Quick background info on the subject:
The socks we were given to test are from SportsAlpaca, along with the balaclavas, hats and ear warmers. The baselayers we tested were PolarTherm Alpacor from Stanfield’s. They are made of the same Alpacor material. The socks are at Bass Pro Shops, branded as RedHead. I’ve seen the Alpacor branded socks in Peter Glenn as well, but I don’t see them on the website. Soon, the socks will be available on the SportsAlpaca website, too!
Yes, the stuff was all supplied free of charge. We thanked them with summit pictures and team pictures and useful reviews and spreading the word about the product.
So, let’s start with the base layers.
I was excited to get them before the trip! I immediately put them on and danced around the living room.
Fit: I got a size medium. I’m 5’4″ and I have a 32″ chest, 29″ waist, 39″ hips. That’s probably more information than you needed to know, but that’s ok. They fit really well. The lower part of the leg felt a little tight when I was putting it on, but when it was on, it felt right. I’m generally a medium with outdoorsy brands (like REI, Patagonia, Arc’teryx, Smart Wool), except EMS where I’m a small. The PolarTherm Base Layers in a size medium fit almost exactly the same as my EMS TechWick Base Layers in a size small.
Feel: Much thinner than my heavyweight base layers, but very solid. They were pretty soft right out of the box.
Function: Well, I was toasty standing in my living room in Florida… But seriously, they kept me very warm. They were much more comfortable than my EMS layers, which rubbed my neck raw while I was sleeping! I wore them to bed every night (other than that one – lesson learned) and for most days at elevation. Yes, without washing them. No, they didn’t smell like you would imagine. They even made it all the way to the summit with me!
I arrived at a hotel with running water after many days of wearing my base layers. I hand washed almost everything in my duffel bag. As I started washing my PolarTherm base layers, they started bleeding! My advice to you: machine wash before use.
Onto the fleece gear:
We got a variety of headbands, balaclavas and buffs.
In our group summit photo, 4 of us are sporting them. It’s hard to tell, right? Mine’s pretty obvious because of the bright orange seam that runs down the middle of my chin! I took my giant red and blue hat off and on MANY times on summit day, but the balaclava provided a pretty comfortable feeling for the range of body temperatures I’m sure I experienced.
The buff, which was gray and clearly visible around my neck in the above picture was great. I’ve worn lots of these, as well as scarves, bandannas, and whatever else I could find to put between my jacket and snowboarding goggles. On summit day, it was used in combination with the balaclava to keep my face and nose warm. Usually, doing physical exercise in the cold leaves my face as a snotty mess. This was no exception. The buff collected the majority of it, but it never got that gross, warm, moist feeling I’ve gotten with fleece buffs. It was a heck of a lot warmer than a bandanna, and stayed put better than a scarf.
I used it as a headband along the way to keep my unwashed, out of control hair out of my face. It was retired to my pack after summit day, though. No material can make snot magically disappear. It was brought back to normal after a trip through the washer and dryer.
Now, the socks.
I have reviewed the socks before. Those were under running conditions.
Yes, I wore the same pair of Sports Alpaca socks for my entire Ragnar Relay. I ran 19.8 miles over 32 hours… in one pair of socks. They survived, and my feet were happy. No blisters, no hot spots. Awesome. Most importantly, they did not stink up the van. The van stunk because I wore the same homemade cotton team t-shirt the whole time, too.
Following the race, we did a smell test of my sister’s sock, which she wore for 14.6 miles of the race:
So, they did well for a race that saw 190.6 miles, and temperatures in the 70s during the day, and the 40s at night. They are my go-to socks, and I try to make sure I keep a pair clean for my long runs.
Stay tuned for a smell test video when I wear the same pair for all 49km/30.4 miles of the Gasparilla Festival in three weeks!
So, how did they survive Kilimanjaro?
I brought two different kinds with me:
In 6 days on the mountain, I rotated through three pairs of socks, and logged:
Distance: 73km (45 miles).
Vertical: 3945m (~13000ft) up, 4052m (~13300ft) down.
Hours trekked: 41
I generally slept in the thicker socks, and hiked in the thinner ones. When I got to my tent, I’d pull off the socks I wore all day, and lay them out to dry. They would be soaked. I will not lie, they would be stinky when I pulled them off. BUT I still slept about 6 inches from them in my tent and never noticed. Then, by the time they dried, the smell had subsided. I was more excited about the fact that they DRIED OVERNIGHT. I could almost pretend to be putting on a new pair every day 🙂
The temperature varied greatly, from hiking in shorts and t-shirts, to the fully outfitted summit day. They worked in all of them. I had a few hot foot moments after many miles in the mid-day sun. I had cold feet for a little while on summit day, too! I have poor circulation. The more I wiggled my toes, the better my feet felt.
I came out without a single blister. My Body Glide never left my first aid kit. Apparently my Sports Alpaca socks and my La Sportiva Onix GTX-XCR Boots were a perfect match. In fact, aside from aggravating an old swimming injury in my shoulder from carrying a pack for 41 hours, I came out unscathed. If I do anything like this again, the only gear I might replace is my day pack.
As far as sock sizing goes, I find the tall ones to be the tightest fit, the mid-calf boot socks to be in the middle, and the crew socks to be the loosest. They all fit my size 8 foot.