When Saphira spotted a bonanza of budget hiking gear in ALDI’s weekly specials’ catalogue, she was stinging to put it to the test. The team at We Are Explorers were just as intrigued to see if the budget gear could hold its own and hooked her up with the full kit and kaboodle.  


ALDI’s weekly catalogue in early July featured a ‘trailblazers’ special. Seven glossy pages filled to the brim with everything from puffer jackets to merino shirts – but the bargain-hunter’s highlight was a $30 pair of hiking boots. I was overcome with the urge to, quite literally, put the gear through its paces.

I wanted to answer some big questions. Had I been ripped off for years, conned into buying boots for $300? Can you even make hiking boots for $30 that aren’t complete rubbish? Were my Kathmandu XT-series pants really six times better than ALDI’s $25 hiking pants? Can you really survive lawyer vine, creek crossings, rock scrambling, and rainy hikes in super cheap gear?

I Tested A Full Kit Of Cheap ALDI Hiking Gear Over Nearly 100km, trolley, shopping, Aldi, hiking gear, woman

Who better to support the latest of my harebrained schemes than the folks at We Are Explorers? Luckily they were just as curious as me and agreed to sponsor my experiment. I got kitted up from my knickers to my headlamp to find out: what’s it like hiking in dirt-cheap gear?

Read More: The Dark Side Of Cheap Gear

The ALDI Gear

Let’s dive into the gear that ALDI had on offer. Each item includes the price, as well as what you’d expect to pay for mid-range gear.

I Tested A Full Kit Of Cheap ALDI Hiking Gear Over Nearly 100km, hiking pack, boots, pants, shirt, fleece, jacket, head torch

  • TenTEX membrane water repellent hiking boots, complete with enough chemical fumes to give you a gnarly headache ($29.99 vs $300).
  • A 45L hiking backpack, 1.19kg with a (meagre) load capacity of 10kg ($34.99 vs $300).
  • A rain jacket which folds up to not much bigger than a coke can. It’s labelled waterPROOF, not water RESISTANT, so I will reserve no aquatic mercy for this one ($39.99 vs $150).
  • A puffer jacket that is supposedly ‘Responsible Certified Down’ ($49.99 vs $200)
  • A turquoise fleece-style polyester jacket ($24.99 vs $100).
  • Polyester pants, with moisture-wicking fabric and UPF 50+ sun protection ($24.99 vs $100).
  • A merino shirt and quarter zip top made from Australian merino, which claims to be biodegradable, renewable, odour resistant, breathable, insulating, and water repellent. Phew! ($26.99 and $36.99 vs $30).
  • A pair of hiking socks, with six features advertised (I can’t even name six features of a sock) ($11.99 vs $15 each).
  • Merino briefs; I’ll be honest, I’ve always thought hiking underwear was a laugh, so we’ll see if I really find these useful or not ($12.99 vs $25).
  • A headlight with two brightness options ($4.99 vs $50).

Total Cost: $300

Cost of a normal kit: $1300+ 

Comparing the price of ALDI gear with standard gear gives me a benchmark for comparison. I wanted to be fair to the price point. For example, my $250 Salomon boots had done three years of solid hiking before they bit the dust. For the boots to be ‘worth it’, they’d have to last at least 10% of this time (since they cost 10% as much). That’s about 3-4 months. During the period, I’d expect them to remain waterproof, grippy, and glued together. 

Time To Test It Out!

Twin Falls Circuit // Springbrook NP (QLD)

The first hike in my ALDI kit was in rain. What better way to start my gear test than to get everything drenched for a few hours? I even stood under some waterfalls for good measure! My pants got drenched, but they were dry within 10 minutes. Impressive. 

I didn’t put the rain cover on my backpack, but the seep-through was still minimal. I had a full pack at 7kg and the bag was comfortable. To be honest, I was in awe at how chock-full of features the backpack was for the price: a rain cover with stowaway, emergency whistle, waist and chest strap, plenty of pockets, external and internal brain compartments, water bladder compartment, and padded shoulder straps (adjustable for different heights). It also came with a little sitting cushion and a removable mobile phone pocket that you can wear on your arm. 

There was a lot of slick rock and muddy trail to test my shoes – the grip was great and my toes were toasty dry all the way through. Despite not having broken them in (rookie move), my shoes were comfortable for the whole hike. 

I really only had two issues all day; my rain jacket hood wasn’t placed well, obstructing my view so badly that I just took it down half the time. And I also wasn’t a raging fan of my daggy pants – pricier gear usually has a better fit since it comes in more than three sizes.

Distance: 4km 

Exposure: 3 hours

Daves Creek Circuit // Lamington NP (QLD)

Today’s winter hike was just a bit too chilly for the fleece. I definitely should have worn the down jacket. But my real grievance of the day was the pant pockets. Maybe it’s because I’m under average height, but the pockets were awkwardly placed, and on top of that the zips jammed easily. This meant getting my phone was a two-handed endeavour. I also noticed some shin splints, probably because the boots lack support. Still, no major qualms – none of the gear actually sabotaged my hike.

Distance: 18km 

Exposure: 9 hours

Mt Joyce // Wyaralong Dam (QLD)

This hike let me test the gear in cold conditions (at least, as cold as a Queensland winter gets) and for an overnight trip. I had a full load of gear for the overnighter plus an (optional) litre tub of pumpkin soup. Note that I didn’t pack a tent since I was sleeping al fresco for the purposes of meteor shower gazing. The total weight came to just shy of 11kg, so technically over the recommended maximum load, but it all fit (just). This humble pack can apparently handle an overnighter. The seams sure did look like they were struggling though.

The merino layers kept me dry and warm even when I got a little sweaty in the cool air. That evening, my torch turned on, which was a great start, but for stargazing I really needed a red light option (doesn’t ruin your night vision). I also felt like I couldn’t read without bothering the others (it only has two brightness options), so I could barely use the headlamp at all – major fail. Overnight, I had both the fleece and down jacket on in my sleeping bag and I was the toastiest of my crew (minimum temps of 5-10℃, open air).

Distance: 20km

Exposure: 22 hours

Yul-Yan-Man Track // Glasshouse Mountains (QLD)

The shoes didn’t struggle one bit on this hike, which was a level 5 track with steep and eroded terrain. A section of this track is reminiscent of the terrain of Mt Beerwah/Mt Tibrogargan but the shoes were super grippy and handled it well.

By this point in the test, I think my favourite items are actually the merino knickers and the socks. Both are very comfy and I actually look forward to wearing them – which I can’t honestly say about many of the other items.

Distance: 7km 

Exposure: 3 hours

South-East Ridge // Mt Barney (QLD)

The gear had held up so far, but I have to confess that I was pretty spooked at the prospect of summiting a serious peak in cheap gear. Mt Barney, even up South-East Ridge, is an intense affair. The trailhead sign urges inexperienced and unprepared hikers to turn back because of the risk of rescue. Plus, there’s 31 orange location markers to help direct rescuers. So, yeah, I felt a bit stupid going up in crappy gear. I ended up taking my Black Diamond headlamp as a backup, for safety. 

Again, my bag managed to physically fit everything I needed for an overnighter, but then it tore. A nice big rip right in the outer pocket. The poor quality of the seams was apparent when I first got the bag, so I wasn’t surprised. With another one or two overnighters, even at the recommended load, this bag would belong in the trash.

Everything else held together on the way up, until the final summit push. The top of Mt Barney is scrubby with big boulders, and it shredded my pant pockets. It’s not surprising when you feel the cheap material or look at the crappy stitching, but now the proof was truly in the pudding. The rubber sole on my right shoe had also worn down noticeably.

I was toasty warm in my puffer jacket that night, but I did get a lot of complaints from my boyfriend about the brightness of my headlamp. That’s the problem with cheap headlamps – they’re not bright enough for actual use in the dark (only good around a campsite, really), but they’re too bright for sitting around a campfire. 

Distance: 16km

Exposure: 29 hours

I Tested A Full Kit Of Cheap ALDI Hiking Gear Over Nearly 100km, woman, scream, fleece jumper, trees

Rogaining // St Mary State Forest (QLD)

I’d given up on the backpack and headlamp by now, but that still left the rest of my kit to test on the rogaine. The rogaine ended up being a pretty hardcore durability test in lawyer vine. We often had to detour great lengths to avoid the thickest of the bush. We weren’t so much bushwhacking as we were walking on bush. I was super impressed with how durable the merino layers were. Several times I was yanking to get out of lawyer vines I was wrapped up in, but there wasn’t a single hole or tear to speak of after seven hours. 

We quit when it got dark, seven hours after starting, but by the time we returned back to the Hash House (aka base camp) at midnight we had still clocked over 30km. On the way home, I definitely started wishing for my puffer jacket, as my fleece was letting me down in the 7℃ night. This has happened several times now, so the fleece is really just for 10-15℃.

Net distance: 31km total

Net exposure: 12 hours

So Does ALDI’s Cheap Hiking Gear Hold Up?

Most of this gear works pretty well – until it breaks down, which is way sooner than higher-quality gear. The shoes will grip and keep your toes dry – but they’ll wear down super fast. The rain jacket will keep you dry – until the zip breaks. The pants are quick-dry and do the job – until the seams start falling apart. The bag has a great bunch of features – but it just won’t last. All of this gear will be great until, one by one, it starts tearing or breaking within a few months to a year of purchase.

The other, darker side of cheap gear is the social and environmental impact of paying so little. Is this the kind of thing we want to support – a disposable culture of throwaway items? Paying $200 for your boots doesn’t guarantee the maker got paid fairly. But paying $30 means for certain that they didn’t. I’ve written about the ramifications in this article: The Dark Side Of Cheap Gear.

My Thoughts On Each Item

I’ve given my thoughts on the individual items here, with a star rating out of three for ‘function’, ‘durability and ‘comfort and style.

Hiking Boots

Surprisingly good comfort and grip, but don’t have the finish or support of a long-term boot.

Function ⭐⭐

Durability ⭐⭐

Comfort & Style ⭐⭐

 

I Tested A Full Kit Of Cheap ALDI Hiking Gear Over Nearly 100km, hiking boots, worn out

Bag

Great features and versatility for a firecracker first impression, but you can’t run away from the poor quality.

Function ⭐⭐

Durability 

Comfort & Style ⭐⭐

I Tested A Full Kit Of Cheap ALDI Hiking Gear Over Nearly 100km, hiking pack

Puffer Jacket

Does what it says on the tin, toasty warm.

Function ⭐⭐⭐

Durability ⭐⭐⭐

Comfort & Style ⭐⭐

Rain Jacket

It works and it looks good! An unexpected winner.

Function ⭐⭐⭐

Durability ⭐⭐⭐

Comfort & Style ⭐⭐⭐

Pants

Daggy, sticky zips, poor fit, crap material and stitching (probably my least favourite item).

Function ⭐⭐

Durability 

Comfort & Style

I Tested A Full Kit Of Cheap ALDI Hiking Gear Over Nearly 100km, pants, worn out, tear, pocket

Fleece

Stylish enough to wear in normal life, comfy, but not warm enough for sub 10℃. Looks pretty worn after just a month.

Function ⭐⭐⭐

Durability ⭐⭐

Comfort & Style ⭐⭐⭐

Merino Tops

Quick-dry, solid shirts.

Function ⭐⭐⭐

Durability ⭐⭐

Comfort & Style ⭐⭐⭐

Socks

Ultra-comfy thick socks that I wear all the time.

Function ⭐⭐⭐

Durability ⭐⭐⭐

Comfort & Style ⭐⭐⭐

Undies

I’m not laughing anymore, merino undies are the future and I would buy these again.

Function ⭐⭐⭐

Durability ⭐⭐⭐

Comfort & Style ⭐⭐

Head Lamp

Somehow manages to be both too bright and too dim. I expected this to be a dumpster fire, but it let me down in ways I didn’t expect.

Function

Durability 

Comfort & Style

 


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