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*Updated for 2016*

Fifty bucks isn’t a lot of money to spend on a gear gift, but if spent on the right piece of gear, can rock a hiker’s world and change their life. In my hiking career, I’ve had a lot of fifty dollar gear that’s just ok. The gear in this list is paradigm changing, mind rocking, world altering-ly awesome stuff. Included with each piece of gear are a few sentences about how this piece of gear transformed my hiking life. I hope it can make you and your friends’ hikes even more awesome, too!

**PLUS: a bunch of these are handmade in the USA by hikers for hikers.**

SAMSUNG CSC

Ultralight Umbrella

There’s a reason why everyone from myself to triple-Triple Crowner Lint uses an umbrella:it’s worth its weight in gold. I use mine to protect from sun, rain, hail, snow, wind, and sandstorms, and most recently walked across an entire bsain during 45 mph winds in a snow storm to save an umbrella that the wind snatched after I slipped on mud. I couldn’t imagine living my life without an umbrella, and your hiker friend will feel the same way, too. Plus, if they hate hiking with it, they’ll still love using it in town because it easily fits into a purse or messenger bag. There’s lots out there, but I suggest supporting the Continental Divide Trail Coalition Logo-ed Montbell Umbrella to get a functional gift that gives back to the trail community. $50

 

Sawyer Mini

This is the ultralight water filtration system that revolutionized the long distance hiking world. There isn’t a month that goes by that I don’t blow someone’s mind with the existence of such an amazing product. The best $25 Christmas present you could get someone (who doesn’t already have it—good for the hiker/bad for the present giver: they last FOREVER.) $25

 

IMG_6391 Titanium Potty trowel

Like a lot of long distance thru-hikers, I NEVER wanted to carry a potty trowel. It seemed like a lot of weight and just the idea of one would make ultralight guru Ray Jardine roll over in his tarp. Until now. My titanium potty trowel might be the best 0.4 oz I carry. Pooping in the woods used to be my least favorite part of the day, and this 11.3 grams of genius makes every single hiking day a lot better for me and significantly reduces the chance I’ll feel guilty about doing a crappy job on digging a cathole. There’s lots of brands out there (as I write in this longer article about why hikers should carry potty trowels), but I like the QiWiz Titanium Potty Trowel, designed and handmade in Ohio by hiker Rob “QiWiz” Kelley $30

SAMSUNG CSCDarn Tough socks

I hiked 5,000 miles before I first bought Darn Tough socks on a whim when I saw them on sale at Campmor. Once I tried Darn Toughs, I never looked back. Darn Tough hiking socks last a lot longer than other athletic socks and fit better, preventing a lot of unnecessarily foot problems. These socks are the gold standard of thru-hiking sock. Designed and made in Northfield, Vermont. $15

 

 

A beanie that actually keeps your head warm OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

You can’t beat beanies for price-weight-warmth-functionality ratio. I’ve been wearing them for years. But no matter how much I pull down on it, with my long head, this style never seems to keep the ears totally warm. This summer, while hiking the GDT, my hiking partner Naomi had a beanie with ear flaps. Nothing fancy, nothing heavy weight, just functional. “Where did you get that??!!!” I demanded. Turns out Montbell makes them and even though I’m one of their athletes, I didn’t know. The Montbell Chameece Cap with Ear Warmer double layers at the ears to keep them super warm. It’s such a minor difference in design, but my life was changed. $19

gramcracker

Trail Designs Gram Cracker Stove

This simple piece of gear is so amazing that I remember exactly when and where I was when I first saw the Gram Cracker—Next Adventure gear store in Portland, OR! Weighing in at THREE grams, this is the world’s lightest stove. I didn’t know it was possible for a stove be that light and my mind was blown. Since then, the Gram Cracker has become my main stove system and I never tire of its simplistic efficiency. Designed and handmade in San Jose, CA by backpacking mechanical engineers, Russ and Rand. $15

Lok Sak OP Sack

These Odor Proof sacks are a safe place to keep your backpacking food overnight. I first started carrying this on the CDT to lessen the chance that grizzlies could smell my food. The grizzly never did get my food, but I can speak for sure that the sack keeps animals away: when I hiked in the Pacific Northwest, I left some food in a normal ziplock and some food in my Lok Sak and kept them right by my head as I slept. The ziplock was torn to shreds but the food in my Lok Sak was safe. After that, I stopped carrying a food stuffsack altogether and now exlsuively use the Lok Sak as my foodbag. $13

IMG_6694Dirtygirl gaiters:

Who knows how many thousands of miles I complained about rocks in my shoes until I discovered these funky gaiters. Lightweight, quick drying, apply-able to any trail runner or running shoe, these gaiters are made in the US and come in great designs (and boring designs, too, for your less adventurous friends). Plus, this summer on the snowy CDT and on the Great Divide Trail, I learned that these gaiters are great for helping you save your shoe after  you posthole into snow or mud. Designed and handmade in Green Valley, Arizona by Xy “Dirty Girl” Weiss and her running goddesses. $20

Luminaid

Designed by women engineers Anna and Andrea to help hospitals in less developed countries and during natural disasters, this lightweight solar-powered lamp makes a great Leave No Trace alternative to a campfire. It can make a great in-tent lamp or a gathering spot for ghost stories with a group. I’ve used the Luminaid on group trips when camping in sensitive alpine areas or in the desert where there is no wood. Major plus is you can doodle on it in multiple colors and make a backcountry discoball. This is such an awesome luxury item that ultralight gear master Glen van Peski is even known to carry it. $20


Toaks Titanium Long Handle Spoon

I’ve hiked over 15,000 miles with a short titanium spoon and every time I eat a meal, I wish I had a long handled titanium spoon. Let’s just say that with a short handled spoon, I’ve been known to get a lot of Mac N’ Cheese on my hand and fingers every night. At this point, I don’t have the heart to dump the short-handled spoon who has done the Triple Crown with me, but I can’t wait to lose it so I can replace it with this  long handled spoon. $11

 

20140604_150623Hikertrash

Described by my friend videographer Miguel “Virgo” Aguilar as what Quiksilver and Billabong were to surfing, Hikertrash may just be the next big brand to go big when thru-hiking goes mainstream. Hikertrash is made by hikers for hikers with the idea that hikers can wear cool stuff with the proceeds supporting the trails that we love. The hot new item this year are Saufley Electric shirts and hoodies with proceeds going to support the famous PCT trail angels. Created by Bend, OR based design gurus  Renee “She-Ra” Patrick and ULA and Six Moon Designs designer Brian Frankel, Hikertrash stuff is priced for the individual trying to save for his/her next thru-hike and is the hottest off-season commodity in the hiker world. $1 to $15

Purple Rain Adventure Skirt daytrip-in-canyonlands-national-park-gossamer-gear-minimalist-and-altra-superiors-photo-by-tom-gathman

Designed by a thru-hiker for thru-hiking, this practical, stylish, quick-drying, water-resistant skirt was designed so that lady hikers never have to wear ill fitting, dumpy, cargo pants again. The Purple Rain Skirt is flattering, yet utilitarian. It features four pockets (including two big enough to fit fit a phone or Nat Geo maps). Plus, with a chic yoga-style spandex top, this skirt won’t slip off your waist as you pull big miles. Designed and handmade in Portland, OR by an amazing hikertrash lady, Mandy “Purple Rain” Bland. $50-$60