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Smartwool Review: Is It Worth the Hike?

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Joe Niehaus
Expertise:

Style, Skincare, EDC, Fitness, Shoes

Joe is world traveler and brand fanatic. He's been writing about physical goods and the founders behind them for over four years. Beyond his work for The Adult Man, he's contributed to The Quality Edit, Business Insider, Men's Health, Travel + Leisure, and more. He's been around the block, taking his goods across the world to countries like China, Spain, Italy, Thailand, Dubai, France, and Mexico. Read full bio.


Last Updated: Feb 23, 2024
12 min read
Smartwool Review Intraknit Merino Thermal Crew on Wooden Background with Tags On

Every hike gradually wears out your gear. Holes in your socks, scratchy underwear, and apparel that falls apart when you need it most gets frustrating. That gear already costs enough, but now you have to spend more money to replace it.

Smartwool claims it has the answer with its Merino wool gear that’s durable, fits great, and provides superior comfort. I picked up a few of their Merino wool bestsellers to put them to the test.

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Smartwool

Bottom line: Smartwool blends the reliable warmth of wool with modern and athletic tailoring. Their Merino wool is softer and warmer than other fabrics I’ve experienced on outdoor apparel, but it’s delicate, takes a long time to dry, and priced at a premium. Despite this, ,if you’re an avid outdoorsman who values dependable outwear, you may be able to justify the cost due to the quality.

Ratings: The Adult Man Image/Icon  Design The Adult Man Image/Icon  Quality of Materials The Adult Man Image/Icon  Value for Money The Adult Man Image/Icon  Craftsmanship The Adult Man Image/Icon  Customer Service
Pros:
  • Comfortable and breathable socks and base layers
  • Socks with better odor control than other options I’ve tested
  • Sock finder feature on their website makes shopping for your needs easy
  • Intraknit Base Layer Crew allows easy, unrestricted movement
  • Compressive elastic keeps socks from sliding down
Cons:
  • Delicate Merino wool needs special care and takes longer to dry
  • Smartwool price point may not make it a value for money proposition if you’re only a casual outdoor enthusiast
  • Outer layer of the Intraknit base layer can tear easily

It all started on the Devil’s Bridge Trail in Arizona.

I felt the telltale scratching on my heel. My socks were on their last legs.

They finally gave out, so I hobbled back to the car. The friction left me with a nasty blister that was tender for days.

The mistake I made was clear: I had invested in all of my gear except the internal layers, which include socks, underwear, and thermals. I knew it wasn’t wise to penny pinch, and my lack of wisdom resulted in painful, busted up feet that cut my outing short.

That beginner’s mistake set me on the hunt for a better gear to prepare me for demanding hikes.

I’d seen Smartwool at all the big outdoor retailers. They were always on the pricey side for me, but it was time to kit myself out properly. I tested out their socks, underwear, and base layers, and my results are in.

What Is Smartwool?

Smartwool was started in 1994 in Steamboat Spring, Colorado by ski instructors Peter and Patty Duke with a simple goal: to find a way to ski for as long as possible without frozen toes.

Smartwool legging logo

That small community discovered Merino wool and experimented with it as a performance fabric. Everything about the wool impressed them. It kept their toes warm while wicking away moisture from melted snow.

Inspired by their discovery, Smartwool moved away from the synthetic materials used in their outdoor gear. Today, Smartwool runs an advocacy program to partner with groups that align with the desire to protect the environment while creating clothes using sustainable materials.

Things to Consider Before Buying Outdoor Apparel from Smartwool

Smartwool is a premium brand with prices to match. A single pair of socks can set you back over $20, which will be a shock to anyone who’s used to getting a multi-pack for that kind of money.

Smartwool shipping box closeup

There’s a purpose behind that price: Smartwool makes gear for serious outdoorsmen. If you’re on the trails only a few times per year, Smartwool might be more than you need. But if the great outdoors are your second home, especially in colder climates, they’re a more justifiable choice.

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Climate also may play a role in your decision. Smartwool claims that it has “temperature-regulating” clothes. While most products are breathable, I found that they’re better suited for keeping warm. However, their moisture-wicking properties keep you dry when the mercury rises, too.

You’re also not going to be a style icon in Smartwool’s clothes. They’re made for function, not fashion. That won’t bother the trail nut who needs something to stay warm and dry, but these aren’t clothes you’ll find on the runway at New York Fashion Week.

Smartwool Review

My Smartwool journey started with socks. I figured I’d try a few other things out while I was there, especially as my next hike took me to Jud Wiebe Trail in Colorado. It would be colder than Arizona, so I wanted to ensure my feet wouldn’t get too cold when the sun set.

I picked up some socks, underwear, and a base layer pants and crew combo. Here’s the rundown:

Everyday Solid Rib Light Cushion Crew Socks

Smartwool everday crew black overview

Smartwool sells nearly 40 pairs of socks in its hiking category alone, with dozens more split across athletic, running, and snow sports. 

I jumped for the Everyday Solid Rib Light Cushion Crews because Smartwool claims it’s the best model for everyday activities and has a “stay put” fit. Plus, with Merino wool being their signature material, I wanted the best they offer. 

They weren’t lying about the stay put part. They are smooth, but fitted, with a distinct organic feel to them compared to synthetic fabrics. I noticed very little itching, and there’s soft cushioning that runs from the toe to the heel so my whole foot felt extra supported during longer treks.

There’s enough to deal with on a long hike: mosquitoes, muddy trails, finding a place to relieve yourself. Unsupportive socks shouldn’t pile on that list.

Smartwool everyday crew socks

I found that the compression did a great job of keeping the sock in place. With other socks, I had to keep pulling them up after extending my leg. With the added support, the itchy pressure from a bunched up sock was gone.

When reviewing a sock, odor (or a lack of it, hopefully) can’t be avoided. 

Smartwool makes big claims about how its socks keep your feet dry while wicking away odors.

I was a bit skeptical. Athletic brands often highlight odor control as a benefit of synthetic textiles. But an organic one like wool? A wet sheep doesn’t conjure images of lavender and pine.

Smartwool socks closeup

After a few wears, I gave my socks a whiff. Surprisingly, I was met with neutral smells. They didn’t have that new sock smell, but they certainly didn’t smell like my value-pack socks either. The breathable design gets all the credit.

Unfortunately, that moisture protection led to a bother when washing because they take ages to dry.

I didn’t want to risk the tumble dryer with the sock’s wool, so I air-dried.

It took over 24 hours to get them ready to use again. Not awful, but if you value a quick turnaround with other socks, the wait might be frustrating.

Durability seems solid, too. I’ve only walked about 30 miles so far, but I don’t see any wear around the toes or heels.

Overall, I found Smartwool’s Everyday Solid Rib Light Cushion Crew socks to offer premium Merino wool quality with impressive foot support, moisture-wicking properties, and odor control. If your hikes take you near wet conditions, the long drying time means you might want to pack a second pair.

Smartwool Everyday Solid Rib Light Cushion Crew Socks

Overall, I found these socks to offer premium Merino wool quality with impressive foot support, moisture-wicking properties, and odor control. If your hikes take you near wet conditions, the long drying time means you might want to pack a second pair.

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Intraknit Thermal Merino Base Layers

Smartwool Intraknit base layer crew behind

With my feet in check, I wanted something that did the same for my core. Smartwool’s Intraknit Base Layers claim to be a durable, fast-drying Merino blend with tailored comfort and ventilation.

I’ve tried many base layers from my outdoor adventures, and I wanted to see how the Intraknit line compares to my favorites.

All of my existing base layer garments are either 100% cotton or a synthetic blend. The Merino wool fabric was unfamiliar to me, and a bit coarse in comparison.

Smartwool Intraknit base layer crew tags

Overall, the fabric is fairly comfortable. It’s definitely scratchy, but wool typically needs a few wears to be broken in, so I’m not worried long term. 

When I began to move around in my long-sleeve I didn’t notice it as much. It adapts with my body effortlessly and offers a level of elbow support I didn’t even realize I needed until I pulled it on.

Smartwool intraknit top camo side

If you enjoy activities like rock climbing or fishing that use your upper body, you’ll love the Intraknit Base Layer Crew for this reason alone.

Smartwool Intraknit base layer overview

I think that flexibility comes from Smartwool’s unique knitting method. Rather than mashing together fabrics to create their base layers, they use 3D machining to assemble them. This results in a garment that feels form fitting and “complete.”

I loved the vents, too. Made using mesh, they’re in all the right places (back, pits, etc.) and did a great job of keeping my sweating under control on my journey through the Colorado forest.

Smartwool intraknit back camo

It’s not perfect, however, and my issue is one I have with a lot of Smartwool gear—the price.

You’ll pay over $100 for this top. That’s a lot of money to spend on a fairly thin layer of material, though Smartwool would probably argue that the 3D machining used to make it justifies the cost. 

Smartwool Intraknit base layer tags

Like the socks, I’d say the investment doesn’t make sense for casual nature lovers. 

The Intraknit Base Layer is also not the most durable garment around.

That’s not to say it’s weak. But I had a little slip against a rock during my hike and tore a small hole in the Merino wool outer layer. The underlayer was fine, but beware because wool isn’t super strong against abrasions.

Smartwool Intraknit logo closeup

With that being said, if you’re fully covered by a shell jacket or coat, you won’t encounter this issue.

Smartwool intraknit top front

I still think this is a great base layer. It keeps the chill at bay and it works great if you have durable outer layers to wear on top of it. It’s slim and lightweight, making it a superb choice if you’re focused on performance. 

But if you’re not a Red Bull-Sponsored adventure seeker, the high price point may reasonably put it out of reach from a value for money perspective.

Smartwool Intraknit™ Thermal Merino Base Layer Crew

Yes it's costly, but this is a great base layer. It keeps the chill at bay and it works great if you have durable outer layers to wear on top of it. It’s slim and lightweight, making it a superb choice if you’re focused on performance. 

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Boxer Brief

Smartwool Boxer Brief overview

High-performance underwear.

There’s a phrase I never thought I’d use, but that’s what Smartwool promises with their range of boxers and briefs. 

There are a few options, and the first thing I noticed was the price. A minimum of $25 (and some closer to $50) for underwear.

I gritted my teeth and added the standard Boxer Brief to my shopping cart. And though I resented them for their price until their arrival, I honestly don’t have many bad things to say about them.

They fit my stockier build without feeling tight around the opening. Falling halfway between the knee and crotch, they didn’t ride up like cheaper briefs I own.

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Of course, a good fit when you’re standing still means little. 

I took the underwear with me for the and tested them at the gym, grocery store, and more. They passed. Practically no bunching, comfort all the way, and very little moisture build-up downstairs.

Fellow skiers know that swampiness isn’t reserved for warmer months. Both my sensitive regions and I could breathe easy with the ventilated fabric.

I’m also impressed by the construction quality on display.

Smartwool men s boxer brief waistband

The briefs are 87% Merino wool / 13% nylon blend. I think the meshing of materials works really well. Nothing but wool contacts the skin, but the addition of nylon provided clinginess and kept the waistband from folding–a common pain point of mine.

All told, I’m happy with these briefs. The focus on performance sets them apart, and I think they’d be just as good as a set of workout underwear as they were on the trail. You get a snug fit, but one that offers plenty of mobility, and your nether region stays dry.

I will say, at the price point I would probably recommend lululemon’s Always in Motion Boxer in lieu of these. They’re less expensive, use a soft modal fabric, and have a tighter fit from my experience.

Smartwool Boxer Brief

I’m happy with these briefs. The focus on performance sets them apart, and I think they’d be just as good as a set of workout underwear as they were on the trail. You get a snug fit, but one that offers plenty of mobility, and your nether region stays dry.

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What Do Other Reviewers Say About Smartwool?

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The reviews for Smartwool products is a mixed bag. Many customers appreciate the products’ breathability, warmth, and fit, highlighting the base layer’s performance and the glove’s suitability for mountain activities.

For instance, one user praises the base layer’s ability to regulate temperature, preventing excessive sweating, while another highlights the gloves for their durability and versatility. On the other hand, there are concerns about the durability of some products, such as a base layer fraying quickly and the glove’s goat leather wearing out.

Additionally, reviews on the boxer briefs suggest a previous design flaw regarding fit, which seems to have been updated in a newer version, though some still find issues with support.

My Thoughts Overall on Smartwool

What I Like

  • Premium Merino wool that feels organic and smooth.
  • Socks that provide soft cushioning from the toe to the heel, offering superior foot support during long hikes.
  • The compressive elastic design ensures the sock stays in place, preventing bunching.
  • Socks and briefs effectively wick away odors, keeping odors at bay even after workouts.
  • The Intraknit Thermal Merino Base Layer Crew is flexible, adapts to body movement, and provides excellent ventilation.
  • You get free shipping on orders over $89, which is pretty easy given the higher price of their products.

What I Don’t Like

  • The socks take a long time to dry when washed.
  • The premium price may be a bit much if you’re the sort of person who only goes hiking or skiing every so often.
  • The outer layer of the Intraknit Base Layer can tear easily when it comes into contact with abrasive surfaces.

Who Is Smartwool For?

Smartwool is for the outdoorsy type who spends more time on the trail than they do at home. It’s a premium brand, and the prices reflect that, but the level of fit and performance you get out of Smartwool can’t be ignored. 

If you’re a casual hiker or skier, the price might not be worth it. If you decide to try out Smartwool, you’ll still get something durable and performance-oriented enough to last a long while.

The Verdict

My experience with Smartwool’s clothing confirmed what I originally thought about the brand–top-notch outdoor gear for the serious trail nut.

The quality is obvious to anybody who touches their garments, and I felt that quality across the board. The briefs were perfectly snu and the socks had great cushioning.

If you’re tired of buying outdoor wear that falls apart after a few uses, Smartwool is definitely a good choice.

But there’s the one drawback that I’ve referenced throughout my review–cost.

A full collection of Smartwool gear will burn a hole in your bank balance, and I’m not sure it’s always justified. I think the average person could get away with using a different pair of gloves and spending nearly $50 on a pair of underwear is a bit extreme.

Still, if budget isn’t an issue, Smartwool is well worth a look.

Smartwool

Smartwool blends the reliable warmth of wool with modern and athletic tailoring. Their Merino wool is softer and warmer than other fabrics I’ve experienced on outdoor apparel, but it’s delicate, takes a long time to dry, and priced at a premium. Despite this, ,if you’re an avid outdoorsman who values dependable outwear, you may be able to justify the cost due to the quality.

Shop Smartwool

FAQs

Is Smartwool a good brand?

Smartwool is a good brand because it delivers on its promise—comfortable Merino wool clothing that’s durable enough for any adventure. Between their superb customer service and environmental initiatives, Smartwool’s community-building gets them a nod from us.

Why is Smartwool so good?

Smartwool is a favorite amongst outdoor enthusiasts because their products are tough enough for demanding hikes without sacrificing comfort. Some people just like thick, cozy socks too. So it isn’t uncommon to see them worn casually either. In short, anyone can find value in a Smartwool product.

Does Smartwool keep you warm?

Yes, Smartwool claims to have proprietary wool insulation for keeping you warm, and I rarely felt a chill when wearing any of the items reviewed.

Is Smartwool itchy?

There’s always a risk of some itching when wearing wool. Smartwool isn’t immune to that, though I found most of the items felt smooth. You may find they’re a bit abrasive if you have sensitive skin, but Smartwool feels about as smooth as wool can get.

How should you wash Merino wool?

Turn your garment inside out and machine wash in cool or lukewarm temperature using mild soap. Avoid heat (it shrinks the wool), and don’t use fabric softener or bleach. Though Smartwool says you can tumble dry its products, I still think it’s best to air dry them.