2019 Smart and Light Gift Guide for Hikers and Backpackers
Hikers and backpackers can be very tricky to shop for and many hold their gear to the highest possible standard. That’s why we’ve hand picked a selection of the lightest, smartest, and most innovative pieces of hiking gear that even the most trail-savvy adventurer would be stoked to receive. Here you’ll find recommended products of all types, from brands of all sizes, in a wide array of prices. The perfect gift idea for hikers awaits you. Happy shopping!
Price Categories — Gift Guide for Hikers and Backpackers
Expensive Gifts $100 – $250
These are more serious purchases. But with the higher price tag come a bunch of essential (and great) pieces of gear. Many of these pieces are in our go-to kits for all four seasons!
Osprey Exos 48 or 58 Backpack (Unisex)
$200 to $220 at REI
A Thru-hiker’s choice and the most popular pack in the Appalachian Trail. The Osprey Exos 48 is light but will still hold enough gear and food for 7 days (use the larger Exos 58 if you carry more gear). Of course the Exos has the famous Osprey fit and comfort. It’s fairly durable for a lightweight pack but best of all, at $200 it’s a good deal for a pack of this weight and quality. And of course it comes with REI’s return policy.
Osprey Eja 48 and 58 Pack (Women’s version of the Exos)
$200 to $220 at REI
New for 2018 is a women’s version of the incredibly successful Osprey Exos, the most popular pack in the Appalachian Trail. The Ospry Eja Backpack’s have women’s specific fit, like optimal sternum strap location for women, less bulky shoulder straps and of course an improved hip-belt design. Otherwise all the features that made the Exos packs great are there including the AirSpeed Suspension system that keeps the weight (and sweat) off your back with a tensioned breathable-mesh back panel.
According to ULA, “The ULA Circuit Backpack has been the most popular pack on the Pacific Crest Trail for the past 3 years.” Not surprising since ULA makes comfortable, lightweight packs that wear exceptionally comfortably even when loaded up. Filled up, this 2.5 lb pack holds about 68 liters, but trims down well. The pack is burly, and fits a bear canister. 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.
Our favorite is the slightly lighter, 2 pound ULA Ohm 2.0, with a capacity of 63 liters. It’s more suited to backpackers with lighter/compact loads that move fast. Even so, it will still handle a bear canister and 7 days of food for an experienced hiker.
SPOT Gen3 Satellite Personal Locator Beacon
$149 at REI
Be safe for less! The SPOT personal locator (PLB) is the best bargain on backcountry safety! This PLB is rugged, simple, and adds an important margin of safety for remote backcountry missions. At the press of a button, you can call for emergency help. There are also buttons to let loved ones know you are safe, or that you need a non-emergency pickup. Messages arrive at your contacts with a GPS location and a link to a map to see where you are. Link the device to your Facebook to show all your friends your enviable 5-star campsite each night. The SPOT doesn’t let you create and send messages in the backcountry like the Garmin inReach SE+ 2-Way Satellite Communicator but it also costs a lot less!
Jetboil MiniMo Cooking System
$135 at REI
To our mind the best Jeboil Stove! The Jetboil MiniMo Cooking System gives you all of Jetboil’s new technologies: A proprietary regulator and enhanced regulator diaphragm for consistent performance down to 20°F. And their redesigned valve gives you better simmer control. Finally, we’re huge fans of the wider pot. It’s easier to eat out of and clean and has a more fuel effect shape to boot. Bon Appétit!
In a word superb. This is a beautiful and highly functional knife with a large 3.25″ blade up to any backcountry use. And it’s also great for everyday carry. At 1.8 ounces it is far lighter than most folding knives. Its CPM-S30V premium stainless-steel blade (58-60HRC) will hold an edge far longer than run-of-the mill knives (some of which cost nearly as much). Yeah, we’re big fans of CPM-S30V and CPM-S35V steels.The blue handle is bright making the knife hard to loose and has a pleasing ergonomic grip.
Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite
$160 at REI
Warmer, lighter and better than the “Men’s” version! And the perfect pad to go with your ultralight sleeping bag or quilt.
Therm-a-Rest introduced lightweight inflatable pads to the backpacking world, and their NeoAir line continues to set the gold standard. This is the Women’s version of the XLite, but it’s the right size for most backpackers MEN and women! At 66 inches long, taller backpackers can save weight and use ultralight techniques like using their pack to insulate their feet. At 12 oz and with an R-value of 3.9, this pad will be a go-to piece of any backpacker’s sleeping kit.
Surprised to see a a high quality20°F down bag in this price range? You should be! At 1/2 the price of a comparable 20°F down sleeping bag. This down quilt is one of the best values out there. It’s warmer than any sleeping bags at the same weight, and way cheaper! It works well to sleep on the ground or in a hammock. And since it’s a quilt, it lets you adjust your temperature more easily when things get warm. And at 18 oz, it’s lighter even than Western Mountaineering’s 30°F SummerLite sleeping bag.
Outdoor Research Helium II Jacket
$111 to $159 at REI
This is one of the lightest fully waterproof breathable jackets on the market. It uses a 2.5 layer design that packs into its own pocket and weighs only 5.5 oz. It comes in both Men’s and Women’s fits in a variety of colors. This jacket sparked a revolution in lightweight, waterproof jackets, and it’s still a great choice.
Outdoor Research Helium Rain Pants
$119 at REI
These are the matching rain pants to the lightweight rain jacket. They are waterproof and breathable, have an adjustable elastic waistband, and zippered legs to help fit over shoes. At 5.4 oz, these are some of the lightest waterproof pants on the market, perfect for keeping you warm and dry through a deluge, or in that dangerous shoulder-season hypothermia weather!
What Cold Weather Clothing Do I Need?
This is the time of the year when it’s a great idea to take advantage of some big sales on cold weather gear like the incredible Patagonia R1 Hoodie. The following article will help you figure out what techniques and essential clothing you need to stay warm and comfortable this fall and winter. And will help you better navigate the fall sales on cold weather clothing — get just the right clothes and nothing more!
Top Mistakes Using the Layering System – How to Stay Warmer and Drier: The layering system sounds attractive in theory. But as practiced by most hikers it is seriously flawed. It can be heavy and expensive. Not used properly, it could even make you colder. This article points out the major mistakes hikers make when buying and using a clothing layering system, and of course it has tips on how to properly select and use a better and lighter layering system!
A great value in a very warm ultralight jacket. The REI Magma 850 down jacket offers easy movement and just-right warmth for backpacking, hiking and travel. This jacket is a favorite of ours and a great deal at $219 but when it’s on sale it’s a steal, especially compared to competitors jackets than can run $300 or higher.
The Magma 850 Hoodie has all the features you want in a down jacket — the lightest high fill power water resistant goose down, a hood critical to increasing warmth, a durable Pertex® ripstop shell, well articulated shoulders for free range of motion, and variable baffles that provide warmth where it’s needed and reduced bulk where it’s not. Finally it has pockets that aren’t blocked by a pack hipbelt, a gripe we have with a lot of jackets.
Patagonia Down Sweater Jacket
$230 at REI
This is a great warm layer for backpacking or any outdoor activity, really. It’s light, and uses 800-fill-power traceable down. It comes in Men’s and Women’s, as well as hooded versions, for a little more money. Of course, there are adorable kids versions as well! Patagonia’s quality, warranty, and customer service are legendary, ensuring you’ll keep this jacket for a long, long time.
Patagonia R1 Hoodie
$111-$160 at REI
Think of it as “fur for humans.” This is the warmest, comfiest baselayer and it works in an amazing range of conditions. It breathes well, stretches comfortably, and has a long cut to keep your heat trapped in. The arms are long with thumb holes to keep heat from leaving through the common wrist gap, and the hood fits well, and zips up with a full mouth cover, trapping all your heat inside, and piping warm air from your core to your head. Of course, it comes in Men’s and Women’s versions. While warm enough for winter, it works in one of the broadest ranges of temperatures of any baselayer!
Smartwool Midweight Base Layers
$60 to $100+
The Smartwool NTS Mid 250 Zip-T is a personal favorite
- The original antimicrobial, non-stench fabric.
- It keeps you warm when its wet.
- Super fine Merino wool is soft and comfortable against the skin and doesn’t itch.
- Doesn’t feel as clammy as synthetics
These pants are the real deal. Made with Feathered Friends’ legendary high quality down, these pants offer 4.4 oz of fluffy down, and weigh in at 13 oz. These pants are great for backpacking, but are meant for even more serious high mountain endeavors and offer full-length zips so you can put them on and off over crampons… or, if you’re just too lazy to take off your boots.
These are probably the lightest insulated pants on the market. Weighing only 6.5 oz, these are packed with 850-fill down and are built with Western Mountaineering’s standard-setting quality. Don’t get cold, and cranky in camp. Put on your Flash Pants and hang out – enjoy the outdoors, deep into the fourth season.
Undoubtedly, this Trail Designs system is the best lightweight backpacking stove system out there. It can be used with alcohol, Esbit tabs, or even a twiggy fire. The heat is conducted up through the Caldera Cone to the pot, making it stable, wind-resistant, and efficient. This kit includes the pot, stove, windscreen and a number of different ways to set up for burning different fuels. The whole kit packs up to fit in the pot! Unrivaled in lightness and simplicity, this is the way to go, unless you’re in a place with fire bans… then you may need a canister stove setup like a Jetboil Stove System, or the Etekcity Ultralight Backpacking Stove (an amazing value at $12) in combination with a TOAKS 900 ml Ti Pot.
These are the standard-bearers of adjustable trekking poles. They are fairly light, and their flicklock extension mechanisms are easily adjustable and repairable in the field. The poles are comfortable and incredibly durable (my pair lasted 8 years of heavy 4-season use before I finally broke a tip! and the tips are replaceable.). The poles are strong and their adjustability key for using in different conditions and for pitching tarp shelters in different locations and configurations.
For Those Who Wish to Travel Very Light!
This is the yardstick for ultralight bivvies. It has a waterproof base, and a nice bug net window for your face, so you can gaze at the stars. It’s perfect for keeping wind and bugs off your face, or for skipping the pitch altogether when the weather is nice! For those wanting to go lighter still, there’s a Cuben fiber bottom option which brings the weight down below 5 oz (~7.5 oz for the SilNylon bottom).
This is the perfect combination for use with the Mountain Laurel Designs Grace Tarp. When it’s not raining, cowboy camp out under stars. And when it is raining, you’ve got a solid tarp to keep you dry.
The two-person version of MLD’s Grace Tarp is a great lightweight shelter. The Grace tarp uses a computer designed catenary ridge-line for a super taut pitch with less. It’s a lightly tapered tarp made to be set up with trekking poles. It can be pitched high in fine weather, or lower to the ground in windy or rainy conditions. At 13 oz, its nearly 9×9 ft size will keep all of your stuff dry and sheltered. There is a cuben fiber (Dyneema composite fabric) version when in DUO which weighs in at just 7.5 oz, but it also costs $290. Keep it simple and light with this functional, basic, lightweight shelter.
Be sure to check out the other Price Categories Guides as well…
Price Categories — Gift Guide for Hikers and Backpackers
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