gifts they might actually want

The Best Gifts for Hikers, According to Hikers

Photo-Illustration: The Strategist; Photos: Retailers

Jump to section

I love hiking, but here’s a shameful secret: I might love hiking clothing and gear even more. If there’s someone similarly outdoorsy in your life, they probably get just as excited as I do about such (mundane to some) products as wool socks and water bottles, so don’t be afraid to get them something gorpcore as a gift. To hone this list of hiking gifts, I combed through our archives to find Strategist-staffer REI must-haves, as well as recommendations from the many hiking and camping experts we’ve tapped over the years. You’ll find gifts suitable for beginner hikers, as well as those who were christened with trail names while completing the PCT last fall. We’ve even got gifts for snowshoers and bikepackers, if you’re shopping for someone who’s particularly adventurous. Look out for my favorite pair of hiking pants, slippers for base camp, and packable hot-sauce packets that’ll liven up those freeze-dried meals — alongside a fancy spork, the affordable headlamp beloved by two Strategist writers, and a bottle opener that can also hammer tent stakes. To help you choose, I’ve broken down these gift suggestions by price, and separated hiking clothing from general hiking gear.

Giftable hiking clothing under $100

Latria Graham, nature writer and gear reviewer for magazines like Outside and Backpacker, tells us that she prefers hiking clothing that can double as streetwear. These size-inclusive Halle Pants from PrAna “can go from the trail to a less dressy business meeting,” which makes them a versatile gift. I own and love a pair of these pants too, and have worn them hiking, sailing, and shopping downtown.

Ashley Manning, a thru-hiker and river manager at Adrift in Utah, says she usually goes through socks “like crazy, but I’ve had a pair from Darn Tough for seven years that are only now showing signs of wear.” Darn Toughs are also recommended by eight hiking experts as an essential piece of clothing for those who are just getting into hiking.

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 “much easier to take on and off” than rain pants.

These microspikes might be an appreciated accessory if your hiker is looking to hit the trails this winter. Girl Gotta Hike NYC founder Melissa Goodwin says that Kahtoolas are a reliable, “tried-and-true” option for increasing traction on icy, slippery surfaces.

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.”

This transforming hat has a draping “cape” that will protect your hiker from the sun. When the cape snaps off, the hat becomes a breathable baseball cap with practical mesh panels on the sides. Jimmy the Hiking Nerd calls it “the ultimate in sun protection” and “a classic that everyone should have on their head.”

Here’s another piece of practical, giftable headwear: a mosquito-fighting head net that your hiker can take out on their adventures. “There’s nothing worse than being attacked by flies, gnats, and mosquitos on the trail,” Hazzard tells us. “I always carry a compact and light bug head net, which keeps them out of my mouth, eyes, and nose. It might look silly, but it’s easy to get past that when it saves you from insanity.”

Giftable hiking clothing over $100

Travel blogger and photographer Renee Hahnel tells us this jacket “packs down to the size of a tennis ball” — perfect for hikers looking to save space in their packs while staying prepared for any surprise downpours.

Hikers are serious about their base layers, and merino wool is the gold standard when it comes to warmth and breathability. 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.

If your hiker is upgrading from sneakers or replacing a worn-out pair of boots, Goodwin says that Merrell’s iconic Moabs are a versatile option that’ll work for almost everyone. “They don’t take a long time to break in because they’re flexible from the get-go,” she explains. For this reason, “they’re a lot of people’s first hiking shoe.”

For icy trails, Goodwin suggests this lightweight but highly durable pair of snowshoes from MSR. She calls them “the best of the best,” adding that while they “come at a pretty high price tag, they will last forever.” To me, that kind of longevity is the secret to a perfect gift.

Giftable hiking gear under $100

For José G. González, founder of Latino Outdoors — a Latinx-led community and organization that seeks to expand Latinx outdoor experiences and leadership — it’s important to “undo the sense that you have to leave your culture at the trailhead.” González rejects the notion that there’s any one kind of clothing to wear or food to eat in order to be outdoorsy and instead encourages others to bring and wear gear that makes them feel “comfortable and safe.” So when it comes to bringing cultural elements outdoors, González often thinks of food and likes to bring “little packets of Tapatío or Cholula, which are outdoor usable. It’s that connection; people see it, and they get it.”

One of our Best in Class picnic blankets, this packable rug would also make a great hiker gift. I’m a fan of the tiny but mighty built-in corner stakes, which make it easy to stretch the fabric into a taut, waterproof surface when you’re on the trail. Lines of stitching on one side show you where to fold the blanket so it fits into the small included pouch, though I tend to just scrunch up and stash mine.

“This is one of my favorite pieces of outdoor gear designed for women, queer, trans, and nonbinary folks who were assigned female at birth,” says Travis Clough, director of trip operations at the Venture Out Project (TVOP), of this stand-to-pee device. “What it means outdoors is that I can be backpacking, then I can go to the bathroom without having to take my pack off,” he says, adding that as a trans person, it makes him feel safer in places that don’t have inclusive bathroom facilities. For cleanup, Clough recommends the pee cloths from Kula, which are made of antibacterial fabric and have a convenient set of plastic snaps for connecting to your pack.

Another piece of gear that makes going to the bathroom outdoors easier and more sanitary is a cathole trowel, which Manning says is “lightweight” and “something that helps you be more responsible” on the trail.

Therm-a-Rest Z-Seat Pad

Jimmy the Hiking Nerd has been using this affordable but super-handy sit pad for years, calling it an “indispensable item” for ultralight hikers and backpackers. “It’s such a versatile item for use around camp or if you want to take a quick break on trail,” he says. “Out in the backcountry, this Z-Seat has been my makeshift pillow, a windscreen for my stove, a fan to get the campfire going, and a barrier against the snow.”

In a day of 13 or 14 miles of hiking, Graham says she’ll go through three to four liters of water, and though she loves the idea of stainless-steel containers, in reality, “they’re heavy, and I hate them.” Instead, Graham recommends gifting one of HydraPak’s collapsible bottles, which hold up to 1.5 liters of water but still “crush down to the size of an eyeglasses case that I can just shove in my pocket.”

For a sturdier drinking vessel, Jimmy the Hiking Nerd calls this hiker-friendly Nalgene “the perfectly sized water bottle that easily fits into a backpack side pocket or shoulder-strap pocket.” The bottle can hold cold and boiling water and features a pop-top lid that opens and closes easily with one hand. “When I’m winter camping, I like to fill this bottle up with boiling water, lock the top, and put it in my sleeping bag as a hot water bottle,” he says.

No outdoorsperson should be without a good, dependable headlamp. Jimmy the Hiking Nerd calls this futuristic Petzl model “perfect for runners and hikers alike with three brightness settings all controlled with a single button.” He says the headlamp comes with a rechargeable battery, but you can use three AAAs in a pinch. And as a bonus, “I like that the headband is water-repellent so that it doesn’t soak up any sweat.”

For a more affordable option, Strategist writer Jeremy Rellosa recommends this 35-gram rechargeable headlamp that can be tucked into a back pocket or stashed in a fanny pack. I own one of these, too, and like how comfortable the thin elastic strap is compared to your traditional bulky one.

For advanced hikers plotting their trails, writer and distance hiker Amiththan Sebarajah recommends high-powered GPS app Gaia, a favorite of Death Cab for Cutie frontman (and avid trail runner) Ben Gibbard. The membership fee is steep, so any hiker would surely appreciate being gifted 12 months of maps.

For a gift that “saves your knees and your energy, both going uphill and downhill,” Graham recommends these Cor-Tec trekking poles from Leki, which she says are sufficient for most hikers. (If you’re looking for something for the hiker obsessed with going ultralight, the brand carries a pair of carbon-fiber poles — though they are twice the price of this lightweight aluminum pair.)

If the hiker on your list is more of a dog parent, dog-training expert Ben Cawley recommends this harness for “hiking-type activities” because it has “different connection points on the harness on the front and the back and the center, so you can even have them drag the leash, and you can easily get control if necessary.”

A cheap but nice gift from coveted outdoor retailer Snow Peak, this spork is one your hiker will want to keep in their pack forever. “I carry this super-lightweight, utilitarian utensil everywhere,” says Field Mag founder Graham Hiemstra. “It’s designed for backpacking but great for car camping, day hikes, and travel too.” Plus: “It’s an easy way to eliminate single-use plastic in everyday life.”

Similarly, this ultralight hammer from MSR is a relatively inexpensive gift that’ll last forever. Even with limited space, bikepacker Todd Nisbet tells us that he likes to bring his own along on every trip, explaining that it can hammer and pull tent stakes, as well as open beer bottles. “And it’s also a self-defense tool,” he says. “It’s a life changer.”

We’ve said before that easy-to-open Leatherman multi-tools have achieved “Kleenex-style shorthand status for the entire multi-tool category.” Adventure filmmaker Bryan Rogala says he loves the Squirt because it’s “small enough to fit in that otherwise useless coin pocket on your jeans” yet “has everything you might need in a multi-tool, like scissors, a Phillips and a flat-head screwdriver, a small blade, and pliers.”

“The way I learned to be in the outdoors is to make as little noise as possible because other people are trying to enjoy these spaces, too, and I’ve just moved away from that since I think that’s just such a way of trying to control other people and what they find enjoyable,” says Griswell, who likes to engage people through song and dance on the trail and at the campsite. He now finds that a portable speaker is something he can’t hike without.

Griswell likes to remind others to “bring your creature habits with you” and experience the outdoors in a personally relevant way instead of “doing these specific things so that you can be ‘outdoorsy.’” That’s why he loves when students bring cards on the trail and play spades.

Graham “can’t tolerate bad food” on the trail. Instead, she likes to pack strawberry-flavored Honey Stinger Waffles, squeeze packs of Justin’s Vanilla Almond Butter, and white-chocolate macadamia-nut granola from Clif in an ecofriendly Stasher Bag and bring it all on her hikes. But since Graham is picky about breakfast (“fuck waffles and pancakes — the whole thing, I don’t like it”), she had an especially hard time finding foods to eat outdoors in the morning, until coming across Good To-Go oatmeal, which she says “is gluten free, vegan, and actually incredible. And I do not usually say that about any breakfast because I don’t like it.”

For some post-hike self-care, Clough likes to massage his muscles with one of these cork massage balls from Rawlogy that are ecofriendly and ethically produced. Use this set at the campsite, or “leave it in your car, and when you get back from the trail, you can massage your back on your drive home,” he says.

Giftable hiking gear over $100

I love Helinox’s ultralightweight slingback chairs, which can hold up to 265 pounds while weighing just 1.8 ounces and packing into a compact size only slightly larger than a Nalgene bottle. Taking a chair on the trail would never have occurred to me until I tried out one of these.

For the day hiker or overnight backpacker, a lightweight but durable pack is an essential. Hiemstra calls this pack “perfect for day hikes, ultralight overnights, and running errands around town.” And it’s great for a hiker who already has a larger bag: Because this one is so light, they can “pack it inside a bigger backpack and use it for day hikes while traveling or base camping in the backcountry.”

Garmin inReach Mini

Gibbard is a fan of this cute little GPS device that will give your hiker some peace of mind in the backcountry. Useful even in nonemergency situations, the inReach Mini has smartphone pairing, allowing hikers to send texts when out of cell service. “For me, it’s become this essential piece of gear,” Gibbard says. “It’s not cheap, but it’s worth it for people who love hiking or going to remote places.”

For the hiker who wants to bring along a little one, this backpack from the expert-recommended brand Kelty doubles as an actually comfortable baby carrier.

The Strategist is designed to surface the most useful, expert recommendations for things to buy across the vast e-commerce landscape. Some of our latest conquests include the best acne treatments, rolling luggage, pillows for side sleepers, natural anxiety remedies, and bath towels. We update links when possible, but note that deals can expire and all prices are subject to change.

The Best Gifts for Hikers, According to Hikers