2021 Smart & Light Gift Guide for Hikers & 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 many brands, lots of sizes, and in a wide array of prices. The perfect gift idea for hikers awaits you – so have at our Gift Guide for Hikers. Happy shopping!
Reader Top Pick | REI Co-op Magma 850 Hoodie Down Jacket – Men’s & Women’s
REI Co-op Magma 850 Down Hoodie 2.0 is great value in a very warm ultralight jacket. This jacket is a favorite of ours and a great deal at $219. When it’s on sale, it’s a steal especially compared to competitors’ jackets that can run $300 or higher. It offers easy movement and just-right warmth for backpacking, hiking, and travel. The Magma 850 Hoodie has all the features you want in a down jacket — the lightest high fill 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. [And yes, there are a few lighter jackets out there, but you’ll pay a lot more $ to lose a few ounces]
Surprise! Cottage manufacturers are having sales too!
Cottage manufacturers provide a vital service to the hiking and backpacking community. Without them we’d have far, far less choices for excellent gear. Since the early 00s Cottage Manufacturers have innovated and produced ultralight gear that major manufacturers and retailers are unwilling to deal with. Our outdoor lives are far richer for it. So if you happen to be shopping during this sale period, it’s worth looking at cottage manufacturer sales first before looking at the sales from major retailers.
Here Are Some of Our Favorite Cottage Manufactures
Zpacks | Many of our Top Picks for Tents, Sleeping Bags, Backpacks, Rainwear and accessories
Enlightened Equipment | Also has our Top Picks for Highest Quality Down Quilts and Clothing
Hammock Gear | Highest Quality Down Quilts, Tarps, Hammocks & Accessories
SlingFin | Killer backpacking/mountain tents that are both ultralight & bomber strong!
Hyperlite Mountain Gear | Dyneema Packs, Shelters, Stuff Sacks & Accessories
Mountain Laurel Designs | Packs, Tents, Quilts, Cookware & Many Accessories
Gossamer Gear | Packs, Tents, Trekking Poles, & Many Accessories
Trail Designs | Great Ultralight Stoves & Accessories
Kammok | Great Hammocks, Tarps, Quits & Accessories
ROXANT 7×18 Ultralight Monocular
This monocular is a great backcountry tool. We routinely carry it for route finding. Plus, it’s great for wildlife spotting too. And while it’s inexpensive, it will do a great job of scouting a route across the valley or help you identify those white flecks on the shoulders of a Boreal Owl. At 2 oz. it’s light enough that you’ll want to take it with you and small enough to fit in any pocket!
Gaia GPS Smartphone App
This is hands down the best navigational tool for the backcountry! Use your smartphone for navigation AND get 20% off through my site! Using this app on my phone has completely supplanted standalone GPS units. It’s what I use and teach when guiding. Gaia GPS is the standard backcountry GPS navigation tool for iOS (Apple smartphones), and it is fully capable on Android smartphones as well. Gaia allows loading of GPS data, tracking, and map loading for offline use with many different layers available (similar to Caltopo). This is perfect in conjunction with a caltopo.com subscription.
For essential reading on using a backcountry GPS see: How to use your Smartphone as the Best Backpacking GPS
I’ve already put a few of these hikes on my short list for 2021. This beautiful “coffee table book” is a great refresher of many of the great hikes in the US – some of them lesser known. It’s complete with photos as well as technical details on the hikes. It’s written by my friend Cam Honan, “The Hiking LIfe,” who has arguably hiked more miles than anybody on the planet. This is a bit of shameless self-promotion: I have both photo and author credit for the Blue Ridge Hike, and my Southern Sierra High route (SoSHR) is covered in the Sierra High Route section along with my photos.
Cascade Mountain Tech Carbon Fiber Trekking Poles
At only $48, these are 1/2 to 1/3 the price of many comparable high-end trekking poles. The Cascade Mountain Tech Carbon Fiber Trekking Poles give up nothing in features and performance. We’ve used them in many countries all over the world. They are the poles I use when guiding. They have cork handles and flick locks like the much more expensive Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork trekking poles but cost 1/3 as much! That’s bang for the buck!
White Sierra Baz Az 1/4 Zip Fleece Shirt
The North Face Men’s TKA 100 Glacier Quarter Zip
Sadly, it appears that 100 wt fleece shirts like this are becoming scarce. It’s best to buy one now. The
White Sierra Baz Az 1/4 Zip (currently sold out – hopefully in stock again) is an amazing deal on a fantastic layer! A 100 wt fleece shirt is our go-to favorite mid layer. It goes on every trip from Alaska to the Sierras and Patagonia!
Still in limited stock: Currently, there is also a small inventory of the similar (and excellent) The North Face Men’s TKA 100 Glacier Quarter Zip on Amazon. These lightweight, inexpensive fleece shirts shed the wind reasonably well. As such, you may never need to pull out your wind jacket.
REI Co-op Rainier Rain Jacket
$90 ($45 on sale)
$45 to $90 for a good quality and light rain jacket says it it all! The REI Co-op Rainier Rain Jacket’s streamlined design keeps weight and cost low. Styling is a bit utilitarian, but the jacket has room to layer. The Co-op Jacket has a modestly sized 3-piece hood with dual hood adjusts, two zippered hand pockets, a drawcord hem and internal elastic cuffs that allow a seal at waist and wrists. This new model has pit zips for more ventilation. It’s now green using Recycled nylon ripstop (bluesign® approved).
Need pants too?
Jackery Bolt 6000 mAh – USB Battery
Keeping your backcountry electronics alive keeps you safe. The Jackery Bolt 6000 mAh – USB Battery is perfectly sized to charge most large cell phones twice! There is no need to carry any cables. The Jackery Bolt comes with two built in cables – 1.) a Lightning cable for Apple products and 2.) a micro-USB cable for everything else. What’s more, this battery charges products faster than most competition with a 2.7A combined output and is one of the lighter USB batteries around making it perfect for most backpackers for up to a week in the wild! For more capacity: Anker PowerCore 10000 battery
$6 to $13
These meals are some of the best on the market. They are hearty, healthy, and require only boiling water. They’re perfect for those lightweight alcohol stoves we love to carry. The meals are made in Maine and are totally delicious! Many are vegetarian. The meals come in single serving or double serving sizes to fit bigger trail appetites.
TOAKS Titanium 450ml Cup (15 fl oz)
A great deal for $20! A caffeinated backpacker is a happy backpacker! Enjoy your morning coffee with minimal weight penalty in this durable, lightweight, attractive titanium mug. A backpacker can never have too much titanium… or coffee.
TOAKS Titanium Long Handle Spoon
Titanium is a backpacker’s best friend! Digging the last morsels out of the bottom of a bag of freeze dried food is challenging with most utensils. Enter the 8.6,” TOAKS Titanium Long Handle Spoon. It can easily reach those faraway corners providing you all the needed calories to keep you hiking. It’s light at only 20 g (0.7 oz), and won’t put holes in freezer bags like a spork.
Gerber LST Ultralight Knife
Weighing just over an ounce, the Gerber L.S.T. Drop Point Knife is lightweight but exceptionally functional with a full 2″ long blade. While there are lighter knives, if you’re going to carry a knife into the woods, you may as well be able to cut bread, salami, and cheese with it! This knife gets the job done in a lightweight, no-frills, locking folding frame.
ZPacks Wallet Zip Pouch
Weighing just 0.22 oz (6.2 g), the ZPacks Wallet Zip Pouch is what we take on the trail and on international trips. Well, it’s actually my around town wallet too. The wallet is simple and thin so it doesn’t bulk up your pockets. It easily fits just about anywhere in your backpacking kit, but it’s also durable. [It’s made from 3.1 oz/sqyd Dyneema® Composite Fabric which can stand up to the abuse of being carried around. The colors are random and may be any of the Dyneema® Composite Fabric colors that Zpacks has in stock].
ZPacks Phone Zip Pouch & Phablet Zip Pouch
Hyperlite Mountain Gear Stuff Sack Pillows
$37 to $47
Get a better night’s sleep in the backcountry with a Hyperlite Mountain Gear Stuff Sack Pillow. It has just the perfect pillow shape; and when you turn it inside out, there’s a nice nappy side to put your cheek on. Better yet, this does double duty as a waterproof stuff sack for your down jacket or puffy. We don’t leave home without it.
Upgrade Your Tent Stakes | set of 8
The light stakes that came with your tent are OK, but you can do better. Good stakes make tent pitching faster and more secure. For pitching in rocky ground and other difficult areas, we prefer these inexpensive but bomber TNH ‘Y’ Tent-Stakes. They have only a single notch at the head making them extremely resistant to bending and damage when pounding in with a rock. They have a pre-attached cord to make them easier to pull out. The cord is reflective to keep you from tripping on them during the night. Finally, ‘Y’ stakes have greater holding power than most stakes so they’ll hold your tent more securely.
Note: You can get similar ‘Y’ stakes, MSR Ground Hogs at REI.
MSR Pocket Rocket 2 Stove
An upgrade to a classic and one of the popular backpacking stoves of all time, this little isobutane stove packs a punch. It can bring 1 L of water to a boil in 3.3 minutes and weighs in at 2.6 oz (75 g). It’s compact and comes with its own little carrying case and a piezo igniter. This would be a great match for TOAKS Titanium 900ml D115mm Pot as a super light (6.6 ounce!) 1 to 2 person cooking system.
TOAKS Titanium 900ml D115mm Pot
Our favorite pot is the incredibly light 900 ml TOAKS Titanium pot! And TOAKS pots cost less than the competition. It’s great that REI is now carrying the TOAKS Titanium 900ml D115mm Pot. This is the perfect size to boil water for 2 cups of coffee in the morning. Titanium is incredibly light and nearly indestructible. Unlike aluminum, it is completely non-reactive. The pot will fit standard 220-gram fuel canisters. If you need a little more volume, the 1350 ml pot is another good buy, tipping the scales at 5.2 oz and featuring the same lightweight, durable titanium design.
REI Ultralite Packtowel
$10 to $40
This face-sized packtowel is just right. It’s not too big so you never bother taking it with you. It makes for a great multi-purpose backpacking tool for wiping condensation off tent walls. It also works for drying face and hands or drying pots. Since these towels are easy to wring out, you could even use it to dry off after a quick dip in an alpine lake.
Outdoor Research Sun Runner Cap
$17 to $36
A hat that does everything well! The Outdoor Research Sun Runner Cap is convertible between a lightweight running hat and a more serious expedition hat by allowing a neck shade to be attached to the hat. The neck shade can block sun and protect from bugs. It comes in light colors to better deal with solar radiation, but other colors are available if you don’t like the bright white. This is one of the most functional hats I’ve ever put on my head. And it works great to control the brim on your rain jacket.
DeFeet Duragloves – These are our favorite gloves. Light, warm, grippy and durable enough to be worn all day, they also have good dexterity. We can operate our cameras with them. They can be worn by themselves or make great liner gloves for use with rain mitts or a warmer outer-glove/warm mitt. Best of all, their bright color makes them easier to find and you are far less likely to forget them by the side of the trail. For more dexterity: we also like Glacier Glove fingerless fleece for their exceptional dexterity at camp chores, like cooking breakfast in cold weather.
Windproof Fleece Fingerless Gloves
$10 to $15
These inexpensive gloves come with me on virtually every backpacking trip. I wear them around camp to stay warm while keeping dexterity for camp chores. These are lightweight, durable, and warm – everything you’d want from a glove!
Glacier Glove Ascension Bay Sun Glove
These are my all-day wear gloves. With 50+ UPF they keep the back of my hands burning at high altitudes in the summer. They provide great scrape and minor bump protection and prevent chafing and slippage on trekking pole grips. I wore them all the time while guiding in Alaska this summer where they also did a great job of protecting my hands bushwhacking. I also wore them guiding in Colorado to keep the 12,000 foot UV rays from scorching my hands without the need for chemical sunscreens.
Black Diamond Spot Lite 160 Headlamp
$27 $21 in the outlet store
This headlamp is the perfect blend of ultra-light while still providing a ton of light! It’s the ideal light for around camp to cook dinner or set up in the dark. If in a pinch and you need to do some night hiking, it puts out 160 lumens for 2 hours, and on medium 80 lumens for 14 hours. That’s enough to hike at night on-trail in an emergency. But it’s mild-mannered enough to use in camp at 6 lumens where it will last for 60 hours. We also like that it only takes two AAA batteries.
Black Diamond Spot 350 Headlamp
Need more power? Use the Black Diamond Spot 350 Headlamp if you need to seriously night hike — like all night! On high it puts out 350 lumens for 4 hours, on low for 200 hours and on reserve for 36 hours. — plenty enough to hike out at night in an emergency on challenging trails, or even off trail. It’s still mild mannered enough to use in camp at 4 lumens.
GripTight ONE GP Stand (tripod)
The Joby GripTight ONE GP Stand (tripod) for smartphones is likely the lightest phone stand option available weighing in at a bit over 2 oz. Its three-foot design ensures maximum stability. It has a mount that fits a range of smartphone widths and can tilt 360° in any direction. If you want an inexpensive, easy smartphone tripod solution, look no farther! Couple this with a bluetooth remote camera shutter for maximum flexibility.
Bluetooth Smartphone Camera Remote Shutter
Sometimes arm-length selfies just won’t do. When trying to take a picture with your phone far away, it’s a lot easier to use a remote shutter release than to set a timer and then run around like a crazy person trying to get in the frame on time. Set your phone up with a nice little tripod (above), position yourself properly, and hit the shutter when the time is right!
It’s also great for super sharp landscape photos, even in low light!
Tenacious Tape Repair Tape
This stuff will fix just about anything. It’s perfect for stopping up holes in your tent, patching a tear in a rain jacket, or even keeping a wool shirt from unraveling. Duct tape is nice, but doesn’t work nearly as well in the woods. This stuff will keep your gear going, try as you might to beat it up.
Rite in the Rain Notepads – 3-pack
Even if you’re not John Muir, it can be nice to keep a few trail notes. This paper won’t tear, won’t bleed, and won’t get soggy and rip in the rain. Write in the rain! This is perfectly paired with the Fisher Space Pen for all-purpose, all-weather writing.
Fisher Space Pen
$12 to $23
When you need to take notes, this pen will work. Even if it’s bitterly cold, or wet, or you’re upside down! It’s solidly built and features a retractable tip and replaceable ink cartridges. If you get lost and accidentally wander onto a rocket, this pen will even work in space!
Smartwool Merino 250 Beanie
$22 to $30
This beanie is just the thing if you aren’t into balaclavas. It keeps your noggin warm without overheating and has a nice cuff to keep your ears warm. Not too bulky, it fits as nicely under hoods and is comfortable to wear. And, of course, it’s made of incredibly warm, soft and natural merino wool, that will last for years!
Sawyer Squeeze Water Filtration System
The Sawyer Squeeze Water Filtration System with Sawyer Squeezable Pouches for water bottles is our go-to hydration system. With the Squeeze, you can just fill up the bladder and drink normally. Carrying heavy filters or waiting for chemical water treatments is more tiring, time consuming, and frustrating. Regular pumps are slow, heavy and prone to clogging. Its 0.1 micron filter removes all the nasties and yuckies that occur in water in North America. It saves weight by allowing you to carry less water and drink when you reach a stream. Finally, the Sawyer Squeeze has a lifetime warranty and almost unlimited capacity to treat water (assuming you back-flush when necessary).
Suunto M-3D Compass
Yup, as nice and handy as a GPS unit is, electronics are not infallible. As such, you still need to have paper, a map, and a compass. The Suunto M-3D Compass is our pick for a backcountry compass. This is a simple and durable compass with all the essential features including declination adjustment (which isn’t on most compasses). It doesn’t weigh much, but it could get you out of a pinch if you find yourself in a whiteout or are unsure of your bearings with a dead phone/GPS. A good compass is indispensable, and this one will last you a long time.
Jetboil Zip Stove System
The Jetboil Zip Stove System is the value stove in the most popular line of backpacking stoves. The top-of-the line model is $135, but the Jetboil Zip still has all that great JetBoil functionality. It’s an all-in-one stove, heat exchanger, pot combination. Jetboil Zip stove is a great option if you want hot water quickly in camp. It’ll get your morning coffee boiling fast! It’s 3-4 times faster than an alcohol stove system. There’s even a French Press option for the stove so you can have the perfect cup of java in the morning.
The Upgrade: If willing to spend a bit more, you can get our favorite Jetboil System, the Jetboil MiniMo Cooking System. The MiniMo has all the new improvements, including a regulator to provide consistent performance down to 20°F, better simmering, and a wider, easier to clean pot.
Hyperlite Mountain Gear Versa Fanny Pack
The Hyperlite Mountain Gear Versa Fanny Pack is a Jill-of-all-trades. Hyperlite Mountain Gear says the Versa Fanny Pack is for “Outdoor athletes who want a durable, weatherproof, flexible accessory pack for hiking, backpacking, packrafting, fishing, biking, trail running, travel, or errands around town.” We see the Versa as a great option to make key gear quickly accessible on the trail without having to take your pack off or fumble in awkward pack side pockets. We found it especially useful for storing all our photography and video gear while giving us nearly instantaneous access while providing rain and dust protection. It was equally useful to hold all our valuables – wallet, electronics, camera, phone, USB battery, and charging gear – in one place. And, of course, it makes a great catchall for the day’s trail food, maps, guide book, sunscreen, lip balm, Iphone, and anything else that you want to quickly grab while walking. Finally, it makes an excellent small fanny pack for minimal day hikes. See our review “Hyperlite Mountain Gear Versa Fanny Pack | First Look”
Marmot PreCip Pants
$100 now $69
Marmot PreCip Pants are a great value on an industry classic. These full-zip (separable) rain pants are fairly light (roughly 12 oz), and work well to keep you dry in downpours or keep you dry and warm in ugly shoulder-season hypothermia weather. The full zips make them easy to put on or take off without messing with your footwear. This makes them ideal for muddy or snowy conditions.
NOTE: These pants are seasonably stocked at REI.
Marmot PreCip Eco Rain Jacket M’s & W’s
$100 now $69
The Marmot PreCip is a lightweight classic in eco recycled nylon fabric. This is an inexpensive, lightweight waterproof, breathable jacket. It has pit zips to cool you off, handwarmer pockets to keep your hands toasty, and weighs in under a pound (13 oz Mens’s M, 11.4 oz Women’s M). There are Men’s, Women’s, and Children’s sizes.
NOTE: These jackets are seasonably stocked at REI.
Outdoor Research Helium II Rain Jacket
$110 to $159
At only 6.4 ounces, the Outdoor Research Helium II is a great value for an exceptionally light and functional rain jacket. Most in this weight range are $200 to $300+. While it weighs far less than most other rain jackets, it still has a good feature set — drawcord adjustable hood, elastic adjustable cuffs, a waterproof interior pocket, and a chest pocket that can stow the entire jacket.
Note: Outdoor Research Helium Rain Pants are equally light and a good value. Both have a trim fit so anyone looking to layer insulation under them should likely size up.
NOTE: These are seasonably stocked at REI so some sizes may be limited.
REI Co-Op Down Jacket
Every outdoors person needs a puffy jacket. At under $100, the REI Co-Op 650 Down Jacket is a great value. Down offers the best weight-to-warmth ratio you can get, and a puffy jacket is essentially a mandatory piece for both comfort and safety in the backcountry. If you don’t want to spend a lot of money, REI still has you covered. Their Co-Op Down Jacket weighs in at only 11 oz and has enough warmth for most 3-season purposes. It comes in Men’s, Women’s, and Children’s models. If you have an extra $20 to spend, we recommend the hooded version, because, well, hoods are great.
Or consider the warmer and more stylish “REI Co-op Magma 850 Down Jacket,” a competitor to the far more expensive Patagonia down jackets.
Feathered Friends Down Booties
Feathered Friends Down Booties are the industry standard. With waterproof removable shells, you can take these with you as camp shoes. You can then remove the shells keeping the warm down socks on to keep your toes warm all night! These are a toasty-toe delight that will help keep you comfortable deeper into the shoulder seasons and make winter camping much more manageable!
Peak Design Capture Camera Clip V3
The Peak Design Capture Camera Clip has transformed the way we take pictures in the backcountry. It clips onto your backpack strap so you can slide your camera into and out of the clip securely with just the press of a thumb. The Capture Clip is a necessary tool for those wanting to photograph their backcountry outings. Without it, your camera will likely be stowed away and you may miss the shot. With this gizmo, you’re ready at a moment’s notice (video of me using the clip).
Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite Sleeping Pad – Women’scurrently sold out – hopefully in stock soon
Sale $119 at REI (was
The best all-around sleeping pad! This is the “Women’s” version of the XLite, but it’s the right size for most backpackers. All the men we know use it. For tall men, as long as the end of the pad hits mid-calf, you should be fine. Alan’s 6’5″ hiking partner uses one!) Best of all, at 12 oz and with an R-value of 3.9, it’s warmer and lighter than the “Men’s” version. Super warm and super comfortable, we find it’s closer to a 3+ season pad and have happily used it to well below freezing! As such, we find that it works well even into the colder shoulder seasons of late fall and early spring.
The Ursack Major Bear Bag will keep bears out of your food. It weighs a fraction of a typical bear canister and costs about the same. This is the largest 15 L model which can easily fit 6+ days of food! There’s a smaller version too for shorter trips. It holds about 10.7 L and costs $70. These are easily the best bear protection available, but make sure it’s a sanctioned solution where you go as, sadly, not all parks have caught on yet.
Hyperlite Mountain Gear Pods
$50 to $60
Hyperlite Mountain Gear Pods sold out last year before the holiday sales! Use stackable Pods as a key organizational, space-saving, and weatherproofing tool. Pods fit perfectly into HMG (and likely other) packs leaving no volume unused. You can replace your unwieldy, football-shaped food bags and heavier stuff sacks. Ultralight Pods also allow you to organize your gear more efficiently, and the clamshell design makes it easy to find food quickly. Made of 100% waterproof Dyneema® Composite Fabric (formerly Cuben Fiber). With waterproof zippers, they help weatherproof your pack system.
Hyperlite Mountain Gear Stuff Sack Set
The Hyperlite Mountain Gear Stuff Sack Set is light and durable. These are great accessories for organizing and waterproofing gear inside your backpack. This is HMG’s Set #2 which contains one each of the small, medium, and large stuffsacks in the durable Dynema composite 11-weight material. HMG makes a number of other options as well in different sizes and weights. Keep organized. Stay dry.
Ex Officio Bugsaway Shirts M’s & W’s
$46 to $90
It seems that the risk for ticks/Lyme disease gets worse every year. But don’t let fear of Lyme or Zika keep you off the trail! These shirts repel both ticks and mosquitoes that can transmit the diseases.
Ex Officio Bugsaway Shirts have kept off the infamous Alaskan mosquitoes and protected me from sunburn in the high Sierra. The shirt is essentially none the worse for a year’s constant wear. There are a number of women’s Bugsaway shirts as well. Both shirts have ExOfficio’s Bugsaway shield, and have lightweight, wicking, quick-dry material. There are also other options. You can choose colors and weights that fit your particular style.
NOTE: These are seasonably stocked at REI.
Ex Officio Bugsaway Pants M’s & W’s
$40 to $85
It seems that the risk for for ticks/Lyme disease gets worse every year. But don’t let fear of Lyme or Zika keep you off the trail! These pants repel both ticks and mosquitoes that can transmit the diseases.
Ex Officio Bugsaway Pants. BugsAway technology provides a bug repellent that can stay with clothes up to 70 washes. As the climate warms, tick and mosquito seasons extend and spread farther north carrying disease. This means that more and more outdoors people are at risk for contracting Lyme, Zika, and other nasty, formerly tropical illnesses. The Permethrin coating provided in BugsAway clothing is a simple step you can take to help improve your resistance to these diseases.
NOTE: These are seasonably stocked at REI.
In a word: Superb. This is a beautiful and highly functional knife with a large 3.25″ blade up to any backcountry use. 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 lose and has a pleasingly ergonomic grip.
Be safe for a lot 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 is a one-way device so it can only send pre-set messages up to satellites. As such, it doesn’t let you create and send messages in the backcountry like the Garmin inReach Mini below, but it’s also half the cost.
More reading. See our Best Satellite Messengers – SOS Devices
Garmin inReach Mini 2-Way Satellite Communicator
The Upgrade, Garmin inReach Mini. | Not cheap, but the Garmin inReach Mini is what we take on every trip. Staying safe in the backcountry has never been so easy or so small and light! The Garmin inReach Mini 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 and connectivity that used to cost much more! New Mini is really small and light, 3.5 oz, versus 6.9 oz of the older inReach units. It’s so small it can easily fit in a pocket. In summary, the inReach is an indispensable backcountry safety and emergency communication tool for keeping loved ones updated and for receiving weather and other important updates from the front country.
More reading. See our Best Satellite Messengers – SOS Devices
Enlightened Equipment Torrid Apex Jacket
Equally at home on an alpine approach and a windswept lake, the Torrid APEX Jacket offers warmth, wind protection, and moisture resistance at an ultralight weight. Designed to keep you warm while keeping your pack light, the jacket starts at just 7.75 ounces (220g). Built using 2oz/yd² CLIMASHIELD™ APEX synthetic insulation, the Torrid maintains warmth and breathability even when damp.
The smooth ultralight nylon fabric has a durable water repellent finish for better performance in light precipitation. The elastic waistband and cuffs keep warmth in and cold out. The optional hood adjusts with a shock cord, and a grosgrain zipper garage at the chin increases comfort. Zippered pockets keep the essentials at hand. The Torrid APEX Jacket is slightly oversized to accommodate layers and has raglan sleeves for a full range of movement. For those who won’t let weather get in the way, the Torrid APEX Jacket is the perfect 3-season layer. Read our review here: Enlightened Equipment Torrid Apex Jacket Review
Enlightened Equipment Enigma 30
And similar Revelation Quilt with zippered footbox
See our Full review of the Enlightened Equipment Revelation Quilt
STAFF PICK: The Enlightened Enigma Quilts achieved the highest warmth to weight rating for Camping Quilts. As such, we consider this version of their quilt line to be the “gold standard” for camping quilts. In addition, the Enlightened Equipment quilts offer an optional draft color. The regular length version of these quilts (which we used for comparison) are 2 inches shorter than the Premium Burrow, however, for those who need greater length a “long, 78 inch” version is also available (1 inches shorter than the Premium Burrow long) and an about .67 ounces added weight. The Enlightened Equipment website also provides a very good sizing chart if you are in doubt about what is best.
SIMILAR MODEL: Also look at the very similar Enlightened Equipment Revelation Quilt. The major difference is that the Revelation has a zippered footbox which allow it to be opened out into a flat blanket in warmer weather that you might be able to squeeze two people under a wide version.
BEST FOR: Those looking for the highest performance 30F degree camping quilt. Highest warmth to weight rating!
Think of it as “fur for humans.” This is the warmest, comfiest base layer; 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. It 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 base layer!
REI Co-op Magma 850 Down Hoodie 2.0 is great value in a very warm ultralight jacket. 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 that can run $300 or higher. It offers easy movement and just-right warmth for backpacking, hiking, and travel. 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. [And, yes, there are a few lighter jackets out there, but you’ll pay a lot more $ to lose a few ounces.]
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. It 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. Of course, it has tips on how to properly select and use a better and lighter layering system!
A thru-hiker’s choice and the most popular pack on 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. Plus, it comes with REI’s return policy.
New for 2018 is a women’s version of the incredibly successful Osprey Exos, the most popular pack on the Appalachian Trail. The Ospry Eja Backpacks have women’s specific fit, like optimal sternum strap location for women, less bulky shoulder straps, and 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. It trims down well. The pack is burly and fits a bear canister. It’s a great all-around 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.
To our mind, this is the best Jetboil 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. 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!
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 bag 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.
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.
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, and are perfect for keeping you warm and dry through a deluge or in that dangerous shoulder-season hypothermia weather!
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 kid’s versions as well! Patagonia’s quality, warranty, and customer service are legendary, ensuring you’ll keep this jacket for a long, long time.
The Smartwool NTS Mid 250 Zip-T is a personal favorite.
- The original antimicrobial, non-stench fabric.
- It keeps you warm when it’s wet.
- Super fine Merino wool is soft and comfortable against the skin and doesn’t itch.
- Doesn’t feel as clammy as synthetics
Feathered Friends Helios Down Pants
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.
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.
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 foot 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.
Big Ticket Items $250 and Up
Equally valid as a purchase for that special someone in your life — or an indigence on yourself!
Staying in touch in the backcountry has never been so easy or so small and light! The Garmin inReach Mini 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! New Mini is really small and light, 3.5 oz, versus 6.9 oz of the older inReach units. And it’s so small it can easily fit in a pocket. The major downside of the Mini vs. older inReach units is shorter battery life. This can easily be solved by charging it in field with the ubiquitous USB battery that most of us carry with us anyway. In summary, 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.
A sweeet deal at far less than competitors bags! A perfect blend of warmth and reasonable cost from a trusted seller. This 2017 Backpacker Editors’ Choice will keep even cold sleepers warm but still not weigh a ton! Both Men’s and Women’s bags are stuffed with 850 fill power water-resistant goose down. The weight is not bad at a little over two pounds.
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. That’s 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.
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!
More Information | Read our top ranked Best Cameras for Backpacking and Hiking.
The Sony RX100 series has been essential without parallel. The Sony RX100 V 20.1 MP Point & Shoot Camera ($829 as writing) 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 (IV, III) are quite capable as well and are available for much less than this version. And there are newer versions, the Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-RX100 VI which boasts a ZEISS Vario-Sonnar T* f/2.8-4.5 Lens – 24-200mm (35mm Equivalent) for longer telephoto shots. And the Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-RX100 VI which sports a newly developed 1.0-type stacked 20.1 MP Exmor RS CMOS image sensor increased performance. So many great cameras to choose from!
Yup, you read that right. That IS a high price for a tent! So this may need to be for a very special person – or yourself. But at a scant 1.8 pounds the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Dirigo 2 Tent is a likely “strongest, lightest and most storm-worthy backpacking tent” on the market. We know of no other sub-2-pound tent that’s as strong, durable, storm-worthy, and as roomy as the Dirigo 2. Compared to most ultralight 2-person backpacking tents, the Dirigo 2 is about a pound or 30% lighter while providing 10 to 15% more floor area and a more generous 45″ peak height. But while it’s larger and lighter, it’s also stronger and more durable than most tents — up to serious wind-loading and storms. High tech Dyneema Composite Fabric (DCF) contributes to the Dirigo 2’s strength and weight. But expensive DCF and the techniques to work with it also contribute to the tent’s high cost. Read our review here: Hyperlite Mountain Gear Dirigo 2 Tent | First Look
The Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL3 Tent has no equal when it comes to volume-to-weight ratio among traditional tents. It’s seriously huge AND light. In fact, at 2.6 lbs, it’s lighter than all the rest of our favorite two-person traditional tents and it’s ~1/3 larger than them to boot. Somewhat mindbogglingly, the Tiger Wall UL3 is only seven ounces heavier than its 2-person counterpart Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL2 Tent (a great solo tent option). Why not go big? Complimenting the cavernous interiors are two doors and two regular-sized vestibules for plenty of access and gear storage. Keep in mind that while this tent is quite large for two campers, it’s a much tighter squeeze for three. A final note: Some weight savings comes from the need to stake out the two rear corners. As such, this is a semi-freestanding tent (vs. the fully freestanding Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL 2 Ultralight Tent) below. Not a big deal to our minds.
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.
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 tent. This fully free-standing tent 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.
At $100 less than the Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL 2 Ultralight Tent, REI’s long-time favorite Quarter Dome Tent is a legitimately great option for any backpacker seeking a premium, free-standing, lightweight tent that won’t break the bank. Weighing just over 3 lbs, the Quarter Dome remains comfortable with ample headroom and plenty of space for two backpackers. The increased room/livability from extremely vertical walls is what sets this tent apart from most of its peers in this price range. The bottom line is that this tent is an REI best-seller because it meets all the requirements of a lightweight backpacker for a very reasonable price. Bravo REI!
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 cinchable waist, this jacket can tighten down to keep all your precious heat in if things get cooler than expected. The jacket is light enough to take with you on any 3-season outing. There are Men’s and Women’s versions. As with all Feathered Friends’ goods, it’s made in Seattle, USA.
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. You know it’s warm! Feathered Friends is known for their high quality down and weight-conscious products.
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. 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, but there is a similar jacket – the Women’s Frost Line Parka.
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: the 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. It 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!
The best-selling TarpTent Double Rainbow is a great performer and one of the best ultralight values on the market. The TarpTent Double Rainbow is a hybrid in every sense of the word. Like its peers in the non-freestanding tent category, pitching this shelter does not require trekking poles. It needs only the aluminum arch frame and stakes. Should you choose to integrate trekking poles, it can easily be converted to fully freestanding! However, unlike other lightweight tents, freestanding or semi-freestanding, the single-walled construction clearly differentiates it as a tarp shelter. For its weight and volume, the Double Rainbow shares similar stats to the lightweight tents, but its cost is more reminiscent of a budget tent and it is more durable. So what to make of this shelter? A surprisingly great all-around option! It’s lighter than average, roomier than average, cheaper than average, and better than average ease of setup. While it’s not a winner in any one category, it is a Jack-of-all-trades that every backpacker should seriously consider.
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