What gifts do backpackers want? Hint: Gear. Specifically, they want backpacking gear that protects, improves safety, and furnishes comfort. The best gifts for backpackers are lightweight, functional, durable, compact, and dependable.
If figuring out what to give is daunting, take a breath. We understand, and we’ve got your back. Read on to learn about the gear backpackers need and want. Be a hero – give a gift for the adventures ahead.
If learning about backpacking gear isn’t your thing . . .
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*Grey Otter Outventures, Inc. is an affiliate of some of the brands mentioned herein and may receive a small commission from purchases made from these brands at no extra cost to you.
GEAR ESSENTIALS #1: BACKPACK
It is the one essential piece of gear every backpacker must have. A backpack. A good backpack carries everything needed for a backcountry camping adventure. For a backpack to be great, however, it must be lightweight, durable, have useful features, and carry everything comfortably. When it comes to gifts for backpackers, this one is at the top of the list!
Great backpacks come in a variety of styles, weights, sizes, and prices. We like the Osprey line of backpacks for our adventures because they provide the right balance of all the considerations.
Lightweight yet durable, Osprey thoughtfully builds in organization features like removable lids, hip pockets, separated inner sections, and storage for hydration reservoirs. The Osprey backpacks we use are roomy enough to hold everything we need, and the Osprey harness system makes carrying the load extraordinarily comfortable.
For adventures up to 5 days we use the Osprey Atmos AG 50L Backpack (men) and the Osprey Aura AG 50L Backpack (women). When we need a little more room on longer trips we use our larger packs: the Xenith 75 (men) the Xena 85 (women). Alternatively, when we need to carry a heavier load but don’t need the space of our Xenith and Xena workhorses, we use our Osprey EJA 58 (w0men) and the Osprey EXOS 58 (men). These packs are a couple of pounds lighter than our Atmos AG 50 and Aura AG 50 packs, but have similar carrying capacity. We love all of our Osprey backpacks, and highly recommend them.
For other Osprey backpack options and sizes, CLICK HERE.
GEAR ESSENTIALS #2: SLEEP SYSTEM
Backpackers must rest tired legs, feet, and bodies each night. They need a good sleep system that provides shelter and comfort while they recharge. To get the most out of an adventure, however, “good” doesn’t cut it when it comes to sleep. For adequate rest, a sleep system must be great. For our weary bones that means a tent, sleeping pad, sleeping bag, and pillow that are all lightweight, durable, compact, and have useful features. When it comes to the best gifts for backpackers, any component of a great sleep system is always welcome!
Tent: Backcountry campsites typically have only small patches of ground suitable for backpackers to set up their tents for the night. Although suitable ground need only be a level spot free of rocks and roots, sometimes finding a spot large enough for a tent can be a huge challenge.
In a tent, fighting gravity on unlevel ground is a losing battle. One of us always slid or rolled into the other while we tried to sleep in the larger 3 person backpacking tent we shared. Many uncomfortable nights led us to the conclusion that our tent needed a smaller footprint. We realized that two single person tents were the answer.
The tent we already had was good. It performed beautifully in most respects, but where it fell short it bombed. In short, we needed a great tent. To meet that measure it had to be lightweight and compact as well as easy to set up and take down. Additionally, it had to be multi-functional and roomy inside, with room to also shelter our gear. Most of all, a small footprint was mandatory.
Enter the Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL1 Single Person Tent. This tent meets all of the requirements we have for a backcountry tent. In addition, our backpacks are protected from the elements under the rain fly, and we don’t have to crawl over them to get in and out of the tent. HUGE BONUS!! To protect the bottom of our tents from rocks and other ground hazards we add the Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL Series One Person Footprint.
For other single person backpacking tent options CLICK HERE.
Sleeping Bag: A good sleeping bag keeps backpackers warm on overnight adventures in the backcountry. A great backpacking sleeping bag is also well constructed, super lightweight, and packs up into an incredibly small space.
Western Mountaineering sleeping bags definitely check all the boxes. Besides being unbelievably comfortable and versatile, they are warm and cozy. In colder weather we use our Western Mountaineering TerraLite Down 25 Degree Bags and love how well they keep the cold at bay. When overnight temperatures are more moderate, we use the Western Mountaineering EverLite Down 45 Degree Bag because it is even lighter and more compact.
For other great ultralight backpacking sleeping bag options CLICK HERE.
Sleep Pad: Backpackers need something between them and the ground when they sleep. They need a sleep pad. A good one provides cushioning from the hard ground. A great one is also durable, lightweight, and compact. We’ll go for great on this piece of gear every time. As gifts for backpackers go, this one truly shows you care about their comfort.
On the trail we’ve seen foldable sleep pads strapped to the outside of backpacks. Yuck. They are lightweight, but bulky. That’s why we see them outside the pack – they don’t fit inside. Frankly, we want to carry our gear inside our backpacks so these pads just don’t check all the boxes. Inflatable sleep pads, however, do.
Just like we have two options for our sleeping bags, we have two options for our sleep pads. In warmer temperatures we use the Nemo Astro Lite Sleep Pad because it is incredibly comfortable, lightweight, and compact. When the thermometer drops below 40 degrees, however, we rely on the Therm-A-Rest Neo Air All Season Sleep Pad. This sleep pad adds insulation to protect against cold which seeps up from the ground. Although it is lightweight and compact, it is slightly heavier and bigger than our Nemo Astro Light Pads.
For other lightweight and compact inflatable sleep pad options CLICK HERE.
Pillow: A weary backpacker needs a proper place for their head when they sleep. A good option for many backpackers is to cram clothing into a stuff sack and punch it until it turns into something resembling a pillow. It is a lightweight option which kind of works, but sore necks and poor sleep ensue because it isn’t comfortable. A great pillow it is not. To be great, a backpacker’s pillow must be comfortable, packable, and lightweight.
Since rest and comfort matter to us, we rest our heads and sleep fitfully on the Nemo Equipment Fillo Pillow. These inflatable pillows check all the boxes. We don’t have to stuff them with stinky clothing, or punch them to try to turn them into pillows because they are pillows! They are super easy to use, pack up super small, and the outer covering is removable for washing. This gift is sure to delight your favorite backpacker.
For other lightweight and compact inflatable pillow options CLICK HERE.
GEAR ESSENTIALS #3: PERSONAL COMFORT AND PROTECTION
Weather and terrain drive the need for gear that provides personal protection and comfort. Specifically, we’re talking about protection and comfort for our bodies and our feet. We see a lot of good gear that will get the job done, however great gear makes the adventure comfortable, and the backpacker happy. Any gear that increases physical comfort and protection is always one of the best gifts for backpackers.
Jacket: Backpackers add a jacket to their gear for times they are out in the cold, and it is often cold at night in the backcountry. Planning for cold not only ensures greater comfort when it gets chilly, but it also matters for safety. Getting too cold is dangerous. A good jacket will protect from the cold, but a great jacket will get it done with minimal bulk and weight.
We always have our ultralight Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer jackets with us when we go backpacking. Once the sun goes down it almost always gets cold. These jackets keep us warm. Period. Surprisingly durable for being ultra lightweight, they scrunch down to nothing in our backpacks. As far as we are concerned these jackets are super stars.
For other ultra lightweight jacket options CLICK HERE.
Boots: Backpacking feet need the protection and support of a quality set of hiking boots. Backpackers need great boots made for the task. Rather than have two sets of boots, we use the same hiking boots for backpacking as we do day hiking. Our boots of choice are made for the rigors of backpacking, but are also lightweight and have the ankle support, outstanding traction, and stability we need. Whether we are day hiking or backpacking our feet don’t get fatigued or sore even after many hard miles on the trail. In short, the boots we swear by are great boots!
Hiking boot technology changes rapidly, and we go through a lot of boots because we put a lot of miles on them. We currently wear the Solomon Quest 4D 3 GTX (mens) and the HOKA One One Sky Kaha (womens), and are both very happy with the performance of our shoes.
For other backpacking boot options CLICK HERE.
Trekking Poles: Carrying a backpack is hard on knees and backs. Trekking poles help reduce the strain, and make difficult and longer hikes more comfortable. They are also great for stream crossings and tough terrain, providing stability and support when they are most needed.
Our preferred brand for poles is LEKI. Currently, we use the LEKI Carbon TA XTG (men) and the LEKI Women’s Cressida COR-TEC Pole. We love these poles. They are collapsible for the times we need to stow them, and fully adjustable so they can be easily and quickly lengthened or shortened as the trail dictates.
For other trekking pole options CLICK HERE.
Chairs: Let’s face it, the ground and logs are not great seating options. They may work, but are not optimal. In many instances, we will take the weight penalty to carry a camp chair for comfort. Whereas many chair options are good at providing comfort, they lack the features we feel they need to achieve the status of great. To be great a backpacking chair must be lightweight, compact, and strong. When it comes to a gift for backpackers, this one will have them thanking you over and over again!
We recently upgraded our backpacking chairs to the Helinox Chair Zero. This gem of a chair weighs only 1.1 lbs, packs down to a very small size, and can hold up to 265 pounds. This chair is everything we could ask for in a backpacking chair! Other chairs we use when we don’t mind extra weight and space are the Helinox Chair One Mini Camp Chair (2lbs) and the Helinox Sunset Chair (3 lbs, 4 oz). These larger chairs are fantastic for shorter trips.
GEAR ESSENTIALS #4: EATING & DRINKING
Backpackers must eat! Whereas some backpackers eat only cold foods, most choose to have at least one hot meal daily, and others like to do a full on master chef cookout in the backcountry. Anywhere along this spectrum is good, and is entirely a matter of choice.
For us, eating during a backpacking adventure means fueling ourselves with hot meals in the easiest way while carrying as little food related weight as possible. To that end, we stick with lightweight utensils, collapsible mugs, dehydrated food, and a water boiling system. We think this food system is great, and when it comes to great gifts for backpackers, taking care of their eating needs is something they will appreciate. The system we use is compact, lightweight, easy to use, and allows us to minimize the weight what we carry for our nutrition on the trail.
- The GSI Outdoors Collapsible Fair Share Mug holds our meals. This large mug is made of heat resistant silicone and easily holds a dehydrated backpacker meal. The screw on lid keeps heat in and debris out while food is re-hydrating, the solid folding handle makes it easy to use, and it collapses to almost flat.
- The incredibly light Peak Titanium Spork fork/spoon combination is the only eating utensil we need.
- We get our morning coffee fix with the Sea to Summit X-Mug Collapsible Mug. It is made of silicone so it can handle the boiling water – but the heat doesn’t come through the mug to burn hands. It also collapses down to next to nothing.
GEAR ESSENTIALS #5: MISCELLANEOUS TOOLS & ACCESSORIES
The remaining gear backpackers need and want is for safety, comfort, or convenience. Although some of this gear is essential, some of it is not. We’ll let you know which items we think are nice to have, and which ones we wouldn’t think of heading into the backcountry without. We like to have all of this gear available, even if we don’t need some of it for a particular adventure. These items round out our safe, successful, and great backpacking adventures, and all make excellent gifts for backpackers.
Water Bladder (Reservoir): Osprey backpacks, although designed to carry a water bladder, do not come with one. Some backpackers prefer a large water bottle. A water bladder is thus not essential, but for us it is a must have.
We use Camelbak water bladders because they stow securely in our packs and a sip is always at the ready. They come in a variety of sizes, but for backpacking we use the three liter bladder, filling it as necessary based on the day’s planned hike.
Bottle for Hydration Mix: We carry a separate bottle to which we add a hydration packet to replace the electrolytes we lose when we sweat. This is not an essential item, but it allows us to keep only water in our Camelback bladder, which is what we prefer.
Hands down, we believe the best bottles for this are made by Platypus. We like the 0.5l size because it works well with hydration packets, but they come in a variety of sizes. They weigh virtually nothing, flatten to take very little room when not in use, and are amazingly durable.
The best gift for backpackers is the gear they need and want to keep them safe and comfortable on their backcountry adventures.
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