Holiday Gift Guide for Backpackers

Need to update your backpacking gear or looking for gift ideas? We’ve put together a selection of our most favored backpacking gear that we own.

If you enjoy the outdoors, chances are you are involved in other hobbies to take you out-of-doors, such as biking, birding, paddling, rock climbing, car camping. The clothing and gear is not exclusive to backpacking. It is interchangeable across multiple hobbies (well, maybe not rock climbing), so your cost per use pays off quickly. Purchasing high quality gear may cost more upfront, but you’ll need to purchase less often.

And don’t wait until warm weather to hit the hiking trails. Stay active this winter by enjoying the benefits of cold-weather hiking. Winter hiking offers many advantages – less people on the trails, no humidity, clear and crisp air with see-forever views, a warm and welcoming sun, and no bugs.  So, grab some gear for a friend or yourself and hit the trails!

1. Full Brim Tilley LTM6 Hat 

A hat that offers sun protection is critical when hiking in places where the sun is intense or at higher elevations. The Tilley LTM6 is a full-brim hat with a UPF 50+ rating.


Tilley LTM6 Hat
I am fair skinned, with freckles and red-hair, which means 30 minutes in the sun without protection gets me scorched. The Tilly LTM6 Airflo Hat does a wonderful job keeping your face, ears and neck protected with its wide, 360 degree brim. The LTM6 offers a sun protection rating of UPF 50+. It also floats in the water, will fold up easily to stow in your backpack, and is lightweight (~ 4 oz). Some other features about the LTM6 that deserve mentioning –

Ventilation – the grommets and mesh ventilation on the crown help keep your head cooler in the heat. You will still sweat, although the sweatband does a good job absorbing the moisture.

Stays on – the dual-cord system tightens at the back of the head and wraps underneath the chin to keep the hat from flying off your head in high winds.

Warranty – a hat that will perform for years, guaranteed by a lifetime warranty. It washes well and does not shrink or fade.

See our outdoor clothing tips for more detailed information on clothing items recommended for hiking.

Tilley hats are made in Canada.

2. CamelBak UnBottle Water Carrier

A water hydration pack makes it easy to keep hydrated on the trail. You don’t have to stop or take off your pack to grab a sip of water. Just bite down on the valve attached to the hose and water flows onto your tongue in an instant.

CamelBak UnBottle 100 ounce

The CamelBak UnBottle is an excellent option for a water container. We’ve been using the 100-ounce size for a few years and are extremely satisfied with it. It slides easily inside the interior reservoir of your backpack (modern backpacks often have an internal sleeve for this purpose as well as dual slits on the left and right side to route the water hose) and the hose on the UnBottle is long enough to loop from the back of your pack around to the front. The lid on the bottle is tight fitting and secure – no leakage issues to date.

Insulation – the insulation keeps the water cool, which is critical if you plan to hang the bottle outside your pack or in direct sunlight.

Clips – the outside of the pack has clips to allow you to securely attach it to the outside of gear (e.g. kayak), so you don’t need to carry the hydration bottle inside your backpack.

Size – comes in various sizes. We recommend the 100 ounce or 3L size (12+ cups of water); this has saved us in areas without a water source as it holds enough water for a full day of hiking; plus you can opt to not fill it up all the way if you don’t need as much.

Parts – finding parts won’t be a problem if you need to make repairs; CamelBak is the leading brand for water hydration.

Cleaning – separate cleaning kits and cleaning tablets are available if needed. The flexible cleaning brush is helpful to remove the algae or mold that tends to collect around the tube near the bite valve.

Storing – make sure to dump out any leftover water from the container and squeeze the bite valve to release any excess water when storing. Let the container air dry by hanging it upside-down and propping the reservoir open. This step will prevent the container from getting slimy. You can also just store the container in the freezer to prevent mold growth.

The CamelBak UnBottle is made in the Philippines.

3. Patagonia R1 Fleece

The Patagonia R1 is hands-down our favorite piece of clothing that we own. We use it as a jacket for inside the home and for all our cold weather outdoor activities. It is warm, quick-drying, lightweight, non-bulky, durability is top notch. Comes in a full-zip and pullover design.

Patagonia R1 Fleece

Patagonia’s R1 is a high-quality layering fleece that performs well for retaining body heat and keeping you warm. Unlike most bulky fleeces, this one is lightweight with an interior waffle pattern (extra warming), allowing you to roll up more easily into your backpack, bike bag, etc. It comes in 2 designs: Pullover – 1/4 length zipper, no pockets or Jacket – full-zip, 2 Front Pockets. The jacket is easier to add/remove, but may be less warm than the pullover (some loss of heat through the full-length zipper).

Patagonia’s R1 serves best as a mid-layer in the winter (pair it with the Patagonia Capilene 3 for a winter base-layer) or outer-layer in the sprint/fall. Key features of the R1 –

Material – made with Polartech Power Dry (93% polyester, 7% spandex). The polyester allows for quick drying and wicking; the spandex for a snug, but expandable fit.

Durability – remains in like-new condition after years of daily use and weekly washing (no fabric pilling or color fade).

The Patagonia R1 is made in Columbia. A percentage of the polyester is made from recycled U.S. fibers.

4. UV Water Treatment by Steripen

If you don’t like the taste of chemically treated water or don’t want to mess with pumps or filters, consider treating water with UV. The steripen is an easy-to-use, portable device that is perfect for traveling or backpacking.


Steripen UV Water Treatment
The steripen uses Ultraviolet Light (UV) to inactivate 99.9% of viruses, bacteria, and protozoa – including Giardia and Cryptosporidium. It is easy to use, requires no chemicals, and sterilizes 1L of water quickly (90 seconds). The Steripen Journey (with batteries and cover) weighs 4.5 ounces.One drawback of the UV system is that it requires the water to be relatively clear or clean in order to work. This means the lamp will not activate if placed in muddy water. It also will not properly treat water that contains ice because the light is not able to pass through the air bubbles in the ice. You will need to carry a separate container for collecting and sterilizing water. We recommend a standard BPA-free lexan or steel container for that purpose. Despite these minor weaknesses, the Steripen remains our top choice for treating water. Some people have experienced quality issues. We have not thus far. Read our review of the Steripen

The Steripen is made in China.

 

5. GSI Halulite Microdualist Cookset

This lightweight cook-set comes with everything you need to prepare a meal (minus the stove). The dishes nest together and pack inside of the cook pot. Comes in dual or single size.

GSI Halulite Microdualist Cookset

The GSI Halulite is a full-service cook set that packs everything neatly together inside of the cooking pot, weighing in about 17 ounces. There may even be room left for your alcohol stove (our can-style alcohol stove fits right inside one of the nested bowls). The Microdualist version is designed for 2 people and the pieces are color-coded (blue & orange) so each hiker can claim his/her dining piece. The set includes a 1.4 L cook-pot made of hard-anodized aluminum with a vent/straining lid, two mugs with insulating liners and sipping lids, two bowls, 2 telescoping sporks, and a cover bag that doubles as a sink.

The pot is perfect for boiling water and hydrating dehydrated or freeze-dried meals. We’ve used it for all types of meals – including saucy one-pot pasta dishes, thick oatmeal, soup, and coffee – and have never experienced issues with food sticking. The anodized surface also makes cleaning the pot super-easy. Just wipe off food debris with a cloth or lick it clean! The mugs and bowls nest together nicely so no big deal if you don’t need both. It is nice to have the separate pieces for eating and drinking, so you can enjoy your food while sipping juice/coffee/tea from the mug. The sporks are fine for eating, but too flimsy and short for stirring and digging into dense meals such as pasta. You’ll probably want to carry a separate utensil if you have meals that require thorough stirring.

The GSI Halulite Cookset is made in China.

6. Thermarest Neo Air Mattress

We all deserve a good night’s sleep. Getting comfortable and drifting off to a peaceful slumber on this lightweight, air filled mattress is easy – especially for side sleepers.

Thermarest Neoair mattress

Backpackers who prefer sleeping in a tent will need a good insulating pad to keep underneath their sleeping bag. The right pad makes a warm and restful night in the woods possible. Insulating pads come in various sizes and shapes. The neo air featured here comes in 4 different lengths: 

large (6’4″), regular (6′), medium (5’6″) and short (4′).

All sizes are the same thickness (2.5 inches) and width (20″). We prefer a 6′ length pad for an all-season solution. This year, Thermarest introduced a 4-season pad. If you plan to do cold weather backpacking, get the regular or large size to keep your legs insulated from the ground, or consider the 4-season version. The shorter pads are probably best reserved for warm weather backpacking, short hikers, or ultra light hikers.

Neo Air – Good for Side Sleepers

My hiking partner is a side-sleeper who often woke up to an aching back and sore hips when resting on the Thermarest Prolite. After upgrading to the Neo Air, his back and hips ached no more! The Neo Air is extremely comfortable and keeps him warm on nights where it dips to 15 degrees. This mattress is not self-inflatable and will require a few minutes to prepare your bed. It takes about 2-3 minutes to fully inflate it, about 30 – 40 breaths. Deflating it takes less time and it does roll up easily. The size when rolled up is 4X9 inches, about the size of a 32 ounce water bottle. We’ve not had any problems with puncturing or losing air since having it.  It seems to be durable so far.

The Thermarest Neo Air Mattress is made in USA (Seattle, WA).

7. Headlamp – Petzl Tikka

A bright LED headlamp that holds up during inclement weather is a must for backpacking and the Petzl Tikka series performs well.

 Petzl Tikka XP2 Headlamp

The Petzl Tikka XP is a good quality head-lamp that works well for seeing in pitch black darkness. We count on it for night hiking and have used it many times in the pouring rain. We have also found it handy to have for various chores around the house (crawl space, plumbing work, etc). Petzl makes various versions of the Tikka lamp. Some factors that you may want to consider –

# of LED’s – we recommend purchasing a head-lamp that has at least 2 LEDs.

Brightness Adjustment – look for 2 or 3 brightness settings (low, med, high) so you can adjust to the conditions and preserve the battery life. A strobe/flash setting may be useful, but we’ve never found a need to use it.

Tilt –this is necessary for aiming the light source at your target.

Lumens – the higher the lumen rating, the more intensity the glow of the headlamp. Look for at least 40 lumens. Another factor is the distance the Lumens can carry the light, referred as beam distance. Trail hikers or taller hikers should look for lights with a greater beam distance to allow the
light source to project ample distance ahead. Stay with one that reaches 25 meters or higher.

Battery Flexibility – lamps that will accommodate lithium batteries are a bonus because lithium operates more efficiently in cold weather and are lighter in weight than standard alkaline batteries.

The Petzl Tikka headlamp is made in France

8. Dried Meals by Outdoor Herbivore

Enjoy good food on the trail by stocking up on dried meals from Outdoor Herbivore.  These tasty grab-to-go meals are perfect to have on-hand for that last minute wilderness escape.  Purchasing for a picky eater? Try our gift certificates!

vegetarian backpacking gift bag Our list of recommendations would not be complete without mentioning our own products, which we feast on for all our outdoor activities. Some of our favorite backpacking meals include: 

Breakfast – Toasted Sunburst, Apple Quinoa Oatmeal, Denver Veggie Scramble

Hot Lunch – Blackend Quinoa, Cibola Couscous, Chunky Chipotle Chili, Quinoa Cheddar Mac

Cold Lunch – Sunny Sunflower, Waldorf Slaw

Dinner – Lemongrass Thai Curry, Naked Freckle Burrito, Lickety-Split Lentils, Basil Walnut Penne

Dessert – Coconut Chia Peel, ChocoCocoaChia

If you want to purchase a gift item and are undecided on what to purchase, try Outdoor Herbivore’s gift bag, which includes 3 dried meals and 1 dried sauce mix (1 breakfast, 2 entrées and pesto spread) wrapped in a air-dry reusable bag and tied off with a ribbon and ultralight carabiner; Pair it with our Trail Sprout Kit for the ultimate gift. Also try any of our combo kits.

Vegetarian Backpacking Food

Outdoor Herbivore’s meals are made in the USA with 85% of ingredients grown in the USA. 

9.  Joby Gorilla Pod (original)

A small, light weight flexible camera tripod that grips and wraps around almost any surface. It is the perfect camera tripod for traveling or hiking.

Gorilla Pod

The original Joby Gorilla Pod is the perfect camera tripod to take day-hiking or backpacking because it is compact (~ 6″ long), lightweight (1.6 ounces) and grips onto most surfaces. It has 3 bendable and rotatable legs that can rotate 360 degrees.  We use it to grip onto tree limbs and on the top of trail posts, mostly. The original model is intended for point and shoot digital cameras and will hold a camera that weighs up to 11.5 ounces. There are different models suited for heavier cameras, such as digital SLR cameras, or for other photographic needs. Key features –

Easy to Use – It is easy to mount onto your camera (you’ll need to install a mounting bracket to the bottom of your camera) and the pod will lock into place instantly. You’ll want to set the timer on your camera after you set-up the tripod for your desired shot.

Solo/Group photos – ideal to carry if you hike solo and want to capture an image of yourself or want to include everyone in the photo. It also eliminates the need for asking someone to take your photo when you are in a crowded vacation spot.

The Joby Gorilla Pod is made in China.

10.  Casio Pathfinder Solar Watch

We’ve owned this watch since February 2010 and it has performed like a charm.

casio pathfinder watch

The Casio Pathfinder watch was featured in our 11 Gifts for the Outdoor Recreationist and it remains a favorite piece of our everyday gear. 

It performs well as a timekeeping device and for tracking distance, direction and altitude on the trail. There are various models of this watch. The watch shown here is the solar powered PAW1300T-7V with the titanium band. This model includes atomic clock calibration, a digital compass, altimeter (with cumulative ascent-descent memory), barometer, thermometer, and a stopwatch.

The Casio Pathfinder watch is made in Thailand.

Note: Occasionally, Outdoor Herbivore will endorse other company’s products. Unless otherwise stated, these products are those that we are familiar with and recommend based on our own positive experience. Some of the links on this page are affiliate links. That means that if you buy a product after clicking on one of these links, we may receive compensation for making the recommendation. Your purchase price is the same regardless if you purchase after clicking on the link or going direct to the website. Making a purchase by clicking these links does encourage Outdoor Herbivore to continue to provide reviews of products as a service to the outdoor community. We appreciate your support!

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