- Buyer's Guide
Gift Guide | Backpacker Gifts Under $100
Still twiddling your thumbs on outdoor and backpacker gifts? We’ve got you covered. Here are some excellent gift ideas under $100 any outdoor enthusiast will appreciate.
As a canoe camping enthusiast and former guide, I’ve grown extremely fond of 1″ cam straps. Their uses are limited only by your imagination; 12-15′ are great for lashing a canoe on your roof rack, while 8′ straps are great for keeping your cooler in place. Shorter straps can be connected to make longer straps. You could probably put together a trebuchet with them (and that Silky saw I mentioned earlier) if that’s your thing. They’re just fantastic. Gift a pair to your crunchy friends and they will find a use for them.
Everyone has their own preference for hiking socks. This year, I’ve been wearing WORN Brand and I have to say, they make a darn good sock. Their T3 Hiker has a great fit, plenty of cushion and even comes in L-R specific pairs. They run a bit warmer than the SmartWool PhD Hiker I’m used to, which was a pleasant surprise in camp this fall.
I’m a big fan of hot coffee and cold beer and Hydro Flask does both with aplomb. I wouldn’t necessarily carry this into the woods, but many can justify it at 9.1 oz. I have two in constant rotation at the house. It’s a great gift to receive and if you think you’re a little shorthanded, might I suggest you provide the beverage as well.
Not much to say that hasn’t been said about the original BUFF. It’s a hat, ski mask, neck scarf, headband, insect shield, light-duty towel, bushcraft oven mitt, and a really nice handkerchief. I’m a big fan of mine and keep one with my cook set and one on my person to keep the bugs at bay. If it’s colder, I’ll wear them doubled up for some additional warmth.
It’s the number one thing I recommend to people just getting into the outdoors. Even if you’re not going to be sleeping on it, at just over 10 oz. in a short length, it’s still easily worth the weight penalty. Knee pad in the garden? Fan to stoke the fire? A changing pad to put on your sacred socks? Make-shift stabilizer splint? Emergency flip flop material? The Z Lite is the tool for the job. Waterproof, durable, and endlessly useful, I’ve carried my Z Lite for over a decade and can’t think of an occasion to ever leave it at home.
I did the whole roll-up-your-jacket-and-put-it-in-a-stuff-sack thing for a while. I quickly learned to prioritize my sleep as a matter of pragmatism: better sleep, better mood, better performance, etc. I’ve been using an Aeros Premium for over five years and it recently delaminated. Fear not. Sea to Summit immediately sent a replacement as per their incredible warranty. It’s under 3 oz. and comes with a small stuff sack. Well worth the price tag for a better night’s sleep.
For headlamps, I like the Black Diamond Storm. Mine has been kicking butt for four years now. Newer models offer 400 and 150-lumen settings and a run time of 200 hours on low. The Spot can be a bit saggy at 4.2 oz with 4 AAA batteries, but the silicon adjustable band has mostly kept mine in its place.
Trying to find the perfect pack… err—pot—is a tall order. It has to have usable internal volume to minimize dead space, it has to have a wide enough base to rest confidently on your cooking surface, and it has to have a shallow enough #spoonangle (that’s a thing) that you can actually eat out of it. I’ve tried dozens of aluminum, steel, and titanium personal cooking pots and I keep coming back to the Trek 900. The Solo 2.0 should get a look too and might be better if you’re cooking for only one, but for bigger appetites and pairs, the 900 is sweet.
Big camp choppers are cool, but in my experience, you can get the essentials done with a small knife. Preferring fixed blades for their durability, I’ve carried an Izula for the better part of a decade and it’s never skipped a beat. Typically, I wear mine inverted on a lanyard and the factory sheath still maintains positive retention. The Izula weighs a scant 2 oz. (knife only), so you’ll hardly ever notice it’s there.
I’ve been using a BearPaw Wilderness Designs 10×10’ as a primary shelter for nearly five years and it’s really changed how I approach outdoor travel. A tarp is much more flexible than a tent, and because it’s a single item rather than a set of components, I’m more likely to deploy it during shorter breaks for cover from the elements. Once you switch to a tarp, it’ll be hard to ever give up the freedom it gives you. I like blaze orange in the event I ever need to signal for help, but BPWD makes them in a bunch of colors and sizes.
I once saw an ol’ timer rambling down the Middle Fork Snoqualmie with a Day and I could just tell he was sorted. I snagged one this fall for quick overnights trying to challenge my gear selection a bit more, and I can’t believe it’s taken me so long to buy a Day. It’s been excellent as a camera bag and for fall picnics with the family. It’s simple, comfortable, and has just enough room for your essentials. Plus, there’s room to stash your sleeping pad through the external compression straps and your puffy in the capture flap. For overnights and bigger loads, I would recommend the strapettes. I made my own out of spare buckles and 1″ webbing, but I have a feeling Mountainsmith executed theirs better.
If I’m going out for more than a few days and I’m permitted to have a campfire, I’m probably going to be bringing along a folding saw. The Silky Big Boy is an absolute workhorse for major cutting tasks, blowing through softwoods and making quick work of hardwoods with a 14.2″ blade. It weighs just under a pound at 450 grams, so it’s really not a terrible weight penalty considering you could build a house with it and it folds into itself for easy storage (no blade guard required).
Honorable Mentions over $100:
Patagonia’s R1 is nearing icon status at 22 years and counting. They’ve adorned mountain athletes all over the globe, keeping hard chargers (relatively) comfortable during even the most grueling suffer fests. If that sounds a bit hardcore for you, rest assured, mine has seen plenty of action this season on the work-from-home front. Made from Polartec Power Grid, the R1 is warm enough to wear static, and breathable enough to wear for high output cold-weather pursuits. Available in half-zip and full zip flavors, there’s an R1 for nearly every occasion. Women’s version here. P.S. We all miss the hoodie, Patagonia.
Few things are as important to my comfort outside as a really solid pair of softshell pants. They’re also unfortunately really hard to find in my experience, so I was over the moon when I found the Motion Stretch pants from Houdini. After four years of use, I’d blown the crotch out twice. I emailed Houdini looking for a factory repair and they sent me a new updated pair of Motion Top pants, no questions asked.
My previous Motion Stretch pants ran a bit snug through my seat and thigh, but Houdini really nailed it with the Motion Top, which has an even larger gusset and more generous articulation at the knee. The Motion Comfortshell is substantial and still very stretchy, which pairs wonderfully with the pattern for confident and unrestricted movement. Definitely a three-season winner. Women’s version here.
Houdini is as eco-conscious as they come. I’ve been really particular lately about where I spend my money, trying to support brands with missions I value. Houdini has been doing some really wonderful things in closing the materials loop and allowing their mission statement to drive product development. I can’t speak highly enough about their efforts.