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April 19, 2011

Spring Sock Review: SOLE Lightweight and Dual-Layer, Feetures Ultra Light and Elite

I’m not sure how the idea came to me, or why I actually acted on it rather than having the good sense to leave it the heck alone … but a couple of months ago, it occurred to me that perhaps my wife didn’t have quite enough things to do. And since I’m a devoted (if somewhat oblivious) husband, and tend to have plenty of gear at my disposal, I figured it would be a great idea to deputize her as a product reviewing apprentice. Honestly, it seemed like a decent thought at the time.

To her credit, she took my foolish notion in stride, and instead of wringing my neck for putting one more crazy task on her plate, she graciously played along. The results of her cooperation will be evident in the next couple of weeks; I’ve already indicated that she’s testing Merrell’s Pace Glove for me, and today, I get to report on six different socks from two different companies that she’s been testing over the past several weeks.

The sock review seemed like a perfect match for her, because 1) all of the products here are primarily road socks, and she does a lot more road running than I do, and 2) I'm already on record countless times saying that when it comes to socks, my heart belongs to Drymax. So instead of conducting a contest where everyone would be competing for second place, I handed it over to an impartial judge; it seemed like the fair thing to do.

First up were two pairs from SOLE, a company I first profiled when reviewing their sport flips (which, coincidentally, my wife also tested for me; I’m thinking I might need to offer her some sort of benefit plan soon). She tested the dual layer performance sock, a running-specific model, and the lightweight multi-sport sock. Both are extremely thin socks that use Tactel, a synthetic nylon fabric that is very soft, dries eight times faster than cotton, and retains its shape after repeated use and wash cycles. They both also come in multiple heights, are available in either black or white, have seamless toe construction, and employ SOLE’s TensorFit arch band to reduce slippage and keep the sock in place.

SOLE lightweight sport sock

The lightweight sport sock has instep vents for increased breathability, with a two-component fabric blend of 82% Tactel and 18% Lycra. The dual layer sock has (as the name implies) two separate layers of fabric to reduce friction and prevent blisters – an inner layer that hugs your foot, and an outer panel with large vents for breathability. If you like dual-layer socks but don't like their thickness, the SOLE sock is for you; it's definitely one of the thinnest dual layer socks I've ever seen. It has a coolmax component to help move moisture away from the foot, with a fabric breakdown of 52% Tactel, 35% Coolmax, and 13% Lycra.

SOLE dual-layer running socks

As you’d guess from the fabric construction, the lightweight sock is a bit thinner and stretchier, and the dual layer is a bit better at moisture management and blister prevention. As to how they feel, I think it’s best to say that one of the hallmarks of a good sock is when it doesn’t bother you in any way – in other words, my wife didn’t have any complaints about them, but they didn’t completely, um … knock her socks off, I guess. They’re probably worth a try if you live in a hot climate or like extremely thin socks for running or other athletic activities.

The remainder of the socks were from Feetures (typically written with an exclamation point! To get you excited!), a North Carolina-based family company who suckered me into agreeing to a review by exploiting my affection for the UNC Tar Heels (where I went to grad school). However, I had enough presence of mind to refrain from telling them that my wife went to Duke, because that could have made the whole situation way too awkward. (Yes, these details matter - just ask anyone in North Carolina). She ended up testing three somewhat similar models – the ultra light running, ultra light multi-sport, and light cushioned multi-sport – as well as the Elite, a new model which turned out to be the real standout of the group.

Differences between the first three socks are fairly subtle: the light cushioned socks are slightly thicker than the ultra light versions, the ultra light running has a Durasoft fabric blend of merino wool and bamboo rayon for softness, moisture wicking, and odor control, while the multi-sport models have a trendy-sounding iWick fabric for moisture transfer. They’re all made with SnugFit technology which uses bands of Lycra to hug the foot, Y-heel construction which prevents the sock from slipping in to the shoe, and a seamless toe area.

Feetures ultra light running sock

Aside from the cushioned versions feeling thicker than the ultra lights, my wife had a hard time distinguishing any performance difference between these three – but again, she didn’t really have anything negative to say. They all feel smooth against the foot, are good at not bunching inside the shoe, and seem well-built with no stray elastic or loose threads after multiple washings.

However, she did notice a clear difference with the feel and function of the Elite, Feetures’s new ultra light running and cycling sock. It’s tangibly thinner and lighter than the other models, and fits even more securely. Fabric construction is 79% iWick, 13% polyester, 13% Lycra/Spandex, and each pair has a designated left and right sock, anatomically contoured specifically to that particular foot. There’s also a Power Arch design which provides additional support to the instep area. This is an aspect that particularly impressed my wife, in that she’s been having some increased arch pain recently - perhaps related to the aforementioned barefoot shoes she’s been testing for me, but that’s another story – and she can feel the difference in support when wearing the Elite socks compared to any of the others.

Feetures Elite sock

So if there’s a clear winner from this comparison review, it’s the Elite sock from Feetures. There’s not really a clunker in the whole bunch, though – so if you’re feeling adventurous and want to try out a sampler of socks, here are your links to purchase pages from the company websites:

SOLE lightweight sport sock: $9.50 - $12.50 depending on ankle height

SOLE dual-layer performance sock: $12.50 - $15.00 depending on ankle height

Feetures ultra light running sock:$13.99

Feetures ultra light multi-sport sock: $13.99

Feetures light cushioned multi-sport: $10.99

Feetures Elite ultra light running/cycling sock: $13.99

*Products provided by SOLE and Feetures
**See other product reviews on sidebar at right. If you have a product you’d like reviewed, contact me at info@runningandrambling.com.

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Jean 4/20/11, 2:01 PM  

Hi Donald,

This has nothing to do with socks or running, even, but I wasn't sure where else to put this comment.

I'm new to your blog but am completely hooked. I've been reading your posts from what I believe to be the beginning of the blog (I'm mid-way through 2006 now-I've got a lot of time on my hands at work), right around spelling bee time. I read a post about how excited you were about receiving a comment from a former NSB participant so decided to let you know you've got at least one other now! I was the Alaskan champion in 2001 and went on to tie for 31st in D.C. (along with about a billion other people). This was back when it was broadcast on ESPN starting with the fourth round, which I happened to make it to. I haven't actually seen the bee from that year, but from what I hear I walked up to the microphone just as they went to commercial break. By the time they came back, I had misspelled my word and been sent packing.

Anyway, I love the blog! I hope to eventually catch up to 2011!


Donald 4/20/11, 10:14 PM  

Jean -

Thanks very much for contacting me! I'm flattered to know you've gone back through my archives, and very impressed that you're a NSB participant. Your success there is a great accomplishment, even if you were unceremoniously "dinged" during a commercial break.

Best wishes in catching up to 2011 - and please check in again when you get here!

Heather 4/24/11, 8:52 PM  

These socks have been my favorite for years!! My brothr in-law discovered them and got a pair for my husband and I. They are my go-to race socks!!

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