Our 2014 Backpackers Gift Guide

Looking for the perfect gift for the backpacker in your life?  Look no further.

The following list includes many of our favorite pieces of gear across several categories.  Submissions are courtesy of Appalachian Trials Writers, all of whom have thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail.  Any gear recommendations not attributed to another writer are courtesy of me (Zach).  Enjoy!

Outdoor Research’s Sonata Hoody

“The Sonata Hoody is my new favorite down. Outdoor Research has truly combined lightweight (11.7oz for medium) and comfort. The jacket’s design is made with a woman’s body in mind. The extra zip pocket on the chest is pretty nice. Also, the entire garment easily packs down into its own pocket, making it perfect to stash in a full pack!” – Madison Dragna, 2013 AT Thru-Hiker

Outdoor Research Cathode Hoody

I don’t care if this piece was designed for climbers- a great mid-layer is a great mid-layer, and the Cathode Hoodie is precisely that.  Named the winner of the Outside Magazine’s Gear of the Year Award, the Cathode is lightweight (13.3 oz.), warm (built with PrimaLoft Gold insulation), compresses into it’s own pocket, holds up well in wet conditions (advantage: synthetic), and is remarkably comfortable.  I especially enjoy the Schoeller Stretch material of the hood, built to fit over a helmet, it easily encompasses my over-sized dome without being encumbering.

Craft Performance Run Featherlight Jacket

“The Craft Performance Run Featherlight Jacket ($60) is very simple—but that’s what I love about it. This wind resistant and water repellent jacket is ideal for those who love to push themselves in the elements. It has an ergonomic fit for optimal freedom of movement and ventilation panels to keep you cool no matter the activity. At 3.5 ounces, its feather-light material ensures you’re never weighed down. It packs down into its own small pocket when not in use, but as the perfect accessory to any windy mountain top or misty forest, you won’t want to put it away.” – Bennett Travers, 2014 AT Thru-Hiker

Arc’teryx Beta LT Jacket

It’s hard to get past the price tag of the Arc’teryx Beta LT Jacket (MSRP: $499), but I’d be lying if I said this isn’t the best rain jacket I’ve ever tested.  Gore-Tex material, simple, lightweight, breathable, and most importantly, pockets exactly where’d you want them- the Beta LT is both sleek and ultra-functional.  The huge hood combined with its laminated brim serve well to keep your head warm and dry without impeding your vision.  Keep your eye for this piece on REI’s outlet, Garage Sales, or Steep and Cheap to snag this guy at a discount.

Icebreaker Oasis Long Sleeve Half Zip Hood

When it comes to merino wool base layers, I have yet to meet a brand that can compete Icebreaker- boasting an unrivaled combination of warmth, weight, and comfort.  The 200-weight Oasis Sleeve Half Zip Hood is one of my most versatile pieces as I can wear it in pretty much any non-summer setting.  I have gone laughably long periods between washes with this thing, and for someone who sweats a lot (I mean…a lot), the Oasis does a great job of rejecting my stank.  Repeated use with a heavy pack (such as thru-hiking) can, and likely will, cause some wear and tear, but Icebreaker’s favorable return policy eliminates any cause for concern.

Patagonia Capilene 1 Silkweight Base Layer Pant

Patagonia’s Capilene 1 base layer pant is the most comfortable article of clothing I have ever worn. So stretchy, so soft, such warming powers. The only pant I bring onto the trail unless I’m out in the middle of winter. Wickedly durable, yet the fabric responds well to being sewn up when I do something stupid. They are form fitting so they don’t get hung up on brush while hiking. I pull them on and off over my shorts and it makes for the easiest set up ever.” – Carlie Gentry, 2013 AT Thru-Hiker

Darn Tough Socks

“No matter what style or design you go with Darn Tough, you won’t be sorry. These socks will make any hiker happy. Darn Tough is made in Vermont, USA. After your pair of socks are worn, just send them to Darn Tough and they will replace the pair for FREE! It’s truly the gift that keeps on giving.” – Madison Dragna, 2013 AT Thru-Hiker

Brooks Cascadia

Brooks Cascadia is a light shoe with a breathable toe box, which means it gets wet easily but it dries fast too, unlike a boot. The tread is gnarly enough to handle the trail but the fit is more relaxed and natural, allowing your foot to bend and work properly with all its actions.” – Carlie Gentry, 2013 AT Thru-Hiker

Big Agnes Fly Creek UL1 / UL2

“The Big Agnes Fly Creek UL1 is incredibly lightweight and packs down to the size of a small football when in its compression sack. It is wickedly easy to set up and still provides excellent shelter when only set up with the footprint and the rainfly. In a pinch with terrible weather, it can fit me and all of my gear inside the tent.  And if you’re into a bit of extra space, the Fly Creek UL2 offers an extra 6 square feet at the expense of only 4 ounces.” – Carlie Gentry, 2013 AT Thru-Hiker

Ultralite Backpacker Asym Zip Hammock

“After a long day of hiking you deserve to kick your feet up, and the Ultralite Backpacker Asym Zip Hammock is the best way to do so. Hennessy hammocks are a breeze to set up and take down, especially if modified to include rappel rings. While sleeping on your back may take some getting used to, you can always trust you’ll stay comfortable and dry thanks to the built-in bug net and waterproof rainfly. If you’ve been considering trying a hammock, act fast! During the holiday season, Hennessy is offering one Cub Zip Hammock and two sets of Snakeskins for free when you buy a hammock worth over $148 off their website.” – Bennett Travers, 2014 AT Thru-Hiker

Nemo Nocturne 15

It’s easy to love this bag for it’s warmth (15 degrees) to weight (2 lbs. 11 oz.) ratio, but its the Nocturne’s comfort that won my heart (but also the warmth to weight ratio 🙂 ).  Using its patented Spoon™ Shape, the bag tapers only at the waist to allow for extra room at the knees and elbows, especially beneficial those who roll into various positions throughout the night, like I do.  Other neat features include a blanket fold flap which provides added warmth / comfort and a pillow pocket, which I stuff my down coat into for a super soft down-on-down fluff cloud supreme (TM pending).

Thermarest Neoair Sleeping Pad

thermarest neoair

“An inflatable Thermarest sleeping pad is heavenly after a long day on the trail. My preference is the Thermarest NeoAir. The NeoAir keeps you warm by reflecting heat back to your body. Also, it inflates to 2.5 inches thick, making it perfect for side sleepers. Depending on your budget, size, trip, and desired pad weight, Thermarest offers a variety of Neoair models for any hiker.” – Madison Dragna, 2013 AT Thru-Hiker

Garmin Fenix 2

The Fenix 2 gives backpackers more data they could ever dream of knowing about their trek.  Whether you’re after its basic features- distance, speed, calories, ascent / descent- or the more hardcore mountaineering tools- navigating unmarked terrain, marking waypoints, charting courses, and way more- the Fenix 2 is a technophile’s dream device. You can get about 4-7 days of continue GPS use (in its lowest precision method- still plenty ample for longer treks), before needing to recharge- concurrent with the amount of food most thru-hikers shoulder.  Compared to its more expensive counterpart- the Suunto Ambit3– the Fenix offers similar features at a better price.

Faber Sommet Snowshoes

For those who live in serious snow territory, snowshoes are an essential gear addition to maintain hiking as a year-round activity. And simply put, the Faber Sommet is the best I’ve ever slid my boot into (+ Outside Magazine and Backpacker Magazine agree).  Built as a hybrid between a backcountry and racing snowshoe, the Sommet is ideal for day hikes in any snow condition.  The most stunning trait when you first pickup this Canadian made snowshoe is its weight- or more precisely- lack thereof, with its U-shaped frame resulting in a shoe 20% lighter than others its size.  Despite initially testing these on icy conditions, the Sommet provided excellent traction, lending a beast-mode confidence to power up and down the most intimidating slopes.

Disclosure: Some of the items in this list were donated for the purpose of gear reviews. This includes the Outdoor Research Cathode Hoody, Outdoor Research’s Sonata Hoody, Faber Sommet Snowshoes, Garmin Fenix 2, and Icebreaker Oasis Long Sleeve Half Zip Hood.

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