The truth is backpacker’s are typically more about quality time than gifts. They often enjoy the simple things in life and aren’t necessarily seen as high maintenance–until it comes to their gear. As a friend or loved one it seems difficult to find gifts that you KNOW your backpacker/hiker enthusiast will enjoy and find useful. I have created a list of items that myself and other backpackers have voiced they would enjoy and appreciate.
Why is the word “useful” stressed?
Because hikers only want to carry what they really need. If you had to carry your shelter, food, water, clothes, etc. on your back, you might be selective, too! The aim isn’t to make us sound unappreciative or ungrateful, but you might be surprised how many people want to give away trinkets to “help” when a hiker announces he or she will be setting out on a backpacking adventure. Let’s be honest, you don’t want to waste your money and they don’t want to tote around unwanted gear to keep from hurting your feelings or leave it at home collecting dust.
Why the $50 limit?
Backpacking gear is very personal, if you will, and generally requires a decent amount of research during the selection process. Most items exceeding $50 will likely be items the backpacker wants to choose based on their personal preferences and needs. If you would like to purchase one of these larger and more important items, you should first consult the person you will be gifting. Gift cards are helpful for these larger items, too. If you just can’t resist and insist on purchasing a higher priced item, make sure the backpacker can swap/return the gear with a gift receipt. **Keep in mind, REI allows returns up to a year! 🙂
Below is the list I have created with the help of my fellow backpackers. The items are in no significant order regarding preference or price.
- Backpacking Meals – ALL hikers love to talk about food. I think that was the number one topic on days I knew I was heading to town for resupply. Unfortunately, on-trail food must have a decent shelf-life so variety is limited. Typically, we forest dwellers don’t splurge on fancy meals too often and instead settle for Ramen or Knorr Pasta/Rice Sides. So, to receive a few of these high end meals is like a piece of heaven in a foil packet. I ate Mountain House and Backpacker’s Pantry Meals, but I’ve also heard wonderful things about: www.sporkables.com
- Darn Tough Socks – I used to wear Smartwool socks and I still love them, but after using Darn Tough socks during my AT thru-hike I fell in love with their LIFETIME GUARANTEE. They basically dare you to wear them out. I can confirm they stand by this challenge as they replaced a hole in mine that was created by a hungry mouse. From a backpacker’s stance, one can never have too many wool socks! This brand is available for men and women in many different colors, lengths and thicknesses.
- Portable Battery Charger – Some folks go to the trail to escape the noise, but many still occasionally enjoy listening to music, podcasts, etc. while hiking. I took tons of pics and blogged, too. If your hiker/backpacker seems to enjoy the uses of modern technology, then a backup battery charger is probably on their ‘want’ list. The most popular brand I saw on the AT was the Anker charger. I used a Sound Logic charger with 5200 mAh and it provided me two and a half charges on my iPhone 6. Make sure to balance between weight and juice. Sure with a 1lb backup charger, nobody would have to stress over dead electronics, but does anyone really need that kind of weight in their pack? NO.
- Headlamp – You won’t catch a hiker on an overnight trip without at least one headlamp. Even if your hiker/backpacker already has a headlamp, they likely won’t be disappointed by back-up or and upgrade. The most essential features for a headlamp will be:
- Brightness. A bright headlamp is always appreciated–the brighter the better.
- Red Beam. Having the red beam option isn’t just for telling scary stories by a fire. It actually keeps hikers from making enemies by spotlighting their fellow outdoors men. The red beam is more gentle to the eye and is nice to have while reading books in a shelter at bedtime as to not distract those who are trying to sleep.
- Waterproof/Water Resistant. Although the headlamp I used to hike the AT wasn’t resistant to water, it’s definitely a good idea!
- Small Journal – Most of us free spirits like to journal to some extent. One person may just jot down thoughts or quotes while I go into novel format. Either way, a small journal is a thoughtful gift. To make it more personal and meaningful, you could write a sweet note or inspirational quote on the first page. Keep in mind, they make waterproof pages, also!
- Collapsible Solar Light/Luci Light – Although I don’t generally recommend solar panel backup chargers in areas that are wooded, the Luci Light doesn’t require a ton of input to provide light output. The Luci Lights are lightweight and useful for seeing to cook dinner, read in your tent, walk to the privy/nearest bush, etc. Also, using one of these can help you save the batteries in your headlamp.
- Buff – While hiking chances are at some point your hair will get in your face, sweat will run down into your eyes, etc. A buff is essentially a band of material that is extremely versatile. It can be worn to keep the neck warm or around the mouth/nose on a dusty day. I saw men and women using these on the AT.
- Bandanas – At any given time during my thru-hike, I had at least 2-3 bandanas. They can be used for blowing noses, bathing, washing cookware, drying the damp floor of a tent, or can even be used as a headband. The possibilities are endless! To make this gift more special or tailored to the recipient, try finding a pattern that suits them.
- Fuel – This one can be a little tricky because it will require you to know what type of stove your backpacker friend uses. Chances are it’s either going to be a fuel canister or denatured alcohol stove. If you are able to figure it out, this would be a wonderful gift! I hated having to buy new fuel–kind of like I hate buying gas for my truck but love going places. These fuel cans and bottles of denatured alcohol can be found at your local outdoors store (or Walmart, if you must).
- Titanium Spork – Plastic sporks will break and leave you drinking your dinner instead of spooning it into your mouth. Titanium will never leave you hanging like that. It’s lightweight and durable!
- Portable Speaker – Some people like to listen to music while hiking. I especially found this comforting through bear country. The music informs bears that humans are nearby and prevents you from spooking them. Also, playing your tunes out loud allows you to be more aware of your surroundings than if you were to wear earbuds. While I certainly don’t advocate blaring music around other random hikers, I listened to podcasts and music with several people who carried these portable speakers on the Appalachian Trail.
- Hand Sanitizer – I used hand sanitizer multiple times a day and having it easily accessible makes life SO much easier.
- Dry Sacks/Bags – While I personally only used one dry bag for my food, others also tend to use them to protect electronics and other gear. Dry bags come in all shapes and sizes.
- Water Treatment – There are several water treatment options available in the backpacking world today, the two most common being chemical drops and filtration. If you know which your hiker prefers, this could be a wonderful gift! After all, nothing says “I love you” more than preventing someone from having diarrhea in the woods.
- Mini Carabiners – I loved having a few small and lightweight carabiners. I used them to hang my camp shoes on my pack (or my trail runners while I was in town), but they really can be used in so many ways. Avoid buying the big, heavy ones unless you know the hiker will put them to use. My favorite minis come from: www.zpacks.com/accessories/carabiner.shtml
- iPod Shuffle (2GB) – To conserve phone battery for those who love to jam out in their “hiking zone” consider getting them this lightweight iPod.
- AT Guidebook – The AT Guidebook is hands down the BEST guide available for the AT. If you want elevation profile maps, shuttle service information, water source listings, shelter locations, town/hostel/lodging info, etc. then this is the book you need. www.theatguide.com
- Body Glide – If your hiker buddy is prone to blisters or chaffing, Body Glide will come to the rescue! It helps coat the skin with a protective layer while soothing and reducing friction on the skin.
- Pepper Spray – Never hurts to have a little personal protection in the woods and while hitchhiking.
- Take A Thru-Hike: Dixie’s How-To for Hiking the Appalachian Trail (e-book) – Last but not least, if you or a loved one is considering hiking the Appalachian Trail in sections or by thru-hiking, then you should definitely check out my e-book. Not only do I provide my gear list, financial break down, and answers to FAQ about the trail, but I also provide some insight to what life on the trail is like. If you didn’t know, there is a “give as a gift” option on Amazon and all you have to have is the recipient’s email address!
I hope some of these ideas were helpful and if you have any to add, please feel free to share them in the comments.