The Backpacker’s Holiday Gift Guide: Over $100

The holiday season is upon us. And what better way to gear up for your thru-hike than to ask people to give you things? Just kidding… sort of. We polled recent thru-hikers on the gear they couldn’t live without on the trail, and came up with the following items you should probably put on your list right now.

These items will most likely be universally approved by upcoming thru-hikers, and will be used and abused for thousands of miles.

Here are the big-ticket items, from our favorite raincoat to the most luxurious two-person tent on the market.

Kindle Paperwhite
MSRP: $119.99

The gift that keeps on giving. Despite what you might think, there’s a fair amount of down time at camp during a thru-hike, and tucking into your sleeping bag with a book is something to look forward to at the end of a long day of hiking. The Paperwhite is the best option for long trips. It weighs less than an average book, you can load more tomes onto it than you ever have a chance of reading, the screen is optimized for reading in daylight or night with adjustable backlighting, and it’ll hold a charge for a month. Carry all the books with you. All the time. –Editors

Altra Lone Peak 3.5
MSRP: $120

altra lone peak 3.5

Description: There is no such thing as the perfect footwear.  What works wonders for one person may result in blisters and knee pain for another.  That said, Altra’s Lone Peak 3.5 are the trail runners encountered very frequently on the PCT. The Lone Peak has been a go-to for a few years. Its wide FootShape toe box means a more natural toe spread, and the zero-drop design gives hikers a more natural landing resulting in fewer injuries (be sure to slowly ease into a zero drop shoe, or else the opposite can be true). Plus, Altra made improvements on their previous model (the 3.0) by reinforcing the stitching in the upper, resulting in improved durability.  If you’re looking to up your footwear game, the Lone Peak is a great starting point, and comes in both men’s and women’s models. –Editors

Patagonia Torrentshell
MSRP: $129

Every hiker needs to pack a rain jacket, and the Torrentshell is a simple, reliable option from an increasingly eco-friendly brand. Stow this lightweight jacket in an easy-to-reach pocket on your pack, and throw it on when the rain or wind picks up. It’s among the more breathable raincoats out there (but yes, you can still sweat it out) and has a good under-pack hem length and velcro sleeves you can cinch down to keep as much water out as possible. –Editors

LEKI Carbon Ti Trekking Poles
MSRP: $134.95

There are cheaper trekking poles options, but none that offer the same combination of durability and weight. The Carbon Ti’s will withstand a 2,000+ mile trek. Plus, Leki offers a lifetime guarantee in the off chance you’re able to snap one of these shafts.  Simply, these get the job done for a thru-hike. –Editors

Kelty Cosmic Down 20 Sleeping Bag
MSRP: $149-$169 depending on configuration

This was one of our best budget picks of the year. It weighs under three pounds and is priced well under $200, with a classic mummy shape and 600-fill DriDown insulation. The fitted hood keeps precious heat in, and the strong draft tube seals out air flow on the full-length zipper. We’ve linked to the Women’s model above, find the Men’s here.

Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite
MSRP: $159.95 for the regular

Never underestimate the importance of a sleeping pad. This is the difference between an uncomfortable, frozen night on the and an insulated, cozy cushion between you and the rock-hard soil. Take a peek in a trail shelter, and there’s a high likelihood at least a few of the inflatable pads are the NeoAir. Rolling up to the size of a Nalgene but inflating to 2.5 inches thick and unrolling to 72 inches long with an R-value of 5.7 (seriously warm), no one has improved upon this model in a few years. We’re fine with that. –Editors

REI Magma 850
MSRP: $189

REI Co-op Magma Jacket

Description: You aren’t going to find a better designed, higher quality jacket for this price. With 850-fill down, articulated patterning through the sleeves, deliberate quilting based on body mapping, and high pockets to fit under a hipbelt, REI has upped the down jacket game. The sleek design fits well under a shell, and is also a terrific standalone piece. The 8.8 ounce weight doesn’t hurt either. This is the women’s version, men’s found here. -Editors

Gossamer Gear Mariposa 60
MSRP: $215

The Mariposa is an ideal pack for those who are close to, but not quite, ultralight. This pack is full of features, including seven external pockets, an aluminum stay, and a multi-function, removable foam back pad for added structure and support. Recommended for hikers who don’t plan to carry above 30 pounds. The price listed is configured without a hip belt, adding one will cost $45. This pack is a deserving favorite among hikers trending towards a lighter setup.

Patagonia NanoPuff Bivvy Pullover
MSRP: $219

I love sweatshirts and was kinda bummed I wouldn’t really be able to wear one for 5 months…until I found this! A puffy that’s exactly like a sweatshirt! I carried this with me all the way from Georgia to Maine. It was seriously perfect, it wasn’t too hot but was plenty warm when it was freezing. The hood on this puffy was awesome. It fit snug so no cold air could get in which was really nice, especially once we got up north. My favorite part of this puffy was the two pockets on the front. One was a zippered, drop in torso pocket which was perfect for keeping your phone in (especially on really cold nights so the battery wouldn’t die as quickly) or even better—for snacks. The other was a kangaroo pocket which helped keep my hands warm. I liked only having half a zipper instead of a full zip. Seriously, best puffy I’ve ever had. Comfy, warm, versatile. 1000% recommend. Men’s listed here. –Alex P

Osprey Exos 58
MSRP: $220

In all likelihood, we will never stop listing this pack. A winning combination of features, weight savings, design, and comfort, the Exos is the bridge between the heavily featured packs found on major retailer shelves, and the pared down, ultralight offerings of the cottage industry. Reasonably priced, super adjustable, and with a smart design satisfying even the most organized of hikers, this pack really has no downsides. The medium size weighs 2 pounds, 10 ounces, and spares little in the way of weight distribution and comfort. Looking for something smaller? It also comes in a 48L option. –Editors

Patagonia NanoPuff
MSRP: $250

I am all about the synthetic jacket for a thru-hike—it’s so much more convenient/easier/cleaner than down, and more useful in that you can hike it in, wash it, not fret over getting it wet or sweaty, and it’s just as warm as the ultralight down jackets at a lower cost. Two big thumbs up, this was my favorite piece of gear by far. Men’s found here. –Shani A

Enlightened Equipment Revelation
MSRP: $270-$400+ based on configuration

For sleepers who don’t like to be confined to a mummy bag, down quilts like the Revelation offer the option of sleeping sprawled out, while still retaining warmth thanks to the zippered foot box. The down underneath a sleeper doesn’t do as much to insulate, and for those looking to lighten the load, the quilt is the way to go. You can choose everything from the colors to the fill power to the temperature rating. Each quilt is made to order at their headquarters in Minnesota, be sure to order well in advance of the trip. –Editors

Katabatic Alsek
MSRP: $370-485

Simply put, this is the highest quality quilt we’ve ever tested.  The materials and craftsmanship are top notch. Where many quilt and sleeping bag manufacturers overstate their products’ warmth, we’ve slept comfortably in temperatures below 22 degrees, which is the Alsek’s suggested rating.  The price tag is a bit higher than some of Katabatic’s competitors, but you certainly will not be disappointed with this purchase.

Montbell Plasma 1000 Alpine Down Parka
MSRP: $439

montbell plasma 1000 down parka green

If Santa is feeling extra generous this year, prod for the Plasma 1000 Alpine Down Parka from Montbell.   You won’t find a better warmth-to-weight ratio insulating layer than this.  Featuring 3.4 ounces of 1000 fill power goose down, the Plasma will keep you plenty toasty during your shoulder season treks.  Montbell’s products are fairly priced, and despite the steep price tag, this high quality piece is no exception. –Editors

Nemo Hornet Elite 1p
MSRP: $449.95

nemo hornet 1p elite

Even with a couple thousand miles of trekking pole tenting under my belt, I’m still a sucker for the simplicity of a freestanding tent.  And, at just 23 ounces (trail weight), you need not break your back to enjoy using the NEMO Hornet Elite 1P.  This tent looks and functions a lot like the popular Big Agnes Flycreek, but uses a side door (vs. a front door), which makes for easier entry and access to the vestibule space.  In short, if you’re in the market for a quality, lightweight, one-person freestanding tent, you won’t do better than this. –Editors


Big Agnes Copper Spur UL2
MSRP: $449.95

This tent was super easy to set up. When I’d get into camp I could spend five minutes setting up shelter, and then throw everything in there to get ready for the night. The two-person tent gave me plenty of room for all of my stuff and made it fun if anyone ever wanted to come visit. Another thru-hiker fave thanks to the ample livable space and lightweight construction. For even lighter weight and more space, the Copper Spur Platinum can be found here. –Keckeley H


Many thanks to the above thru-hikers, as well as additional input from Keckeley H, Anna Z, Alex W, and Megan M for their input.

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