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
Big Ticket Items $250 and Up
Equally valid as a purchase for that special someone in your life — or an indigence on yourself!
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 its’ ~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), so why not go big? Complimenting the cavernous interior 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 is semi-freestanding tent (vs. the fully freestanding Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL 2 Ultralight Tent) below. Not a big deal to our minds.
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 head room, 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!
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 vs. 6.9 oz of the 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 charing it in field with the ubiquitous USB battery that most of us carry with us anyway. In summary, the 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.
Looking for a budget version?
A sweeet deal at far less than competitors bags! This 2017 Backpacker Editors’ Choice will keep even cold sleepers warm but still not weigh a ton! This Women’s specific bag is rated to 17 °F and stuffed with 850 fill power water-resistant goose down. The weight is not bad at a little over two pounds. The Men’s version is essentially the same bag but rated 10 °F because Men sleep a bit warmer. This puts it solidly into 3+ or even 4-season capability.
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.
For a conventional backpacking sleeping bag 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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!
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).
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!
The best-selling TarpTent Double Rainbow is a great peformner and one of the best ultralight values on the market. The TarpeTent 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; only the aluminum arch frame and stakes. But 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.
Be sure to check out the other Price Categories Guides as well…
Price Categories — Gift Guide for Hikers and Backpackers
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