Come holiday season, people with passionate hobbies and careers make finding a thoughtful gift relatively easy. If your loved one is a die-hard outdoors enthusiast (like the ones we consulted for this guide), there’s a wide range of practical and holy-grail gifts they’ll definitely appreciate. Still, being the camping or hiking nerd in the family means they’re particularly prone to receiving repeat pairs of long underwear and wool gloves. So if you want your gift to stand out, scroll down to see what our group of outdoor experts recommends — from boots and backpacks to a lantern that can charge your phone. Don’t miss all of the Strategist’s holiday gift coverage right here, too.
Paul Ronto of RunRepeat was a rafting and hunting guide for years and has traveled all over the world to climb mountains, hike, and bike. His first recommendation is a good headlamp. “Anyone who spends any time outdoors needs to have light. There are a million options out there but I’d recommend the Black Diamond Spot. It’s cheap, but it’s not lacking in performance. They updated it to 300 lumens this year. It’s lightweight and small, and uses triple-A batteries, which are easy to find and also lightweight. Rechargeable is nice in theory, but when you’re on the side of a mountain and your lamp dies, rechargeable is useless. Plus, it’s waterproof.”
Ronto also believes in the universality of giving a water bottle, even if your loved one already has one in rotation. “Every climber, hiker, or outdoor nut needs a great water bottle. I know most people already have a water bottle, but most don’t spring for an expensive, nice, insulated one. I’d recommend anything from Hydro Flask; they are all vacuum-sealed, stainless-steel bottles that keep things cold or hot for hours. I’ve traveled with mine and it’s held ice for over 24 hours easily, keeping my water nice and chilled.”
Kevin Mooney, owner and operator of Ohio’s first ever treehouse resort specializing in weddings, The Mohicans, recommends giving a GoPro. “Everybody should have a GoPro; it’s fantastic for shooting outdoor videos whether you’re mountain biking or working on a building project. The footage that we have shot with ours is phenomenal.”
AJ Powell, assistant editor at Gear Patrol — who does his best to escape the city as much as possible — also recommends a camp lantern. “I’m a big fan of BioLite’s BaseLantern XL, and everyone I’ve ever shown mine to has shared that sentiment. It’s reasonably affordable (which makes for easy gifting), and it offers enough crossover uses that it tends to find applications beyond outdoor settings, too. At its core it’s a portable lantern, but it also doubles as a portable power bank and pairs with BioLite’s SiteLights for a lighting system just as worthy of a backyard barbecue as a remote campsite.”
If money were no object, Powell would top his wish list with a technical bomber from Mission Workshop. “I’ve been eyeing Mission Workshop’s Mission bomber jacket. It’s pricey, so definitely not something I’d buy for myself, but it’s definitely on my wish list. The cut, material choices, and styling are all top-notch.”
Andrew Lacy, a former soldier, construction worker, and new timber framer, who has recently joined Wolverine’s Project Bootstrap initiative, would prefer a gift that’s practical and that he can wear to work as well as out to dinner. “I have worked in several extreme climates — from frigid Montana winters to sweltering Kuwait summers. It’s all about having the right gear for the job and using a system of layering. I’ve had my eye on a few things for quite some time, but I’ve always loved Levi’s 501 jeans and would love to get another pair.”
Steve Casimiro, founder of Adventure Journal magazine, said, “I’d love to be given the Danner Mountain 600 EnduroWeave hiking boot. It’s built on Danner’s legendary platform, which is sturdy, durable, and time-tested, but now has a modern and urbane look. EnduroWeave is textured, sleek, breathable, and bombproof.” They’re also a good gift for frequent fliers, since travelers love Danner boots as well.
Another fan of Danner’s hiking boots is Lily Hetzler, a licensed New York State outdoor guide who does the majority of her hiking in the Catskills and Northern California. She likes solid staple-type gifts like these Danner Jag hiking boots, which are lightweight, stylish, and don’t take long to wear in.
Hetzler also recommends gifting an always practical, always appreciated lightweight down puffer jacket. “It’s useful in every instance of outdoor life. Layering is key when it comes to hiking, especially in cold weather conditions, and down is really light to wear or carry.”
Nicola Agostinetto, U.S. sales manager for Parajumpers, said the best gift he ever got was “a multifunctional, lightweight backpack ideal for my walks in the Dolomites.” With leather patches and minimal pockets and zippers, this Topo Designs backpack has enough urban edge for walking from the park to your local coffee shop — but it’s still durable enough for a family day-hike. Plus it’s the same one Mark Ruffalo recently lost and couldn’t live without.
For an affordable but functional knife, Stephen Regenold, founder of the outdoor gear news and review site GearJunkie, said, “These stout, versatile, and inexpensive knives are a perfect gift. They can be used around the house, in the garden, or for almost anything outdoors.” It’s a gift he’d love to get.
If you’re looking for something more deluxe than the tent they already own, John Perry, creative director for Creminelli Fine Meats and an avid mountain biker, recommends this car-mountable sky tent. “I’m dying to get a Tepui tent for my Jeep. Those tents mount to the top of your car like a box, but basically fold out into a five-star hotel.”
Last year, ultra-marathoner Michael Wardian broke the speed record in the World Marathon Challenge — that’s seven marathons in seven days on seven continents — so to say he’s always on the go would be an understatement. The best gift he ever got was this “really nice dry bag that I can throw all my wet clothes into when I finish an event and have to rush off to the airport.” Perfect for catching a flight home to see his two sons — or to Antarctica for his next 26.2.
“A new fly-fishing rod is always a sweet gift,” said Matt Hranek, photographer, luxury editor at Condé Nast Traveler, and author of A Man and His Watch. Because these can be expensive and, Hranek said, he doesn’t need more, they’re a special gift for the fly-fishing-enthusiast who wouldn’t buy one for themselves. “I think of my wife or daughter every time I fish with one of those presents; it connects me to them every time,” he said.
To go with the fly-fishing rod, Hranek would love to be gifted a new reel. “I have to admit, I always hint a bit and leave clues about what I would like — or ‘need’ — but for some reason, it is always a surprise,” he said — so it may be best to follow dad’s lead when it comes to these specialized gifts.
Michelle Nacouzi, a thru-hiker who backpacked almost 350 miles on the AT, PCT, and CDT this past summer, would like a good water filtration system. “There are a ton of different ways to filter water, and a serious hiker will have their own preference, but the Squeeze is a general favorite of thru-hikers (it’s relatively small, fits on SmartWater bottles, and filters fast). For people looking to do weekend backpacking trips, this is great.”
Nacouzi also recommends cozy and durable socks. “You don’t have to know someone’s sports preferences to buy them socks. Everyone knows that Darn Tough makes super comfortable, very durable wool socks that come with an unconditional lifetime guarantee, so really you’re gifting a lifetime of warm, cozy feet.”
But if you’re looking for something impactful on a budget, Nacouzi points out that a lifetime membership to REI costs a mere $20. “This is especially great for people who are newer to spending time outdoors. REI is a great resource for product and information, plus the membership garners 10 percent off all full-price orders and access to their used ‘garage’ sales.”
If you’re still stumped, or your dealing with someone really picky, don’t sleep on a gift card from a big outdoor retailer. Even if it’s for a small amount of money, your loved one can add that to something they’ve been saving up to buy.
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