The Backpacker’s Holiday Gift Guide: Under $25

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 stocking stuffers, the Secret Santa items, and the you-need-this-but-it-won’t-break-the-bank gifts under $25.

Clif Nut Butter Filled Bars
MSRP: $2.00

As far as we’re concerned, these are the only Clif Bars that matter any more. Chewy Clif Bars are packed with organic nut butters (chocolate flavored, peanut butter, almond butter) in a variety of delicious combinations. We’ve been snacking on them since they came out this year, and aren’t sick of them. Favorite flavors include Blueberry Almond Butter and Banana Chocolate Peanut Butter… but it’s hard to go wrong. –Editors

MSR Ground Hog Stake
MSRP: $2.95

Carrying a few extra stakes is never a bad idea, and a lot of times you’ll want to upgrade from the stakes that came stock with your shelter. The Ground Hogs weigh .5 ounces each, are tough as nails, and have an attached nylon cord for easy removal from the ground. A set of these will be much appreciated; we recommend buying six to eight for a full setup. –Editors

GSI Outdoors Essential Spoon
MSRP: $4.95

Simple, yes. But a long spoon (or spork) goes a long way when it’s the difference between getting the last few bites from the bottom of the food pouch. Hiker hunger is real. You want to get that last bite. Eating utensils like this are durable, and will last a whole hike as long as they aren’t tragically left behind at camp. Looking for something fancier that will still reach the bottom of the cook pot? The Vargo Long Handle Spoon is a highbrow option for those classy backcountry meals. –Editors

Good To-Go Backpacking Meals
MSRP: $7-12

Unless you’re a really dedicated gift giver, you probably won’t be feeding your favorite hiker for their entire journey. But you can give them the chance to eat some gourmet backcountry grub. Good To-Go is award-winning backcountry food made with real ingredients and serving up a whole lotta nutrients in a delicious package. Our favorites include Thai Curry, Pad Thai, and Granola. Grab a few and make a variety pack out of it. –Editors

Price: $8.62

For blister treatment, this is a thru-hiker go-to. Leukotape sticks to your skin so well that it’ll stay attached through sweat, a dip in an alpine lake, and/or a shower. Wrap some around your lighter and you’ve got a portable, effective means to apply a protective barrier to nagging blisters and other sore spots. – Editors

Nikwax Down Wash
MSRP: $10.95

nikwax down wash

Why drop a few C-notes on a puffy when your down jacket is a little TLC away from like-new condition?  After going through the ringer on the PCT last year, my Montbell Plasma Alpine Down Parka regained its full loft after a wash with Nikwax’s Down Wash Direct.  It’s ready for the next adventure. Give the gift of a second life to your old gear. –Zach D

Dirty Girl Gaiters
Price: $12-24.95

Taking time out of the day to remove dirt, debris, and sand from your shoe is a nuisance, and gaiters are the solution. Dirty Girl Gaiters offer an immense array of styles, from paw prints to doughnuts, bacon to skulls, and everything in-between, ensuring you’ll find something with the appropriate amount of flair for your hiking style.

Marconi Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Price $15.29

A quick and easy way to both level up your dinner game as well as add some much needed high-quality fat to your backcountry diet is with the addition of a serving of extra virgin olive oil. Rip, squirt, and devour. One note is include these packets in a separate ziplock bag to prevent a mess from occurring should one of the packets rupture. – Editors

Osprey Ultralight Dry Sack – 6Liters
MSRP: $16

You can never go wrong with a few extra dry sacks for your gear, whether it’s small electronics, food, your UL puffy, or just those items you don’t want floating around in your pack. This sack is ultralight, durable, and comes in a variety of sizes for maximum organizing. –Editors

Classic Swiss Army Knife
MSRP: $15.95

More likely than not, a thru-hiker’s knife will be used solely for cutting into blocks of cheese. So nope, they don’t need a machete or switchblade. This classic little knife will do the trick, whether they’re trimming toenails, giving up on untying a knot and slicing the cord, or again, cutting into a giant brick of cheese. –Editors

​Gossamer Gear Shoulder Strap Pocket
Price: $18

For packs that don’t come equipped with built-in shoulder strap pockets, which are few but becoming increasingly more popular, this is well worth the extra 1.5 ounces. This accessory pocket allows for much quicker access to your phone, and better organizational storage—namely to allow more snacks into your hip-belt pockets. – Editors

Black Diamond Astro Headlamp
MSRP: $19.95

Simple, gets the job done, and lightweight. From night hiking to stumbling around looking for the privy, this headlamp will tuck into the smallest outer pocket and be forgotten about until needed. Weighing in under three ounces (including batteries!), it comes with a full strength of 90 lumens, as well as dimming and strobe settings. It will run for 30 hours on the highest setting, and over 100 hours on the lower setting.

UV Buff
MSRP $20

Give a hiker the gift of something they will straight up never take off.  This stretchy band of fabric will hold back unwashed hair, serve as an excuse to continue to not wash said hair, it can be used as an earmuff when the wind picks up, be tied up into a weird sort of hat, be pulled up over their face when the temperature really drops, and be configured into just about any sort of hiker trash accessory. I used the Half Buff on my thru-hike, and still wear one nearly every day in my normal life, as I continue to seldom wash my hair. Want to rep your favorite trail? Check out the AT Buff here, and the PCT Buff here. –Maggie S

ZPacks Possum Socks
MSRP: $22

I used these as camp/town socks for all nine months I was on trail. They were the most comfortable socks and kept my feet very warm. They also didn’t smell despite how much I wore them and how infrequently I washed them. –Kirsten F

Darn Tough Hiking Socks
MSRP: $20


Although they might seem expensive, Darn Tough socks are worth every penny. They’re the most comfortable socks to hike in. I only ever got one blister while wearing them and it was only because of how my pinky toe bends. It had nothing to do with my socks or shoes rubbing. Their lifetime guarantee is awesome and there are loads of patterns and colors to choose from. –Kirsten F


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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Comments 2

  • Heidi eisenhart : Dec 3rd

    Darn tough socks for for ron usually wears XL OR XWIDE

  • Josh Johnson : Dec 3rd

    I have the AT buff. Highly recommended.


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