our Top Pick for Versatility because of its great performance across a wide range of conditions.

Updates - August 2016
This Top Pick award winner has been updated. Keep reading to find out more!


RELATED REVIEW: The Best Men's Hiking Socks of 2017

Our Analysis and Test Results

The New Smartwool PhD Outdoor Medium Crew vs. The Older Version


With changes in color and design, the Smartwool PhD Outdoor Medium Crew has been updated. Using new technology and a new construction method, Smartwool aims to improve the comfort and durability of this hiking sock, while the rest of the sock remains the same.

Check out the side-by-side comparison below, with the latest version of the Smartwool PhD Outdoor Medium Crew shown on the left and the older version pictured on the right.
PhD outdoor Medium Crew Updated
PhD Outdoor Medium Crew

Hands-On Review of the Original PhD Outdoor Medium Crew


The Smartwool PhD is our Top Pick for Versatility. Take this 100% merino sock with you anywhere you please.

Performance Comparison



Midweight socks aren't as light but still provide decent breathability. The Smartwool PhD is a classic example.
Midweight socks aren't as light but still provide decent breathability. The Smartwool PhD is a classic example.

Comfort


Of all socks tested, this reigned king in the area of comfort! The 100% merino wool construction, coupled with strategically placed areas of compression under the arch and around the ankle, ensures a nice fit similar to the Darn Tough Light Hiker Micro Crew. The fabric itself is plump and plush with lots of cushion in the heel and forefoot; this made it a great compadre for long days on trail. Some of our testers liked it more than our Editor's Choice winner (Darn Tough Full Cushion) as a result of this cushion, while others preferred the Darn Tough Full Cushion for its soft materials. We also appreciated the height of the sock. It was compatible with both hiking boots and shoes and wasn't too long like other contenders. What's more is that it comes with a "no itch guarantee". Like all the socks tested hosting merino wool, you won't find any itchiness while hiking or when the sock gets wet! Overall, if you're looking for a sock that simply makes your feet feel good, this is the one to choose. Wear it on the trail - or to bed.

This sock is comfortable for a variety of reasons. First the compression panelling around the arch and ankle provide fantastic support. Second  the breathable panels keep feet relatively dry. Third  the length isn't too long. Fourth  the material just feels good to the touch.
This sock is comfortable for a variety of reasons. First the compression panelling around the arch and ankle provide fantastic support. Second, the breathable panels keep feet relatively dry. Third, the length isn't too long. Fourth, the material just feels good to the touch.

Warmth


The thick woven 100% merino wool fibers provides unmatched warmth in both wet and dry conditions. When our foot was armored with this sock in a thin pair of down booties in sub 30 temperatures, it kept our feet the warmest for the longest period of time. The Darn Tough Full Cushion, our Editors' Choice winner, also did a good job here, but didn't provide warmth for as long.

When getting caught in a rainstorm while hiking through the Andes (without a rain jacket!), we were seriously worried about hypothermia. We even erected a tent to quickly wait out the storm. During this uncomfortable event, we couldn't feel fingers or hands - but our feet (in a thin pair of trail running shoes) were still warm and well. We were quite happy with the performance of this sock in both warm and cold conditions. As a result, feel free to take it with you in both warm and cold conditions!

The Smartwool sock (right) proved to be much warmer than any sock we tested in both wet and dry conditions. It was especially warmer than the coldest sock tested  the Injinji toe sock (left).
The Smartwool sock (right) proved to be much warmer than any sock we tested in both wet and dry conditions. It was especially warmer than the coldest sock tested, the Injinji toe sock (left).

Drying Speed


This sock dried completely in about four hours in full sun. However, it was one of our slowest drying socks. This is primarily due to the thick compact material construct. Therefore, it isn't the best option for overnight quick drys. If you want a sock that dries incredibly quickly, check the only toe sock we tested - the Injinji Outdoor Midweight Crew NuWool.

Wicking and Breathability


There are trade-offs to being the warmest sock tested - and it's primarily found in this category. The sock scored pretty high here because it wicks well, but in comparison to other socks tested, it didn't breathe nearly as well. During our testing, we went running in temperatures that ranged from 60-80 degrees and our feet were happy as clams. The merino fibers are fine enough to allow good wicking action superior to our Editor's Choice - the Darn Tough Full Cushion. However, some points were lost for breathability. Even though our feet didn't feel clammy during high intensity exercise, we noticed our feet weren't as cool they were in other contenders like the Darn Tough Light Hiker Micro Crew. In fact, we decided to keep these sock at home for hot days and opted for more breathable and thin options like the Injinji Midweight Crew. Overall - quick to wick, but not the best to breathe.

Pictured here are four vents. Even though the sock strives to be ultra-breathable  it doesn't compare to other lightweight options. Leave it at home for extreme temperatures (hot and cold)  but take it with you for everything else.
Pictured here are four vents. Even though the sock strives to be ultra-breathable, it doesn't compare to other lightweight options. Leave it at home for extreme temperatures (hot and cold), but take it with you for everything else.


Durability


We put this sock through a lot while testing. We wore it while running 28 mile days through the Andes and while backpacking on multi-day trips. We also wore it to work and while day hiking. Through this testing period, the cushioning packed down quite a bit and we observed some major pilling on both the inside and outside of the sock. We weren't impressed with the wear at the sole of the sock. As a result, this was our least durable socks tested. If you're interested in the most durable option tested, check out the Wigwam Pro Hiker (if you prefer a wool option) or the Darn Tough Full Cushion (for a fabric blend).

Here we see areas of serious fabric compaction withthe Smartwool PhD. If you look to the right of the sole  you can compare the area of high use to the area of low use. You can also observe the pilling we see throughout the body of the sock after 60 miles of exploration.
Here we see areas of serious fabric compaction withthe Smartwool PhD. If you look to the right of the sole, you can compare the area of high use to the area of low use. You can also observe the pilling we see throughout the body of the sock after 60 miles of exploration.

Best Application


As an all-around awesome contender, this was a Top Pick for Versatility! It did fantastically in all conditions. We loved it on our days backpacking, day hiking, mountaineering, and more and thought it did great in both warm and cold conditions. We also loved to take it trail running as it provided ample comfort and protection over 20+ miles (with a shorter height). In general, we would recommend this sock for mostly anything. However, we would avoid using it where temperatures are above 90 degrees, and would recommend a lightweight material option instead. Aside from hot weather or extremely cold temperatures, take it anywhere you need to go!

Exploring the high ridges of Alaska proved to be a great use for this sock. Take it with you to the tops of tall peaks and through the deep canyons of the world.
Exploring the high ridges of Alaska proved to be a great use for this sock. Take it with you to the tops of tall peaks and through the deep canyons of the world.

Value


For a price of $24, this sock sits at the high end of price spectrum. Unlike the Darn Tough Full Cushion that offers a lifetime warranty for the same price, this offers just a 2 year warranty and it was also our least durable sock. That said, it has a decent value as it performs well in the field, but we think there are better value options. Take for example our Best Buy winner - the Wigwam Hiker Pro for just $14.

Conclusion


Enjoy lavish warm and comfort with this Top Pick for Versatility anywhere you go.

Other Versions


PhD Outdoor Medium Crew Socks - Women's
PhD Outdoor Medium crew socks - womens
  • Women's specific design
  • More cushion in the achilles tab
  • Cost: $25

Smartwool PhD Ski Medium
SmartWool PhD Ski Medium
  • Great sock for skiing, breathable, warm, comfortable
  • Cost $26

Amber King
  • Share this article:
You Might Also Like

Where's the Best Price?
Seller Price
CampSaver $16.77  -  30% off!
Amazon $21.00  -  12% off!
Backcountry $23.95
Compare prices at 4 sellers >

*You help support OutdoorGearLab's product testing and reviews by purchasing from our retail partners.