Improved PHD socks, a Smartwool bra and a new range of running kit head up Smartwool's line-up for spring 2013.
Latest in our series of reports from the OutDoor show in Germany earlier this month is a preview of the new stuff from US merino wool specialist Smartwool due out early in 2013. There's been lots going on too, with a revamped version of the highly intelligent PHD sock range plus a bra and a whole new running range.
PHD Socks Uprated
Smarwool's PHD socks are some of our favourite lightweight foot comforters, with excellent fit and cushioning, but as with all merino socks, ultimate durability has never been their strong point. All that is set to change in 2013 with a completely redesigned sock.
In fit terms, there's a new 4-degree Elite Fit System which uses artfully placed stretch areas to improve well, fit and increase comfort and efficiency - there are arch, ankle and two instep area braces. In addition, there's also a virtually seamless toe area plus cunning mesh venting zones improve cooling.
Arguably the biggest change is underfoot though, where something Smartwool calls 'Reliawool Technology' is designed to up durability in high wear areas, but still using 100% merino wool.
Apparently Reliawool is a blend of two unique merino fibres which work together to increase durability massively. In fact Smartwool says that durability actually increases with use. In tests by a top US ultra-runner, the socks showed no visible wear after over 1,000 miles of hard use, which is pretty impressive.
Some merino-based socks use synthetic/wool mixes in high wear areas, but with time the wool, apparently tends to wear away leaving just the synthetic fibres. With Reliawool, the entire sock is merino wool. Sounds good to us and a great improvement to an already impressive sock line.
New Run Collection
The other major Smartwool development for 2013 is an entire new running range. For the upper body, there's a PHD Run Top which is made from a seamless merino wool construction using fine 17.5 micron merino yarn.
It's bodymapped too with mesh panels in strategic areas - sides of the trunk for example - to improve wicking and cooling in those areas. There's stretch too, mechanical rather than based on elastane or lycra, and while there are Nylon fibres in there (79% merino/21% Nylon is the overall breakdown), the synthetics form a yarm frame to support the merino, so, Smartwool says, the wool always sits next to the skin for optimum merino performance.
Also new are Running Shorts and they're interesting too. We've used 100% merino run shorts and while they're nice winter wear, in hot or wet conditions they get either too hot or far too wet. Plus they feel, well, odd really, not like running shorts.
The Smartwool take on shorts is to use a merino/polyester blend for the inner stretch liner short, but for the outer short, they've used Polyester, partly because it simply works and feels better in that application than merino and partly, they say, because runners are accustomed to and prefer the feel of a lightweight synthetic shell fabric.
It does make sense to us and follows the brand's philosophy of using merino where it works best, but embracing other fabrics where appropriate.
For more general trail use, there's a new Trail Tee, which mixes a mesh-type merino fabric for the main body with a denser jersey-knit area on top of the shoulders. The idea is that the jersey fabric is more resistant to wear from pack straps, while the mesh is more breathable.
One thing we'd say based on real-world use with merino, is that it pays to choose your pack carefully. Straps with rough spacer mesh will abrade wool really fast, something Montane has picked up on with its new pack range which uses smoother fabrics for use with more delicate lightweight clothing.
Last but not least, there's a nice touch on one side of the trunk where Smartwool has built in a microfibre panel liner to be used for cleaning sunglass lenses. If you've ever tried wiping glasses on merino, with resulting smeariness, you'll understand exactly why. Nice touch.
New Smartwool Bra
Last, but not least, there's a Smartwool sports bra in the offing. Oddly we don't have many notes on that, but here's an image and we'll go digging for more information in a minute.
All the above kit is due out in early 2013. Information on the current Smartwool range at www.smartwool.com.