When putting together a reliable and functional outdoor kit, the average person’s thoughts drift toward the sexier items first. Brightly colored rain shells using important sounding materials such as Gore-Tex, Pertex, and Hyvent are usually first on everyone’s list, followed closely by puffy coats in every color of the rainbow, of various thicknesses, and using high-quality down or advanced synthetic fiber. Continuing this exercise, you’ll discover that most outdoor people put their focus, energy, and dollars into the pieces of gear that are most noticeable by others.

I completely understand the appeal of owning a top-of-the-line shell and a high-performance puffy, I’ve been there. In fact, I have a closet full of them. However, my many years of skiing, hiking, running, and climbing in the mountains have taught me there is no substitute for a good base, whether it’s fitness, food, or layers. While many people will spring for an expensive jacket, they skimp on the key layers underneath, rendering the advantages of their big purchase useless. It seems every winter I watch someone at the ski resort peel off a $500 Arc’teryx shell to reveal a cotton hoody, never mind the multitude of occasions that I have seen people stuff cotton sock-clad feet into pricey Italian mountaineering and hiking boots.

It took me a long time to learn the value of the little things in the outdoors and realize that small things can have an enormous impact on the entire system. For that reason, I was incredibly excited to learn about Ellsworth’s socks. I first heard about Ellsworth socks from a coworker who’d recently completed the Appalachian Trail, wearing Ellsworth socks throughout the entirety of his hike. After living with the socks day in and day out for almost four months, I valued his opinion. (Although I will admit that when he told me  they vastly outperformed the big-name socks I had been using for the last decade, I was skeptical.)

This past July, a friend to put me in contact with Ellsworth socks and they were kind enough to send me a few pairs. At first glance, the quality is what you would expect from a high-quality wool sock intended for outdoor sports, a nice bonus being that it’s an attractive-yet-understated-looking sock. The pairs I received were primarily gray with blue accents in the heel, toe, and cuff; the socks’ muted nature is given some flash with orange accenting the vents. But more important than how it looks is how it feels. Soft and supple, Ellsworth socks have the off-the-rack feel of a Smartwool sock, but a closer look reveals a sock built for much tougher duty.

Blah, blah, blah, the socks look great and feel great but how do they perform? In short, these socks are incredible, and I now routinely find myself sifting through the numerous other premium socks in my drawer to locate a pair of Ellsworths. These socks have handled everything I’ve thrown at them, from long approaches to alpine climbs on Mount Washinton and cragging at Rumney to trail runs in the local forest and big hikes in the White Mountains. I have also been using them for the occasional early morning run, and don’t tell my roadie friends, but I have even worn them on a few of my longer solo road bike rides.

A trip to the Ellsworth website will reveal all you ever wanted to know about the science behind these socks, how they perform so incredibly, and how their V-channel technology gives moisture a path to escape. I will tell you that throughout one of the hottest and most humid summers I can remember in the Northeast, I continually chose Ellsworth socks to keep my feet dry and comfortable. After all, what’s the point of buying top-of-the-line shoes if you’re going to use inferior socks?