It’s rare to meet a person so intense in his focus as Smartwool® athlete and professional climber, Conrad Anker. Conrad has been hanging cliffside from Meru to Antarctica since the late 1980s. He achieved his third Everest ascent without supplemental oxygen, a distinction the smallest fraction of climbers can claim. He’s also rebounded from a major heart attack while climbing 20,000 feet above sea level in the Himalayas.
Conrad has spent decades pursuing his passion and honing his skills to reach higher ground. That clarity and precision has propelled him to the top of his sport. He’s the leader of a movement. A pioneer. An icon. A major inspiration to generations of climbers.
That’s why we partnered with Conrad to develop our PhD® Pro Approach Merino wool socks. He shared with us his needs and what he’s feeling out there. We got busy solving his problems. We wanted to use his insights and experience in the field to create the perfect sock for every climber’s kit.
“Conrad is someone who is setting the standard and defining the future of alpine climbing,” shares Pete Kearns, Smartwool Socks Merchandise Director. “He’s got an intent, a drive that’s sort of unmatched. Those are the people you want helping you test and make the best products in the world.”
Very few professional climbers have accomplished half of the things Conrad has—and kept all 10 fingers and all 10 toes. That’s not by accident. Conrad understands the importance of treating your feet. He finishes a big alpine climb by taking off his socks and meticulously cleaning between each toe. Every night, he moisturizes his feet and puts on a fresh pair to sleep in.
When you approach a climb, you’re often scrambling over talas and dodging boulders. You’re beginning your ascent. You’re wearing approach shoes that give you the grippy rubber sole of a climbing shoe to maneuver over rocks, the lightness of a running shoe for swift travel, and the support of a hiking boot for point A to point B success.
Just like your footwear fits your activity, your sock should fit your footwear. Imagine wearing a no show or running sock in your ski boot. Chances are, you’re not going to have your best day on the hill. You need the proper shoe for the job, and with the proper shoe, comes the proper sock.
Our PhD® Pro Approach socks help your approach shoes fit and perform to their fullest potential, so your feet are feeling great and ready to work. As climbers, whether alpine or traditional, socks are gear. It’s a highly technical and highly specific sport. Everything has a distinct purpose. We all know how much the wrong gear can crush your day.
The foundation of our new PhD® Pro sock collection starts with our PhD® (performance at the highest degree) line. We combine Indestructawool™ technology, 4-Degree™ elite system, gender specific fit, and activity-specific mesh zones with technical insights from our athletes getting after it—to bring you the right sock for the right adventure.
We worked hand-in-hand with Conrad to get the smallest details dialed. He tested nearly 10 Approach sock iterations, with varying cushion levels in key places, different heights, and new concepts like flex zones and targeted protection.
After months of fine-tuning with Conrad, we landed on a sock in mini and crew heights that fits like a second skin. The Approach is constructed with a virtually seamless toe to avoid bunching. It’s a 200 needle sock, which means a very fine fiber that feels supple and soft. Because there’s only so much volume between your shoe and your foot, we added our light elite cushioning construction where you need it most to provide protection without bulk.
Designed for a low profile, light, traditional approach shoe. The moment you don’t have a shoe covering your ankle, you’re really exposed to your surroundings. To add more comfort and protection, and combat any rocks you come in contact with, the mini features cushy ankle pods that cover the entire zone. If you do bump into a rock, your ankle has a little more defense.
The crew is ideal for a slightly burlier approach shoe, when you prefer additional over the ankle support. Traveling rocky ascents, the Achilles is vulnerable (if you’ve ever experienced a blister here, you know how uncomfortable things can get). On the Crew, we took the cushioning we use on the heel and extended that cushioning up the back of the foot to wrap around the lower part of the ankle. While journeying across rugged landscapes, carrying a heavy pack with ropes, protection, harness, helmet—the Achilles strap provides an over the ankle buffer, reducing pressure on the incline so you have enough stability to get where you need to go.
THE PERFECT PAIR
“It’s great to have athletes as dialed as Conrad, and to be just as dialed in responding to their needs,” says Pete. “This partnership enables us to draw from athlete insights to create the most elevated socks.”
Collaborating with Conrad provided exceptionally valuable feedback from someone who is out there nearly every day. His ongoing eagerness to put each prototype to the ultimate test allowed us to develop a sock to perfectly meet its use. Fortunately, we share a mutual love for the mountains and that was something we both envisioned depicted aesthetically in this sock. The PhD® Pro Approach sock is the perfect combination of style, comfort and performance.
Hear more from alpinist and Smartwool athlete Conrad Anker:
Men's and Women's PhD Pro Approach Socks