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2012 Budget Gift Guide for Hikers

Inexpensive Gifts They'll Love


A single piece of the best hiking gear can easily cost in the hundreds of dollars. (Talk about a first-world problem, right?) While it'd be nice to drop that much money on every single person on my Christmas list, my budget says it's not gonna happen.

This budget-friendly gift guide for anybody that might be in the same fix. (If you can spare a little more, though, I've also covered hiking gifts between $20 and $100. If you have $400 to spend on a jacket, please go straight to the "price is no object" gift guide -- and if you're shopping for a brand-new hiker, consider supplying the essentials first.)

Black Diamond Ion Headlamp

Photo © Black Diamond

I own an older version of this headlamp. It's so tiny and light (it weighs one whole ounce, including battery) that I can easily tuck it into a chest pocket, or into a zip-close plastic bag as part of a lightweight emergency kit. You definitely won't be illuminating any distant crags with the Ion, but its 12-lumen light output is far better than nothing in a pinch, and it's so tiny that you'll forget you have it along (until you need it).

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Liquid Solutions Sof-Flex Sport

Photo © Liquid Solutions

I'm a big fan of collapsible plastic drinking pouches (some people call them "un-bottles"). Once you've emptied any given pouch, it rolls into a tiny package that won't take much space in your pack. If you tend to thrash your gear (like me), protecting those little pouches with something like the Sof-Flex insulating sleeve gives you peace of mind that you won't end up with water all over your gear.

If you're not into drinking through a hydration straw or stopping to dig a water bottle out of your pack, opt for the Sport version: Slip your hand through its grip loop and the water pouch rides comfortably cradled in your hand, with little to no effort on your part. It really beats hauling your Nalgene along by the loop (and you can clip the Sof-Flex to your pack if you need to).

WrightSock CoolMesh Socks

Photo © WrightSock

Socks might be a lame gift for anybody else, but hikers will appreciate them because we tend to go through a lot of socks. Take a peek at what your hiker has on his or her feet: If she seems happy with them, get her the same socks (you'll need to know her shoe size too). If she seems unhappy with them, try a new brand or style.

My hands-down favorite socks for warm-weather hiking are WrightSock CoolMesh; they're comfortable, wick well, breathe really well, and dry quickly. Sometimes I even use them as a "base layer" sock during the shoulder season, with a heavier wool sock on top. If my feet are too hot, I can strip off the wool sock and continue in my trust CoolMesh socks.

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SmartWool Socks

SmartWool makes my favorite socks for hiking in cold weather. Their socks actually stay put (instead of sliding around on your foot) and won't chafe around the toes. They wear about as well as any other socks I've used. Almost any SmartWool socks will do the job, but I particularly like their skiing socks, which have light padding that helps eliminate any vestige of chafing when wearing heavy boots.

Magazine Subscription

Gift the hiker in your life with an outdoorsy publication like Backpacker or Outside magazine. Even if she's not an avid reader, flipping through the pages is still entertaining. Sometimes you can score a two-for-one gift subscription around the holidays.


You can't go for a hike unless you know where to find the trailhead, right? Many areas will have a go-to guidebook or two that are considered the "bible" of area trails, but you can almost always find a few other guidebooks by different authors. Different authors usually mean at least a few different trails, and a different take on area standards.

If the hiker in question regularly takes any technology on hikes -- tablet or smartphone, for example -- an electronic version of the guidebook he already owns and loves could be a welcome gift.

Hint: I encourage responsible book recycling -- in other words, feel free to buy used! As long as it's in good condition and you can remove any giveaway stickers or markings, your recipient need never know (and some wouldn't care either way). But -- and this is a big but -- make sure it's the current edition. You wouldn't want to give an older-edition guidebook with incorrect information about a trailhead or trail that was recently changed, would you?

Other Hiking-Related Books

It's a bit of a niche market, but there are tons of great books out there about hiking (and how to hike). Check out this list of my favorite hiking-related books. Anything nature-related -- like a guide to animal tracks or medicinal plants found in your area -- is usually fair game as well.

Gift Basket Ideas

There's nothing like a gift basket to make a bunch of small, inexpensive gifts look impressive. Actually, a well-put-together gift basket is very impressive, because its contents show how well you know the recipient. Here are just a few examples of the smaller items the hiker in your life probably uses, and would appreciate receiving:

  • Hand warmers
  • Favorite snacks (or a few daring new additions!)
  • Anti-fog spray (if she wears glasses or uses goggles; MotoSolutions Fogtech works well)
  • Sunblock
  • Bug spray
  • Emergency supplies (a whistle, foil blanket, duct tape, fire starters, SAM splint, triangle bandages... just to name a few)
  • Camp stove fuel (check what kind of stove she has and which fuel she prefers)
  • Water filter refill cartridges (ditto)
  • Water bottle or roll-up hydration pouches

Hint: Check out the Ten Essentials and, if your hiker is missing any of them, start there.

Tips for Handmade Hiking Gifts

If you have the talent, handmade gifts are always welcome. Tastes will vary, but as a general rule you should:

  • Err on the side of lightweight and compact
  • Avoid untreated wool like the plague (felting your own hat on the trail would be bad!)
  • Avoid lacy creations (the wind will sail right through, and the lace will get torn apart with heavy use)
  • Avoid cotton (it'll soak up water and chill the wearer if it gets wet)

If in doubt, knit a hat, balaclava, or tube-style neck warmer. And don't be offended if you don't see your project on the trail -- the effort you put into it will be appreciated, no matter what.

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