darn tough vs smart wool vs first lite

Best Merino Wool Hiking Socks- Darn Tough vs Smartwool vs First Lite

Joey Bell

In the last few years, I’ve really started to update my outdoor rec/hunting gear. Up until then, my hunting clothing consisted of just cotton long johns, sweatshirts, coveralls, and a heavy camo jacket. Cotton everything. It wasn’t until I started switching to merino base layers and higher quality outerwear that I realized there was a reason I was sweating and freezing on chilly mornings or just sweating on warm days and not cooling off properly because my clothing wasn’t breathable.

Socks are the Merino Wool Gateway Drug

My socks were the first things I upgraded. There were many brands to choose from, and they are relatively cheap to get compared to premium outerwear. I got some Smartwool brand socks as well as First Lite merino socks. These were a tremendous upgrade from my white cotton socks that I grew up wearing. But I discovered that my feet still sweat pretty heavily. These socks were a little thick, and while they were still comfy, they might have run too warm for me.

Enter the Darn Tough Hiker Boot Sock.

darn tough hunting socks
Darn Tough Hiker Boot Sock Full Cushion

The sock that made a name for itself from the Pacific Crest Trail to the AT. “Must pack” durability meets undeniable comfort in a Full Cushion sock that absorbs the rigors of the trail.

Price- $26.00

  • Full Cushion: High density cushioning throughout the entire sock for full on comfort and performance.
  • Boot Height: Sits mid-calf for added protection and warmth.
  • 66% Merino Wool, 32% Nylon, 2% Lycra® Spandex

Darn Tough Socks take Merino Hiking Socks to Another Level

Darn Tough provided a pair of sock of my choice for review. I decided to go with the Hiker Boot Sock with the Full Cushion. I had heard about Darn Tough and how great they were, but when I was getting new socks, I was using gift cards and discount codes for other brands. I won’t be making that mistake again.

All-Day Foot Comfort at Work

My first day of wearing these socks was actually at work. This particular day I’d be wearing steel-toed work boots and be running around on concrete all day in the heat. My feet were the most comfortable they’d ever been. While I was sweating through my jeans, work shirt, and my hard hat was a sauna, my feet felt fresh all day. My work boots are not breathable at all, and I plan to make a switch soon do a different style, but these socks performed great at wicking moisture off of my foot.

darn tough hiking socks review

Summer Hiking in Merino Wool Socks

The next time I wore these socks was actually on my honeymoon. NOT in the bedroom… 😉 My wife and I spent a week in Banff National Park for our honeymoon. We love to hike, sightsee, and look at wildlife wherever we go. We had planned on several trails to hike while we were there and the Darn Tough socks were the first thing I packed. I brought along my other merino and Smartwool socks as well since this would be the perfect situation for comparison.

darn tough socks review
hiking in banff

Darn Tough vs First Lite vs Smartwool

The first day I wore the Smartwool. While they are comfortable, my feet still sweat in them, and they’re a little bulky. After hiking all day, my feet were sweaty and itchy. These might be better for cold weather. The next day I wore the Darn Tough socks. We hiked a seven-mile trail with about 1,200 ft. of elevation gain. While the rest of my feet and legs were tired, my feet felt great. They breathed fine all day through my hiking boots and had just enough cushion to prevent foot soreness. My toes were free to wiggle since they weren’t as bulky as Smartwool. I couldn’t have been happier after that day. A couple days later we did another hike, and I wore my First Lite socks. They were better than the Smartwool but still didn’t compare to Darn Tough.

hiking socks testing


These socks were the most comfortable I had ever worn. I plan to buy more for this fall and will choose some lighter cushions to test their comfort and also combat my sweaty feet.
As mentioned, at $25/pair, they’re not the cheapest sock but that $25 is going to an American made product and I’m totally fine with that.


  • All the Advantages of Merino
  • Lifetime Guaranty
  • Very Comfortable
  • Softer than Smartwool
  • Made in the USA


  • Expensive for Socks
  • Don’t Offer Completely Solid Colors
  • Full Cushion May Be too Thick for Warm-Weather Use

Ready to buy? Darn Tough sells consumer direct and you can find the best selection of their socks at DarnTough.com, where they are available in a wide variety of styles and color patterns.

Thanks to Joey for writing this unpaid gear review and to Darn Tough for providing the Hiker Boot Socks at no charge for review. Hunting Gear Deals is funded by affiliate commissions. We may receive a small commission when you buy from our partners using the links provided. There is no additional cost to you. Thanks for supporting us by using our links when making your purchases.


Tennessee native with a passion for conservation and the future of the outdoor lifestyle. Tennessee State Chair for Backcountry Hunters and Anglers. First Lite Pro-Staff.

Instagram- @Reverend434

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