We’re coming up on the end of the year which means two things, it’s almost time for the results of the thru-hiker surveys and it’s time to start upgrading your backpacking gear for next year’s “go outside and walk places” season (if you’re interested, here’s my latest backpacking gear list).
Maybe you completed a thru-hike this year and are looking to reward your hard work, maybe you didn’t complete a thru-hike this year and are looking to better prepare yourself for next year, maybe you’ve got a new “outdoorsy” friend or romantic partner are looking to get something that says, “Look! I know about outdoor things and am worthy of your love and attention.” There’s no limit to the number of excuses we can invent for trading our hard-earned monetary units for goods and services.
Here’s the 2019 Thru-hiker Gift Guide for you, your trail family (or “tramily” – am I the only one who hates this word?), or that weird hiker friend of yours who you want to show some appreciation for despite not understanding their strange life choices.
Awesome, but inexpensive (Under $25)
If you come across any gift guide that doesn’t include Darn Tough socks, turn and run. I’ve yet to come across a better pair of socks for not only thru-hiking but also just life in general. Darn Tough socks are incredibly comfortable, made with merino wool, and come with an unbelievable lifetime warranty. They’ve also recently updated their styles, so even if you’ve already got some, now’s probably a good time to get more.
I resisted getting on the Buff train for quite some time, but now that I’m on it, it’s full steam ahead. Buffs are simple but adaptable pieces of gear that come in a wide range of styles (from the polar to UV variety) and can do from replacing your beanie to protect your precious face and neck from insects. They’re lightweight, come in dozens (hundreds?) of different prints, and are incredibly versatile. There are even Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, and Continental Divide Trail-specific buffs if you’re really into a particular trail.
I’ve gone back and forth carrying a knife on the trail, but after discovering Opinel Knives, I’m a firm believer in carrying a knife – even on a thru-hike. Opinel knives are sharp, easy to use, excellent at cutting cheese, and are made in France (in case you’re into that). I can even use it to open a corked bottle of wine (though there’s also a larger corkscrew version). I use a No. 6 knife but there is also a No. 8 and a No. 10 if you’re looking for something a bit larger (i.e. better for fending off wild animals).
Things are going to go wrong on a thru-hike. A lot of these wrong-going things are going to have to do with gear. Maybe a mouse gets into your shelter and chews on your sleeping bag, maybe you rip your puffy on a tree branch, maybe you slice open a stuff sack while cutting cheese on top of it. Sure, you could use duct tape for your repairs, but you can also use Noso Patches. They come in a variety of colors, designs, and sizes making you almost wish that something would go wrong so that you could have a reason to liven up your gear with them.
Most thru-hikers would consider massage balls a luxury item, but Rawlogy Cork Massage Balls are designed with this in mind and weigh just 1.4 oz / 40 g each. Not light enough? There are also mini balls available that weight just 0.7 oz / 20 g each. They were one of the top luxury items mentioned by thru-hikers on this year’s thru-hiker survey (which will be out early next month). They’re great for rolling out at the end of a long day of hiking – the closest thing to a massage you’ll find on the trail.
One of the worst things you’ll encounter out in nature? Blood-sucking insects. They spread disease, make you itch, and are generally just the worst ever. The solution for a long time was DEET; the problem being that DEET smells awful, melts plastics, and is toxic. Now, there’s a new solution – Picaridin. It’s odorless, non-toxic, and comes in both spray and lotion varieties. I’ve used it extensively in the backcountry and am pleased with the results. It’s still relatively new so a lot of people have yet to experiment with it which makes it a great gift.
For A Good Friend (Under $100)
I’ve been saying it for years now, but fanny packs (or bum bags for my friends across the pond) are awesome – especially for backpacking. The Thrupack Summit Bum lets you hike all day with easy access to everything you’ll need, most importantly snacks. It’s the perfect thru-hiking (or even regular hiking) accessory. If you really like your friend (or you’re treating yourself), I would suggest a Thrupack Comfy Strap as well. They are both comfy and sexy – the perfect combination. For a detailed review of the Summit Bum, check out this post.
I’ve gone through a lot of headlamps and my current favorite is the BioLite HeadLamp 330. It’s 330 Lumens, weighs just 2.43 oz / 69 g, has a red light (you would be surprised how many headlamps don’t), and (most importantly) is available in four colors. It’s USB-rechargeable which is why I resisted switching to it for a while, but I’m happy I did.
A favorite luxury item of thru-hikers? An inflatable pillow. Specifically, the Sea to Summit Aeros Premium Pillow. It comes in three sizes – the smallest of which weighs 2.7 oz / 77 g. If that’s too heavy, there’s a lighter version available that comes in at 2.1 oz / 60 g. I usually use my down jacket stuffed into a stuff sack as a pillow, but I might have to convert to something more comfortable – sleeping through the night is a struggle for me in the backcountry.
If you’ve never had to wash a down sleeping bag, consider yourself lucky. It’s truly a pain in the ass. That’s why I use a liner with my sleeping bag – it both adds warmth and prevents your bag against your disgusting hiking body. The Western Mountaineering Tioga Silk Sleeping Bag Liner is my current go-to and has served me well for countless nights on the trail. It also makes a great travel liner for when you’re staying in a dirty hostel or at a friend’s house on their couch that should probably be burned in a dumpster.
During the course of a thru-hike, there’s a good chance hikers will have to contend with snow at some point. Crampons are not typically required (or recommended) for these sections, but some kind of traction device is. Enter the Kahtoola MICROspikes (or just microspikes, if you’re in the know). These simple and (relatively) lightweight spikes fit over any shoe or boot to give added traction on snow and ice. I’ve used them for years and have no complaints.
For Your Best Friend ($100+)
The Garmin inReach Mini 2-Way Satellite Communicator is by far the most popular (and my preferred) personal locator device and tracker available right now. It is a much better option than a SPOT device and weighs just 3.5 oz / 99 g. It requires a subscription, and there are a number of different tiers you can select from. In addition to SOS and tracking features, it also has two-way texting available as well. I found it to be quite reliable on the trail and especially like the tracking features.
The Hyperlite Mountain Gear Southwest was the pack I used on the Continental Divide Trail and it has become one of the most popular packs for thru-hiking on the market. These packs come in three different capacities, two different colors, and three different styles (the Southwest, Windrider, and the Northrim). These packs are, lightweight, robust, waterproof, and made with thru-hikers in mind. I’ve also had nothing but great interactions with Hyperlite Mountains Gear’s customer service.
Western Mountaineering offers some of the best-performing and highest-rated sleeping bags around. The Western Mountaineering UltraLite is a 20°F/-6.6°C bag that’s perfect for thru-hiking. I used one on the Pacific Crest Trail this year and had no problem sleeping high in the Sierra without a shelter. If you want more warmth, there’s the 10°F/-12°C Versalite also available from Western Mountaineering. This would be a truly epic gift.
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