But let's start with the results of some hiking sock tests. I have 2 pairs of handspun, handknit hiking socks:
[4-ply local Romney knit into hiking socks]
[...and these Southdown 4-ply ones, recently completed]
The orange Romney socks have been hiking before. The pink ones I finished right before this vacation. I knit them up to replace similar (blue) Southdown socks that got shredded on the Appalachian trail last fall. Those blue ones were my first-ever handspun socks, so I thought perhaps the problem was my spinning technique (the socks were not very uniform), and I so made a new pair. Anyways, these two pairs of socks went with me to scandinavia for some serious testing...
My family and I did a 6-day trek on the Laugavegur trail, which is among Iceland's most scenic. It was a "supported hike" and we hiked about 15km per day with day packs (so, lightly loaded) on pretty mountainous terrain (through some amazingly spectacular scenery: if you like to hike, I can recommend this trek), but with excellent trails. Then, while in Norway, we did an 8-day trek through the Hardangervidda. This tour was from hut to hut, and food was supplied, but we did have to carry all our clothing - so I was more heavily loaded than in Iceland. The terrain, while flat, was much more uneven and wetter than in Iceland, which made for very exhausting days and a lot more strain on the feet. I certainly felt them much more on this trip!
I wore each pair of hiking socks for 3-4 days, and then switched to the other pair. (They did get washed between the two hikes.) This sounds gross, but in fact pure wool socks are pretty good about repelling odours. My socks did not stink! My feet stayed warm and dry; not sweaty. I got zero blisters. Both handspun pairs provided excellent cushioning; I did a test day just in the city with a pair of Asivik trekking socks that I purchased in Denmark, and these were nowhere near as comfortable (far less cushioning).
[Asivik brand trekking socks]
OK, so the results:
Both pairs developed holes. The Romney ones after the last day in Norway - so after a ton of abuse - but the Southdown pair after a mere 3 days of hiking in Iceland. I had to darn them basically right away! In other words, the Romney socks outlasted the Southdowns by about a factor of 3, taking into account that the Romneys have seen trail action before.
So, sadly, the next time I make Southdown socks, I will be adding nylon, at least in the heels and toes. The pure Southdown fiber I can get my hands on (which is from the UK and commercially processed) simply isn't long-lasting enough for my tastes. The Romney is of local provenance and so likely coarser than 30 microns, and this seems to make a big difference. I have not tried UK Romney (yet); that may be finer that what the local shepherds here in BC are providing. The socks are not as springy as those made with Southdown; they feel smoother - and they are sure a lot tougher!