Our 2016 Backpacker’s Holiday Gift Guide: Under $50

It’s that time of year. The backpacker in your life might not be out on a trail, but they are probably researching gear, poring over pack lists, and pacing the aisles of the local outdoors store. Maybe that backpacker is you. Either way, we polled some of our most experienced hikers and got their favorite goods to get you a head start (or at least some hints) of things your favorite hiker might want to see wrapped up with a nice little bow. Or buy these for yourself. We’re not judging. Here are the most trusty goods under $50, and some surprising favorites from this past year, courtesy of the Appalachian Trials Writers. Happy shopping.

Dr. Bronner’s Pure-Castile Liquid Soap

MSRP: $3.19/2 oz.

Dr. Bronners for backpackers

It’s important to have a soap that can clean your hands, face, hair and your cooking pot. Throw a squeeze of Dr. Bronner’s in with your laundry in town and you’re golden there too. Not only does this soap clean everything, but it’s biodegradable (still keep away from water sources) and gentle on the environment.
P.S. the lavender scent is quite relaxing

Kmeg, AT 2014

Panasonic ErgoFit Earbuds

MSRP: $10.93


For extended periods on the trail, podcasts and audiobooks are a must in my book (for me).  Because I break or lose earbuds at an alarming rate, I’ve had a chance to test the full gamut of cheap headphones.  Without question, Panasonic’s ErgoFit Earbuds are the best solution I’ve found.  Super cheap, last much longer than their price tag would lead you to believe, and produce a surprisingly good sound quality.

– Zach Davis, AT 2011, Colorado Trail 2015-16, Wonderland Trail 2016

Therm-a-Rest Z-Seat Pad

MSRP: $14.95

Therm-a-Rest Z-Seat Pad

I loved having my Therm-a-Rest Z-Seat with me to plop down on, no matter where I was. It was a luxury item, but always having a dry, padded seat for breaks and camp was definitely worth the weight (two ounces). These are also easy to cut shorter and reduce weight. It can even act as a second insulator for your torso on frigid nights.

Katie Brown, AT Sections, 2012-15, CDT 2016

MPOWERD Luci Outdoor Inflatable Solar Lantern

MSRP: $14.95

MPOWERD Luci Outdoor Inflatable Solar Lantern

Hands down, the MPOWERD Luci Outdoor Inflatable Solar Lantern is my favorite new camp accessory. No more wasting headlamp battery when I’m not hiking. No more futzing around trying to find some buried piece of treasure in my tent with a single waning beam. Unlike other solar-charging panels which take an eternity to generate a partial charge, this one gets the job done. At a mere 4 oz. (less than the weight of two Clif Bars), you don’t have to worry too much over the added weight. Luxury item? Maybe. Worth it? Definitely.

Kate Waite, AT 2013, LT 2014, JMT 2015, ADK 46-R 2016

Smartwool PhD Outdoor Light Mini Socks

MSRP: $17.95 (currently on sale for 20% off at Backcountry.com)

Smartwool PhD Outdoor Light Mini Socks

Smartwool PhD Outdoor Light Mini Socks are thinner than most of the competition, so they might not be as durable. I chose them because they breathe so well that I never required sock liners, and I hiked 1,700 miles without a single blister.

Connor Adams, AT 2014

Buff Original

MSRP: $20

Buff Original

The Buff Original kept my head warm when I was cold, protected my neck from raging sunburn, kept my ears from tumultuous winds, saved my water bottle from dreaded floaties, and was always a faithful flag when needing a ride into town. This unassuming piece of fabric will fill in the gaps should you forget something in the rush to get out there.

Kmeg, AT 2014

Outdoor Research Sparkplug Gaiters

MSRP: $22

Outdoor Research Gaiters

I picked these up Outdoor Research’s Sparkplug Gaiters in Hot Springs a few weeks into the hike. Up to that point, I had to stop several times per day to empty leaves, rocks, and twigs out of my shoes. Enter the gaiter! These lightweight running gaiters kept all of the grit out while allowing my shoes to breathe and not weighing me down. Many day and section hikers would notice them, ask what they are and what they do, and say “I should get some of those!” If you get a bright color like Rio or Lemongrass, they make a great conversation starter. If you’re not so chatty, go for the low-key black.

Claudia and Andrew Carberry, AT 2016

UNIQLO Ultra Light Down Jacket

MSRP: $79.90 (on sale for $39.99)

Uniqlo down jacket
UNIQLO’s Ultra Light Down Jacket  is an ideal down jacket for cheapskates. It’s easy to find on sale, and is great quality for how inexpensive it is. This jacket is warm and light, and comes in fun colors.

Dawn Webster, AT 2016

Montbell Sun Block Umbrella

MSRP: $45

montbell sunbrella

As a ginger, there are two unfortunate facts that I’ve spent a lifetime attempting to deny: 1) SPF-alone is not a viable solution for extended sun-drenched periods and 2) I have no soul.  Given the choice between sun clothing and really any other option, I typically opt for the latter.  Enter: Montbell’s Sun Block Umbrella.  At just 6.3 ounces, this is a terrific solution for both long stretches under the sun and rain.  Although I have yet to test the euroSCHIRM (the same design as Go Lite’s popular but discontinued Chrome Dome), Montbell’s umbrella is two ounces lighter and has held up wonderfully after a few hundred miles of use save a few instances where driving wind caused the umbrella to invert.

Zach Davis

Patagonia Baggies Shorts

MSRP: $49.00

Patagonia Baggies Shorts

$49 is a lot to pay for shorts, I know.  But if you’re seeking bottoms that are lightweight (7.1 ounces), highly durable (and backed by a top-notch warranty), dry super quickly, and are sourced sustainably, you’re not going to do better than Patagonia’s Baggies.  I first learned of these through Bobcat’s gear list, and haven’t turned back since trying them on.

– Zach Davis

Sawyer Squeeze Water Filter Plus

MSRP: $49.95

Sawyer Squeeze

The Sawyer Squeeze is a great water filtration system for thru-hikers… it’s quick and efficient. I had heard the the bags can break, though I never had any issues with that. Also, many hikers place the squeeze directly on a cheap plastic water bottle.

Isabelle Eastham, AT 2016

Disclosure: Some of the preceding products were donated including those from Sawyer, Patagonia, and Montbell. All reviews always reflect our 100% honest opinion.

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Comments 1

  • Paul Nehlson : Feb 14th

    Instead of point-source light (like lanterns & headlamps), I like the Big Agnes MtnGLO string of lights–they give a more diffuse, homey light for your tent.

    Plus, they’re super lightweight (about 3 ounces), though there are other lightweight lights/lanterns–I have a curated list on my site: http://www.gearferret.com/best-led-lantern-2017/


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