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For far too long, driving socks have been treated like accessories rather than a vital connection between driver and car. Some experts claim tires are the single most important dynamic component of a car. Wrong. Lap after lap, turn after turn, our testing has shown that tire selection pales in comparison to the beneficial effects of fresh, dry footwear. Sure, high-performance rubber might come between your car and the road, but what’s coming between you and your car? After all, you have 26 bones in your foot. Do you really trust your skin to protect them?
Thus, in an attempt to correct this egregious misconception, The Drive has spent the last nine months undertaking an inaugural evaluation of this year’s finest driving socks. The numbers are staggering: 67 test cars, 290,000 miles logged, 1.4 million driving hours, nearly 40 gallons of bleach. Forty-two contenders entered. Only five stockings emerged.
At long last, the most anticipated end-of-year countdown of all.
Here are 2015’s best driving socks.
Darntough Via Ferrara Micro Crew Cushion Merino ($20)
We were equally divided between the Via Ferrata Micro and Full Cushion; in our November comparo, the Micro won out by just 0.2 seconds in the half-mile road course, and it was a dead heat around the figure-eight. The Micro has 65 percent Merino wool—three percent less than the Full—making up the difference in Lycra and nylon. That pays off in mid-level support: “Even with my bird-like calves, I was able to have these ride in my preferred half-mast position without any sagging issues,” said West Coast editor Chris Cantle. Lightweight, unidirectional big- and little-toe-ball zones combine with excellent dead pedal cushioning for crisp response and in-shoe traction. “Only thing that'll grip harder is you, if you get out of the car and run,” Cantle noted.
Vibram Injinji 2.0 No-Show NuWool ($15)
The only toe sock among our finalists, the Injinji is a minimalist in the high-performance track-day sock tradition. What’s missing in frills is more than made up for in the low-friction, high-sensitivity NuWool toe sack. We love it for heel-and-toe maneuvers, and it was Senior Editor Max Prince’s top pick for city driving. “Like any new technology, there’s a learning curve,” he wrote in his test notes. “You have to work with the sock, rather than trying to make it conform to your expectations.” If you’re gorilla-footed, like Deputy Editor Jonathan Schultz, consider the Thorlos instead.
Perfect for: Small-displacement turbo sports cars, especially the Ford Fiesta ST, Subaru WRX STi and Mustang EcoBoost.
Thorlos XCCU Experia Micro Mini Crew ($15)
Thorlos’ XCCU Experias were the dark horse of our test—among the most technical socks that weren’t pure race-spec and the only synthetic fiber socks, a first in this segment. Praise filled the logbook notes: “It’s not the first time I’ve picked the ‘Cues for a road trip, and it won’t be the last,” (Brett Berk, Writer-at-Large); “I actually forgot to take them off last night, and showered with them on this morning,” (Mike Guy, Editor-in-Chief ); and “I don’t remember ever wearing the same socks in two different cars. Still reeling,” (Chief Auto Critic, Lawrence Ulrich). Internally lubricated microfibers are absolutely ideal for mixed driving of all sorts. Don’t let the low ankle and the looks fool you: T-Cues are among the best socks we’ve ever tested, maybe the best sock of all time for keeping you on the boost.
Perfect for: Mid-level performance sedans, like the Honda Accord Coupe, BMW 328i and Cadillac ATS.
Messrs. Harvie & Hudson Bespoke Burgundy Long Merino (£18.50)
The only thing that gives H&H Merino away is the H&H stripe, because it’s a deceptively simple, pure driver’s sock. Although artist and noted H&H wearer Mitchell Markovitz drives a Rolls-Royce, we found the ball and ankle area structure too parochial for a full-size luxury car; long, sweeping turns, particularly left-handers, are the H&H’s forte. The hand-linked toe seams and flat foot really communicated the sort of nuance that’s so easily lost in modern wide, low-profile tires. Editor-at-Large A.J. Baime pointed out that burgundy outperformed charcoal, red, black or navy, thanks to a sock-specific non-aniline dye.
Fox River Wick Dry Outlander ($10)
As Fox River says, the human foot isn't ideally suited to getting around. And, year after year, everyone from Cannonball Run entrants to Top Truck Challenge competitors come back to the American-Made Outlander, one of the original heavy-duty driving socks. Thick, meaty construction (65 percent acrylic, 20 percent worsted wool, 14 percent stretch nylon and 1 percent spandex) isn’t easy to tuck into driving shoes. But when you need to put the hammer down hard, you want the fully-lined, smooth-toe Outlanders around your foot. On the right feet, they’re deadly.
Perfect for: Bruiser sport-utilities like the Jeep Grand Cherokee, Range Rover and Lexus LX 570.