Useful Backpacking Gift Ideas for Less Than $50

Useful Backpacking Gift Ideas for Less Than $50

The truth is backpacker’s are typically more about quality time than gifts. They often enjoy the simple things in life and aren’t necessarily seen as high maintenance–until it comes to their gear. As a friend or loved one it seems difficult to find gifts that you KNOW your backpacker/hiker enthusiast will enjoy and find useful. I have created a list of items that myself and other backpackers have voiced they would enjoy and appreciate.

Why is the word “useful” stressed?
Because hikers only want to carry what they really need. If you had to carry your shelter, food, water, clothes, etc. on your back, you might be selective, too! The aim isn’t to make us sound unappreciative or ungrateful, but you might be surprised how many people want to give away trinkets to “help” when a hiker announces he or she will be setting out on a backpacking adventure.  Let’s be honest, you don’t want to waste your money and they don’t want to tote around unwanted gear to keep from hurting your feelings or leave it at home collecting dust.

Why the $50 limit?
Backpacking gear is very personal, if you will, and generally requires a decent amount of research during the selection process. Most items exceeding $50 will likely be items the backpacker wants to choose based on their personal preferences and needs. If you would like to purchase one of these larger and more important items, you should first consult the person you will be gifting. Gift cards are helpful for these larger items, too. If you just can’t resist and insist on purchasing a higher priced item, make sure the backpacker can swap/return the gear with a gift receipt. **Keep in mind, REI allows returns up to a year! 🙂

The Gifts
Below is the list I have created with the help of my fellow backpackers. The items are in no significant order regarding preference or price.

  • Backpacking Meals – ALL hikers love to talk about food. I think that was the number one topic on days I knew I was heading to town for resupply. Unfortunately, on-trail food must have a decent shelf-life so variety is limited. Typically, we forest dwellers don’t splurge on fancy meals too often and instead settle for Ramen or Knorr Pasta/Rice Sides. So, to receive a few of these high end meals is like a piece of heaven in a foil packet. I ate Mountain House and Backpacker’s Pantry Meals, but I’ve also heard wonderful things about: www.sporkables.com

           

  • Darn Tough Socks – I used to wear Smartwool socks and I still love them, but after using Darn Tough socks during my AT thru-hike I fell in love with their LIFETIME GUARANTEE. They basically dare you to wear them out. I can confirm they stand by this challenge as they replaced a hole in mine that was created by a hungry mouse. From a backpacker’s stance, one can never have too many wool socks! This brand is available for men and women in many different colors, lengths and thicknesses.

           

  • Portable Battery Charger – Some folks go to the trail to escape the noise, but many still occasionally enjoy listening to music, podcasts, etc. while hiking. I took tons of pics and blogged, too. If your hiker/backpacker seems to enjoy the uses of modern technology, then a backup battery charger is probably on their ‘want’ list. The most popular brand I saw on the AT was the Anker charger. I used a Sound Logic charger with 5200 mAh and it provided me two and a half charges on my iPhone 6. Make sure to balance between weight and juice. Sure with a 1lb backup charger, nobody would have to stress over dead electronics, but does anyone really need that kind of weight in their pack? NO.

      

  • Headlamp – You won’t catch a hiker on an overnight trip without at least one headlamp. Even if your hiker/backpacker already has a headlamp, they likely won’t be disappointed by back-up or and upgrade. The most essential features for a headlamp will be:
    • Brightness. A bright headlamp is always appreciated–the brighter the better.
    • Red Beam. Having the red beam option isn’t just for telling scary stories by a fire. It actually keeps hikers from making enemies by spotlighting their fellow outdoors men. The red beam is more gentle to the eye and is nice to have while reading books in a shelter at bedtime as to not distract those who are trying to sleep.
    • Waterproof/Water Resistant. Although the headlamp I used to hike the AT wasn’t resistant to water, it’s definitely a good idea!

  • Small Journal – Most of us free spirits like to journal to some extent. One person may just jot down thoughts or quotes while I go into novel format. Either way, a small journal is a thoughtful gift. To make it more personal and meaningful, you could write a sweet note or inspirational quote on the first page. Keep in mind, they make waterproof pages, also!

  • Collapsible Solar Light/Luci Light – Although I don’t generally recommend solar panel backup chargers in areas that are wooded, the Luci Light doesn’t require a ton of input to provide light output. The Luci Lights are lightweight and useful for  seeing to cook dinner, read in your tent, walk to the privy/nearest bush, etc. Also, using one of these can help you save the batteries in your headlamp.

  • Buff – While hiking chances are at some point your hair will get in your face, sweat will run down into your eyes, etc. A buff is essentially a band of material that is extremely versatile. It can be worn to keep the neck warm or around the mouth/nose on a dusty day. I saw men and women using these on the AT.

     

  • Bandanas – At any given time during my thru-hike, I had at least 2-3 bandanas. They can be used for blowing noses, bathing, washing cookware, drying the damp floor of a tent, or can even be used as a headband. The possibilities are endless! To make this gift more special or tailored to the recipient, try finding a pattern that suits them.

     

  • Fuel – This one can be a little tricky because it will require you to know what type of stove your backpacker friend uses. Chances are it’s either going to be a fuel canister or denatured alcohol stove. If you are able to figure it out, this would be a wonderful gift! I hated having to buy new fuel–kind of like I hate buying gas for my truck but love going places. These fuel cans and bottles of denatured alcohol can be found at your local outdoors store (or Walmart, if you must).

fuel

  • Titanium Spork – Plastic sporks will break and leave you drinking your dinner instead of spooning it into your mouth. Titanium will never leave you hanging like that. It’s lightweight and durable!

  • Portable Speaker – Some people like to listen to music while hiking. I especially found this comforting through bear country. The music informs bears that humans are nearby and prevents you from spooking them. Also, playing your tunes out loud allows you to be more aware of your surroundings than if you were to wear earbuds. While I certainly don’t advocate blaring music around other random hikers, I listened to podcasts and music with several people who carried these portable speakers on the Appalachian Trail.

  • Hand Sanitizer – I used hand sanitizer multiple times a day and having it easily accessible makes life SO much easier.

  • Dry Sacks/Bags – While I personally only used one dry bag for my food, others also tend to use them to protect electronics and other gear. Dry bags come in all shapes and sizes.

  • Water Treatment – There are several water treatment options available in the backpacking world today, the two most common being chemical drops and filtration. If you know which your hiker prefers, this could be a wonderful gift! After all, nothing says “I love you” more than preventing someone from having diarrhea in the woods.

          

  • Mini Carabiners – I loved having a few small and lightweight carabiners. I used them to hang my camp shoes on my pack (or my trail runners while I was in town), but they really  can be used in so many ways. Avoid buying the big, heavy ones unless you know the hiker will put them to use. My favorite minis come from:  www.zpacks.com/accessories/carabiner.shtml

carabiners_l

  • iPod Shuffle (2GB) – To conserve phone battery for those who love to jam out in their “hiking zone” consider getting them this lightweight iPod.

  • AT Guidebook – The AT Guidebook is hands down the BEST guide available for the AT.  If you want elevation profile maps, shuttle service information, water source listings, shelter locations, town/hostel/lodging info, etc. then this is the book you need.  www.theatguide.com

atgnb2016

  • Body Glide – If your hiker buddy is prone to blisters or chaffing, Body Glide will come to the rescue! It helps coat the skin with a protective layer while soothing and reducing friction on the skin.

     

  • Pepper Spray – Never hurts to have a little personal protection in the woods and while hitchhiking.

          

  • Take A Thru-Hike: Dixie’s How-To for Hiking the Appalachian Trail (e-book) – Last but not least, if you or a loved one is considering hiking the Appalachian Trail in sections or by thru-hiking, then you should definitely check out my e-book. Not only do I provide my gear list, financial break down, and answers to FAQ about the trail, but I also provide some insight to what life on the trail is like. If you didn’t know, there is a “give as a gift” option on Amazon and all you have to have is the recipient’s email address!

I hope some of these ideas were helpful and if you have any to add, please feel free to share them in the comments.

Happy Trails!

-Dixie 🙂

Transportation To & From the Appalachian Trail

You’ve decided you are going to hike the Appalachian Trail and now suddenly you’ve asked yourself: “How do I get there and back?” Fortunately for me, my family was willing to take me to Amicalola State Park to bid me farewell, and I also had a ride back from Baxter State Park after summiting Katahdin. Because not everyone has that luxury, I asked some of my fellow AT thru-hikers how they traveled to and from the trail, so that I could share some worthy options. Here they are!

Traveling to Amicalola Falls/Springer Mountain, Georgia

Standing at the beginning of the Approach Trail wondering what in the world I’ve gotten myself into.

Fly – This is obviously the fastest route. Everyone seems to freak out about flying due to not being able to carry fuel, but the AT is a well traveled pathway and local businesses have capitalized on that opportunity. There will be ways to buy fuel in town when you get there. You will likely have to check your pack due to trekking poles and knives being an issue in the cabin, so it may be best to mail those items ahead if you are wanting to carry-on your pack.

If you decide to fly, you will land at the Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport in Atlanta, GA. From there you can choose one of several options:

  • Get a shuttle directly to Amicalola Falls State Park from Atlanta (see below for shuttle services).
  • Lodge at the Hiker Hostel in Dahlonega, GA and have them take you to the trail the following day. To get to the Hiker Hostel, you ride the MARTA (Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority) train which is located in the airport to the North Springs Station and a shuttle from the hostel will pick you up there. More info about the Hiker Hostel below.

Bus (Greyhound)/Train (Amtrak) – Riding in a bus or train will obviously take longer, but you won’t have to stress over checking a bag or deal with other concerns you may have with flying.

If you choose to ride Greyhound or Amtrak, your final destination will be Gainesville, GA. From there you can choose one of several options:

  • Stay at the local Motel 6 across the street from the Greyhound Station (about 1.5 miles from the Amtrak Station) and/or shuttle directly to Amicalola Falls State Park.
  • Lodge with Hiker Hostel who will pick you up from the Greyhound or Amtrak Station. More info about Hiker Hostel below.

Drive A Rental – If you’re up for a road trip, this option might be a little pricey (as one-way car rentals often are), but it will give you the most freedom during travel. You can arrange to drop the rental off at the airport and follow one of the options listed under flying (above) from there.

Shuttle Services from Atlanta/Gainesville Area:

  • Survivor Dave’s Trail Shuttles
    • Website: www.atsurvivordave.com
    • No longer shuttles from the Amtrak or Greyhound Stations in Gainesville, GA
    • Does have fuel for purchase
  • Ron’s Appalachian Trail Shuttle
  • Uber – It seems this is an option from Atlanta or Gainesville, but I would try one of the shuttle services first.

Hiker Hostel in Dahlonega, GA

  • Website: www.hikerhostel.com
  • Offers a “Thru-Hiker Special” from February 24th-April 20th for $85 that includes:
    • Shuttle from North Springs MARTA Station or Gainesville, GA to the Hostel
    • Overnight stay in one of the bunk rooms
    • Breakfast
    • 8 oz of white gas or denatured alcohol (fuel canisters for sale)
    • Shuttle to Amicalola Falls State Park or the Springer Mountain parking lot (0.9 miles north of Springer Mountain on USFS 42)

Traveling to Baxter State Park in Maine

Baxter State Park on a frigid October morning.

Fly – This is obviously the fastest route. Everyone seems to freak out about flying due to not being able to carry fuel, but the AT is a well traveled pathway and local businesses have capitalized on that opportunity. There will be ways to buy fuel in town when you get there. You will likely have to check your pack due to trekking poles and knives being an issue in the cabin, so it may be best to mail those items ahead if you are wanting to carry-on your pack.

If you decide to fly, you will land at the Bangor International Airport in Bangor, ME. From there you can choose one of several options:

  • Get a direct shuttle from the Appalachian Trail Lodge and stay for a night in Millnocket (more info below). They will shuttle you to Baxter State Park the next day.
  • Take the Cyr Bus Lines (website: www.cyrbustours.com) to Medway for $12 (which is much closer to the Appalachian Trail Lodge) and have them pick you up from Medway. This option is likely cheaper than a direct shuttle, but you can contact for pricing to confirm.
  • Take the Cyr Bus Lines (website: www.cyrbustours.com) to Medway, lodge there, and have another shuttle service (see more options below) take you to Baxter State Park the next morning.
  • Take the Cyr Bus Lines (website: www.cyrbustours.com) to Medway, and have another shuttle service (see more options below) take you to Millinocket and then Baxter State Park the next morning. Most hikers lodge in Millinocket.

Bus (Greyhound) – Riding in a bus will obviously take longer, but you won’t have to stress over checking a bag or deal with other concerns you may have with flying. If you choose to ride Greyhound, your final destination will also be in Bangor. From there you have the same options as listed above under flying.

Drive A Rental – If you’re up for a road trip, this option might be a little pricey (as one-way car rentals often are), but it will give you the most freedom during travel. You can arrange to drop the rental off at the airport in Bangor and follow one of the options listed under flying from there.

Shuttle Services from Medway/Millinocket Area:

Appalachian Trail Lodge in Millinocket, ME

  • Website: www.appalachiantraillodge.com
  • Shuttles to/from Bangor, Medway & Millinocket
  • Gear Shop & Pack Shakedowns
  • Cafe
  • Lodging
  • Food Drop Services in the 100 Mile Wilderness

Alternative Lodging in Medway & Millinocket

AWOL’s AT Guide

While I listed several options above, most of those are just what my fellow thru-hikers did and are by no means the ONLY options. The AT Guide includes valuable information for not only the northern and southern terminus, but also for accessing the trail (and parking) for all 2,000+ miles in between. This can be especially helpful for section hikers. For the most up-to-date information you can check the AT Guide for the current year: www.theatguide.com

Don’t Go Overboard With Planning

You never know what new adventures you might decide to embark upon once you meet new trail friends. Keep your options open!

I know you’re excited about setting your plans in stone for traveling to the trail, and making reservations ahead of time makes sense. With that said, I highly recommend you wait until you’re almost at the end of your journey before deciding how you will get home. Right now you have no idea how you will feel after one of the greatest adventures of your life or who you may meet along the way. While your current rat-race mindset may think you’ll want to rush home on a plane, your post-trail self may choose to ride a bus, road trip with your new friends, or even ride a bike across the country. Who knows! One of the beauties of the trail, though, is not knowing what it will bring. You’ll have time to figure it out, but the last thing you need is a deadline in your mind of when you MUST reach a certain point to hop on a plane and go home.

Well, I hope that was helpful! If you have traveled to Amicalola Falls State Park or Baxter State Park using one of these options (or especially another), please feel free to share details about how it worked for you so that others might learn from your experiences.

Happy Trails!

Dixie 🙂

My 5 Favorite Restaurants Along the Appalachian Trail

My 5 Favorite Restaurants Along the Appalachian Trail

There isn’t much that thru-hikers care about more than food. During my 2015 thru-hike, I was always wondering what new treasure of a restaurant I would find in the next town and would literally catch myself day dreaming about what meals they might serve. Plus, it was always fun to visit with locals while in town. With these things considered, I have drafted a list of my top 5 favorite restaurants along the Appalachian Trail. Not only was the food at these places exceptional, but the experience as a whole was memorable.

5. Los Jalapenos – Unicoi, TN

It looks like a lot of food, but not for four hungry hikers!

This one is slightly off the beaten path, but is definitely reachable if you hitchhike. While sitting in Erwin, TN at the Mountain Inn & Suites with some of my stinky hiker buds, I found this little piece of paradise while google searching for places we could potentially get dinner. After everyone was showered up, it was already almost 9pm. Luckily Los Jalapenos is open until 10pm most nights! We were able to catch a ride with a fella at a nearby gas station who took us an extra 6-7 miles down the road to eat Mexican. Walmart is conveniently located in the same shopping center, so you can resupply right after a good meal. The food was reasonably priced and delicious, especially considering I thought I was going to eat dinner out of a vending machine. After dinner, one of the servers was kind enough to give us a ride back to our hotel. I ended up eating at there 3 times in 2 days. If you’re going to resupply at Walmart while in Erwin, definitely check out the good food and fun crew at Los Jalapenos!

Trail Mile Marker (in AWOL’s NOBO 2015 AT Guide): 342.9

Contact Information:
100 Rocky Bottom Dr.
Unicoi, TN 37692
(423) 743-3512

Menu: www.zmenu.com/los-jalapenos-unicoi-2-online-menu/

Yelp Rating: 4.4/5 stars (click for current rating)
Facebook Rating: 4.8/5 stars (click for current rating)

4. Lakeshore House Restaurant & Lodge – Monson, ME

The Lakeshore House gets its name honestly as it is located adjacent to Lake Hebron.

If you’re looking for great food, a fun place to hang out with locals, and (sometimes) live music, the Lakeshore House Restaurant is your best bet!  There is also a full bar if you need a little whiskey to take the edge off of your sore legs, feet, back…body. Located lake side, hence the name, this quaint hostel/pub simply gives off good vibes.

When I arrived at the hostel, I looked like a chilled, wet rat. Rebecca, the owner, had driven about 30 minutes through a network of many dirt roads to pick me up so I didn’t have to spend another cold night in the woods after fording a pretty intimidating river crossing. After showering and allowing  my limbs to thaw out, some of my hiker buds and I went downstairs to enjoy a hot meal.  I enjoyed a burger and wings and also tried the pot roast dinner. Of the three, the pot roast sticks in my mind the most. For north bounders, this is the last stop before the 100-mile wilderness and I couldn’t think of a better place to eat, drink, and be merry!

Trail Mile Marker (in AWOL’s NOBO 2015 AT Guide): 2074.7

Contact Information:
9 Tenney Hill Rd.
Monson, ME 04464
(207) 997-7069

Menu: www.thelakeshorehouse.com/our_menu

Yelp Rating: 5/5 stars (click for current rating)
Facebook Rating: 4.8/5 stars (click for current rating)

3. The Yellow Deli – Rutland, VT

As soon as you walk in the Yellow Deli, you will be greeted with a cold glass of mate.

The Yellow Deli is owned and operated by the Twelve Tribes Community. Some argue it’s a cult, others deny any such–and I just will say that I don’t know, but they have fantastic food! My favorite sandwich was the Deli Rose, but the chili and fruit salad were to die for. I still dream about the fruit salad–seriously.  The deli is open 24/7 (except 3pm Friday until noon Sunday). Hikers get a 15% off discount at the deli and the outfitter (Simon the Tanner), free breakfast and loaner clothes with a nights stay at the donation based hostel ($20 suggested) located upstairs.  The Yellow Deli will also shuttle you to and from the trail. I had never heard of the Twelve Tribes religion, so it was definitely an interesting experience. I think one of the best parts of hiking the AT is all of the fascinating people you get to meet along the way. Afterall, variety is the spice of life!

Trail Mile Marker (in AWOL’s NOBO 2015 AT Guide): 1683.5 and/or 1700.9

Contact Information:
23 Center St.
Rutland, VT 05701
(802) 775-9800

Menu: www.yellowdeli.com/menu-rutland

Yelp Rating: 4.1/5 stars (click for current rating)
Facebook Rating: 4.9/5 stars (click for current rating)

2. The Homeplace Restaurant – Catawba, VA

Front porch sittin’ is big in the south and the Homeplace Restaurant has plenty of porch!

When you’re a hungry hiker, nothing suits you better than all-you-can-eat restaurants. The Homeplace Restaurant serves their food “family style” which means they bring dish after dish full of southern goodness. There are no choices to be made, you just eat what you get and, trust me, you won’t be disappointed. If you leave hungry you seriously did something wrong!

After eating a big dinner at The Homeplace, several of us were dreading getting back on the trail for the night. The owner must’ve seen the look on our faces and offered up a gazebo located on the property as shelter for the night. Because we were in no rush to get back to the trail, we hung out on the porch the rest of the afternoon, lounging in the swings and charging our electronics through the exterior outlets. Not long after dark we set up camp in the gazebo. When I woke up at 2am to the sound of rain, I was thrilled to be sleeping in the gazebo and not dreading packing up a wet tent in the morning.

I should note that Four Pines Hostel is located in the area and happily offers shuttles to and from the restaurant. I did not stay at Four Pines Hostel, so I can’t personally vouch for them, but I have heard wonderful reviews!

Trail Mile Marker (in AWOL’s NOBO 2015 AT Guide): 702.1 and/or 708.0

Contact Information:
4968 Catawba Valley Dr
Catawba, VA 24070
(540) 384-7252

Website: www.facebook.com/The-Homeplace-Restaurant-115564841808913/

Yelp Rating: 4.4/5 stars (click for current rating)
Facebook Rating: 4.7/5 stars (click for current rating)

1. Devil’s Backbone Brewery – Roseland, VA

Beware, the Devil’s Backbone Brewery will suck you in! One of the many vortexes along the AT.

After a long day of hiking, what could be better than a fancy dinner and brews on tap? You’ve got me! The quality of food and beer at Devil’s Backbone Brewery landed them in my number one spot for favorite restaurant on the AT. To be honest, though, it wasn’t only the dinner I ate, but the $5 hiker-only breakfast the following morning. This place is extremely hiker (and dog) friendly! You can even camp in the field/tree line on the property.

While I was there, the owner was in process of building a stage to hold music events and a shower house for hikers. Not sure if it ever came to be, but if so that’s even more reason to stay there! Also, if you call from Maupin Shelter, someone will usually be able to swing by and pick you up at Reed Gap. If not, you can get a hitch there and someone will likely return you to the trail the next day. Although this is the most pricey restaurant on my list, I definitely would not hike past this place and miss the experience. The $5 breakfast was easily the best $5 spent during my thru-hike!

Trail Mile Marker (in AWOL’s NOBO 2015 AT Guide): 842.5

Contact Information:
200 Mosbys Run
Roseland, VA 22967
(434) 361-1001

Website: www.dbbrewingcompany.com/locations/basecamp/

Yelp Rating: 3.6/5 stars (click for current rating)
Facebook Rating: 4.6/5 (click for current rating)

It was difficult to cull all of the restaurants down to five within a 2,189.2 mile stretch, so I do want to add a list of honorable mentions. Some of the other places with delicious food and/or a good atmosphere are:

There is definitely not a lack of great restaurants along the Appalachian Trail. I hope this information will be helpful if you decide to try out some new dining opportunities during your section or thru-hike. If you have had any superb experiences, please feel free to share them in the comments so others can learn from you!

Happy Trails–

Dixie 🙂

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