Backpackers are notoriously hard people to shop for. Most of us know exactly what gear we need, and are pretty darn particular about what we’ll take with us into the backcountry. We tend to scoff at heavy or unnecessary gear and many of us share a tendency towards a minimalist lifestyle. Combined, these factors make backpackers and hikers some of the hardest people to find a gift for. What follows are some unique gift ideas for backpackers and hikers that are sure to please. 

Rule of thumb:

It’s a good idea to avoid any serious gear purchases as gifts. Most people know exactly what they want for their essential gear and, unless they’ve given you a heads up on what that is, it’s hard to get right. Backpacks, shelters, quilts/bags, and clothing are often best left as personal purchases.

The ultimate gift:

I’m going to be honest here, and I feel like many fellow hikers may be able to relate to this sentiment. I am tired of acquiring things. Long gone are the days where gifts for the sake of gifts entertain me. I have what I need and seldom want for more. I treasure experiences and family time over objects. Given that many backpackers share these ideals, I’d like to suggest a different gift that you can give. Instead of giving an object, try taking your friend/loved one on a hike or backpacking trip. Nothing beats getting out into the wilderness to spend time with a friend or family.

Finally.. the gift ideas:

Ok, so it’s not always possible or appropriate to give the “ultimate gift.” Let’s shift our focus here onto some smart suggestions for the average gift giver. Most of these gifts are items that will fit into anyones gear closet and hopefully see plenty of use too.

Chocolate! – ($5 and up)

Every hiker loves chocolate. It’s great hiking fuel and it helps to spice up the boring bags of GORP that plague many packs. What’s better is delicious, high quality dark chocolate. Sure, there’s a place for snickers, but I’ll take a nice dark chocolate over your standard candy bars any day. My recommendation is Salazon Chocolate. Not only do they have some of the best chocolate I’ve ever tasted, they also help support the AT, PCT, and CDT with their trail series of chocolate bars. A percentage of the sales from the trail series of bars goes back to the trail associations to help them keep the trail system operating! All of the trail series bars are tasty, but also give their holiday series a try. The dark chocolate gingerbread bar is insanely good. You can find it here:

Sawyer Squeeze Filter (~$40)

It is simply the best water filter available. Its light weight, ease of use, packability, and fast filter times make this the ideal way to make sure Giardia isn’t making its way into your stomach. Avoid the mini version, its flow rate and tendency to clog make it a poor substitute. Just make sure they don’t already have one! Check out the filter here:

Maps (~$10)

Stick with me here… Maps are exciting things. Portals to potential new worlds to explore. You might think a map would be a weird purchase for someone other than yourself, but in reality they can make great gifts for your hiking friends. If you have heard your giftee mention a potential location to hike, give them a map of that area! If not, give them a map of a cool new place that they can go to one day in the future. I like the rugged NatGeo Trails Illustrated maps like these:

Trail Books (~$10)

There’s no better way to get into the mood to hike than by reading about someone’s adventures. Delve into the world of trail writing and pick out a good book for your friend. I’ve made some recommendations on thru hiking books here, but there’s a plethora of options out there on all sorts of topics. Give this one a look:

Tent/Tarp Stakes (~$15-20)

To keep it short, everybody uses stakes for their tents or tarps. The thing is, stakes are easy to bend or lose. This is one item that it makes sense to have a few spares of. I like the lightweight Vargo titanium shepherd’s hook stakes like these:

Titanium Mug

For starters, they are shiny and cool looking. Also, TITANIUM! While not something a lightweight hiker would normally pack on a backpacking trip, these mugs are super handy for use at home, the office, or on a car camping trip. I prefer a double walled mug for keeping liquids cool/hot (don’t cook with these though!):

Darn Tough Socks (~$15)

You’ve undoubtedly heard me rave about them before, so I’ll spare you the preaching. Three words (ok four): Durable, comfortable, lifetime warranty. My favorite are the 1/4 cushion merino:

Titanium Spoon (~$10)

Just like stakes, spoons are often lost or bent. Try to figure out what your recipient prefers, but nothing beats a good ol’ titanium long handled spoon:

Tenkara Fly Rod (~$200-250)

This is a big ticket gift for sure, but it is one that may just blow the socks off of your recipient. Tenkara is an exceptionally efficient and lightweight way to fly fish while backpacking (think 3 oz total weight!). The thing is, given it’s relatively recent break into the US market, Tenkara has remained somewhat unknown among backpackers and fishing aficionados. This is one of those under the radar gifts that can end up being a real winner. (For more info on Tenkara, check out my video here.) Tenkara USA is the way to go for rods, and the Sato model is just perfect for backpacking:

Ground Sheet (~$12)

Ground sheets are always good to have when backpacking. They can help keep water out and add life to your sleeping pads. They also tend to tear up after several trips. This window kit provides enough plastic to make two nice groundsheets (Exactly like the polycro/polycryo groundsheets you’ll find at ultralight outfitters.) Another option is this Tyvek ground sheet: