Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Merino Compression Socks-Finding the Perfect Performance Blend

I am a big fan of merino wool socks and base layers. I pretty much am in wool year round except for the very hottest days, even as a base layer under street clothes. Comfortable in all temperatures and stink free for days... Merino wool socks are all I will wear for running, skiing, hiking, and work. I have tried compression socks such as the CEP 02 knee high socks and when I fly and after races the Zanesh Compression Sleeves. The principle behind compression is that it moves blood quicker back to the heart thus improving performance and speeding recovery. In my experience I do find that compression keeps legs fresher and also has the added benefit of keeping the lower leg better aligned and on track at speed.

There is a problem with these synthetic compression products. The socks are almost unbearably tight especially at rest. They are also hot at any temperature above 65 degrees or so. The first thing I want to do after exercise is pull them down. The Zanesh sleeves are more comfortable as they are somewhat looser and thus a good option for air travel and recovery but they do not cover the whole lower leg and thus I find less of an alignment benefit.

I recently found a perfect compromise in Swiftwick merino synthetic blend compression socks. I have been testing their 12 (12" high)- $22.95 and 4 (4 inch)- $16.95 models for about a month now. I have run indoors and out, nordic and alpine skied, done a snowshoe race, and used for everyday wear. While the 4's claim to provide compression to the foot area and are very comfortable socks and are the ones I will use to replace most of my existing collection of socks,the 12's provide compression up to just below the knee and thus are the product I was most interested in.

The compression effect of the 12 is not quite as pronounced as O2's but they are far more comfortable. My legs were fresher during and after all my workouts including interval speed work on an indoor track. These socks can be worn all day, every day unlike the typical compression sock. The temperature regulation when compared to the 02 and even the Zanesh sleeves is far better in my indoor running at about 65 degrees, and there is no stink. I plan on trying them at higher temperatures once the weather warms. Somewhat more cushy and softer than the typical Smartwool PhD running sock I was initially worried about wear but so far they are holding up very well.

Swiftwick also makes warmer weather Olefin based socks which I hope to try in the near future.