We love quality gear at We Are Explorers, but we also love saving money, because money can be exchanged for pastries. Wendy’s explored exactly how well the premium hiking sock brands compare to cheap options (and each other) to answer a simple question: should you bother?


Decent socks are a vital part of your hiking and adventuring kit. Luckily, they’re also pretty useful for day-to-day wear. But they range in price dramatically – so why spend the big bucks on fancy socks when Kmart will sort you out for $3 a pair? Those Smartwool hiking socks might look pretty shmick, but spending $45 to find out is a solid ask for the average dirtbag. 

Personally, despite generally being disturbingly cheap (read: stingy), I’ve managed to acquire a couple of pairs of respectable socks, and oh my word, do they make a difference on long hiking adventures! It was a revelation to find fabric that doesn’t rub and cause blisters, keeps your feet a bit drier, and manages multiple days without a pong that scares away the wildlife. 

But, for this article, I’m taking it one step further and trialling the holy grail of socks – Lé Bent. An entire company dedicated to the comfort of your little tootsies (and also some other under-layers). 


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We’re going foot to foot!


Lé Bent combines merino wool with rayon (from bamboo) in a ‘signature blend’ they claim has the softness and comfort of bamboo while also regulating temperature, keeping your feet dry, and reducing odour.

With four different Lé Bent styles sent my way to test, I riffled through my laundry basket and found four worthy contenders: Smartwool, Icebreaker, Aldi, and Kmart socks. The socks were to be put through their paces in direct competition, Lé Bent on the right foot, the challenger to the left.

Round 1

Lé Bent Light Cushion Crew Hike Sock ($39.99) Vs
Smartwool PhD Outdoor Medium Crew Sock ($45)

These Smartwool babies (purchased from The North Face) usually retail for around $45 a pair – I got two pairs on sale with a voucher. I gave one pair to my partner, but they were so good I stole them straight back. (Shhhh!)

Smartwool is a blend that combines the pros of merino wool with the comfort and durability of nylon and elastane.

For the test, these went head to head (foot to foot?) on a day out in mountaineering boots, hiking in the Dolomites in Italy. The Smartwool option was thick, warm, and snuggly to put on. Lé Bent was thinner and a closer fit. Think of the difference between a fluffy woollen jumper and a tailored jacket. 

Initially I was concerned that Lé Bent was too thin, and wondered if I’d get a crop of blisters. But it turned out to be just fine. In fact, it was a revelation to realise that hiking socks don’t always have to be super thick. 


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It’s called science, look it up


As I walked, it was easy to forget which sock was which. Smartwool was a touch warmer in the summer heat and, as a likely consequence, felt a bit damper and sweatier at the end of the day. Both pulled up okay in the post-hike sniff test, indicating they were ready to go a few more rounds before soap would be required. 

For the day’s conditions, Lé Bent won, but if I were breaking in new boots or hiking in cooler climes, I might reach for Smartwool.

Shop Smartwool

Shop Lé Bent                                                                                                                                                 

Round 2

Lé Bent Outdoor Light Crew Sock Vs
Aldi hiking sock (about $5 a pair; sales vary year on year)

There are a lot of different Aldi socks, and I’ve tried loads. What can I say? I’m a fan. But, they have their limitations. Firstly, their merino socks shrink in a hot wash. Yeah, I know, like me you only use the cold cycle? One mistake, and they’re done for. Secondly, a bit less TLC goes into manufacture, and a few Aldi socks I’ve owned have had bulky seams inside. Not an issue for casual wear, but for long hikes you don’t want that rubbing on your sweaty toes for hours.

Read more: I Tested All of ALDI’s Cheap Hiking Gear Over 100km

My current Aldi foot-covers are standard synthetic, stretchy, and thick. They do the trick for hiking rather nicely, thank you very much. But could Lé Bent do better? Another summer hike in the European Alps was the testing ground. 


Cheap Hiking Socks Vs Premium Hiking Socks, Wendy Bruere, comparison piece, europe, dolomites, socks, feet, hiking, hot dogs or legs

Aldi once again provided impressive bang for buck with their simple synthetic hiking socks


While I’ve previously been perfectly happy with Aldi socks, with my mismatched socks giving a direct comparison, I became acutely aware of the difference Lé Bent made. My Aldi-clad foot was distinctly pricklier, hotter, and sweatier than its competitor. The extra thickness made it feel bulky next to Lé Bent. And no prizes for guessing which sock smelt worse after wear.

Are Aldi socks a viable hiking sock, great for entry-level hikers who want a cheap option? Absolutely yes. Is Lé Bent worth the extra investment for the serious hiker? Also yes. 

Shop Lé Bent

No links for Aldi as it’s a changeable annual sale. Ya gotta just get in there and try your luck.

Read more: The Dark Side Of Cheap Gear

Round 3

Lé Bent Light Cushion Mini ($32.99) Vs
Icebreaker Women’s Merino Lifestyle Fine Gauge Crew Sock* ($34.99)

Given these are both more casual socks rather than being designed for hiking (or other sport), I initially tested them on day-to-day wear: three consecutive days encompassing the usual low-key cycling, walking, and indoor wear my life involves. Both are, simply, extremely good socks. Despite the higher merino content of the Icebreaker socks (combined with some nylon and Lycra), when assessed for odour, both did similarly – after three days, it was time for a wash, but neither were hellish. (My partner declined to offer a second opinion.)


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Merino kept the smells under control, but you’ll have to take Wendy’s word for it!


It was time for a proper challenge. A longer walk as the tiebreaker: 10km of Sydney’s coast on a warmish winter day. Icebreaker got a smidge sweaty, while Lé Bent stayed a degree drier, but that was it. 

Lé Bent’s socks feel a bit softer, likely due to the extra bamboo in the fabric composition. But while this is rather nice as I slip them on in the morning, it isn’t something I’m aware of during the day. And Icebreaker has its own enticing tough-but-cuddly feel.

This was the most challenging call to make. Despite my attempted tie-breaker walk, I’m giving in and declaring it a draw. 

*My Icebreaker socks are from a few seasons ago and the packaging is long lost; this looked like the most comparable of the current stock. 

Shop Icebreaker

Shop Lé Bent

Round 4

Lé Bent Zero Cushion Mini Trail ($34.99) Vs
Active Kmart ($3 / $9 for three pairs)

Low on socks last summer, I picked up two 3x packs of the bamboo Active Kmart socks for $9 each ($3 a pair) for daily wear and running. The Lé Bents are dedicated trail socks but a valid choice for any low-key activity, so these were tested on both running and day-to-day wear. 

The softness of the bamboo made Team Kmart pleasing to put on, but Lé Bent was equally comfortable and ultimately better in all other metrics – less sweaty, better fit, less foot slippage while running. Admittedly, this is only what you’d expect for nearly 12 times the price. 

Read more: Testing Everything Including The (Camp) Kitchen Sink From Kmart’s Camp Cooking Range – Review

But while the Kmart sock was initially quite serviceable, at risk of sounding my age, they don’t make ‘em like they used to! They wore through so fast they felt semi-disposable. 


Cheap Hiking Socks Vs Premium Hiking Socks, Wendy Bruere, comparison piece, europe, dolomites, socks, feet, hiking

Kmart’s ‘Active’ socks simply weren’t worth the savings


Sure, it’ll take more than responsibly-sourced socks to save the planet, but every little bit helps. And if, like me, you only get a dozen wears before your toes poke through, it’s not even cheap anymore. At $3 a pair, that’s an outrageous 25c per wear! 

Your Lé Bent beauties only need to do 140 days of service to match that (less than twice a week for a year and a half). All my Lé Bents have been in high rotation in the sock draw for the last few weeks and are showing no signs of deterioration. I’m confident they’ll come up cheaper per wear than my Kmart misadventure. 

Shop Kmart

Shop Lé Bent

The Ultimate Verdict?

Lé Bent consistently outranked the others when it came to hiking and running. Personally, I’m a convert. They’re comfortable, sturdy, and mine have done up to five straight days on the trail without getting too unconscionably stinky. 

Depending on what you want in a sock, other brands have their perks as well, of course. If you prefer a thicker sock for warmth, or if you just prefer the feel, Smartwool is a winner (though it is worth noting they have lighter socks available too). If you’re new to hiking and don’t want to spend the big bucks (and you time it for the annual Special Buys sale), Aldi can provide a rock-solid budget foot-jumper. I’ll always have a soft spot for Icebreaker’s high merino content when it comes to daily wear.

Just don’t fool yourself into thinking $3 socks are a bargain.


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Rinse and repeat