While it seems like every race is an occasion for new gear, we’ve put together a gift guide for the adventurous runner who loves big backcountry runs and fastpacking — spending a couple of days running, hiking, and camping out.
The gear you find in this gift guide is aimed at helping you create a kit that is ultralight but also contains all the items needed to stay safe and healthy when deep in the woods and mountains — no matter if you’re headed out all day or all week. Some of these products can be used far beyond the trail running world, so buckle up and show your adventuresome loved ones that you’re thinking of them this year.
To learn more about fastpacking, check out our Definitive Guide to Fastpacking article.
Be sure to check out our other gift guides, too:
- Trail running gift guide;
- Women’s trail running gift guide;
- Ultrarunning gift guide; and
- Gifts for car camping.
You need to go really light for a night out with the Salomon XA 25 fastpack, but we love it because the front straps are just like a running vest. The main compartment is a waterproof roll-top dry bag, so you don’t need extra waterproofing. This fastpack sits high and tight on your back to minimize bounce and has strap material that doesn’t chafe.
Size-wise, at 25 liters, this pack is about the size of a traditional fastpack, but since it’s designed more like a running vest, we’ve found your gear needs to stay pretty darn light for it to remain comfortable. The XA 25 is perfect for a one-night outing: run to your destination, check out something cool overnight, and run back.Shop the Salomon XA 25
We love to go ultralight for our fastpacking trips. The lighter your pack, the more comfortably you can run and enjoy the scenery along the way. And when the weather allows, we also enjoy sleeping in the great wide open.
Enter the Sol Escape Bivvy, an affordable, waterproof, lightweight, and breathable bivvy sack perfect for fastpacking. At an advertised weight of 8.5 ounces, it has a half side zipper, taped seams, and a drawstring hood. We’ve found it supplies an extra 10 degrees Fahrenheit of warmth when used with your sleeping bag, which is awesome. We’ve found that all bivvy sacks create condensation and frost, and the Escape Bivvy does not escape this reality; however, the amount of condensation is way less than some bivvy sacks. We also appreciate that it’s durable and has lasted us for years of dreamy nights out.Shop the Sol Escape Bivvy
The Six Moon Designs Gatewood Cape is a combination one-person tarp and rain poncho that weighs 11 ounces and offers a perfect ultralight shelter for any fastpacking trip.
Let’s begin with the tarp aspect of this product. We have found that a shaped tarp, one whose sides extend down to within a few inches of the ground — like the Gatewood Cape — can protect us from almost all the bad weather we’ll encounter while fastpacking. Its pyramid-style design requires one trekking pole (you can purchase a pole specifically for use with the cape if you don’t use them to run) and six stakes to set up. It’s super quick and easy even in the wind, and provides more room than one person will need underneath for themselves and their fastpacking gear. If you want bug protection, you can additionally purchase the Six Moon Designs Serenity Ultralight NetTent ($150), which also weighs 11 ounces.
A rain poncho is an acquired taste, but it’s one that’s been embraced by a large segment of the ultralight thru-hiking community because it also serves as a pack cover, has flowiness that allows air ventilation, and is easy to don and doff as weather comes and goes. While we have used the Gatewood Cape much more as a tarp for sleeping than as a poncho for running and hiking, we have found that it keeps our pack and selves pretty darn dry.
We’d recommend bringing something that can be used as a belt to secure the cape around your body for when it’s windy. Also, don’t wear this as a poncho off-trail through the bushes or on trails with encroaching vegetation so you don’t catch and puncture it.Shop the Six Moon Designs Gatewood Cape
We consider sleeping bags to be investments. The best ones are, indeed, expensive, but will go whatever distance you want them to. And the iRunFar team has found that, if cared for well, the Montbell Seamless Downhugger 900 sleeping bags give you at least 10 years of outdoor health and happiness.
Currently, there are four ultralight sleeping bags in this series, rated from 40 degrees Fahrenheit down to 15F, and weighing from a super svelte 14.1 ounces up to 27.6 ounces. The bags are also offered in standard length and long versions.
We love that their temperature ratings are accurate, and we love the “hugger” part of this sleeping bag, which is enacted with a spiral stretch system which puts the sleeping bag close enough to your body that cold pockets can’t form in the vacant spots inside the bag but not so tight that the bag feels claustrophobic.
The three-quarter-length zipper, full hood with adjuster, neck baffle, and zipper baffle are all luxury details you’d expect to find in a heavier sleeping bag, but are still present in these ultralight beauties.
If you spend a lot of time in wet environments, you might consider the Montbell Seamless Downhugger WR 900 ($400 to $690) sleeping bags, which offer weather-resistant materials and coatings to enhance the already awesome experience here.
Again, we get it, a good sleeping bag is expensive, so we hope you’ll only need to buy one once in a blue moon. But we also appreciate how important a good, warm night of sleep is for your overall health and happiness. Consider these sleeping bags for your loved one to snuggle up safely on their next backcountry mission.Shop the Montbell Seamless Downhugger 900
One of the most popular sleeping pads out there, the Therm-a-Rest Z Lite is an absolute steal for what it gives you. You don’t have to worry about inflating or deflating a sleeping pad. This thing folds up perfectly and straps nicely to the outside of a fastpack, is virtually indestructible, and is totally customizable. Gram counters will love that last point, as you can cut the entire thing to the shape of your body, or chop it in half to cushion only your torso. The whole thing is only 14 ounces, and it’s 72 inches long, so it should provide full-length cushion for most people.
If you’re worried about the cold, there’s the option to go with the Therm-a-Rest Z Lite Sol, which has a reflective coating that increases the warmth of the pad by a reported 20%. This one comes in fun colors too.Shop the Therm-a-Rest Z Lite
If you’re counting grams instead of ounces while packing for your next adventure, then the BRS 3000T Stove is for you. Very affordable and extremely light, this 0.9-ounce stove is a good fit for pretty much everyone. It packs down well, is less than two inches long when folded up, and holds large pots surprisingly steadily, provided you place the fuel canister on level ground.
As it doesn’t perform as well in the wind, you’ll want to choose your cooking location well. Also, its fuel efficiency isn’t great compared to other stoves. That said, if you’re looking for an ultralight stove that does great cooking food and coffee for one or two people, then this is the one for you. Take note that you’ll need your own ignition source for this ultralight gem, but you should be carrying one already in your ultralight safety kit.Shop the BRS 3000T
Be free of being tied to your kitchen sink and other filtered water sources, says the Katadyn BeFree water filter. This lightweight filter, especially when combined with its 600-milliliter soft flask, is a game-changer for backcountry adventures where tap water sources aren’t readily available, but natural sources are.
The nice thing is, you can buy this filter with or without the attachable bottle, meaning if you already have a soft flask with the same threads, it will work just fine on that. We’ve found that the BeFree water filter and 600ml soft flask fit in the front pockets of many running hydration packs on the market today.
The filter readily cleans water of the nasties (otherwise known as microorganisms) that are just fine living in the wild, but would wreak havoc if introduced to your gut.
With that in mind, the BeFree system offers us adventure runners the best kind of freedom.
To learn more about this great water filter, check out our in-depth Katadyn BeFree review.Shop the Katadyn BeFree
Leave No Trace principles certainly apply to adventure running and fastpacking. Stay out there long enough, and you’re going to have to deal with your own body’s waste. The Leave No Trace nonprofit organization asks us to bury our poo at least six inches deep, and the TentLab The Deuce #1 Potty Trowel makes that super easy. The trowel has two ends — a sharp, narrow end to cut the ground, and a broader size to dig out the dirt. It weighs just 0.45 ounces and comes in multiple colors should you want to match your poo digger to your other gear. And, TentLab makes two other larger sizes, all of them under an ounce.
But why bury your business, you might ask? The biggest issues revolve around the prevention of water source pollution, increasing the rate of decomposition, and most of all, it’s just gross to hike or run around somewhere a turd could be lurking.Shop the TentLab The Deuce #1 Potty Trowel
Everyone likes tasty treats, and what better way to fuel your next adventure than with the cozy tastes of spiced chai, maple syrup, or dark chocolate? Well, Trail Butter has all those flavors and more in a variety of real food products that will keep you energized without eating a huge meal.
While gels are great for races or intense effort days when snacks with high fat content will likely lead to stomach distress, Trail Butter — essentially almond or cashew butter bases with natural flavors and mix-ins — is perfect for long, low-intensity days on the go. At 200 calories each in the Lil’ Squeeze size, with a good mix of carbohydrates, fat, and protein, Trail Butter is extremely satiating.
While most people will opt for the single-serving packet, they also come in a Big Squeeze size if you want to share or for the butter to last more than one outing, and it also comes in tubs to make tasty sandwiches when you’re done. With multiple flavors, it’s easy to spice up your good ‘ol PB&J.Shop Trail Butter
When it is protein that you crave, your sweet tooth is burnt out, or you’re not in a position to roast a whole bird, the Epic Chicken Sriracha Bars are a great alternative. Again, this is not really the snack you want during a high-intensity race, but when you’re on a long adventure run or multiday effort and have a hankering for something more substantial, these are excellent. They are made from real chicken and sriracha spice blend — long live Sriracha!
Good for pretty much every special diet except the vegetarians among us, the Epic bars are approved for Whole 30, paleo, and keto diets, and they are gluten-free. Tasty, salty, spicy, and handy, the Chicken Sriracha flavor is likely to ease even the most severe palate fatigue and it’s perfect for an afternoon pick-me-up.Shop Epic Chicken Sriracha Bars
Rated as having the best battery life in our Best GPS Watches for Running guide, the Coros Vertix 2 should have plenty of battery power for your longest run-ventures. Expect the battery to last 140 hours in regular GPS mode, 240 hours in reduced tracking, and 50 hours in dual GNSS mode, the last of which provides the most accurate tracking available in the GPS watch market right now.
This Coros watch is a bit big, there’s no getting around it, and it can sometimes dwarf a smaller wrist (i.e., that of most women). But there is a huge amount of technology packed into the watch, so the tradeoff is worth it.
The Vertix 2 has onboard mapping in multiple formats, can hold music you can connect to via Bluetooth headphones, and has a bright and easy-to-read screen as well as insane durability. This watch feels like you could run it over with a truck and survive, à la the Nokia brick phones of the early 2000s.
If you’re an adventurer who wants a durable watch that has enough battery power for as long as you want to run and great mapping technology, then the Coros Vertix 2 is for you.Shop the Coros Vertix 2
Speaking once again to our ultralight crowd, the Nitecore NU25 Headlamp weighs only 0.9 ounces, even with its 610 milliAmp-hour lithium-ion battery included. It’s on the lighter side of lumen output as well, putting out 190 lumens for five hours, 38 lumens for eight hours, a single lumen for 160 hours, and 360 lumens in 30-second bursts. With three light options — yellow, white, and red — you can choose the type and intensity of light to fit your needs. There’s a USB port for recharging, and the device locks so it won’t accidentally turn on in your pack.
For a traditional-style headlamp, that is, one with a stretchy band and block in front for the light and battery, it is incredible that it weighs so little. We’ve found that the headlamp’s colors and intensities are just perfect for an hour or two of trail running to start or end your long fastpacking days and excellent for camp activities, as well. It’s no wonder that the ultralight thru-hiker community has also latched onto this little beauty.Shop the Nitecore NU25
At 5.29 ounces, as far as we can tell, the Nitecore NB10000 Power Bank is the lightest 10,000 milliAmp-hour lithium-ion power bank on the market today. How do they do it? It appears most of Nitecore’s weight saving comes in its cover, which is made of carbon fiber. The whole package is both lighter and slimmer than other 10,000 mAh batteries on the market. In our testing, we’ve found the device to be plenty strong, though the carbon fiber cover scuffs up pretty quickly.
So, what kind of backcountry runner needs a 10,000 mAh battery? We’ve needed this much battery power for one person fastpacking for four to six nights, or two people for one to three nights. We use the power bank each evening at camp to top off our phones, GPS watches, and headlamps, so our gear is ready to deliver full power and safety at any time.Shop the Nitecore NB10000
Collapsible, adaptable, and durable, the Black Diamond Distance Carbon FLZ Trekking/Running Poles are perfect for just about any rugged adventure. These poles come in three sizes for runners of wildly different heights: the shortest length of the smallest size is 37 inches, while the longest length of the largest size is 55 inches. Each pair is less than a pound — between 11.7 and 13.6 ounces, thanks to the carbon-fiber construction.
Changing the size is easy with the FlikLock mechanism located close to the user’s thumb, they’re easy and comfortable to hold thanks to the grippy foam and wrist straps on the handles, and they fold up nicely to stow with the straps found on so many running vests and packs today.
Some people hate poles; others swear by them. While most terrain doesn’t necessitate their use, if you’re going out on a multiday or very steep adventure, using poles can be really great for saving some energy on your legs and keeping your body in better posture moving up the hill.
Pushing on your knees with your hands might work for a while, but it’s likely you’ll really feel it in your lower back the next day. Not so with the poles! Finally, poles can also be used to hold up your tent or tarp at night.Shop the Black Diamond Distance Carbon FLZ Trekking/Running Poles
What does this have to do with trail running? A lot, if you’re like iRunFar’s Editor-in-Chief Bryon Powell, who adds a lot of enjoyment to his adventure runs and fastpacking trips in the form of simple Tenkara-style fly fishing.
“Tenkara” is the traditional Japanese style of fly fishing that uses only a rod, a line, and a fly. The Tenkara Hane Complete Set for fly fishing changes very little from the original concept, other than the technological innovations to make your fishing gear smaller, sleeker, and more durable. The 10-foot rod collapses to only 15 inches, small enough to place inside a fastpack, running vest, or even a waistbelt.
Just imagine: You could run along a river trail in the early hours of the morning, fish on and off throughout the day, and run home as the sun is setting and with your fresh catch for dinner. Doesn’t that sound like the perfect day?
For more information on how to combine running and fly fishing, check out Bryon’s article on fly fishing for trail runners.Shop the Tenkara Hane Complete Set
Call for Comments
- What is something you’ve received that you’ve brought on a fastpacking adventure that’s made the trip so much better?
- What are some other gifts that adventure runners will appreciate?