The History of Smartwool: The Merino Wool Outdoor Clothing Brand

Smartwool is a leading manufacturer of high-performance Merino wool socks, base layers and other apparel designed for outdoor activities and active lifestyles. The founders of Smartwool, Peter and Patty Duke, were passionate skiers unsatisfied with the sock options available in the early 1990s. After finding a pair of Merino wool socks in New Zealand, they recognised the properties of Merino wool made it ideal for high-performance socks and outdoor apparel. Merino wool came from Merino sheep bred to thrive in the harsh New Zealand highlands, producing wool that was soft but also durable, breathable, moisture-wicking and antimicrobial. In 1994, the Dukes founded Smartwool in Steamboat Springs, Colorado to produce Merino wool socks targeted at the ski market. The proprietary blend of Merino wool they developed provided remarkable thermostatic properties while reducing blisters and irritation, making their socks highly popular with skiers and snowboarders. This success allowed Smartwool to expand into Merino wool baselayers, undershirts, t-shirts, undergarments and eventually a full line of Merino wool apparel for pursuing outdoor activities in comfort and style. In 2005, Smartwool was acquired by the Timberland and VF Corporation but continues to maintain its headquarters in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. The brand has grown tremendously since its early ski socks, expanding to serve hikers, runners, cyclists, mountaineers and a wide range of outdoor enthusiasts with Merino wool products ideal for active pursuits in the elements. Smartwool socks, apparel, and accessories are available worldwide.


The Benefits of Merino Wool

Merino wool has made Smartwool products favourites among outdoor enthusiasts. The qualities that make Merino wool ideal for outdoor apparel include:

  • Thermo-regulation - Merino wool Fibers wick moisture and sweat away from the body while regulating heat capture and release to maintain ideal body temperature in cold and hot weather. Merino provides warmth in winter but stays cool when it's hot.
  • Breathability - Merino wool allows vapour and heat to escape easily, increasing airflow and cooling. This makes Merino's clothing comfortable and non-clingual during aerobic activities.
  • Moisture management - Merino wool can absorb over 30% of its weight in moisture before feeling wet, pulling sweat off the body. It also dries rapidly due to the fibre structure. This moisture-wicking means wetness dries quickly before the chill sets in.
  • Odour control - Merino wool resists odour retention due to anti-odour properties in the keratin protein fibre structure. Merino clothing can be worn longer without smelling.
  • Softness and comfort - Merino wool fibres have microscopic soft scales that create a smooth, non-irritating feel against the skin. Seams don't rub on Merino wool.
  • Durability - Merino wool has flexible, resilient fibres that resist wear and tear yet avoid being itchy or rough. Merino wool retains shape and appearance after repeated use and washing.
  • Lightweight - Merino wool provides significant warmth for the weight due to the fibre crimp giving excellent loft. Merino base layers add warmth without bulk.
  • Wrinkle resistance - The structure of Merino wool makes it resistant to wrinkles and sagging. It retains fit and shape well.
  • UV protection - Merino wool offers excellent UV blocking properties, with UPF ratings over 30+. This makes it ideal for sun protection during outdoor activities.

These qualities make Merino wool suitable for a wide range of athletic and outdoor pursuits where managing moisture, regulating body temperature and preventing odours are essential to comfort and performance. Smartwool leverages the impressive properties of Merino in its socks, base layers, t-shirts and other apparel to create high-functioning yet comfortable products for outdoor enthusiasts.


Smartwool Products and Technology

Smartwool has applied innovative blends and zoning technology to Merino wool to create products tailored to different uses and conditions. Their extensive product line includes:

  • Socks for hiking, running, skiing, snowboarding, cycling, and everyday wear in various cushioning, heights and styles. Smartwool socks feature targeted cushioning zones, seamless toes, ventilation, fit systems and more.
  • Base layers and underwear with varying weights and fits, from light short sleeve tees to midweight long underwear. Zoned insulation, moisture control and odour-resistant properties.
  • Tops and bottoms like sweaters, hoodies, jackets, shorts and pants for versatile insulation and comfort. Merino wool provides warmth without overheating.
  • Activewear combines Merino wool and technical fabrics like polyester for breathability, stretch, shape retention and moisture control. Yoga pants, leggings, tank tops and more.
  • Accessories include Merino wool beanies, gloves, headbands, and neck gaiters with moisture and temperature control for cold weather activities.
  • Snowsports apparel such as midlayers, ski pants, shells, baselayers and more specifically designed for downhill skiing and snowboarding.

The proprietary blends and fabrication methods developed by Smartwool augment the natural benefits of Merino wool to enhance comfort, performance and durability. They also incorporate elastane, nylon and polyester in certain items to increase stretch, shape retention and abrasion resistance while maintaining a high percentage of Merino wool for the next-to-skin feel.


Smartwool for Hiking and Trekking

Hitting the trails on a trek, hike or backpacking trip requires gear that can handle the demands of moving through the wilderness on foot for hours or days. Smartwool offers socks and apparel perfect for these activities.


Merino Hiking Socks

When your hiking and backpacking adventures take you across rocky trails, rugged landscapes and up scenic summits, having the right socks on your feet can make all the difference in comfort. Smartwool understands the unique demands of hiking and designs its PhD Outdoor Light and Medium Crew socks specifically to meet the needs of backpackers and trekkers. Strategically placed zones of cushioning absorb shock and impact in high-wear areas like the forefoot and heel to reduce painful hotspots and blisters during long days on the trail. Mesh ventilation panels woven into the socks increase airflow to these high heat zones, pulling moisture away from the foot so you stay dry mile after mile. An elastic arch brace improves the stability and support of Smartwool socks so it doesn't slip or bunch, reducing the friction that leads to painful blisters. The medium cushioning provides all-day underfoot padding without unnecessary bulk, making the socks ideal for multi-day backpacking trips where pack weight and space are at a premium. For those who prefer less cushioning, the Outdoor Light version has thinner padding while maintaining the temperature and moisture control of Smartwool's Merino wool construction. Whether you need extra shock absorption for heavy loads or want a more minimalist sock for fast packing, Smartwool's PhD Outdoor Crew socks deliver the targeted cushioning zones, ventilation, moisture wicking and comfort vital for peak hiking performance over varied terrain.


Hiking Apparel

Hiking and backpacking often involve carrying heavy packs over considerable distances and rugged terrain. The right apparel helps regulate temperature, wick moisture and prevent chafing during these vigorous pursuits. Smartwool’s baselayer sets with long-sleeve tops and full-length bottoms are designed for all-day hiking comfort. Made from a Merino wool blend, they provide remarkable temperature control as you move in and out of sun and shade, heat escaping on ascents and insulation on rest breaks. Strategically mapped insulation zones regulate body temperature by area depending on typical heat loss during hiking motions. Underarm panels and sides offer greater breathability while the chest and core retain more warmth. Flatlock seams eliminate bulky stitching to prevent painful rubbing and chafing under the shoulder straps and hip belt of your loaded pack. The Merino wool construction also excels at drawing sweat away from the skin so you stay dry across the miles. For variable weather, Smartwool’s Merino wool tee shirts and hoodies provide excellent lightweight insulation layers to supplement the baselayer’s temperature regulation. The rapid drying performance of Merino also makes their hoodies a comfortable camp companion after a long day on the trail. For more weather protection, Smartwool’s Merino hiking pants blended with nylon and spandex provide abrasion resistance and water shedding while maintaining the temperature control and breathability that make Merino ideal for active pursuits like hiking in changing conditions.


Smartwool for Skiing and Snowboarding

Smartwool got its start catering to skiers and snowboarders, making it a top choice Merino wool ski gear brand. Their innovative sock fabrics and designs enhance performance on the slopes.


Ski and Snowboard Smartwool Socks

Gliding down the slopes comfortably lap after lap requires the right socks for your ski or snowboard boots. Smartwool designs and engineers their PhD Ski and Snowboard socks specifically to meet the unique demands of these cold-weather sports. The PhD Ski Medium socks feature zones of carefully mapped varying density, height and insulation that target precision heating and padding to the areas that need it most. Extra insulation on the cuff and shin surrounds the leg for warmth while zones of light cushioning improve boot fit and control. The performance-fit heel and arch brace are designed to integrate seamlessly with a ski boot for a friction-free feel that stays in place without bunching. The 4 Degree Elite system has dual layers for insulation but integrates mesh ventilation zones that allow heat and moisture to escape. This keeps your feet toasty warm but sweat-free for all-day comfort. For snowboarders, the PhD Snowboard Light sock is engineered for the tight fit of soft snowboard boots. Overlapping seam toe construction eliminates uncomfortable bulk while zoned cushioning along the cuff, shin and foot absorb repeated vibration and impact lap after lap. Mid-calf height offers coverage and support while mesh ventilation and light cushioning ensure moisture and heat can escape. Whether you are carving up runs or catching air out of the halfpipe, Smartwool socks for skiing and snowboarding offer engineered cushioning, ventilation and seamless construction to keep your feet comfortable and performing at their peak all day long.


Base Layers and Mid-layers

The technical demands of skiing and snowboarding, from high speeds to tumbles in snow, require base layers and mid layers that can keep you comfortably insulated across a range of mountain conditions. Smartwool’s Intraknit baselayer sets provide the ideal combination of thermo-regulation, moisture control, and abrasion resistance for all-day comfort on the slopes. Made from a proprietary fabric that integrates Merino wool with polyester and elastane, Intraknit offers remarkable stretch and shape retention vital for unrestricted freedom of movement during turns, jumps and falls. The elastane and polyester also increase abrasion resistance so the base layers can withstand the inevitable tumbles that are part of skiing and snowboarding. The Merino wool provides unmatched moisture wicking to keep you dry as activity levels rise and fall throughout the day. For milder days, the Intraknit Mid 250 weight crew and bottoms offer lighter insulation to prevent overheating yet retain warmth. When the mercury drops, the Intraknit Ultra 250 base layers add insulation for all-day warmth in the harshest elements. The crew neck top allows for customisable layering as well. Smartwool mid-layer pieces like the PhD SmartLoft Divide Vest or SmartWool250 bottage can be layered on top to provide strategic insulation zones for greater warmth without compromising mobility and breathability. With Smartwool’s Intraknit Merino bases and mid-layers, you can customise insulation and stay comfortably dry across a wide range of mountain temperatures and snow conditions.

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