gifts they might actually want

The Best Gifts for Outdoorsy Dads, According to Outdoorsy Dads

Photo-Illustration: George Shelley/Getty Images

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If there’s an outdoorsy dad in your life, it’s basically guaranteed that he’d love some new gear. Because navigating the digital aisles of REI can be overwhelming, I consulted dads who love to hike, fish, kayak, and camp about the things they think would make great gifts. (Then, for good measure, combed our archives for any standout stuff that we’ve written about before.) From electronics, to tools and knives, to clothes and shoes, to plenty of supplies for camping and water sports, the products below are sure to delight any dad who spends time outside, whether he is a consummate camper, just learned how to pitch a tent, or something in between. Look out for a pocketable picnic rug, a GPS device that can send text messages even when there’s no cell service, and warm wool hiking socks with a lifetime warranty. I found a Patagonia Baggies upgrade for dads who swim, a nifty USB-rechargeable lighter for firebug dads, and hiking sandals for dads hitting the trail this summer.

Electronics and gadgets

Garmin inReach Mini
$300
$300

If you’ve got a dad who likes to head out into the woods alone, here’s a way for him to keep in touch should he need to. A separate GPS rescue device “is a go-to standard these days for people in the backcountry,” Scott Wilkinson, communications director at the Pacific Crest Trail Association, tells us. The most advanced of these devices, like the Garmin inReach here, can pair with your dad’s phone and send a text message even if he doesn’t have cell service.

Kevin Mooney, the owner and operator of the Mohicans, a tree-house resort in Ohio, recommends giving a GoPro because it will allow Dad to capture everything from mountain biking to working on an at-home building project. “Everybody should have a GoPro; it’s fantastic for shooting outdoor videos. The footage that we have shot with ours is phenomenal,” he promises.

If he already has a GoPro, outdoorsy dad David Stephan says that “a cool additional accessory” would be an affordable way to make it feel new again. This harness would allow Dad to mount a GoPro to his chest so he can record bike rides, trail runs, and other activities hands free.

For dads who are tracking their fitness (outside or indoors), cyclist Chris Cosentino — who is also a chef, restaurateur, and dad — directed us to this heart-rate monitor that doubles as a calorie tracker. “The TICKR X is equipped with Bluetooth and will connect directly with your training apps,” he explains. “It has 50 hours of memory, so you can go for a run or ride your trainer indoors and it’ll record and remember that activity.”

For dads who plot their trails, writer and distance hiker Amiththan Sebarajah recommends high-powered GPS app Gaia, a favorite of Death Cab for Cutie front man (and avid trail runner) Ben Gibbard. As the membership fee is steep, Dad will surely appreciate being gifted 12 months of maps.

$141

If your dad likes birding, hiking, or just seeing faraway sights, he’d get plenty of use out of some new binoculars. Robert DeCandido — who goes by Birding Bob and leads bird-watching tours of Central Park — told us about this lightweight, waterproof, and fogproof pair from Sightron that he says Dad can “wear all day” without feeling any strain on his neck. They’re not cheap, but these they with a case, neck strap, and lens cover — all things that make them more giftable. If you want to shop around, we heard about more expert-approved pairs when we asked birders about their go-to gear.

Camping and picnic gear

While it’s an investment you might have to get siblings or Mom to chip in on, campers have told us that one of these Yeti coolers can come in handy whether you’re going off the grid or just camping out for an evening in the backyard. It has a 30-liter (or 20-can) capacity and “just fits everywhere” thanks to its soft-side construction, according to Anderson. Importantly, Anderson adds, “the ice never melts” after she fills it up.

Photo: retailer

Contributor and backpacker Maggie Slepian says there are myriad reasons a headlamp comes in handy on camping trips, from helping Dad find his way back to the tent (or car) after a long hike to illuminating the pages of his book as he reads in his sleeping bag after the campfire dies. Her favorite, from BioLite, is “lightweight and rechargeable, with a band that never triggers any pressure points,” she explains. “Plus, the light is dimmable, which is helpful when you want to save battery life.”

According to Strategist contributor (and outdoorsy dad) Steven John, “The BioLite CampStove 2 completes two important campsite tasks at the same time: It cooks your food, and it powers up small electrical devices, such as a phone, camera, or a flashlight.” The device works by converting heat from the small fire you build in the stove’s chamber into electricity. “I love this thing because it’s a perfect example of an upgrade to a classic, essential piece of hardware,” John says.

If your dad is more into backpacking, Melo suggests treating him to this portable wood-burning stove. It collapses flat and weighs just four ounces. “It’s fun to use,” says Melo, “and a dad like me is trying to slow life down. Something like this makes you do just that and enjoy a moment.” Using sticks and twigs as its fuel source, he notes that this stove is “an environmentally friendly way to cook outdoors — and you’d be lying if you said it wasn’t cool-looking.”

John told us this “lightweight folding rocker” is just as essential to his camping kit as the stove-slash-charger above. The rocking chair, which made our Best in Class list for comfy and durable camping chairs, weighs an easy-to-schlep 12 pounds, but its “impressive engineering” can support up to 250 pounds, he explains. Plus, John notes “it has a cup holder attached” that will make it easy for Dad to keep his favorite brewski or canned spritz within reach once he gets where he’s going.

One of our Best in Class picnic blankets, this packable rug would make a great gift for dads who get outside. 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.

If Dad needs to purify water in the wild, this water filter doubles as an expert-recommended emergency-preparedness tool. Stephan recommends it, noting that the purifier could “be a literal lifesaver” when it comes to drinking untreated water. He adds that the tool helps him pack lighter: “Having a small pump filter in my pack frees me up from carrying too much water on trips where I’m sure there’s a reliable source.”

If your dad tends to return from camping trips smelling a little ripe, these towels Lynch told us about could be a revelation. He has used them to keep “dangerous funk” at bay while camping, mountain biking, and hiking, describing the towels as “like baby wipes but tougher, bigger, and without that terrible smell.” One side of each “has a rough, stippled texture that’s great for scraping off caked-on dirt or scrubbing your face clean in the morning,” while the other is smooth and “good for smaller messes and more sensitive areas,” he writes.

Utah-based hiker Rob Urry, a father of four and a grandfather of 11, recommends this packable and inflatable pad for any dad who complains about the quality of his sleep while camping. “The best pad ever: It blows up with just a few breaths and is lightweight and supercomfortable,” says Urry, who adds that the pad “works great on the ground or in a hammock.”

Spikeball 3 Ball Kit
$60

Our best outdoor game for families requires four players divided into two teams of two, with the objective being to bounce the ball off the net in a way that prevents the other team from being able to bounce it back. It’s packable enough for beach and park trips, and perfect for setting up at a campsite. And, while the learning curve is minimal enough for kids, we promise that ultracompetitive dads will be hooked.

Stephan notes that you can literally give your dad the gift of nature with a parks pass. “A lot of us outdoor dads are more into experiences than we are stuff,” he says. “This is a perfect gift to get guys going out to some of the best natural places on earth — and it’s good for an entire carload, so he can take the family with him.” This one offers access to almost all of New York State’s parks for the 2023 season, but the federal government also sells a pass to various national parklands for the same price.

Knives, lighters and multi-tools

Strategist contributor and self-proclaimed “dad who likes fire” Steven John is fond of this nifty lighter because it creates heat from electricity rather than combustible fuel — it recharges via an included USB cable. “Said heat is so intense that it lights candles almost instantly and gets cardboard, paper, or a fire starter going in seconds,” he adds. “It’s even strong enough to ignite smaller pieces of kindling.”

If you think your dad would prefer a more full-featured multi-tool, this one comes recommended to us by Chase Anderson, industry relations manager at Utah State University’s Outdoor Product Design and Development program and creator of the Outdoor Recreation Archive, who says that with 18 different tools, it “has everything you need.” The wire cutters are replaceable, and there’s a 25-year warranty. With its central pair of pliers, the design is a highly giftable classic that dad can pass down to you someday.

If the dad you’re shopping for likes to unwind (himself) as much as he likes to tighten screws, you might consider this other multi-tool that contributor Aleta Burchyski told us about. “It’s dead useful: The sharp tip and serrated edge break down boxes better than a house key, the screwdriver makes quick work of opening battery compartments, and the one-inch and three-centimeter rulers come in handy at the hardware store,” she writes. But what really sets it apart is a hexagonal bowl and pipestem “surreptitiously built into its body” that can be used for taking the occasional puff while out and about. That bowl, Burchyski promises, is discreet: “It blends right in next to the hex-wrench cutouts, so you can add the multi-tool to your key chain or clip it to a zipper and no one has to know.”

According to Cosentino, pocketknives are so handy for outdoorsy dads that he has two of them. “One I leave in my Dopp kit for when I travel (so I don’t get it taken away in airport security); the other I keep in my seat bag when I’m bike riding,” he says, noting this Elko model can be used for everything “from tasting fruit at the farmers’ market to breaking boxes at my restaurants.”

Strategist contributor Michael Easter, an Outside magazine columnist, told us he has used this pocketknife for “tasks both mundane and epic.” The more mundane include cutting through apples and packages, while gutting trout “alongside Utah streams and Wyoming lakes” and butchering a 400-pound caribou in the Arctic tundra are some of the more epic things he has done with it. Made in the USA, Easter says the tool came recommended to him by a U.S. Special Operations Forces operator, writing that “its fiberglass-reinforced, diamond-engraved plastic handle sits comfortably in your hand and stays there.” If it ever dulls, he adds that you can ship the knife to the brand’s Oregon City factory, and the company will take care of “cleaning, oiling, tuning, and resharpening” for free.

For a more colorful option, Allmansright co-founder and new dad Livio Melo says this Swedish-made neck knife with a reliable sheath is “as cute as it is capable.” You’ll be able to match the colorway to your dad’s favorite gear but be assured that this knife will perform any task he requires. “It’s sharp and has an edge that has been ground so you can strike a FireSteel no problem,” says Melo. “This thing is ultralight meets bushcraft and a true example of Swedish neutrality.” In other words, it’s a classily designed piece of gear that actually works.

Food and beverages

Strategist contributor James Lynch discovered these packs of powdered bone broth when he was shopping ahead of a four-month road trip — and wound up eating one a day for two months while living out of his truck. “In the time it takes to grab a cup of hot water, you’re blowing steam off a savory soup,” he writes, adding, “I no longer have to pay $12 for a tasteless freeze-dried dinner or carry a heavy can of tuna in my pack.” Instead, he buys dehydrated foods like rice, beans, or simple vegetables and adds the broth to them “to create meaty, filling meals that don’t weigh me down.”

If your dad is a jerky connoisseur, one of Lynch’s other favorite snacks is this dried beef from Kalahari. He explains that, unlike most jerky, “it has a crunch like chips, instead of a tooth-loosening chew, but is still packed with protein and delicious meat flavor.” (If Dad’s the type who would prefer to make his own jerky, he could do so using this expert-recommended countertop dehydrator.)

For outdoorsy (or any) dads who like to snack, dad of two Buddy Kite recommends gifting this sampler box from Patagonia Provisions, the outdoor company’s line of sustainable food. He admits it’s “a splurge” but says you’re paying for “super-high sustainability standards and quality seafood options that are really impressive” — two things we think anyone who loves the outdoors will appreciate. If you don’t want to pay for a whole box full of snacks, you can buy any of the 11 products within this sampler individually. (Carolina Santos-Neves, the executive chef of American Bar, says the brand’s mussels are her favorite tinned food.)

Two dads we spoke to say that outdoorsy fathers would appreciate something to quench their thirst at a campsite or a backyard picnic. To ensure Dad’s mind stays sharp as he sips, Cosentino recommends this nonalcoholic beer, telling us “it tastes like the real deal, but you can drink all day without getting hammered.” He describes himself as “a huge IPA guy” and says this one has a “piney richness and awesome aroma.”

If your dad would love to bring the taste of the great outdoors inside, we suggest this tea from Oakland-based Juniper Ridge. Made from Douglas-fir needles sourced in the Pacific Northwest, it has a “deeply piney aroma,” according to contributor Nick Marino, who says its flavor is “profoundly, almost absurdly, outdoorsy.” The tea, he adds, “has a pleasantly oily texture and a wicked-dry finish that makes you thirsty for more.”

Clothing and accessories

Joe Peters, a father of two and the head of marketing for hiking-boot brand Vasque, likes the versatility of this moisture-wicking tee that he says serves him just as well indoors as it does in the wild. “I’ve spent an entire three-day weekend in one, solo parenting while my wife was out of town, which was an adventure in itself,” he says. “The engineered fabric incorporates the natural properties of merino wool that wick away moisture, resist odors, and regulate temperature.” The cut is flattering, he adds, while still allowing for lots of movement.

Dad David Walters, a kayak fisher, owns three of these Columbia long-sleeved tees. “They keep me cool and shaded from the sun and dry quickly,” he says of the shirts, which he wears while fishing.

When we spoke with Pacific Crest Trail experts about the clothing and gear that in-the-know thru-hikers wear and use, and many told us that Hawaiian-style shirts like this one are extremely popular on the trail. This Patagonia shirt could be worn by hiker dads both outdoors and on the town — it’s made from 100 percent organic cotton that’s nice and breathable for summer.

Dads typically never turn down new socks. Outdoorsy dads are even less likely to do so, as they know how important it is to have backups of most everything at the ready. This pair — which we think are the best wool socks you can buy — comes recommended by writer and distance hiker Amiththan Sebarajah, one of several folks (including mayor turned U.S. Transportation secretary Pete Buttigieg) who have praised Darn Tough’s Vermont-made socks to us. They’re made of temperature-regulating merino wool and come in seven colors.

Two dads we spoke with told us about Outerknown’s jeans, recommending them as a sturdy pant that’s stylish enough for dads who want to look their best. Kite calls them “the best jeans I’ve ever owned,” and Greg Breitmaier of Simms Fishing Products in Bozeman, Montana, says, “They look great and feel supersoft.” As outdoorsmen, both dads appreciate how these jeans are sustainably made. Breitmaier puts it this way: “I’m always looking for brands that adhere to the highest possible ethical and environmental standards, or else there won’t be the same outdoor opportunities for our children to enjoy later.” (While he is not a dad, former Strategist associate editor Louis Cheslaw says that Outerknown’s clothes are so comfortable they’ve become his loungewear of choice.)

After wearing these adventure pants for a hike through Mt. Hood National Forest, Lynch had a hard time taking them off. “I’m usually wary of wearing technical outdoors gear in my everyday life,” he writes. “It feels a bit showy: ‘Look, guys, I play in the outdoors! Let me tell you about my pants’ technical features!’” But these are subtle enough that Lynch has worn them hiking, biking, weight lifting, grocery shopping, and while working from home. Even though they don’t scream technical, he assures they hold up: “They’re tough as nails. When I took a spill on an e-bike doing 28 mph, I scraped open my palms, my chest, my hip, and my knee beneath my pants — but the actual pants didn’t even have a scuff.”

While a pair of our beloved Patagonia Baggies will always make for a solid gift, according to former Strategist writer David Notis, these trunks from Solid & Striped are a dressier alternative that are a little more special. In addition to being a bit shorter, with a four-inch inseam, they’re more formfitting, and the seersucker pocket lining makes a statement. These trunks are made of quick-drying polyamide, with a mesh lining, side pockets, and a back pocket with a hidden snap closure. They come in more than three dozen colors and prints to suit a wide range of dad styles and tastes.

Lemig, who goes trail running in Denver, says these Hoka sneakers are his favorite trail-running shoes of all time (and experts we’ve asked about trail-running gear agree). He describes them as “grippy on the trail, with tons of cushion and great toe protection,” so much so that he is known to wear them while “hiking, camping, or even just cruising around town.”

Lynch, meanwhile, told us these hiking boots double as his winter running shoes because they have a “waterproof upper, an aggressive tread pattern, and a wide, comfortable toe box” that he says “make every run feel like it’s the middle of spring.” The way he tells it, depending on the climate your dad lives in (or spends time outdoors in), they sound just as versatile as the shoes above: “Along with running, hiking, shoveling the driveway, and doing errands, I’ve worn these boots for snowshoeing.”

For dads planning summertime hiking or boating adventures, Steve Silberberg, head guide at Fitpacking, says that these Keen Clearwater sandals “give the freedom to power through rivers” without the risk of stubbing your toes on slippery stones. “I love that they are lightweight, have outstanding traction, and are quick-drying and washable,” he adds.

Cosentino told us he rotates between three different models of this Nixon 51-30 Chrono watch that he calls indestructible, making it ideal for any outdoor activity: “I was wearing my first 51-30 watch in the kitchen prepping one day, and I realized it was missing. Six hours later, my staff was straining some chicken stock and found my watch inside. Amazingly, it was still working,” he says. Cosentino adds that “the watch face is large, so it’s easy to read at a quick glance” and that it doesn’t look bad, either. “It’s a showstopper,” he promises. (If Dad’s a watch guy and you want to shop around, don’t miss our list of expert-recommended styles that are all under $500.)

Paul Ronto of RunRepeat says a water bottle can be just as useful as a headlamp and that a nicer one like this may be something your dad is less likely to buy for himself. “I’d recommend anything from Hydro Flask; its vacuum-sealed, stainless-steel bottles keep things cold or hot for hours,” he says, adding that his has held ice for more than 24 hours while traveling.

Water-sports gear

No matter what your outdoorsy dad’s water sport of choice is, if he has a bad habit of dropping his phone, consider buying him a waterproof case so he can retire that bowl of rice. “CaliCase makes a great, phone-specific” one, according to Brian Van Drie, the president of kayaking site Paddling.com. The case fits iPhones and Android phones, has two layers of PVC plastic to ensure complete coverage, and even floats, making it foolproof for even the clumsiest of dads.

Investing in a kayak may be cost prohibitive, but Walters says any dad who already has one might like a better paddle. As he explains, “You want the paddle to be as light as possible without feeling cheap, and this one does the trick.” When it’s time to store it, Walters notes that this “easily breaks down into two pieces,” adding that, if Dad likes to fish while kayaking, “it has a nifty cutout on one of the blades to retrieve snagged lures.”

Also for the kayaking dad is this suction-cup mount that Walters says makes it a lot easier to take a kayak on the road. “Loading a kayak on a car without a second set of hands is a nightmare,” he says. “I found this thing, and it’s been much easier. You just suction-cup it on your back glass, prop the nose of the kayak on it, and walk it up.” You will need a roof rack to transport a kayak, so if Dad doesn’t have one, Walters recommends the “fairly easy to install” system of towers and bars from Yakima.

John brings this towel from Rumpl on board during kayaking trips “in the event of an accidental full-scale soaking.” According to him, the towel “packs away easily when I don’t need it,” and its polyester-spandex material “absorbs a crazy amount of water when I do.”

“If you are participating in a water activity that brings you any appreciable distance offshore, you should be wearing a life jacket,” says John. “I don’t care if you’re an Olympic swimmer — if you get injured or sick, your swimming chops are gone, and a personal flotation device is all you have to count on to keep you above water.” Of all the life jackets he’s used, he calls this one from Astral Ringo his “favorite for paddling” in a kayak because of the wide range of motion it allows for his arms.

“A new fly-fishing rod is always a sweet gift,” says Matt Hranek, a photographer and the author of A Man & His Watch. Lemig agrees, telling us that he, an experienced fly-fisher, used this Tenkara kit to teach his daughter the sport a couple of years ago. “It telescopes down to 20 inches and packs away super-easily,” according to Lemig, who adds that “it gives my $800 Orvis fly rod a run for its money.”

Bags and packs

With leather patches and minimal pockets and zippers, this Topo Designs backpack looks nice enough to wear to your local coffee shop but is durable enough for a day hike. Nicola Agostinetto, a U.S. sales manager for Parajumpers, recommends it and tells us the “multifunctional, lightweight backpack” is the best gift he ever got. (He wore it to hike the Dolomites.) If you don’t want to take his word for it, how about ours? Topo Designs bags have made several of our lists, including the best weekend bags, best Dopp kits, and the best gym bags.