My family thinks it’s hard to buy me gifts because all I care about is being in the woods. Mom says, “What do you get the backpacker who carries everything on her back and thinks mac-n-cheese is a good meal?” I really can’t blame her for feeling that way considering I’ve lived over a total of 12-months in the wilderness. I figure there are other families in the same boat as mine, so I have compiled a list of useful items most hikers and backpackers would likely appreciate. If you are reading this and you are a hiker, this might be a good list to share with your family.
Why $50 or less?
The reason I chose items that are $50 or less is because breaking that price threshold generally gives entry into rather personal backpacking gear. Packs, shelter systems, etc. are items that should be fitted for and chosen by the person who is going to be using and carrying them. Items under or around $50 tend to be more universal.
Without further delay, here is my list (you can click on any of the images and they will link you to the product):
It’s no secret that hikers LOVE food. Sure, we are capable of resupplying our food in towns, but having pre-packaged, freeze-dried meals is pretty magical. Most of these meals require adding boiling water to the package so you don’t even have to dirty your food pot! They can be pricey for a thru-hiking budget (Ramen is just so cheap…), so they are well received in the form of a gift and usually cost about $4-$12 each. Here are a few good examples:
Mountain House and Backpacker’s Pantry are the two most well-known backpacking meal brands on trail. They both make breakfast, dinner and desert packets, too!
Some of the other delicious meals I’ve tried are made by Paleo Meals To Go and Harmony House. Paleo meals has a lot of good options for people who avoid gluten. Harmony House meals are tasty, but I generally had to add them to a packet of ramen or mashed potatoes for it to be filling enough.
BACK-UP BATTERY CHARGERS
Anyone who is going to be on the trail for a several day section hike or a thru-hike is going to need some back-up battery power, especially if they intend to take pictures or videos on their phone. I highly recommend the Anker brand chargers that come in various sizes. The 10,000 mAh charger (6.4oz, $25) lasted me about 3 days and the 20,100 mAh charger (12.6oz, $40) got me through about 5 days. As you can see below, the smaller charger has one USB port and the larger has two.
I don’t think a hiker can own too many pairs of wool socks. Wool helps reduce odors and maintains insulating properties even when wet. Since I’ve started backpacking, I haven’t owned many pair of socks that aren’t wool or some sort of synthetic material–cotton hasn’t seen my sock drawer for years! I love having thick wool socks for sleeping on trail, crew-length wool socks for hiking in colder weather, and ankle wool socks in the warmer months. My favorite brand in the wool sock world is Darn Tough because of their lifetime guarantee, but Smartwool does make good socks, as well. Good wool socks will cost about $12-25.
When my feet are going to be wet for extended periods of time, I like to use injinji socks to help prevent blisters. These generally cost $12-15.
Unless someone finds diarrhea in the woods an enjoyable experience, it’s good practice to treat one’s water. My go to water filter is the Sawyer Squeeze. It’s a pretty versatile filter as it can be converted to a gravity filter, connected directly to a smart water bottle or used as a squeeze filter with the included pouches.
The Sawyer mini is a bit lighter and cheaper, but the flow rate is less as well. It’s still a good filter, though, and works well when used as an inline filter for a hydration system (dirty water in a bladder and the filter hooked through the hydration tube).
Another option for water treatment is Aqua Mira. Instead of a filtration method, it’s a chemical treatment. It’s lighter than carrying the filter, but you can’t immediately drink the treated water and it doesn’t remove sediment. Still better than diarrhea, though!
Some people take plastic spoons with them on the trail, but quickly learn that they will break and leave you eating your food like a dog. I think most experienced hikers will agree, you just can’t beat a titanium spork or spoon. I’m pretty attached to my spork because we’ve been through a lot of miles together and it has a bottle opener), but I’ve noticed the trend moving towards the long-handled spoons. It makes sense because if you happen to be eating out of one of the pre-packaged meal pouches, it really helps with reaching all the food at the bottom. You can have one for $8-13.
While hiking in the desert on the PCT, I couldn’t have imagined life without my reflective umbrella. It was instant shade whenever I needed to escape the sun! It allowed me to hike in a sports bra instead of a long sleeve top to allow air flow without getting burnt to a crisp. Also, I drank less water because I was more shaded, which kept me from carrying excessive amounts of water weight. Although I never used my umbrella in the pacific northwest, I heard they work wonderfully in the rain as well. Cost varies from $30-50.
If your hiking loved one enjoys taking pictures or videos (especially sunrise/sunset time lapses), you might consider getting them a small tripod to take along during their adventures. I found this particular Joby Gorillapod tripod to be very versatile and flexible. This model ($45) weighs 8 ounces, but they do have smaller, lighter options.
To pair with the tripod, I recommend the smart phone attachment ($20)..
A food bag is literally what it sounds like–a bag that hikers keep their food in. Not only does the bag contain food, but it can be hung up in a tree at night to keep bears from getting into the goodies. Any stuff sack will do as a food bag, but I would suggest the bag have a capacity of at least 14L. Sea To Summit makes decent stuff sacks in all sorts of sizes that can be used for electronics, sleeping bags and food (~$20, depending on size).
On the PCT, I used the Bear Bagging Kit from Zpacks which includes a 14L cuben fiber bag, z-line cord, rock sack and carabiner. This is the most lightweight bear bag system I’ve seen on the market weighing in at only 3.4 ounces ($50).
I can’t think of a hiker I have ever known that didn’t carry a headlamp. They make all sorts, but the main feature I would check for is a red beam light. The red beam helps to not disturb other hikers if sleeping in a shelter and is a softer light for when journaling or spending time in a tent. I used a Coast brand headlamp ($36) for the Appalachian Trail and a Black Diamond brand headlamp ($50) for the Pacific Crest Trail.
Although I haven’t used it myself, they do have extremely lightweight headlamp options that still offer the red beam. A couple of my friends on the PCT used the Firefly headlamp below ($23) and said that other than it being a little dim for night hiking, they really liked it.
Who says that hiking and backpacking are only for the warmer months? Getting outside is refreshing even when there is snow and ice on the trail. Having microspikes can be a time saver, and life saver in some situations. During the “snowpocalypse” of 2017 in the Sierra Nevada, I made it through using microspikes even though many said I should use crampons. Microspikes are lighter, cheaper and easier to take on and off. Also, you can walk on rocky transitional areas and not worry about destroying your spikes ($45).
Gaiters ($25) are useful for keeping debris and dirt out of footwear by covering the ankle and attaching to the shoe. They are lightweight and washable. The most common pairs I have seen are Outdoor Research and Dirty Girl Gaiters. If you’d like a more custom pattern to fit the personality of your hiker, Dirty Girl gaiters has a pretty wide selection of patterns.
Rain gear can be fairly pricey; however, Frogg Toggs offers a lightweight rain suit for about $25. Although it isn’t the most durable suit, I only used two sets of them during my AT thru-hike. As long as it’s being worn on a well-maintained trail there shouldn’t be any major issues. Rain gear is good for rain (obviously), blocking wind and an extra layer of warmth if needed.
After the Appalachian Trail, I did upgrade my rain gear (but I would still recommend Frogg Toggs if you’re on a budget). I swapped to Antigravity Gear and I love it! The rain pants are currently on sale for $50.
Nothing boosts the spirits like a hot meal after a long day of hiking! I’ve gone without a stove on trail for a few weeks and I don’t think I’ll ever willingly make that choice again. I currently use the MSR Pocket Rocket ($45), but I’m thinking about giving the more lightweight BRS Stove ($17) a test run next year on the CDT.
You can help make bathroom duties a little less of a pain in the rear with this feather light trowel called the “Deuce of Spades” that weighs less than an ounce ($20)!
Never hurts to have a back-up pair of ear buds–I don’t think I’ll ever have one pair of earbuds survive a complete thru-hike. It’s especially hard to replace ear buds for the new iPhones because not many convenience stores sell the lightning cable ear buds ($15).
Music is more fun when shared! I’ve night hiked with a group while jamming out to tunes and it definitely helps with motivation. Of course, you shouldn’t make everyone around you listen to your music unwillingly, but in the right setting it is nice to be able to play music out loud. A lightweight, long-lasting, and waterproof speaker is what should be sought ($20).
A bandana can be used in about 100 different ways (just ask Google). I always use a bandana while cooking and cleaning. I love that bandanas are so versatile and have many patterns to fit any personality ($8-20).
Buffs are often used to cover/keep hair back, as a neck warmer, to shield the face from wind and sand, etc. Another very versatile item ($18).
I know, I know. Gift cards aren’t personal enough, right? Well, they can be! If you are purchasing a gift card for a thru-hiker, you can choose a gift card from most of the chain restaurants and grocery stores to help your hiker resupply and get food while in town. A gift card to a gear store like REI is always appreciated, too!
If you know anyone preparing to hike the Appalachian Trail, then you should check out my ebook! You can order it and send it to them as a gift to help cover their bases while doing research. It took me hours to comb through articles and videos to answer questions I had about resupplying, gear, finances, etc. I’ve taken all of that information, added my own personal experience and put it all in one book! It’s only $5.99.
This blog post is in video form on YouTube at:
I hope that you’ve found this list helpful! If y’all have any gift ideas for $50 or less, please feel free to comment below–I’d love to hear your thoughts. Also, during this holiday season remember that if you like the work I’m doing you can help support me at no additional cost to you by doing your Amazon shopping through my affiliate link at: DixieAZ.com