gifts they might actually want

The Best Gifts for Hikers, According to Hikers

Photo-Illustration: The Strategist; Photos: Retailers

You might not be able to give the hiker more time outdoors, but you can give them the gear they need (or want) to make any trek more enjoyable. “If you have the right gear, even if your trip goes wrong, you can find value in it,” says Latria Graham, nature writer and gear reviewer for magazines like Outside and Backpacker, but she warns that the “right gear” differs for everyone based on all kinds of factors — from the location of a hike to your budget.

So whether you’re gifting to a day-tripper who just got into hiking during the pandemic, an expert who has already gone up all 2,190 miles of the Appalachian Trail, or someone who doesn’t get outside as much as they’d like but still loves a trip to REI, we spoke to a handful of hiking experts — including trip leaders and through-hikers — about the clothing, gear, and other hiking goods they’d actually want to give or receive as a gift. From fancy sporks to durable backpacks to handy multi-tools, you’ll find some luxury gear here your hiker might not be willing to splash out for themselves as well as some smaller stocking stuffers sure to please outdoorsy types. All the items listed here are currently in stock and should arrive before Christmas if you order ASAP. At REI, paying for one-day express shipping is now your only option. At Backcountry, free two-day shipping for purchases over $50 will get your gift delivered on time if you order by 5 p.m. ET on December 22. After that, one-day air freight is still possible until 12 p.m. ET on December 23.

Giftable hiking clothing

Three of the five hikers we spoke to say that outerwear is at the top of their gift wish lists. Ron Griswell, adventurer and founder of HBCUs Outside — a nonprofit dedicated to diversifying the outdoors by empowering students and alumni of historically Black colleges and universities with the resources and equipment to get outside — is amazed at the power that good rain gear can have on someone’s hiking experience, especially if they’re new to the outdoors. “A lot of people expect that a sweatshirt is going to protect them from the rain,” he explains. (It won’t.) Instead, he recommends something waterproof with insulation like this Arc’teryx Alpha SV, which was his first weatherproof jacket ever.

Graham prefers hiking clothing that can double as regular streetwear and says these size-inclusive Halle Pants from PrAna “can go from the trail to a less dressy business meeting” (once that’s a thing again). Some sizes and colorways will still arrive before Christmas via Amazon if you act quickly.

Hikers are serious about their base layers, and merino wool is the gold standard when it comes to warmth and breathability in long underwear. Chyla Anderson, founder of the outdoor representation company Outdoorism, calls her Smartwool merino base layers “much softer and cozier than others I’ve tried” and adds that they don’t itch, either. The brand was mentioned by all the outdoor experts we talked to as part of our winter hiking-gear guide and is a perennial Strategist favorite.

REI’s virtual-outfitting team lead Forrest Jarvi tells us that this winter-hiking-appropriate beanie is “extremely comfortable and fits well under a helmet if you’re backcountry skiing.”

For a winterized base-camp shoe, look no further than Teva’s cozy ReEmber shoes, which are basically outdoor slippers made from upcycled materials. Chase Anderson, industry relations manager at Utah State University’s Outdoor Product Design and Development program and creator of the Outdoor Recreation Archive, owns two pairs of these and is eyeing a third. He says there’s “nothing better” than slipping your feet into a pair of these after playing in the backcountry.

For those hiking in cold and rainy climates, Pacific Crest Trail Association communications director Scott Wilkinson tells us gaiters are too frequently overlooked. He calls them “a fantastic piece of gear” for insulating your legs, keeping snow out of your shoes, and avoiding snags when heading off-trail. Kindra Ramos of the Washington Trails Association adds that they’re also “much easier to take on and off” than rain pants.