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Sock Talk: Winter Running Socks – Review of drymax, Pearl Izumi, and Sugoi

jtaylor_articleQuick, down and dirty sock…yes dirty sock review.

In an attempt to get some winter socks tested for the benefit of the buzz family, I braved the cold, the wet, the snowy, the icy conditions of the desert southwest…(insert slight sarcasm) to bring you the low down on several winter weather sock offerings. Over six weeks, I put three winter/cold weather running socks through as much as I could given my own time limitations this winter and the short time frame for testing.

The three socks tested were:

  1. drymax Cold Weather Crew Sock
  2. Pearl Izumi ELITE Thermal Wool Sock
  3. Sugoi RS Winter Sock
wintersocklineup

drymax, Pearl Izumi, and Sugoi

Testing Conditions and General Comments

First, some general comments about the testing conditions and the socks as a whole. Each sock was used in a wide variety of winter weather conditions including snow, ice, and frigid cold. Most of my test runs occurred in late December and January this winter with temperatures ranging from 4° – 40°, although most of the time temps were in the 20°-30° range.

In an effort to figure out how these socks would feel for long periods of use, I wore them throughout the day on several occasions. And given the short nature of the testing, I decided not to rate the socks for wear and tear although based on the thickness and design of each sock, I’d say durability over the long haul is probably not an issue. I would note that even though not tested, with other socks I’ve owned composed of merino wool, they don’t always last through as many wash cycles as others.

Although it’s hard to describe, the PI ELITE and the DRYMAX seemed much more like backpacking socks to me than running socks. They clearly had a lighter build than a thick multiday backpacking sock, but they could easily be used for long pack trips if necessary. I thought this was a benefit as they can serve more than one use. All three of the socks claim to have some moisture transport/wicking qualities. Nowhere is this more important than in the cold as a cold wet foot is probably more likely to get you into serious problems than a dry warm one. I didn’t have any problems with the wicking in any of the socks, my feet stayed dry in all three regardless of the temps outside or the conditions.

Additionally, all the socks used some sort of double or triple layer insulation along dorsal surface of the sock, i.e. the top of the foot and front of the calf, to protect from wind and cold. I don’t run backwards so I don’t know if this really works, but it sure makes sense and is a nice addition to all the socks. For those of you running 10 mph in the winter, I’m sure you’ll appreciate the additional layers of windblocking goodness…for those of us mere mortals, it just makes us feel fast and look sexy.

The rating system I used is slightly different than in my previous sock review. I used a scale of 0-10 to rate four key areas.

Comfort: How comfortable was the sock, taking into account, feel, fit, and the fabric used in construction? Did the seams rub or were there areas that were too constrictive or loose?
Value: All things being equal, these socks are expensive. Was the cost worth the quality and usefulness of the sock?
Warmth: Did the socks keep my feet the right temperature? Did they breathe well?
Recommend: If someone asked me to recommend one winter sock, which one would I pick?

drymax Cold Weather Crew

drymax-doffed

  • $12.95
  • Size L (US Men’s 8.5-10.5)
  • Material – Drymax 100%*

drymax winter sock site.

My least favorite of the socks, the drymax still performed well. Meant to be a high density, cold weather killer lived up to expectations, maybe a bit too well. They kept my feet incredibly warm, almost too warm, and had a more constrictive feel around the calf than the others in the line-up. These winter crew are very well cushioned and solid and I imagine these socks will stay in top shape for at least a couple of winter seasons making them a great value. In my opinion they were thicker than needed and made my shoes fit a bit snug and that for no other reason is why they got the lowest marks in my review.

drymax-donned

I don’t have a lot to say about the drymax sock, it was pretty straight forward. On the drymax website, the company provides quite a bit of detail about the pros and cons of using their proprietary material as compared to wool and for those that might have allergies to wool or find it uncomfortable, drymax seems like a good solution. I would give drymax a plug for this addition as they clearly are doing a good job trying to market the superiority of their product. Both the  PI ELITE and the Sugoi websites provide very little information other than a few bulleted items of technical data for their respective socks, and in this respect drymax puts them to shame. BUT, I’m not rating websites, I’m rating socks…so let’s be getting on with it.

PEARL IZUMI ELITE Thermal Wool

 

PearlIzumiWinter-pkg

  • $18.00
  • Size Large (US Men 8-10)
  • Material – 49% Nylon, 48% Merino Wool, 3% Spandex

Pearl Izumi winter sock site.

These were the first socks I tested. Super comfortable right out of the packaging. I wore them on several winter runs along the bosque trail near my home. The PI ELITES and the DRYMAX didn’t see any wet running, as we had a rather dry winter here in Albuquerque. The PI ELITE claim to have superior moisture transfer through the use of the Merino wool which makes up almost half of the material in the sock.

Additionally, the PI ELITE have cushioning underfoot and a 21.5cm cuff height, i.e. halfway up my calf. Unless you are allergic to wool, or find it uncomfortable, these socks will definitely keep your toes warm. I found the PI ELITE comfortable but slightly more constrictive around the calf than the Sugoi, and less so than the DRYMAX.

pearlIzumiWinter

The PI ELITES were quite comfortable in regular use around town after my runs, and as with the other socks tested, having a sock that covers the ankles in the cold weather is a nice touch. There’s almost always this gap between the bottom of my running tights and my shoes, no longer is that area of skin exposed to the elements.

Sugoi RS Winter

sugoiwintersockpkg

  • Size Medium (US Mens 8-10.5)
  • $20.00
  • Material – 47% Polypropylene, 47% Nylon, 6% Spandex

Sugoi RS Winter sock site.

Never before have I put on a pair of socks more comfortable than these. Perhaps I’m not as fond of wool as I am the Polypro which is the one real difference between these socks, but my Lord, they felt like heaven. They also saw the wettest and coldest temps of any of the socks I tested and held up very well. I ran Devil’s Backbone outside of Loveland, Colorado on a dark 4° morning after three inches of fresh powder and my feet stayed dry and warm the whole time. Unfortunately, I didn’t feel my face or hands for a good portion of the rest of that day but at least my feet were toasty.

sugoiwintersockfeet

The Sugoi RS winter sock only has quarter coverage up the calf so they don’t go quite as high as the DRYMAX and the PI ELITE, but still plenty high to cover the ankles and stay put, in fact, it would be important to note that all the socks stayed put and didn’t collapse down around the ankle during runs.

The RS had the benefit of being extremely comfortable and cushy, without being overly restrictive around the calf. With both the DRYMAX and the PI ELITE, I found myself aware of the sock when I was out and about but with the RS, I never noticed it. To me that was a sign of true comfort.

Winter Sock Summary and Purchasing Tips

Below is a chart showing how the socks stacked up side by side.

winterrunsocks1314

In closing, here are some things to consider when making your winter sock purchase.

Material: Pay attention to what your regular sock are made of and buy according but also realize that having a sock up around your calf is going to feel much different than just around your foot. I was surprisingly more aware of the compressed/restrictive feel of the socks than I thought I would be. Even if you are okay with low cut wool trail socks, having wool all the way up your calf can be obnoxious if you aren’t a great fan.

Warmth: All these socks kept my feet very warm and very dry. Remember New Mexico isn’t the wettest place but my bigger concern was wind. All the shoes I ran in have mesh uppers, and wind and temp goes right through to my toes. I prefer the most comfortable lightest weight sock possible to keep me warm. The Sugoi RS handled this. If you like a bit bulkier cushioned feel, the DRYMAX or PI ELITE might be more to your liking.

Value: If I was pinching pennies I’d probably go with the DRYMAX based on price and that ability to get the job done as a winter sock. For me, comfort is a bigger deal so I’d go with the Sugoi RS.

Recommend: Bottom line, I liked all three socks in the review. The DRYMAX do the job but are just thicker than I like. They fit snugger in my shoes so I had to be aware of what shoes I was wearing when I used them. I really liked the Pearl Izumi’s so it’ll be nice to have them around but when I am headed out for a run, I find myself grabbing the Sugoi RS’s if they’re in my drawer with the others and that would be my recommendation.

Hope you find this review helpful!

– Jason Taylor


If you are interested in any winter piggy comfort, you can purchase them at Running Warehouse (Shoes, Packs, Clothes, Lights, and more…plus 2-day free shipping!).

Amazon may also have some winter sock selections.


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About the author

Jason Taylor Jason Taylor reawakened his love of running in 2008 and continues to pursue longer ultra adventures. Jason’s life goal is to inspire, influence and transform others through his love for running and his passion for life. For more information on Jason, check out the About page.

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