The Thru-Hiker Gift Guide: Over $300

Are you looking to wow the thru-hiker in your life with a platinum-level backpacking gear gift this holiday season? We’re here to help. Each of these high-end backpacking gear morsels is sure to be a winner with your loved one. Because sometimes you have to either go big or go home.

Gossamer Gear The Two | $375

  • Weight: 23.5 oz
  • Interior Height at Ridgeline: 43 in

This coveted ultralight tent weighs only a pound and a half. But its palatial interior dimensions will have you questioning how the laws of physics could allow such a thing to be real. And this is just the silnylon version. If you want to knock someone’s socks off this holiday season, level up to the all-new The DCF Two, the even-lighter Dyneema version of this tent.

Read our reviews of The Two and The DCF Two here.

ZPacks Duplex Tent | $649

  • Weight: 19 oz
  • Peak height: 48″

You could say the Duplex is the quintessential UL thru-hiking tent. This single-walled trekking pole shelter is about as light as they get and spacious enough to accommodate a couple or one very luxurious thru-hiker. Cutting-edge Dyneema fabric is durable, ultralight, and waterproof.

Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL1 Tent | $350

  • Weight: 2 lb. 2 oz
  • Floor Space: 19 sq ft

There’s a reason Big Agnes is one of the most prominent names in the backpacking tent market: their shelters are lightweight, durable, and designed down to the last detail. The Tiger Wall builds on Big Anes’ popular Fly Creek model with a crosspiece that adds ample headroom while keeping the tent’s weight well in hand. Thru-hikers love this tent after a long day on the trail. It’s reliable, simple to set up, and luxuriously comfortable.

Zpacks Arc Blast Backpack | $349

  • Weight: 2 oz
  • Volume: 55L

This classic, ultralight pack from Zpacks is durable enough to survive many a thru-hike. Weighing in at around one-and-a-quarter pounds, it’s one of the lightest packs on the market. Yet, it can carry up to 35 pounds comfortably—more than enough for most modern thru-hikers. Oh, and it’s waterproof. Basically, the Arc Blast is what happens when the ultralight miracle material known as Dyneema (DCF) meets Zpacks’ capable design team. No wonder thru-hikers named it one of the top backpacks on the AT.

Hyperlite Mountain Gear Southwest 3400 | $355 – $375

  • Weight: 2 lb
  • Volume: 55L

Hyperlite’s distinctive and daring snow-white Dyneema packs are a common sight on America’s Triple Crown Trails (in varying shades of not-white-anymore). HMG’s beloved Southwest 3400, also available in black, is reasonably lightweight and famously durable. We liked this pack enough to name it among the best backpacking packs of 2020.

Enlightened Equipment Enigma Quilt | $315

  • Weight: 22 oz
  • Fill power: 850 or 950

Enlightened Equipment is just about synonymous with quality, ultralight thru-hiking quilts, and the Enigma is no exception. The Enigma is very similar to EE’s beloved Revelation quilt, except it has a fully sewn footbox (as opposed to the Revelation’s drawstring style) to maximize warmth. Like most EE products, it’s fully customizable: you choose the temperature rating, dimensions, fabric, fill power, and other features so you get the exact product you want. Like most bespoke products, it takes a while to get your quilt after ordering, so put your order in a month or two ahead of time (stock quilts ship faster).

Read our review of the Enlightened Equipment Enigma quilt.

Feathered Friends Swallow UL 20 Sleeping Bag | $559

  • Weight: 27 oz.
  • Fill Power: 950+

You may have noticed that this sleeping bag is on the higher end of the price spectrum for… anything? Hear us out. Feathered Friends is one of the top names in sleeping bags and down products generally. Their name is virtually synonymous with excellent quality. This right here is the Ferrari of sleeping bags. Insulated with 16.7 ounces of some of the highest quality down money can buy, the Swallow earns consistent rave reviews for its lightweight, plushy warmth and thoughtful design features.

Read our review here.

REI Magma 15 Women’s Sleeping Bag | $389

  • Weight: 2 lb. 4 oz. (women’s regular)
  • Fill Power: 850

Slightly more affordable but still eminently delightful, REI’s Magma 15 bag has kept us warm on many a frigid night in the backcountry. Because sleeping bag standards are weird, the women’s 15 has significantly more down than the men’s. Over half a pound more, actually. That’s why we recommend the women’s version of this classic bag if you want to maximize warmth.

Arc’teryx Cerium LT Hooded Down Jacket | $379

  • Weight: 10.9 oz.
  • Fill Power: 850

Arc’teryx is far from the cheapest name in backpacking apparel. But the price tag is justifiable when you consider the premium materials, meticulous design, and well-executed construction of each garment. For instance, this jacket features a generous helping of premium 850-fill down with synthetic insulation incorporated in moisture-prone areas (armpits, cuffs, hood, etc.).

Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer 2 Down Jacket | $325

  • Weight: 8.8 oz.
  • Fill Power: 800

Not only does it have a dope name, but the Ghost Whisperer stands out as one of the lightest puffy jackets on the market. The hooded version is only a few tenths of an ounce heavier than its hoodless counterpart. We think the significant added warmth of the hood justifies that nominal increase in weight. For thru-hikers who value weight savings, this puffy is the gold standard.

MSR Lightning Ascent Snowshoe | $ 319.95

  • Weight: 4 lb. 3 oz. – 4 lb. 12 oz.
  • Max Load: 220-280 lb.

Snowshoes for thru-hikers? You betcha. Granted, only a select few are diehard enough to attempt a full-on thru-hike in the snowy depths of winter. But even if your thru-hiker can’t use these bad boys on their long trail of choice, chances are they’ll want to keep the magic going after they get home. These rugged backcountry snowshoes are light, grippy, and featured enough for steep, variable terrain, even in the deepest snow. Perfect for four-season adventures.

Want to learn more? We wrote a review of the Lightning Ascents for your reading pleasure.

Garmin Instinct Solar GPS Watch | $400

  • Weight: 1.9 oz.
  • Battery Life: Up to 54 days with solar

This solar-powered watch can power itself for upwards of a month without you ever having to plug it in—a real win for hikers short on time and charging cables. It has all your basic smartwatch features, including the ABCs (altimeter, barometer, and compass). It also incorporates advanced fitness features like a heart rate monitor and pulse oximeter. The watch is also GPS-enabled so that the wearer can easily reference their location with a glance at their wrist.

Garmin InReach Mini | $350

  • Weight: 3.5 oz.
  • Avg. Battery Life: 50 hr.

The InReach Mini graces many a thru-hiker’s shoulder strap—peace of mind in a compact, 3.5-ounce package. We love that Garmin uses the reliable Iridium satellite network to grant hikers full connectivity even when they’re miles away from the faintest cell signal. Unlike some other GPS beacons, the InReach enables two-way text communication so you can stay in touch with your loved ones. It also has handy features like weather forecasting and, of course, advanced navigation.

Did we write a review of the InReach Mini? Of course we did.

Rab Zero G Jacket| $550

  • Weight: 11 oz.
  • 4.5 oz. of 1000 fill-power goose down

Yes, you read that price tag correctly. For many (see: most) backpackers, the price is going to be a non-starter. With a limited budget, that is the correct call. However, if you’ve got the coin, you’re not going to find a better three-season insulating layer than Rab’s Zero G Down Jacket. Stuffed with 4.5 oz of 1000 fill power goose down, this piece is much warmer relative to other popular thru-hiker favorite down jackets, compresses down to the size of a softball, and weighs just 11 ounces. The Zero G utilizes Pertex Quantum 10d fabric, which is light, but not so thin that it’ll rip at your first sharp misfortunate encounter. With care, you should be able to get many, many thousands of miles under the hood of this jacket. In the world of UL apparel, you generally get what you pay for; the Zero G is no exception.

Featured image: Graphic design by Chris Helm.

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