Appalachian Trail Hikers Gift Guide: 2021

Appalachian Trail Hikers Gift Guide

Here is a selection of must-have gifts for the Appalachian Trail Thru-hiker or Section Hiker in your family. It doesn’t matter if they hike the trail end-to-end all at once or in stages, they’ll appreciate these gifts and think of you when they use them every day. This collection of thru-hiker and backpacking gift ideas is a good place to start.

We’ve listed a variety of gift ideas across a range of price points, from backpacking gear to luxury items that will help them enjoy their adventures. Chances are they’re busy saving for their next thru-hike or section hike, and we can pretty much guarantee that some of the items below are listed on their wish lists.

1. Nitecore NU32 Rechargeable Headlamp

Nitecore NU 32 Headlamp
The Nitecore NU 32 is a very bright 550 lumen rechargeable headlamp with a larger-than-average 6.6Whr (1800 mAh) lithium-ion battery for long-lasting power. It has four brightness levels, a primary CREE spotlight, and auxiliary LEDs for flood, closeup, and red lighting modes with a tilt adjustment making it ideal for night hiking, trail running, and camping. The NU 32 has a built-in power indicator and lock to prevent accidental activation, it is water-resistant to 2 meters and includes a micro-USB cable for recharging.

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2. MSR PocketRocket 2

MSR pocketrocket 2
This reliable, lightweight backpacking stove is a classic for a reason. Weighing just a few ounces, the MSR Pocket Rocket 2 folds down to fit in the palm of your hand and can boil a liter of water in 3.5 minutes. It threads easily onto an isobutane fuel canister and is durable enough to last a 2,000-mile hike and beyond. We don’t recommend buying the fuel canister as a gift—you can’t bring them onto planes, plus the canisters are easily available at most outfitters.

Check for the latest price at:
REI  | Amazon

3. Swiftwick VISION Socks

swiftwick vision socks
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.

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4. Zpacks Duplex 2P Tent

Zpacks Duplex 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. Be sure to also check out the new freestanding version of the Duplex called the Zpacks Free Duo.

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5. Sea to Summit Aeros Ultralight Pillow

Aeros S2s Pillow
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.

Check for the latest price at:
REI | Amazon

6. Katabatic Gear Alsek 22 Quilt

Katabatic Alsek 22
While some quilts feel like they aren’t wide enough to wrap around, the angled “wings” on the Katabatic Alsek 22 help keep the quilt secure around the hiker without a major weight penalty. The Katabatic Alsek weighs just 1 pound, 6 ounces with 900-fill down, and a durable Pertex Quantum Ripstop. It also has a longer sewn footbox than some other quilt models, which helps trap more heat. We also like the Katabatic Palisade 30, but generally recommend something a bit warmer for a thru-hike, especially with the low weight of these quilts.

Check for the latest price at:
Katabatic Gear

7. Sea to Summit Women’s UL Insulated Air Sleeping Pad

S2S Women’s UL 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.

Check for the latest price at:
REI | Backcountry

8. Enlightened Equipment Torrid APEX Insulated Jacket

Enlightened Equipment torrid Jacket
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.

Check for the latest price (Men’s) at:
Enlightened Equipment
Check for the latest price (Women’s) at:
Enlightened Equipment

9. Zpacks Bear Bagging Kit

Zpacks Bear Bagging Kit
The Zpacks Bear Bagging Kit is by far the most popular bear bag with backpackers. Weighing just 3.4 oz, the kit includes everything you need to hang a bear bag, including a waterproof roll-top dry bag, 50 ft of bear bag line, and a rock sack to throw over a tree branch. The bear bag is large enough to hold up to 5-6 days worth of food but is easily compressed for shorter trips.

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10. UltraliteSacks UL Compression Sack

Dyneema Compression Sacks
The problem with most of the nylon compression sacks you can buy is that they can be really heavy, weighing 4-6 ounces, each. But the Dyneema UL Compression Sacks from UltraliteSacks are a real breakthrough in terms of weight reduction, weighing less than one-fourth of that. That’s an instant weight saving at a surprisingly affordable price. A size medium (6.8L) is the best size for ultralight backpacking quilts or warm weather sleeping bags.

Check for the Latest Price at:
Garage Grown Gear

11. Sawyer Squeeze Water Filter

Sawyer Water Filter
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 a longer lifespan than the smaller models.

Check for the latest price at:
REI | Amazon

12. Hyperlite Mountain Gear Packing Pods

HMG Packing Pods
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 make for easy access and stackable packing. They’re also compatible with most backpacks.

Check for the latest price at:
Hyperlite Mountain Gear

13. TentLab Deuce of Spades Trowel

Deuce of Spades #2
Proper Leave No Trace practice means 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.

Check for the latest price at:
REI | Amazon

14. Good To-Go Backpacking Meals

goodtogo backpacking meals
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.

Check for the latest price at:
REI | Amazon

15. Vargo BOT 700

vargo Bot
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!

Check for the latest price at:
Garage Grown Gear

16. Anker Soundcore Liberty Neo Wireless Earbuds

soundcore ear buds
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.

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17. Lifeproof FRE Series Waterproof Phone Case

lifeproof fre case
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.

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18. Swiss Army Classic

The Swiss Army Classic multi-tool is a longtime hiker favorite because it’s super lightweight but packs many of the tools that hikers need on a daily basis, ranging from a small pair of sharp scissors and a knife to a nail file, toothpick, and tweezers. Weighing just 0.7 ounces, it’s easy to clip to the outside of your backpack with a mini-biner for easy access. Replacement toothpicks and tweezers are also available since they’re usually the first thing you lose.

Available from:
REI | Amazon

19. Hyperlite Mountain Flat Tarp

Hyperlite Mountain Gear Flat Tarp
The Hyperlite Mountain Gear Flat Tarp is a flat tarp with 90-degree corners that can be set up in many different ways or “shapes” depending on weather conditions. It’s available in two sizes: an 8’6″ x 8’6″ model (8.85 oz) and one that’s 8′ x 10′ in size (9.74 oz) in white or spruce green Dyneema DCF. It comes with 16 perimeter tie-outs and 4 internal ones so you can lash it to the ground or nearby vegetation in many different ways.  The tarp comes outfitted with line locks and the ridgeline is factory sealed. 10 guylines are included, but you have to attach them yourself.

Check for the latest price at:
Hyperlite Mountain Gear

20. Gossamer Gear LT5 Trekking Poles

Gossamer Gear LT5
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.

Check for the latest price at:
Gossamer Gear

Editor’s note: If you’re thinking about buying gear that we’ve reviewed or recommend on SectionHiker, you can help support us in the process. Just click on any of the seller links above, and if you make a purchase, we may (but not always) receive a small percentage of the transaction. The cost of the product is the same to you but this helps us continue to test and write unsponsored and independent gear reviews, beginner FAQs, and free hiking guides. Thanks and we appreciate your support!

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