This is a review of the Smartwool Hike Light Cushion Ankle Socks. Initially, we intended this review to be considerably shorter than the review of the ‘crew’ version. We aimed to provide a brief comparison between both products, so you could have enough information before deciding on one (or both, why not). This blog post was meant to be somewhat complementary. However, as we continued writing and finalizing this review, our perspective changed completely and this post turned into a comprehensive and detailed review.
Needless to say, we thoroughly tested the Hike Light Cushion Ankle socks to evaluate their ability to keep your feet happy in various conditions and terrains. From material and construction to functionality and comfort, we’ll delve into all the details below.
Table of Contents
Quick specs: Smartwool Hike Light Cushion Ankle Socks
Weight: 55 g (1.94 oz) for size XL (men’s)
Material: 56% Merino wool, 31% recycled nylon, 11% nylon, 2% elastane
- Light cushioning for absorbing impact when walking no matter the terrain. This means that your feet feel cool in warmer conditions, yet warm enough in cool-to-cold weather (up to the ankle).
- Mesh ventilation zones on top of the foot help moisture management and add breathability. They work efficiently both in warm and cold conditions.
- Indestructawool technology for enhanced durability.
- 4 Degree elite fit system provides a performance fit (“stay put” fit) to prevent slippage and bunching.
- Virtually Seamless toe – basically, flat knit toe seam to prevent any irritation or discomfort.
- Versatile: performance hiking socks built for adventures on and off the trail. Best for warm-weather hiking or running but can also be used for three-season hiking/running in most environments and conditions.
- Great features for a cool and comfortable experience. The ankle length, light cushioning, improved body-mapped mesh zones, and excellent moisture-wicking abilities help keep your feet cool and comfortable and avoid blisters.
- The “light cushion” is nice cushioning that helps feet feel comfortable even during all-day off-road trips.
- Great design and construction. The workmanship is top-notch. The merino wool blend is soft to the touch, does not itch, and resists odors well.
- Fit snugly around the ankle and stay in place. Do not slip or slide while walking or running so that you can focus on the challenges before you. What helps immensely in keeping them in place is the well-placed heel and “stay put” fit.
- Not very suitable for walking in areas with lush vegetation. The ankle length means that the protection above the ankle is left to the mercy of the environment (particularly annoying is hiking where spiky and thorny vegetation is abundant).
- Not very light and thicker than you might expect such socks to be (ankle socks with light cushioning). Not entirely a negative thing as it can actually be both negative and positive. Not great for hot weather conditions. Beneficial in lower temps and when negotiating tough terrain.
- Need to be hand-washed in cool water. Otherwise, you risk letting them snag holes or shrink and become useless. If you are on top end border of a particular size, choose the next one (the bigger size). If you are not between two sizes, choose your regular size.
We got the Smartwool Hike Light Cushion Ankle socks in February of 2023 and have been testing them in a variety of conditions and environments since. Along with the crew version, these socks have been our regular companions throughout most of 2023.
With an excellent, snug fit, these socks do not slip, slide, and bunch even during all-day hiking on rough terrain. The fairly soft material, ankle length, light cushion, and nice moisture-wicking abilities make them feel comfortable in all the ranges from summer heat to cool-to-cold weather conditions. Even after enduring various types of challenging off-road hikes, we’ve never experienced any blisters, a testament to their excellent moisture-wicking abilities and breathability. Work best with trail running shoes and hiking shoes, however, they can be used with hiking boots as well.
In the following sections, we’ll share the good and bad things about the Smartwool Hike Light Cushion Ankle socks, as well as more details about their features.
Material and construction
The material used for the ankle version matches the one Smartwool used for the crew version. It’s a merino-synthetics blend of materials that includes 56% merino wool, 31% recycled nylon, 11% nylon, and 2% elastane. The fabric feels quite soft and, most importantly, it doesn’t cause itching. Environmentally conscious consumers won’t be disappointed as a significant portion of the nylon material is recycled.
The construction appears to be sturdy, thanks to the utilization of the Indestructawool technology, which includes extended durability zones. The seamless toe reduces bulk and friction, effectively preventing blisters. When paired with suitable shoes, these socks can be fun for hiking on rough terrain.
We’ve tested these socks since late winter/early spring on a variety of terrains, from trails to off-road mountain hikes, and in various conditions, including cool-to-cold and hot weather. No problem. The durability of these socks has been impressive in the short to mid-term. However, we feel that it’s still too early to say how they’ll hold up in the long run. So, you can expect further updates about their durability in the coming months.
Like other Smartwool socks, these are backed by Smartwool’s 100% Satisfaction Guarantee called ‘Go Far. Feel Good. Guarantee‘. In essence: if for some reason you don’t like the socks you bought, you can get a new pair within two years from the date of purchase.
Design and fit
The design is streamlined and effective, which is to be expected from premium hiking socks. The key features of the Smartwool Hike Light Cushion Ankle socks include:
- Body-mapped venting zones for improved breathability
- Seamless toes to reduce rubbing, bulk, and the risk of blisters
- Ribbed cuffs for a better fit, reducing the likelihood of sliding and bunching
- Light cushioning across the entire bottom of the foot, providing medium cushioning-like comfort feel for all-day comfort on and off the trail
- Extended durability zones
We find that the combination of these features works well together. This enhances the overall performance and creates a highly functional sock.
We prefer the fit of this version over the crew version. This sock fits snugly and offers a performance-oriented fit. The ankle length ensures it remains comfortable for all-day wear on the trail, unlike longer and overly compressive socks that can become uncomfortable as the day goes on.
Both men’s and women’s versions are available in three sizes. For the men’s version, these sizes are M, L, and XL. In the case of the women’s version, they come in sizes S, M, and L. We reviewed the XL size, which fits well for someone typically wearing a size 12.5-13 US or EUR 47-47 1/3 boots. If you fall between two sizes, we suggest choosing the larger one, since the socks will inevitably shrink a bit after washing.
The socks are available in five colors (one less than the crew option). Two colors are the same in both – ‘Charcoal’ and ‘Medium Gray’. The ankle version offers ‘Alpine Blue’ (a lighter blue) instead of ‘Deep Navy’. The fourth color is called ‘Golden Olive’ (a rich gold/yellow shade) instead of ‘Military Olive-Fossil’. The last option is called ‘Chestnut-Fossil’. It differs from the colors in the crew version. The socks featured here are in Smartwool’s classic ‘Charcoal’ color, which combines black, gray, dark red, and a hint of white.
Note that while the men’s version is unisex, the women’s version is tailored for a women’s specific fit. The latter is available in six distinct colors that are entirely different from the options in the men’s/unisex version.
Just like the crew socks, all colors are combinations of four different shades. We suspect that even those who prefer less colorful socks won’t be too disappointed as you’d barely notice the socks while walking.
Typically, lower weight means less bulk and increased agility. Still, sock weight isn’t that important unless you are a true ultralighter aiming to minimize gear weight. In that case, knowing the weight of each pair might be super important.
These come at 55 g (1.94 oz) for size XL, whereas the crew version is 21 g (0.74 oz) heavier for the same size. This means that the ‘ankle’ is around 75% of the weight of the ‘crew’. They are definitely not the lightest socks on the market of premium hiking socks but they’re far from heavy. Comparing their weight to the weight of other popular choices will help you find out where they are.
How do these shoes compare to their rivals in weight? The Darn Tough Hiker Quarter Midweight Hiking socks weigh approximately 65 g or 2.3 oz in the L size. The Darn Tough Light Hiker Quarter Lightweight Hiking are several grams lighter, i.e. their weight is comparable to the weight of the Smartwool Hike Light Cushion Ankle socks.
The Icebreaker Hike+ Light Mini socks weigh 120 grams (4.22 oz) for size M. This weight is not unexpected… As you may recall from our review of the Smartwool Hike Light Cushion Crew, we highlighted that the Icebreaker Hike+ Light Crew socks weigh approximately 142 g (5 oz). These are definitely not just for light hikes, as Icebreaker claims!
Thickness, warmth, and comfort
Built for mild weather, the Smartwool Hike Light Cushion Ankle Socks are bulk-free and focused on providing a balance between warmth, comfort, and breathability. Here’s what we learned about them:
- Versatility and insulation: The socks provide the right amount of thickness and insulation for (three-season) light and fast hiking in three seasons. They work great for cool-to-cold weather as well as warmer conditions. We’ve tested these in temps as low as 5°C (around 41°F) in March and as high as 30°C something in July (above 86°F). Worked reasonably well in the opposite ends of the spectrum. These are super versatile and are extremely effective for an active lifestyle.
- Hiking through lush vegetation: They can be used for off-road hiking and terrains with scratchy and thorny plants and vegetation. However, we’d definitely prefer the crew version as it provides much better protection in such environments.
- Overall comfort: These feel so nice on the feet. They are very comfortable and the fact that you’d barely notice their presence while walking is a testimony to the comfort they provide. Long and off-road hikes in the mountains are no problem at all.
- With shorts or pants: Pair well with both hiking shorts and pants. Nevertheless, we’d say that these are best with shorts.
- Go great with trail runners: While we tested these socks with hiking boots and they performed well, they are undeniably designed to be an ideal match for trail running shoes. You’d love wearing these with lightweight trail runners.
- Stay on the foot: Fits well and unlike other designs, the Smartwool Hike Light Cushion Ankle sock does not slide or bunch in the shoe.
- Odor resistance and resilience when wet: Each of these is very satisfactory. Their ability to not retain odors or moisture is commendable. No smelly feet after a long hiking day. Plus, the socks can keep their compressive abilities even when wet.
The Smartwool Hike Light Cushion Ankle Socks had an opportunity to demonstrate their functionality in weather varying from cool to very warm. These socks are both versatile and reliable in cooler, warmer, and even hot weather. There’s no question about it.
The “light cushioning” is placed on the entire bottom of the foot – it goes all the way from the toes to just above the heel. This padding feels to be more than enough for comfortable hiking in most environments and conditions. For example, the cushioning provides the right amount of support for tackling challenging terrain without feeling sore. Moreover, it is enough to keep your feet feeling great during long hikes in spring, summer or fall.
Navigating rough terrain was surprisingly comfortable. Of course, the shoes played a significant role, but the socks also contributed to the overall comfort. Navigating dense vegetation may be problematic, especially in areas with scratchy and thorny plants. In such environments, some minor cuts and bruises are guaranteed as seen in the image below.
Ankle or quarter socks are generally paired with hiking shoes, trail runners, or sandals, especially in warmer weather conditions. But experimenting from time to time isn’t a bad thing. Although they are typically worn with lighter footwear like trail running shoes, we were pleasantly surprised to find that they also work well with over-the-ankle style boots. Generally, hiking boots are a better match for crew and boot-length socks. However, if you don’t have longer socks, it’s good to know that these ankle socks can be a suitable option.
Moisture management and drying speed
When talking about hiking socks in general, the moisture-wicking abilities depend on factors such as the sock’s length, the material’s inherent properties, its thickness, and features that can enhance or restrict ventilation and moisture management in the garment.
Like the crew version, the ankle version features well-placed ventilation on the top of the foot, precisely where your feet tend to sweat the most. These strategically designed ventilation zones enhance breathability and work effectively to keep your feet cool and comfortable, even during high-intensity activities in hot weather. As we discussed in our previous post (you can find the link here: wool vs polyester), merino wool has natural moisture-wicking properties. These properties play a key role in making it versatile for use in both cold and hot weather, as well as wet and dry conditions. Merino’s natural moisture-wicking properties, combined with its capability to resist odors (known as “low odor retention”), work like a charm to keep feet feeling fresh even during prolonged wear.
Thanks to the merino-synthetic blend, light cushioning, and ankle length, these socks dry quickly, especially when dried in cool, mild, or warm and dry conditions. In such conditions, it will take them no more than an hour to dry completely. It’s best to dry merino garments flat, but there should be no problem if you choose to air-dry the socks outside. Just try to avoid drying them under direct sunlight, especially during the heat of the day. This way, you will avoid possible damage to the color (discoloration) and material (shrinking).
Proper care and maintenance are what can prolong the useful life of your gear. It will help you avoid potential material damage such as shrinkage, snagging, and pilling. While in this case, the manufacturer recommends machine washing with warm water on a gentle cycle, we prefer hand washing such items in cool water with mild soap, and we recommend it. Hand washing is a helpful method to extend the lifespan of not just socks but also other woolen items like underwear, base layers, shirts, etc. Of course, larger items are best suited for machine washing. Note that hand washing can be a bit tedious. Knowing that it might be the right thing to do can be helpful though.
Pricing considerations can range from being relatively unimportant to critically significant. It all depends on the budget, the specific needs of the hiker, and the particular requirements of the environment. We’d say that it is essential to take these factors into account before purchasing any gear.
The usual price of the Smartwool Hike Light Cushion Ankle Socks is $22. Premium hiking socks tend to be more expensive than other available options in the market. And these socks are no exception.
Other similar options include the Darn Tough Light Hiker Quarter Lightweight ($21), Darn Tough Hiker Quarter Midweight ($22), and Icebreaker Hike+ Light Mini ($21). A good budget-friendly option can be the REI Co-op Merino Wool Lightweight Hiking Quarter ($16). If looking for even cheaper ankle socks suitable for hiking, you might want to consider the Merrell Ribbed Quarter 3-Pack. The pack of three costs about the same as a single pair of any of the previously mentioned socks. The downside is the low percentage of wool in the blend.
If you’re in search of versatile hiking socks suitable for long hikes, rough terrain, and varying weather conditions, the Smartwool Hike Light Cushion ankle version is an excellent choice. Ideal for outdoor activities, these socks offer breathability, comfort, and a balanced combination of lightness and durability.
Taking into account the overall package you get with these socks – including their design, quality, functionality, reliability, and comfort – the investment in the Smartwool Hike Light Cushion Ankle Socks is a wise choice. We highly recommend them.
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