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The 11 Best Gifts for Ultralight Hikers Under $50

by Staff

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An obvious fact: Backpacker’s editors and contributors hike a lot. While we may not be knocking off calendar-year Triple Crowns, our staffers log an impressive amount of miles for people with jobs, and some of our thru-hiking contributors do even more. When something ups our experience on the trail, we take notice.

If you’re looking for a present that will keep a friend or family member happy in the backcountry, we’ve collected 11 favorite lightweight gadgets and supplies that we’d be happy to unwrap. Each cost $50 or less (some as little as $6), and all deserve a spot in your or your loved one’s gear rotation.

(Photo: Courtesy)

Dehydrated Toiletries

Hand sanitizer is convenient, but as a group of unfortunate Pacific Crest Trail hikers discovered in 2022, it’s not as good as handwashing at protecting you from bugs like norovirus. Make scrubbing up easier and lighter with Sea to Summit’s Pocket Hand Wash ($6), a packet of 50 dehydrated soap leaves that come in a plastic case much like the ones that hold breath strips. They’re robust enough that I’ve used them in climates as humid as Panama’s, and they’re convenient to pass around to your group before mealtime. (Caveat: Make sure your hands are dry when you handle them, or they will melt together.)

Dehydrating toothpaste is a popular tactic for ultralighters who have already cut the obvious weight from their packs and are looking for opportunities to shave grams. While there are plenty of guides to creating your own toothpaste dots on the web, you can also buy toothpaste tablets pre-dehydrated. Bite’s tabs are available as an $8-per-month subscription, and unlike a lot of other brands of toothpaste tabs, these contain dentist-recommended fluoride.

Black bandana pack towel
(Photo: Courtesy)

A Multifunctional Bandana

While not strictly necessary, a packable towel is a handy piece of gear to have whether you’re taking an unplanned dip in a backcountry lake or trying to mop up your tent’s wet floor during a rainstorm. The Nomadix Bandana Towel ($25) is a pretty ingenious, multifunctional piece of gear that doubles as a, well, bandana. I’ve worn mine in place of a neck gaiter on fall hikes; the UPF-50+ microfiber fabric is comfortable against skin and available in a range of designs from classic cowboy bandana to floral psychedelic tie-dye.

Hyperlite RePack
(Photo: Courtesy)

A Meal Cozy

Of all the tweaks I’ve made to my setup in the past few years, few have improved my quality of life on the trail like carrying a meal cozy. The concept is simple: A cozy is a pouch made of insulating material. Pop your hot meal or pot into it, and it will trap heat inside, helping your dinner rehydrate faster. Also, while eating, you can take your time and still enjoy a hot dinner instead of racing against the clock for a semi-lukewarm one. On cold trips, it can help you save weight by reducing the amount of fuel you use—since your pouch loses less heat by the time you eat it, you don’t necessarily need to bring your water to a full boil. While making your own is easy, the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Repack ($49) is a secure, ready-made version perfect for cooking in a freezer bag.

black down jacket
(Photo: Courtesy)

A Down Jacket (Yes, Really)

I know what you’re thinking: A down jacket for $50 or less? If you’re a dedicated deal hunter, it’s possible. We’ve written about Uniqlo’s surprisingly capable, 750-fill DWR-treated Ultralight Down Jacket (on sale for $40); right now, you can get the men’s version for a steal in a range of sizes. (At $70, the women’s version is just a little too expensive to make the cut, but is still a pretty good deal.)

The CuloClean is an attachment that turns any plastic bottle into a portable bidet. (Photo: Courtesy of CuloClean)

A Trail Bidet

To pack out TP or not to pack out TP? It’s a surprisingly controversial question. While hikers have traditionally buried their bathroom tissue, increased crowding and the pollution that comes with it have driven some long-distance hikers like Jeff Garmire to push for people to start carrying out what they use. You can sidestep the whole question—and the infamous and uncomfortable condition hikers often call “monkey butt”—by carrying a bidet instead. The CuloClean Ultralight Portable Bidet ($10) is compatible with most disposable plastic bottles and makes it easy to spray down your downstairs, letting you vary the intensity of the stream by how hard you squeeze.

titanium pot
(Photo: Courtesy)

Lightweight Kitchen Gear

Titanium is the gold standard for lightweight cooking gear, but it doesn’t always come cheap. TOAKS’s 750 milliliter pot ($26) sits at a good nexus of affordability and quality; it’s also big enough to fit a 100 milliliter gas canister and compact stove inside but still small enough to use as a mug without feeling like you’ve become one of The Borrowers. Pair it with the BRS-3000T Ultralight Burner ($20), a cheap, 0.88-ounce stove, and a Fozzils Snapfold Bowl ($12 for 2), a flat-packed bowl that I’ve used as a dish, a cutting board, and, one time when I got really bored, an improvised Frisbee.

Turquoise pocket to clip to backpack strap

Extra Pockets

Missing your hip pockets when you use your frameless pack? Add a little convenient storage to your or your giftee’s setup with a removable pocket. Chicken Tramper’s Zippered Shoulder Strap Pocket ($35) clips neatly to the straps on a wide variety of packs, offering an easy-to-reach, waterproof spot to stash a cell phone, a handful of snacks, your headlamp, or anything else you want within arms reach.

Cascadia coffee box
(Photo: Courtesy)

Good Camp Coffee

My caffeine habit is so established that at this point, I think I’d leave my shoelaces at home before my coffee. While Starbucks’ Via changed the instant coffee game when it launched in 2009, backpacking coffee fiends have small-batch choices now. Cascadia Coffee Roasters Instant Essentials Variety Pack ($17 for 6) is rich without being astringent, which made my wake-ups at camp on the Oregon Coast Trail a lot more pleasant. This variety pack comes with two light, two medium, and two dark roast, so you can pick your favorite.

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