The Best Holiday Gift Ideas for Thru-Hikers

Hiking TIps

What to Get the Backpacker in Your Life

Are you looking for the best great gift ideas for thru-hikers? When I started getting my gear together to thru-hike next year, I knew my friends and family would be eager to help out. Rather than leaving things to chance and hoping that their gift choices would be things I actually need, I started keeping a wish list to share.

I’m a “gear geek,” I love to research options for gear, see what’s new, and try out different items to see what works best for me. Over the past several months, when I came across items I thought would make good gifts, I added them to the list.

Here’s my breakdown of the best holiday gift ideas for hikers:

  • A guidebook for the Appalachian Trail. Popular choices include:
    • The Appalachian Trail Thru-Hikers Companion – print version is $14.95, available from the Appalachian Trail Conservancy –
    • The A.T. Guide, popularly known as “The AWOL Guide” is available for Kindle ($3.99), in PDF ($8.99) and in print (4.15.95) –
    • The Guthook app for iPhone or Android. (Give a $60 Gift Card to buy the app)
  • Titanium Cookpot – There are many lightweight options for pans ranging from 750-900ml, good sizes for solo backpackers. Snow Peak, Keith and Toaks are solid brands to consider.
  • Wristwatch with GPS and an Altimeter. Some “ABC” models feature an Altimeter, Barometer and Compass. The VivoActive HR with GPS by Garmin is a good choice, especially for those with small wrists. (Note – it’s not the VivoSmart)
  • Trekking poles – Popular brands like Black Diamond and Leki can be pricy, but Amazon has some affordable options that are highly rated. Mine are Cascade Mountain Tech 100% Carbon Fiber Trekking Poles, about $45.
  • Sawyer Squeeze – Just about the easiest filter to use on the trail, the Sawyer Squeeze (not the “Mini”) is perfect for a hiker who needs wants to filter water quickly on the trial. Optional attachments are available to convert it to a inline system (attached to a water bladder), for filling a water bladder without removing it from the pack, and to use it as a gravity system. $39.99
  • Inflatable Pillow – Give the gift of a good night’s sleep with the $30 Cocoon Hyperlight Air-Core Pillow. It weighs just 2.4 ounces and feels like a “real” pillow. I prefer this to the Klymit X pillow, which is also popular but not nearly as soft.
  • Trail Runners or Hiking Boots – Don’t guess here. Find out what their favorite brand and model is, and pick up an extra pair to have on hand when the originals wear out.
  • Anker backup charger – These may seem heavy, but they’re reliable and worth the extra weight when keeping electronics charged is important. I chose the PowerCore Speed 10000, which runs about $35. Some people like more power. They’ll appreciate the Anker PowerCore 20100 with two USB ports.
  • Cash – I can’t forget the almighty dollar (or it’s companion, the ubiquitous gift card). Money always comes in handy in town for resupply, restaurants, lodging or extra gear

Have a bigger budget? Try these ideas…

  • Tent– I’m drooling over the Big Agnes Cooper Spur HV UL 2 person tent, one of the most popular models on the trail. At $449, it’s a splurge. Other top rated tents include the Big Agnes Fly Creek ($398), the Nemo Hornet ($370) and the custom Zpacks Duplex ($599).
  • Puffy Down Jacket – the Mountain Hardware Ghost Whisperer is the pinnacle of puffy jackets. It’s retail price tops out about $340 with a hood, but bargains can be found. Past season colors may go for as little as $100.
  • Rain gear – A good poncho, jacket, rain pants or even a kilt keeps hikers warm and dry. I wear a Marmot Precip jacket that lists for $100, but it’s often on sale. My quarter-zip rain pants from North Face were about $50. Some hikers swear by ZPacks rain gear. Their Zpacks™ Vertice Rain Jacket is $299, and a kilt is just $59 (and only 1.9 ounces!)
  • Sleeping pad – there are as many sleeping pads on the market as there are ways to sleep (maybe more). I suggest checking to see what’s on the recipient’s wish list. Inflatable pads start around $60 and go up from there. I use a Klymit Static V Lite insulated pad. It’s a little on the heavy side at 19 oz, but it works well for side and stomach sleepers. There are lighter options like the Therm-a-Rest ProLite Plus. It’s self-inflating, weighs about 1 lb and retails between $90-120, depending on the version you choose.

Gift Under $25:

  1. Windscreen – sure, heavy-duty aluminum foil will do, but a study titanium windscreen can make like a little easier when a tired hiker rolls into camp. You can find these on eBay, Etsy and Amazon with a simple search.
  2. StickPic for capturing photos and video on the trail. The StickPic attaches to a trekking pole, converting it to a selfie stick. You’ll want to know what kind of trekking poles your hiker uses to be sure you get the right fit.
  3. Deuce of Spades trowel – This is made of titanium in lots of fun colors. It retails for just $19.99 and can vastly improve the art of digging a cat hole. “Leave No Trace.”
  4. Pack cover – This simple thing will help keep a backpack dry and it provides a nice place to unload gear at the end of the day without getting it dirty. It can be used as sit pad, too. Pack covers run $8-20 depending on size and brand.
  5. Therma-Rest Z-Seat – for a padded seat, get the $15 accordion-style Z-Seat. It weighs nearly nothing and comes in handy for sitting on wet logs or rocks, and as a welcome mat outside your tent.
  6. Buff Headband – the ultra-versatile Buff is more than a headband. It can double as a neck gaiter, a pillowcase, and hat/beanie or even a potholder. Most hikers are happy to have at least one Buff. They come in a wide variety of colors and designs, so if you’re really stuck on what to buy, this is a sure bet.
  7. CNOC bags Vecto water containers are a new design that helps scoop slow-flowing water from shallow sources. The wide opening closes securely, and the threaded opening fit a Sawyer for quick and convenient filtering. They’re soft and easy to pack.

10 Awesome (and Practical) Stocking Stuffers:

  1. Water purification tablets – A few Micropur or Aquamira tablets can save the day when a water source looks bad or a filter is malfunctioning. Some work a lot faster than others, so check the time and aim for tablets at work in 30 minutes instead of 4 hours. (Your thirsty hiker will thank you!)
  2. Energy chews – Bottles of Gatorade are too heavy to tote on the trail, but Gatorade energy chews can be a lifesaver. These look like gummy candies and there are several brands and flavors to choose from ($2-4). Electrolyte tablets that dissolve in water, like those made by Nuun, are an alternative to chews. ($6)
  3. Titanium Spork – or a spoon. These come in colors or utilitarian gray. Choose a polish bowl or unpolished, folding, straight or long-handled (ideal for eating re-hydrated meals). These cost $10-12 each and are a significant upgrade from the Dairy Queen spoon many hikers carry. Try Amazon or REI.
  4. Emergency blanket – Cheap and light, every hiker should carry one for emergencies, unexpected cold snaps or when gear gets wet and temps are dropping. They’re disposable, and $3 isn’t much for an essential safety item. Available at Walmart, Amazon and most any sporting goods store or outfitter.
  5. Hot Hands hand warmers – A bit if a luxury for a thru-hiker, someone starting early might enjoy a few of these on cold nights. A value pack of 10 sells for $5 at Walmart, or you can pick up one or two for about $1 apiece.
  6. Fuel canister – it’s nice to have an extra on hand (if they use a canister stove)
  7. Trail Meals – Try something different like a gourmet trail meal from Good To-Go, made in Maine. (I can’t wait to try the Thai Curry). Or go with an old favorite from Mountain House meals. (Beef Stroganoff and Chili Mac are “yum!”)
  8. Ironwire Dyneema cord – lighter and stronger that standard parachute cord (and 10x stronger than steel), this is the ideal rope to hang a bear bag. Mine came from Lawson Outdoor Equipment. $10 for 50 feet.
  9. Wool Socks – Top brands include DarnTough, Smart Wool, and Farm to Feet. I love them all. They’re not too hot, they dry quickly when you wash them on the trail and they last. As a bonus, throw in a pair of Injinji sock liners. (Yes, they have toes.) They look weird but do an amazing job of warding off blisters. Prices range from $12-25.
  10. BIC mini lighters – Lighters get lost and wear out, so a few extras are nice to have. A three-pack of the minis costs about $5. If lighters aren’t your style, try an emergency fire starter or waterproof matches instead. (Personally, I like the fire starter because it’s durable, reliable and doesn’t need to be replenished.)
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