Holiday Gifts for Backpackers and Hikers
Looking for gifts ideas for the outdoor explorer on your list? These are a collection of products that we use on backpacking trips and feel confident in recommending to you.
Waterproof Phone Case
You can lose your footing when crossing a river and there is always the possibility of a sudden rainstorm. Phones are an expensive investment, and the last thing you want to do is have it get water damage while on the trail. Cases such as these keep gadgets dry when hiking or kayaking. Multiple case sizes are available. The Kona cases keep our phones bone dry on all our paddling excursions.
Wicking Base Layers
You can’t go wrong gifting a synthetic wicking base layer which is designed to regulate body heat. Look for clothing made of synthetic materials, such as polyester, which is designed to keep hikers dry while working up a sweat. The best fabrics are soft, lightweight, and moisture wicking. Avoid 100% cotton because in addition to it not packing well, it also does not wick away moisture and uncomfortable. For more information on types of fabrics recommended, see this article. Marmot and Patagonia are two clothing brands we support.
Alpine Start instant coffee hits the spot! Made from 100% arabica freeze-dried coffee beans, the packets fully dissolve in hot water which means no coffee ground waste. We’ve been drinking coffee on the trail with Starbucks VIA packets until learning about Alpine Start. If you like the idea of supporting a smaller company that makes good tasting coffee, give them a try.
Of course! Everyone needs to eat and who doesn’t want delicious, easy-to-prepare backpacking food? Featuring a wide range of dried meals and trail snacks made with organic whole food vegetarian ingredients for a healthier you and planet. Meals packaged in a holiday box and gift certificates can be found at Outdoor Herbivore.
Do they prefer to make their own backpacking food? Consider getting a dehydrator and a trail food recipe book. The best are those with a fan in the back of the unit and an integrated shut off timer. We’ve been using Excalibur for nearly 10 years and highly recommend this brand. For home use, consider the 5 tray model with the timer.
Backpacking Stove & Cookware
Canister backpacking stoves are popular because they boil water fast, take up little space, and are lightweight. There are a few downsides to canister stoves, including no fuel gauge, canister disposal (can be recycled if taken home and punctured), no simmer capability, and finicky performance in cold weather. Despite the cons, canister stoves, such as the MSR PocketRocket 2, is one of the most popular stoves among thru-hikers. While this stove has a cheaper cost, you must keep purchasing new canisters because they can’t be refilled once empty. This adds significant operating expense over time. If that bothers you, consider a refillable multi-fuel stove such as the MSR DragonFly or WhisperLite Universal. Either one can burn several types of liquid fuels such as kerosene, white gas, and unleaded automotive gas. The Whisperlite Universal has the added advantage of accommodating a canister.
For cookware, we like the GSI Halulite series, a nesting set that comes with everything you need for cooking. We’ve owned the GSI Haulite Microdualist set for several years, and it has held up wonderfully over hundreds of uses.
Do you know someone that suffers from bad knees or is a bit clumsy on the trail? Trekking poles help to stabilize and absorb shock. If you have weak knees, hips or ankles, look for poles with an internal spring for shock absorption. Black Diamond and Leki are the major brands for trekking poles.
Charging system for Electronics
For short trips, all you need is a portable USB external battery that you can charge up at home before your trip. Solar energy is an excellent option for charging multiple electronic devices during longer trips. Look for foldable panels with at least one USB port with the highest amperage to meet the power requirements of your device. Some panels include an integrated battery, which may be useful for storing power when there is sunlight and charging devices when resting at night or waiting out a rainstorm. Keep in mind that the battery will add more weight, and many are poor quality; however, this technology is getting better each day. For more information on how to choose the right solar charger, see this article by Outdoor Gear Lab.
Socks and Hats
There are two items that backpackers wear out or need to replace often; so go ahead and purchase. Both are necessary for staying comfortable in the outdoors and a back-up is always beneficial.
Socks – Look for wool or blended wool/polyester socks for wicking. Darn Tough makes excellent durable socks.
Hats – Consider fleece or wool hats for the colder and cloudier months and a packable 360-degree brim hat for sunnier months. We are a fan of the vented Tilly LTM6 sun hat. Buffwear is a different type of headgear, a tubular liner with a surprising amount of uses – helmet liner, sweat wicker, neck warmer, bandana, UV protection.
Do they carry a GoPro camera? Many backpackers take video with these cameras because they are designed for rugged use in the outdoors. If they have a GoPro camera, consider getting a starter accessory kit. Make sure the kit includes a chest mount to capture hikes from a first-person perspective while leaving the hands free. We do not recommend selfie sticks as they can become a distraction, especially in treacherous areas.
Maps and Guide Books
Backpackers tend to research wilderness trails online and purchase the associated wilderness map that they are planning to hike. Although digital maps are standard now, a paperback guide or physical map is fun to flip through for inspiration and planning. Some hikers prefer fold-up maps for primary navigation. You can order topographical wilderness maps and guidebooks from stores such as REI. Make sure you get maps that are printed on plastic laminated paper, which is waterproof and tear resistant.
Phone Apps – Guthook Guides and I Hike GPS are two favorite phone apps among U.S. hikers for trail maps. Get them a phone app gift card so they can download it.
Paper Maps – USFS paper maps produced by the US Forest Service (USFS) are extremely accurate when hiking the national forests. In cases where USFS maps do not exist or are outdated, Trails Illustrated maps by National Geographic is a suitable alternative. Tom Harrison topographic maps for hiking areas in the state of California are also good.
Annual Pass to Forests and Parks
The inter-agency pass America the Beautiful Annual Pass provides entry to more than 2,000 recreation areas for exploration. Areas include those managed by the Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, Fish and Wildlife Service, USDA Forest Service, and the National Park Service. Hike primarily in the Pacific Northwest? Be sure to check out the NW regional forest pass. Southern California also has an annual park pass.
This year was a bad year for forest fires on the U.S. west coast. What can you do to help? Give your loved ones the gift of trees to help restore National Forests damaged by wildfire, insects, and disease. For every $1 you give, the National Forest Foundation will plant a tree.
Tents must be updated every few years with heavy use. Although the materials keep getting lighter, they also aren’t as durable. We’ve been a fan of Nemo tents since 2009 and are now using the Dagger. Nemo tents are comfortable, lightweight and hold up to frequent use. MSR is another good brand for backpacking tents.
Hammocks also make a great gift. Look for those made from nylon which offers better strength and durability as well as an integrated bug net. ENO and Hennessy are two favorite brands among backpackers.
Not the most exciting gift, but AAA, AA, and lithium-ion batteries are always needed for various outdoor gadgets. For rechargeable batteries, we like the Eneloop charger system. Any rechargeable batteries will do, but we have found that Amazon Basics batteries seem to last the longest.
Human waste is a growing environmental concern on the trail. Make sure hikers know the correct methods of waste disposal by getting them a lightweight trowel. Pair it with biodegradable soap or hand sanitizer.
Hikers/backpackers tend to be particular about the gear they carry, so you can’t go wrong with purchasing a gift card to a local outdoor retailer. Not sure where they buy gear? Popular online gear retailers include REI.com, Sierratradingpost.com, and campmor.com.
Need more backpacking gift ideas? Check out these useful gift guides by section hiker.
When researching backpacking gear gifts online, be skeptical of the review source. Many “top gear lists” contain links to commission sites by people who are paid to write product reviews after a brief backyard test which is clearly not a valuable representation. Furthermore, many credible hiking bloggers also link to affiliate sites. You can find reliable sources quite easily based on the quality of the content and site history. Purchase gear from these sites to support their hard work. All of the products that we have mentioned here are ones we use on backpacking trips and feel confident in recommending to you.