Mt. LeConte is one of the most difficult summits to reach in the Smoky Mountains National Park, and this past weekend, it snowed at the higher elevations. So, we thought this would be the perfect opportunity to review our stock of Catawba Outdoor Supply hiking socks.
My stats: 6' 1", 240 lbs, and size 13 wide shoes.
The 13.8 mile hike included 3993 feet of elevation gain (according to smokymountains.com), rugged terrain, creek crossings, and (of course) plenty of snow. Temperatures began cold and became frigid. So how did they fair?
Note: Scroll down to "Final Thoughts" for a quick overview. We specifically reviewed our stock of brown Catawaba Outdoor Supply socks. However, each color features the same build.
Thickness and Fit
The socks are thick. While this is good for colder hikes, I was concerned that they may not fit well. I wear a size 13 wide, but my boots are 13 regular.
Fortunately, it wasn't an issue once I slipped them on. They were a bit tight around the calf, but I simply pulled them down half an inch and all was well. After warming up (which basically means hiking from the semi-paved steps to the actual trail), my feet were still warm, dry and comfortable.
Initial Moisture Challenge
At 36°, the trail wasn't snowy or frozen, just wet from the previous night's rain. Even the mud was minimal, and while my boots took the brunt of it, my feet remained warm and dry.
As the trail continued climbing, I came across the first of a few creek crossings. It was smooth, but my boot did dip just a bit deeper than the rubber sole once. Maybe it was my boots or maybe it was the socks, but I never felt any moisture from that step.
It was the same story after one or two more creek crossings until I reached Rainbow Falls. It was an impressive site, no doubt flowing better after the recent rainfall. More snow and ice had begun to show by this point, but it was hardly a light dusting. Vapor sprayed lightly from the waterfall, but my feet stayed dry.
More Cold, More Snow
As I climbed higher, the snow thickened and temperatures dropped. The layers I shed earlier returned and were zipped tight. My boots and pant cuffs had drawn more mud, although it would largely be wiped away soon after. Yet, my feet and ankles were still warm.
And I have to say, it was nice to not be distracted by discomfort. As I continued hiking, the scene around me became surreal. Snow and frost covered trees, shrubs, moss, rocks, and (of course) the ground. Massive icicles drooped alongside the trail. I didn't even experience so much as an itch as I passed the surreal scene. The snow-covered spruce and fraiser fir trees that grow here completed the experience. It was an authentic Christmas hike - and one that wasn't ruined by itchy, wet, or cold socks.
Maximum Elevation, Lowest Temperatures
As I neared the top, I took a small side trail to an overlook. The trail was a tight fit, but so worth it for the views. I stepped in a puddle along the way (hidden under some branches hanging over the trail) and felt a little moisture for the first time during my entire hike. Fortunately, it was only at the top socks, and the warmth still remained.
After the overlook, I finished making my way to LeConte Lodge. It was closed (as expected), but I could still walk around the cabins. It was during my exploration of the lodge that I noticed the moisture I felt earlier was gone. However, it was also here that my toes began to feel cold. To be fair, my fingertips were also cold despite wearing thick, double-layered gloves. It wasn't enough to cause any numbing, and it certainly didn't detract from my experience.
As far as softness and shrinkage go, I would rate the Catawba Outdoor Supply socks about average among the hiking socks I've worn from many different brands. I will say that I was impressed with their ability to maintain their color after washing (even if only after one cycle).
As for warmth and moisture resistance, I would rate these above average. It's rare for socks to not get sweaty after hiking so many miles, even in the cold. Honestly, I think this was the first time. And for them to remain so warm (aside from my toes) even at such low temperatures when surrounded by snow was also a pleasant surprise.
The fit is also on par. They feel thick, but I still had room in my regular sized 13 boots (these socks stretch up to size 15).
Overall, I was impressed with the American-made Catawba Outdoor Supply hiking socks.