John Rice displays a pair of Great Outdoor Provision Co.-branded socks, as well as a festive array of other socks.

Christmas morning 10 years ago: “Oh … socks. Uh, thanks.”

Christmas morning today: “Socks!?! Awesome!”

Ten years ago, socks were the default gift from your practical Aunt Mildred. Dad would muster excitement over a new pair of Gold Toes; you, meanwhile, sputtered praise for the daring color-stripe combination of your six-pack of tubers: “Blue-red-blue, how’d they come up with that?”

Today, thanks to a revolution in sock technology, we can only hope that our nice-list status warrants the foot-embracing comfort of new socks. Especially a new pair of high-tech hiking socks. First, some perspective.

Ten years ago

Check out the fit on these Farm-to-Feet socks

John Rice in our Chapel Hill shop remembers gearing up for a month-long National Outdoor Leadership School trip to Alaska in 2002. “They sent us a list of what we needed to bring, which included wool socks and liners.

“The liners,” John continues, “were necessary because the hiking socks of the day were thick wool and tended to move around on your foot. The liners were intended to fit tight to your foot and absorb most of the friction from the roving socks.” It was a common strategy, albeit one tested by the fact the wool-and-acrylic-blend socks of the day wore hot and made your feet sweat. After a day on the trail, that sweat increased the likelihood of blisters.

Around that time, manufacturers, lead by Smartwool, started tinkering with wool and nylon blends. The lighter merino wool being used coupled with the stretchiness of nylon made for a sock that clung to your foot and wasn’t as hot. Less rubbing + less moisture = fewer blisters. The sock revolution was on.


The latest advance in performance hiking socks involves cushion where you need it (heel, ball of your foot and toes), a thinner, snug fit where you don’t. The result: a lightweight, grippy sock that doesn’t move and protects your foot where it needs protecting. They’re also virtually seamless, eliminating another potential source of rubbing and blisters. Two top examples: 

  • Smartwool PhD. There was a time when this would have been called the Cadillac of socks. Today, we simply call it one fine sock that embodies all the modern traits described above. Fits like a glove, cushions against a long day on the trail, not prone to heat build up. A sock you aspire to.
  • Farm-to-Feet Damascus. Similar in design and approach to the Smartwool PhD, plus Farm-to-Feet is based in North Carolina (Mount Airy), the socks are made here, and the wool is from U.S. sheep. (Smartwools are also made in the U.S., though the wool comes from New Zealand.)

Colors, too!

Farm to Feet Max Patch put you on top of the famous Appalachian bald

Another notable change from a decade earlier: hiking socks now come in more than just gray. (In fact, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a gray hiking sock; even the traditional heavy wool hiking socks come in colors.) Not just colors, but designs, too. One of our favorites is the Farm-to-Feet Max Patch, the ankle of which is rimmed in a sea of ridge lines replicating the view from atop the famous bald looking east into the Pisgah National Forest and north into Virginia. 

You’ll notice another change: the price. Those classic striped tube socks? You can still buy a 10-pack for about $10. For a top-of-the-line hiking sock expect to pay at least $20 for a pair. It may sound like a lot but consider:

  1. How much you’ll save on moleskin, tape, neosporin and podiatrist bills.
  2. How much more you’ll enjoy hiking since you don’t need to worry about your feet.
  3. Both Smartwool and Farm-to-Feet back their products with satisfaction guarantees.

Cool socks for non-hikers, as well

SockSmith: If pigs could fly on socks …

And, in the spirit of Star Wars technology, you needn’t be a hiker to benefit from these scientific advances. Much of this same technology is found in the companies’ casual socks as well. Comfy, warm and stylish.

Finally, fun as these socks might be, we have socks that are even more so. This season, we’ve begun carrying the Santa Cruz, Calif.-based SockSmith line. You want socks with Rosie the Riveter on ‘em? We got ‘em? Socks with tacos? Those, too. Maybe animals-on-socks is your thing. If so, we’ve got everything from flying pigs to bears fishing for salmon to cats being cats.

So much fun. And practical enough that even Aunt Mildred would approve.

Check out our offering of socks here.