This gear is smarter, lighter and more thoroughly tested than your typical buyer’s guide. Enjoy our picks of the best light and practical gear in our 2018 Smart Gift Guide for Hikers and Backpackers.
- There’s cool gear from smaller manufacturer and cottage gear you may not know about—gear that’s innovative and lighter—near and dear to our lightweight/practical philosophy.
- And yes, there’s some light gear from mainstream companies.
- Finally, there are more offerings of gear that we particularly love like down jackets and cameras (including a bunch of smartphone accessories for backpacking).
Price Categories — Gift Guide for Hikers and Backpackers
Big Ticket Items $250 and up
Equally valid as a purchase for that special someone in your life — or an indigence on yourself!
HMG Southwest Pack 2400 cu. in/3400 cu. in. – $290/$330
This is one of the best and most versatile lightweight packs out there—and it’s virtually waterproof! It has a lightweight internal frame to comfortably distribute and carry loads from a few pounds to over 30 lbs, something that most ultralight packs struggle with. Hyperlite Mountain Gear builds all its packs from lightweight, waterproof, tough Dyneema composite fabric (formerly Cuben Fiber). The expandable rear pocket on the Southwest pack and zippered hip pockets give you room for snacks and gear on the go, while the main contents of your pack stay safely below a roll-top closure to keep rain, sleet, and snow away from your gear. Choose a volume – the 2400 cubic inch pack will be plenty for most summer ventures. Longer treks, carrying a bear canister and/or more puffy gear for shoulder seasons make the 3400 a great choice as well.
ULA Ohm 2.0 Backpack – $210
or Circuit Circuit Backpack – $235
ULA packs are a great value and a favorite among thru-hikers. ULA makes lightweight packs that are comfortable even when loaded up. It’s a great all-round pack, for those unafraid of buying from cottage manufacturers. ULA also has great options for all sizes of hikers, including different shoulder strap styles, which may be better for female hikers. The Circuit Pack will work for most trips, even those requiring a bear canister. The Ohm 2.0 Pack is great for those with a more compact kit and/or shorter trips (although I carried gear and food for 7 days on the Southern Sierra High Route with a bear canister). Its slim profile gives great balance for scrambling.
Garmin inReach SE+ 2-Way Satellite Communicator – $400 at REI
Staying in touch in the backcountry has never been so easy. The inReach allows text-messaging-like simplicity of communication even when far from cell service. This differentiates it from the more limited check-in or alert abilities of the SPOT devices. It also adds a layer of safety, comfort, and connection that used to cost much more! This device is lightweight at 6.9 oz, has a long-lasting battery and a durable build. The inReach is an indispensable backcountry communication tool for keeping loved ones updated, and for receiving weather and other important updates from the front country.
Older Version “DeLorme inReach SE Satellite Tracker” – $240 at Amazon
The perfectly serviceable, previous version is still available at Amazon at almost 1/2 the price. That’s a great value!
For those who are uncertain about going the quilt route, there is no better sleeping bag than Western Mountaineering’s Summerlite. It has a rating perfect for most 3-season ventures, features full baffling, and weighs in at just over a pound. The bag can be zipped up in typical mummy sleeping bag mode, but can also be unzipped and used essentially as a quilt. It is well built, and uses premium 850-fill down. While this is an expensive purchase, it’s common for these bags to last decades.
A very WARM winner: with 12 oz of 900+ fill power down (vs. the 8 oz in the WM SummerLite), this is likely to be closer a +20 F bag but weighs less than 1.5 pounds! (Although Feathered Friends conservatively rates it +30 F.)
For years Feathered Friends has been quietly making high quality, super warm down bags and jackets. For most 3-season use you’ll likely want the 23 oz Feathered Friends Merlin UL 30 Sleeping Bag. The Merlin is a fairly narrow cut for a mummy bag but there are plenty of options if you want a roomier bag. Medium bags here and wider bags here.
Mountain Hardwear touts the 7.7 oz Ghost Whisperer as “the world’s lightest full-featured down jacket.” For 1.2 oz more than the Montbell EX Light Down Anorak you get a full front zipper and pockets. MH uses a unique “Whisperer 7D x 10D Ripstop” fabric that is light, tough, down proof, and fairly water resistant. Oh, and the Mountain Hardware Ghost Whisperer has won a ton of awards.
This is Feathered Friends’ lightest weight down jacket, but don’t let that fool you. Though this clocks in at only 10.6 oz (Men’s med.), it has 3.7 oz of 900+ fill goose down (9 oz with 2.8 oz down for W’s med.). That’s more than 30% more down fill than the popular, but more expensive Mountain Hardware Ghost Whisperer. More down fill means more warmth! With a hood, and sinchable waist, this jacket can tighten down to keep all your precious heat in if things get cooler than expected, but the jacket is light enough to take with you on any 3-season outing. There are Men’s and Women’s versions, and as with all Feathered Friends’ goods, it’s made in Seattle, USA.
Montbell Mirage Parka – $320
Weighing less than 14 oz, this is the lightest fully-baffled jacket we know of. Montbell has pulled this feat off by using 900-fill down and a very thin 7-denier ballistic nylon shell. Down accounts for over 40% of the garment weight—an incredible feat of design engineering! If you like to bushwhack through dense evergreens in the depths of winter, this might not be durable enough for you, but for most backpackers, this will allow pushing shoulder season or even through winters (you probably need more in the deep north). Unfortunately, this jacket doesn’t come in a Women’s version yet.
If you hate being cold this is the jacket for you! The Helios jacket is insane puffy and warm. It packs an extra 2 oz. of high-fill down than the Mirage, and uses a more durable outer fabric. (It also weighs 4 oz more.) It’s made in the USA, and is purpose built with mountaineering in mind, so you know it’s warm! Feathered Friends is known for their high quality down and weight-conscious products.
REI Quarter Dome 2 Tent – $350 at REI
Okay, not everyone needs a siege-proof alpine four-season beast of a tent. REI’s long-time favorite Quarter Dome Tent is a great option for those looking for a reasonably priced lightweight free-standing backpacking tent. If ultralight tarps seem too daunting, this will still help you cut weight, weighing just over 3 lbs, but the Quarter Dome remains comfortable with ample head room, and plenty of space for two backpackers. The increased room/livability from extremely vertical walls is what sets tent apart from most of its peers.
Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL 2 Tent – $450 at REI
If you want to cut a little weight, but keep lots of space, Big Agnes has you covered with the high volume version of their Copper Spur UL 2 freestanding tent. It comes in at 2 lb. 12 oz on the trail, and can be pitched even lighter using just the fly. This is one of the most spacious 2-person tents out there, which is great if you are going to be stuck in your tent playing cards for a while in bad weather, or just prefer highly livable tents.
This is the pyramid shelter against which all others are measured. These have been used by thru hikers on the longest treks, deep in the wilderness of Alaska, on glaciers and high peaks, and even occasionally as car-camping tents! The design is flexible, durable, functional, livable, and light at 21 oz for the SilNylon version. It can withstand serious storms, and open up on nice nights. It is spacious and comfortable for two backpackers and their gear. Of course, for the gram counters, this tarp also comes in the much lighter cuben fiber (Dyneema composite fabric) version, weighing in at 16 oz even, and costing about $700 depending on the color of fabric used. Note Asym design: one of the few ‘Mids that allows a couple to sleep side-by side without a center pole between them.
This is the upgraded version of the shelter Andrew Skurka took on his epic Alaska-Yukon Expedition. It’s a 1-person version of the Duomid with all the same great features, but it’s lighter and less expensive! It fits 1-person with ample room for gear. This SilNylon version comes in at just over a pound (17 oz). The Cuben fiber (Dyneema composite fabric) is a svelte 12 oz, but costs $465. For such a versatile, lightweight shelter, it’s a bargain! Note: new 2017 Asym, single pole design with 70% of the user space behind the one center pole and the front 30% functions as a vestibule. This offset design allows entry and exit in rainy conditions to help keep the sleep side of the shelter dry like the DuoMid XL design.
Tarptent has been around for ages with a great reputation in the lightweight backpacking community. As the name suggests it combines the best aspects of a tent and tarp. That is, low weight combined with a fully waterproof floor and mosquito protection. The Notch is a great 1-person shelter, that sets up with two trekking poles, and includes a full inner bug netting and a bathtub floor. The Notch will keep you and your stuff dry in a rain storm, and there is ample headroom to sit up and wait out the foul weather from dry comfort inside! The shelter weighs in at 27 oz, which is a fair bit lighter than even the lightest free-standing tents!
Tarptent Saddle 2, 2-Person Shelter – $296
Also consider TarpTent’s new 2-person model the Saddle 2. It’s a two person version of the Notch!
This is a light shelter with plenty of room for two to sit up side by side and eat dinner looking at the view. This Tarptent MoTrail is more like a traditional tarp setup with a ridgeline held by two trekking poles in the long direction of the tarp. The tarp has a mesh inner, and a Silnylon outer with a Silnylon tub floor to keep you dry even in a total downpour. Inside is space for two people to sleep comfortably without a trekking pole between them. At 36 oz, it’s just over 1lb/person, and it’s less expensive than the 1-person shelters like the Tarptent Notch or MLD Solomid!
Sony a6000 Mirrorless Camera w/ 16-50 mm Lens – $498 possibly the best camera deal going!
It’s difficult to beat Sony’s a6000 price to weight and performance. The camera with the 16-50 mm kit lens is a great place to start, providing a lightweight, compact zoom lens in a good range for outdoor photography. With optical image stabilization and a 1.5 crop sensor (APS-C), the images this camera can produce are stunning. Its 24 MP sensor is extremely sensitive (ISO to 25600), and the autofocus is faster than most DSLRs. The OLED viewfinder shows nearly a full sensor image, and adapts as you change settings, helping to get those settings right for every shot. Sony has newer models (a6300, and a6500) which offer a number of improvements, such as improved autofocus and, in the case of the forthcoming a6500, in-body 5-axis optical stabilization. These cameras are also great, but much more costly!
Sony RX100 V 20.1 MP point & shoot camera – $698 to $998 depending on version
The Sony RX100 series has been essentially without parallel. It offers a 1″-class sensor, high sensitivity, fast optics with good zoom and optical image stabilization, fast auto-focus and decent enthusiast controls in the svelte package of a point-and-shoot camera. This little powerhouse even shoots 4k video! This camera is often found in the kit of professional photographers in challenging environments where every ounce counts, but good pictures still matter. The older versions are quite capable as well, and are available for much less than this newest version (IV, III).
Be sure to check out the other Price Categories Guides as well
Price Categories — Gift Guide for Hikers and Backpackers
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