Here is a selection of must-have holiday gifts for the Pacific Crest Trail Thru-hiker or Section Hiker in your family. Chances are they’re busy saving for their next long-distance adventure, and we can pretty much guarantee they have a long list of items on their wish list. This collection of thru-hiker and backpacking gift ideas is a good place to start. We’ve listed a variety of gift ideas, from technical backpacking gear to treat-yourself dehydrated meals, to unique gifts that will help commemorate their adventures.
1. Zpacks Duplex 2P Tent
The Zpacks Duplex is a 19 oz two-person trekking pole tent designed for three-season use that’s a popular choice with section hikers and thru-hikers. It’s very easy to set up and provides good weather protection. The two rainbow style doors and side vestibules make it easy to share with another hiker, but the tent is lightweight enough that it can even be used by one person. Any hiker would love to get a Duplex as a gift.
The Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Southwest Backpack is durably built with solid external pockets to tackle harsh conditions without getting ripped up. It’s available in a wide range of volumes and torso lengths so you can get one to match your exact needs. The 3400 Southwest (55L) is the best size for multi-day trips.
While Swiftwick’s VISION Socks are touted as running socks, this is an excellent pair of lightweight hiking socks that stay snug around your foot and don’t bunch up or slide down. These are technical socks with a medium level of arch support comfortable for long days on the trail, made better thanks to the bright national park prints.
4. Appalachian Gear Company All-Paca Fleece Hoodie
These Appalachian Gear Company Fleeces are becoming a word-of-mouth favorite amongst thru-hikers, and for good reason. Alpaca wool is dense, warm, lightweight, and doesn’t itch when it comes into contact with skin. The wool is breathable and makes a fantastic mid-layer or camp layer. Appalachian Gear Company sources their alpaca wool directly from their partners in Peru, which means they are occasionally out of stock. Be patient, it’s worth it. Also note that the hoodies tend to run big, so consider sizing down when you order.
The Sea-to-Summit Aeros UL Inflatable Pillow is a luxury item that weighs just a few ounces but has the potential to make nights at camp far more enjoyable. This pillow inflates in just a few breaths, will last an entire thru-hike, and has a two-way valve so you can adjust the inflation to your ideal level.
The Cocoon Merino Wool Liner adds up to 10 degrees of warmth to a sleep system, a good answer for hikers on a multi-season thru-hike who don’t want to buy two sleeping bags or quilts. This liner can also be used on its own for the warmest nights, and the merino material wicks sweat and is highly breathable.
7. Sea to Summit Women’s Ultralight Insulated Air Sleeping Pad
We’re big fans of the women’s-specific sleeping pads for use by men and women alike! They’re barely smaller than men’s, and often have a higher-rated R-value for nearly the same weight. This Sea to Summit Women’s Ultralight Insulated Pad is less expensive than the popular Therm-a-Rest NeoAir, and in our experience, more durable. It weighs a few ounces more than some other inflatable models but takes a fraction of the air to blow up.
An insulated jacket for under $200? Yep. The Enlightened Equipment Torrid APEX is a synthetic insulated jacket with a lightweight, water-resistant shell. It has a deep hood, you can wear it while hiking since the synthetic insulation is more breathable than down, and it weighs around 8 ounces. Choose from custom colors, or buy one “off the shelf” if you don’t want to wait for the lead time.
The Six Moon Designs Zero-G Haven Tarp is a 12 oz shaped tarp with a dual-pole design that provides extra headroom and has two zippered, vestibule doors on each side for storage and separate entry. The center peak of the Haven Zero-G is offset slightly toward the head of the shelter, creating a steeper angle and placing the canopy further from your face when lying down and aligns the peak to a more natural sitting position. Compatible with the Haven Inner NetTent to create a complete double-wall tent at just 28 oz total.
Borah Gear is known throughout the Ultralight Backpacking world for their bivy sacks. Weighing an insanely low 4.25 oz, their cuben bivy has a waterproof Dyneema Floor, breathable top fabric, and noseeum mesh over the face. A chest or side zipper option is available (we recommend the side zipper). If you want to squeeze every last ounce off your gear list, this is the bivy sack to get.
The Sawyer Squeeze is the most popular water filter used by long-distance hikers, and the thru-hiker in your life could always use another one. It’s lightweight, has a fast flow rate, and is guaranteed for thousands of liters. Hikers also love that it can thread onto many standard water bottles, so you can drink straight from the filter. While there are several Sawyer options on the market, we recommend the original. It has a faster flow rate and longer lifespan than the smaller models.
Adding one or two of these Dyneema Composite Fabric “pod-shaped stuff sacks” to a backpacking setup helps keep gear organized and protected from the elements. They are extremely durable and versatile—use them for small items you want to keep handy at the top of your pack, or to keep a compressible down jacket protected. The structured design and wide-mouth zipper makes for easy access and stackable packing. They’re also compatible with most backpacks.
Proper Leave No Trace practice mean digging a cathole at least six inches deep when doing your business in the woods. This task is less tiresome with the classic Deuce of Spades Backpacker’s Trowel. Serrated “teeth” and a tough, aluminum build can dig into some seriously solid ground and through small roots. It also weighs just 0.6 ounces and tucks into an outside pocket on your pack.
Healthy, dehydrated meals are a luxury many thru-hikers can’t afford for the duration of their hike. After the initial budget wears off, it’s back to ramen and Pasta Sides. Good To-Go was started by a Michelin-starred chef, and includes a wide variety of meals packed with pronounceable (!) ingredients. A few favorites include bibimbap, pad thai, and mushroom risotto. If you have the option, buy the two-serving packets. Thru-hikers have a big appetite. Good To-Go has a number of variety packs available which I can recommend if you’re not sure what foods your hiker friend likes.
The Vargo BOT is one of the most durable and versatile options for cooking or cold-soaking food on the trail, this combination pot/bottle with a screw-on lid is a splurge, but will enhance any backcountry cooking setup. It has a 700ml capacity, a tight-fitting threaded lid, and can cook safely over backpacking stoves. It’s made entirely from titanium and weighs under five ounces. It’s simply ingenious!
Anker’s Soundcore Liberty Neo Wireless Earbuds cost a fraction of the price of AirPods, but they fit tightly and comfortably in your ears, pair easily with Bluetooth devices, and have a simple touch system for pausing and skipping songs. The earbud batteries have a competitively long lifespan, as does the compact charging case—a must for extended time on trail. As a bonus, these earbuds do an excellent job blocking external noise and can double as earplugs at noisy campsites.
With smartphones acting as the camera, GPS, and entertainment for most thru-hikers, keeping the devices protected is paramount. There are a lot of waterproof, shatter-resistant cases on the market, but the Lifeproof FRE is still one of the most reliable and durable. A case like this is peace of mind for smartphone users, keeping the devices secure from rain, accidental drops, and the general grime of trail life. Note: many models of this case are available for different smartphone models.
Realistically, most thru-hikers don’t need anything more than a simple folding pocket knife during their hike. However, when the need arises, it’s sure nice to have the option of a small set of pliers and scissors along the trail, like those in the Leatherman Squirt PS4. Hikers can use this 2-ounce tool to help fix anything from a finicky trekking pole to a bent tent stake. Also notably adept at cutting into blocks of cheese.
Gnawing on the same granola bars can get really old. But PROBAR’s BOLT Energy Chews are a quick way for an on-the-go hiker to get a burst of energy, and Probar’s version comes in convenient pouches with tasty, chewy blocks in a variety of natural flavors. Buy an assortment of flavors, or go for a 12-pack. We’re particularly fond of the pink lemonade and cran-pomegranate flavors.
Ultralight and easily adjustable with a twist lock, Gossamer Gear’s LT5 carbon fiber trekking poles have a three-piece carbon construction that can be adjusted from 23.5” when collapsed to 51” fully extended. The foam handle absorbs sweat, and the strap is padded and adjustable. The set weighs under 10 ounces, which is feathery light, but also means you need to be more careful to avoid breakage. Important note: If the thru-hiker on your list is an ounce-counter, these poles are a great option. If they’re harder on gear, look for something heavier and more durable.
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