gift ideas for backpackers & hikers (under $40)

Updated December 2016

With the holidays fast approaching I put together this list of gift ideas for the hikers and backpackers in your life, both new and experienced. It can be difficult to shop for someone who already has a lot of their own gear, so I included a mix of both necessities (mainly geared towards new hikers) and nice-to-have items that more frugal backpackers may not purchase for themselves. As an example it took me years of using a ball of clothes as a pillow before I splurged on the lightweight backpacking pillow I’ve shared below! All items are under $40 and most available through Amazon Prime – just click the photo to shop. I have tested each of these items and happily recommend them to others!

Click the photos or links for more detail about each product.

>> Click here for a full list of the gear I use

1) MSR PocketRocket Stove

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A simple lightweight stove perfect for a beginner - reliable, and no maintenance or priming required. Just thread the stove into an MSR IsoPro fuel canister, unfold the prongs, throttle the gas, and light the burner. This stove can hold a surprisingly large pot to boil water or cook for your whole camp. I have used this stove for several years on each of my backpacking trips with no issues!

2) Black Diamond Cosmo Headlamp

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An affordable but high quality necessity for campers and hikers. This 90-lumen headlamp has adjustable strength, red night-vision, and a lock feature to prevent the lamp from turning on in your backpack.

3) Sawyer Squeeze Water Filter

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This is a great gift for a new backpacker or someone looking to upgrade their current filtration method. I prefer to filter my water over using iodine tablets and have found squeeze filters to be much easier than pump filters. This lightweight Sawyer model has the highest level of filtration available and is very easy to use – just fill the pouch with water, screw on the filter, and squeeze the pouch into a bottle, reservoir, or directly into your mouth! This is the most convenient filtration method I’ve used while hiking.

4) Sea to Summit Aeros Ultralight Pillow

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I can’t tell you how many times I’ve packed my sleeping bag stuff sack with dirty clothes to use as a camping pillow, and I truly underestimated how much a legitimate pillow can improve sleep quality. I have tried other lightweight backpacking pillows but this one is my favorite – it fits perfectly inside the hood of a mummy bag and has a nook in the middle to prevent your head from rolling off. This pillow features a dual inflate-deflate valve taking only a few breaths to adjust to your preferred height.

5) Massage Ball & Foam Roller

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Don’t forget recovery items like this spiky massage ball and high-density foam roller! These two items have been a lifesaver for my overused legs after running and hiking. A few minutes use a day, even in front of the TV, can make an incredible difference for recovery. Although I mainly use the ball and roller on my feet and legs respectively, both can be used for deep tissue massage on the back, neck, and arms as well.

6) Moleskine Cahier Journal

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A set of three thin and flexible ruled journals for capturing all the details of your adventures! I cannot express enough how my trail journals have enhanced my memories of each trip and give me joy to look back on. These Moleskine notebooks are super small and lightweight. Include a note of inspiration for an upcoming trip!

7) Sea to Summit Alpha Light Utensils

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The perfect gift for a backpacker trying to lighten their load! This spork and knife is made of hard anodized 7075 aluminum so the utensils are both lightweight and very robust. The set includes a tiny carabiner to conveniently hook the utensils together and secure to your backpack. I have used this set for day hiking lunches as well as multi-week backpacking trips and they hold up great on anything from slicing through avocados to using the long-handled spork to eat a dehydrated dinner right from the bag.

8) guidebooks and maps

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I included two tried and true examples here (Elizabeth Wenk’s comprehensive John Muir Trail guidebook and a waterproof Zion National Park Map) but any guidebook or detailed map can be a huge inspiration. Choose a guidebook of regional hikes in their area, or a detailed map of a national park they’ve been eyeing. This is the gift that keeps on giving, opening up a world of trip planning and future adventures! It could even be the push they need to explore a new area.

9) Osprey Ultralight Raincover

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This is the kind of necessity that many backpackers will avoid splurging on until its too late… after they’ve had a terrible experience in the rain! If you need a gift for someone who still carries a garbage bag in case of poor weather this is the one! Make sure to pick a cover that will fit their backpack. This pick is for my Osprey Ariel 65 – a large size cover fits perfectly and folds up into a convenient pouch for storage.

10) ICETrekkers Shoe Chains

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I am new to snow hiking but found this product to be very valuable on winter hikes not requiring snowshoes or crampons. These are basically tire chains for your boots and provide excellent traction on snow and ice. The chains are made of robust hardened steel and fit over standard hiking boots. Although this isn’t the most glamour gift it’s a great way to encourage the recipient to extend their hiking passion into the winter season!