PHOTOS: Nick Hamilton
Do you know what goes into sock manufacturing? Chances are, a lot more than you think. At least that's the case with any socks constructed to be ridden hard for more than a few days. We visited Stance headquarters in San Clemente, California, last week to learn how socks are tested after production to ensure they're top quality before being made available to the public. Big thanks to the Stance crew for letting us bring some of our favorite pairs from other leading brands–Dakine, ThirtyTwo, Smartwool, and Darn Tough–into their Shred Lab to see how they performed in different circumstances.
This may be surprising, but more is invested in making quality socks than in the production of many other snowboarding products. Our goal here is to shine light on all the time and effort required to make socks that fit well, last long, and keep us warm and dry on the hill. It would take several days, if not a week or more to properly test this many socks, so this is an extremely condensed version of sock testing. In the future, we’ll revisit Stance with enough time for an even more thorough test.The four qualities we think are most important in snowboard socks are durability, moisture wicking, thermoregulation, and a comfortable, lasting fit. As snowboarders, we put our feet through a lot, so we feel better buying socks that won't wear out quickly. We sweat, but need our feet to remain dry to avoid freezing or blistering. Cold feet can ruin days in the mountains, and we hate when our socks slip off our calves and bunch up in our boots.
Stance has high sock standards. They research other socks that–no matter the brand–sell the best and satisfy the most customers. Then they research what makes those socks so popular and how those qualities are achieved before doing whatever they can to produce their own socks with the goal of outperforming the competition by 20 percent. This is not to say their socks would win every test, but they excel in most departments and often outperform their competition. And they’re damn comfortable.
Randy Sheckler, Director of Global Quality Assurance and—you guessed it—father of Ryan, along with Quality Assurance Specialist Hannah Smith and Research and Testing Manager Kim Barela, walked us through the standard procedures in the Stance testing lab. They call it the Shred Lab—aptly named considering they literally shred socks as a part of testing. Here's how they test for abrasion resistance, moisture management, thermoregulation, and a lasting fit.
Testing for abrasion resistance is critical to determine how quickly socks will wear out. The more you move around in your boots, the more often you'll need to replace your socks. Sure, snowboard socks are usually only $15-30, but that adds up fast over a full season.
According to what's called the Martindale Abrasion Test for Socks, "The resistance to abrasion is affected by many factors, such as the inherent mechanical properties of the fibers, dimensions of the fibers, structure of the yarns, construction of the fabrics, and the type, kind, and amount of finishing material added to the fibers, yarns or fabric."
To test for abrasion resistance, a circular specimen is cut from the sock where the ball of the foot rests. The garment is then placed under a steel head weight and subjected to a straight line rubbing motion. The endpoint is determined when a hole appears in the test area. Some socks last a half hour on the machine, while others could last several days.
Stance defines fabric wicking as how well that fabric draws moisture away from the skin to the outside of a fabric so that it can dry. As snowboarders, we need moisture to move up, away from our feet and out of the confines of our boots so that socks dry quickly. Nobody wants damp, wrinkly feet, especially in cold weather. That's how blisters are formed and fun is diminished.
In the wicking test, a specimen is cut 25 millimeters wide by 165 millimeters long, then hung over a dish with the bottom set in distilled water. Measurements are recorded after two minutes, 10 minutes, and 30 minutes. The faster water moves up the sock, the faster it is spread over greater surface area thus the faster it would essentially dry out while snowboarding.
The Shred Lab puts all socks through a five-point fit and inspection process. This mimics five laundry cycles–wash, dry, wash, dry, repeat. They're literally put through the wringer. The idea is to determine how long a sock will retain its fit around the foot, ankle, and calf. Ever notice how brand new socks tend to fit much better than socks that have been worn, washed and dried several times?
During the 5 Point Fit and Inspection Process, socks are first stretched over a wooden board to determine how they fit before a wash/dry cycle. Then they go through what Stance calls a Durawash, which replicates five home washes in a 15-minute cycle. Then they're put back on the wooden board and measured for excess stretching or shrinking. They're also stretched laterally–where the sock surrounds the calf–to measure the power of their elasticity, and also inspected for pilling and knit integrity. The best socks will maintain elastic integrity and hardly pill or dethread after five home wash/dry cycles.
Good socks retain heat, while others dump it far too quickly. Stance uses an infrared camera to measure how much heat coming off of feet is released from socks. Randy had me wear a different sock on each foot. I flexed my feet, ran in place, and sprinted up and down stairs. He measured my foot temperature before and after activity to see which sock trapped the most heat, and which released the most.
From a snowboarder’s perspective, it’s important that my socks retain heat. On warm days, like in late spring or summer, we usually prefer thin socks that dump heat quickly. But thick doesn’t necessarily mean warm over time, although it’s a decent rule of thumb. Sometimes a thick sock retains less heat than a sock of medium thickness due to the fabrics or location of the padding. Finding the right balance is time consuming but worth the effort in the long run.