Gifts for hikers: how to find the right one?

In my group of friends there are a lot of hikers, so in the last decade I gave and got a lot of hiking related gifts. I saw what kind of gifts can be given, which ideas are good or not so good and in this article I want to share my experience with you on this subject.

Below I suggest you gift ideas for all budgets, mostly mountain equipment but also from other categories, which can be offered as a surprise or with consulting the person who will get the gift.

If you prefer, you can read this article in Romanian and Hungarian as well, by using the links to the right or watch the related video.

Necessary reading time: 12 minutes

Considerations

Before deciding on a gift, you should think about the following questions.

Who is the gift for?

Is the person just starting out with hiking or are they an experienced climber? Does he or she buy equipment regularly? The more passionate the person is about mountain gear and the more time they got to buy what they need the bigger the probability that they already have the necessary equipment.

Is it your significant other or a family member? If it’s a person close to us we have bigger chances to know them better and know what they need but the close relationship also allows us to suggest them to choose the gift together to avoid a surprise gift which is inadequate.

Is she a pretentious lady? Or a perfectionist guy who is paying attention to every little detail (like myself)? The chances that we don’t get the right color or the model with the right features is higher in these cases.

Is the person going to the mountains only in the summer or in the winter as well (or is at least tempted to try winter hiking)? Do they like rock climbing? Trail running? Alpinism? If you answered positively for any of the above questions, you have more gift possibilities and further below you will find some suggestions about those.

Suprise or not?

In most cases, we want to offer a surprise but you better know that hikers are a special kind of human with ideas hard to understand for the usual folks. Especially some ladies tend to put an accent on the aesthetic part of equipment as well not just its functionality, so finding them the right gift can become a real challenge. Depending on what our relationship with the person is and how well we know their gear collection it could be a good idea to choose the gift together based on some suggestions we give them. Below for every idea, I will detail how suitable it is to be offered as a surprise.

Price?

The price of mountain gear varies a lot based on type, brand, and characteristics. The higher price we decide to pay for a gift the surer we must be that the person really needs that gift, they didn’t buy or don’t plan to buy something equivalent or somebody else doesn’t think of giving them a similar gift.

Offer experiences, not objects

Even the most solitary hiker out there likes to share their experiences with loved ones, so maybe you’ll want to offer them an experience which they can remember for the rest of their life. Maybe some plane, bus, or train tickets to a destination where you can go together. Out of the 30 countries I have visited my favorites for hiking were Norway, Montenegro and of course Romania. I liked the nature a lot also in France, Slovenia, and Austria.

If you are the kind of person who doesn’t like mountains, you could offer some material help to them, so they can achieve a plan they had for a long time. When I left on a solitary journey to France, some cash from my friends helped me a lot.

On my solo trip in France, Col de L'Iseran, the highest paved pass in the Alps, 2016
On my solo trip in France, Col de L'Iseran, the highest paved pass in the Alps, 2016

Movies

There are a lot of good movies about expeditions, mountains, high peaks. Some of them can be watched online for free, but a possible idea is to offer one of those on DVD or Blu-ray.

We share the opinion among several friends that the best movie about mountains is Touching the Void. Another classic about the 1996 tragedy on Everest (about which I have also spoken here) is Into Thin Air. A more modern movie about the same event is Everest.

Maps and books

As I’m not a big book reader I cannot recommend else but the books which the movies mentioned above are based on: Touching the Void and Into Thin Air.

I personally haven’t read it but I’ve heard good things about Scott Jurek’s book North, in which he describes the story of his speed record on the famous Appalachian Trail.

For those passionate about minimalist running the book Born to Run is mandatory. This is the book that practically started the movement and it talks about the Tarahumara tribe in Mexico.

On the border between experience and gear are maps and tourist guides. Right now the best hiking maps in Romania are considered to be the ones from the Munții Noștri series which also have attitude curves, partial distances, and some of them even partial times. The maps from Dimap are also well appreciated by most.

Gear

When it comes to mountain gear, I’m a big fan. I like to try out new materials, new designs, new ideas and I have learned what I like and what I don’t like, what works for me and what doesn’t. Of course, these things are constantly evolving. Here you find the equipment which I use for day hikes in the summer.

To avoid

If you decided on a surprise gift and you don’t know the person very well, with the following equipment you have greater chances to make an inadequate choice.

  • Tents: Tents are of many types and it’s difficult to guess what our beloved hiker prefers. Maybe they want something light, maybe they want something stable. Maybe they want something easy to pitch, maybe they want something spacious. Maybe they want a small solo tent, maybe one for three persons with two vestibules. There are too many variables. Our two person tent is very stable and spacious with a medium weight but a high price. In the mid-price range, I found Vango tents to have good quality for the price (I’ve had and used two of those intensely).

Vango Mirage 200 tent after two days of serious storm, Făgăraș mountains, 2017
Vango Mirage 200 tent after two days of serious storm, Făgăraș mountains, 2017
  • Backpacks: Again, there are just too many variables from the minimalist ones to those with a lot of packets, including the vest-style ones. If you still want to consider this option I have some recommendations here.
  • Boots and shoes: The main problem with footwear is that it must be tried on before buying because there are differences between brands on the sizing. But there are persons with a more predictable foot, in their case you can try out my recommendations regarding boots and trail running shoes.
  • Pants: Again, the problem is with the sizes. Generally, the brands from the United States and Canada are bigger than the European ones for the same size. Everyone has to experiment a little bit until they find the proper size for these brands, but after that, they can be ordered online without problems. For the summer I like the Mountain Equipment pants with a typical European sizing.
  • Rain jacket: Gore-Tex, eVent, NeoShell or Pertex? Regular and / or Napoleon pockets, with zippers or without? Over or under the helmet hood? Adjustable with wired peak or brimmed peak? Neon color for visibility and the “coolness-factor”, or something more subtle in appearance? The possibilities are almost infinite and the prices as well.
  • Underwear: unless you know the person VERY well, you better avoid this type of gift. It’s just too personal and too difficult to guess what the preferences of the person are. When talking about underwear for sports, the first thing that matters is functionality and comfort and these aspects are usually known only by the one who wears those products.

For those who have all kinds of stuff

I’m the kind of person who buys gear pretty soon after deciding on exactly what to buy (at least if it’s not very expensive). Because of this reason, it can be very very difficult to find equipment that a person like this needs and haven’t bought yet. A good gift idea for people like me could be a gift card. They have those at Decathlon and you can upload it with the amount you want and the person who gets it can buy things with it for that particular amount.

For those who hike in the winter as well

  • Those who are just starting out with winter hiking probably don’t have gaiters yet. I have offered at least three pairs as a gift, which later were used on hikes we did together. From what I have seen so far there is no big difference between the cheap and the expensive ones, so I would suggest not to pay too much for those.
  • For persons who are hiking on somewhat more difficult terrain in the winter like on frozen snow or ice, some anti-slip devices could be a perfect gift (We could have used two pairs of those in Cyprus this winter! But who would have thought that we would need them there of all places…) These can be fixed on the boots but can’t really be called crampons because they are designed more for walking in the winter. I have tried multiple types but from my point of view the only answer is Kahtoola Microspikes. Even if they are more expensive I highly recommend to avoid the other brands!
  • I haven’t used them so far but it seems like a lot of folks like snowshoeing.
  • In the winter I don’t leave without a thermos full of black tea which can offer me heat and energy when I need it!

In Ceahlău mountains (with my Kahtoola Microspikes, Rab Vapour Rise pants, Marmot Ether Driclime windbreaker jacket, under my Arc'teryx Nuclei Hoody), 2017
In Ceahlău mountains (with my Kahtoola Microspikes, Rab Vapour Rise pants, Marmot Ether Driclime windbreaker jacket, under my Arc'teryx Nuclei Hoody), 2017

For those who like gadgets

What about a compass? Or a power bank? Maybe a device to measure the temperature and the speed of the wind? A watch with altimeter? An activity tracker? Perhaps a GPS watch? Check out what gadgets I use.

Wind on Bucura I peak, Retezat mountains, 2018
Wind on Bucura I peak, Retezat mountains, 2018

For those who like camping

  • Another gift which I have offered in the past and I will also do for this Christmas is a sleeping bag. Ladies are usually running cold and my girlfriend needs a sleeping bag in which she can sleep comfortably in the northern countries. In her case this means a sleeping bag usually used on expeditions in the Himalayas 🙂 The only characteristics except for the temperature ratings at which you need to pay attention to, is the shape of the bag (I prefer the mummy ones, but for some those are too restrictive) and the length of the zipper (I prefer the full-length ones even if those are weightier by a few tens of grams).
  • A lot of us are used to sleeping on cell foam mats, but since I have tried a self-inflating mat, I don’t want to hear about foam mats ever again. I had one made by Artiach, which started deflating right on our first night in Norway so I had to buy a new one there and I have chosen one from the same brand. I also have the Prolite model from Therm-a-Rest and a lot of folks use and love the NeoAir model from them. For camping during the summer, I would suggest something with an R-value between 2.5 (guys) and 3.5 (girls) and with a weight of maximum 500-600 grams (17-22 ounces).
  • A luxury item that a lot of people avoid is a camping pillow. I have bought myself something like this for the first time this year and I don’t regret the decision. I prefer to carry some tens of grams more to be able to have a better night’s sleep. If you think that the person for whom you are planning to buy a gift would think the same, I suggest you to check out the ones from Exped (the most minimalistic and lightest variant), the one from Sea to Summit (middle ground solution), or the one from Therm-a-Rest (the most comfortable but also the heaviest one). A different approach is this pillowcase from Therm-a-Rest into which you can put some clothes. I use it together with my Exped pillow.
  • Those who go with their tents in the forest frequently (I personally prefer above the treeline) could be tempted to try hammock camping which is popular in some regions of the world.
Drying my Therm-a-Rest sleeping mat after two days of heavy storm in Făgăraș mountains, 2017
Drying my Therm-a-Rest sleeping mat after two days of heavy storm in Făgăraș mountains, 2017

For those who like hot meals

  • For many, camping also means preparing some food. And for that on a lot of places you need a stove because in national parks and reservations you are not allowed to make fire with wood not even with fallen branches! I don’t have too much experience with stoves but for our trip to Norway we have borrowed a Jetboil from some friends and we were very happy with it, had no issues at all. A more minimalistic version which seems to be an all-round favorite is the MSR PocketRocket 2.
  • To prepare food you also need pots and cutlery. I have got a set of those as a birthday gift and I haven’t had the occasion to use it for several years but this year we probably prepared at least 50 meals in it.

For those who are always thirsty

A piece of equipment with which I have started experimenting recently is a water filter and there have already been occasions when I have asked myself how could I have lived without it for so long. I’m using the most minimalistic device the Sawyer Mini sometimes combined with purification tablets as I have mentioned in my article about summer equipment.

For those running cold

  • Another simple gift which I have offered in the past several times is a fleece. Lightweight, practical and I personally also like the way it looks even around town.
  • However in real mountains where the wind is very strong a fleece Is not enough because wind passes through it more easily than through cotton shirts. You can find them at all price levels but in any case, a puffy jacket can be a very useful gift. For summer I would suggest at most 400 (guys) – 500 (girls) grams (14-18 ounces) and for the winter it can go up to 700-800 grams (24-28 ounces). I have an Arc’teryx Nuclei for the summer and a Mountain Equipment Fitzroy for the winter. Having used them intensely, I would say that they have already paid for their price and they show almost no signs of wear and tear. For my girlfriend’s birthday, I bought her a Rab Nimbus.
  • My impression is that wind jackets are of fewer types than rain jackets, so you could take a chance with those. In the summer I use the Arc’Teryx Squamish and in the winter the Marmot Ether Driclime.
  • For those running cold, a pair of gloves is always welcome. For the summer I haven’t found my perfect pair yet but for the winter I recommend mittens like the one I also use.

For those walking or running with poles

I have seen that a lot of folks are using the Z type hiking poles lately so I had to try them out as well. Now I understand why the Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z is the favorite for a lot of people and it became my favorite as well for all kinds of activities. I have written about this subject here as well.

With my Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z poles in the far north, Norway, 2018 (I wonder where the intro of my videos was inspired from)
With my Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z poles in the far north, Norway, 2018 (I wonder where the intro of my videos was inspired from)

For those into climbing

Here I’m not talking about hardcore climbers only but also hikers who like via-ferrata routes. For those a climbing harness and a via-ferrata set are indispensable. And because I have a very soft skin which tears very easily on rocks, the cables in adventure parks or the climbing rope, one of the best presents I ever got was a pair of gloves for these activities.

Strictly for those who are climbing, a belaying device could be a good gift, like the Grigri 2 or a simpler one like the one I have. For serious climbers, the list can continue with carabiners, quickdraws, ropes, chords or chalk bags. But if you are thinking about stuff like this you probably don’t need my advice 🙂

You don’t have to be a big climber to need a helmet. This can be useful on a via-ferrata, in an adventure park and it can even save your life on some routes in Piatra Craiului like the famous La Lanțuri or when climbing peak Mytikas in Greece. I have one from Petzl.

Rock climbing in Tureni Gorge, 2012
Rock climbing in Tureni Gorge, 2012

For mountaineers

Besides those items mentioned at climbing, here we have two big ones: crampons and ice axes. They make sense only for beginners because the more experienced alpinists probably already have their own. There are a lot of types in these and for beginners, it makes sense to look into the less technical ones.

Cosmiques ridge (with crampons, ice axe and my Petzl helmet), Mont Blanc massif, 2013
Cosmiques ridge (with crampons, ice axe and my Petzl helmet), Mont Blanc massif, 2013

For those always caught by the rain

  • In contrast with rain jackets, rain pants are usually simpler in design and have a more leisure sizing so choosing a suitable pair is easier. I have a pair of Montane Minimus like I have mentioned in my article about summer equipment.
  • I have recently started to experiment with so-called dry bags. Those are practically bags from a very lightweight and very resistant material, which can be closed hermetically so that water cannot penetrate inside. More sensible gear can be packed inside them to be protected from moisture. Because they also come in various colors they can be well used to categorize items in the backpack. I have tried the ones made by Exped and also the ones by Sea to Summit and I haven’t seen any major difference between those, both are extremely good and I highly recommend them.

For those who always get something in their boots

I have tried several types of summer gaiters and my favorites by far are the ones made by Dirty Girl Gaiters, having a unique design and literally hundreds of colors and models.

For anyone

  • From my point of view, a headlamp is the most important gear when it comes to hiking. See my experiences and recommendations in my article about summer equipment.
  • A Buff can be an inexpensive gift suitable for almost anyone. There are variants with fleece or wool for those running cold.
  • Almost anyone will be happy to get a pair of hiking socks. I consider them to be one of the most important mountain gears. See here which ones are my favorites now.
  • Technical t-shirts can be useful for anyone who lives an active lifestyle (and doesn’t have problems wearing polyester – for them you can consider some from merino wool I like the one I have talked about here). Well, except for those like me who participate in a lot of running contests and get a new t-shirt in every race kit (I beg the organizers to make it optional because they don’t fit in my wardrobe anymore).

I hope that I have managed to offer you some great ideas and you will be able to choose the right gifts for your adventurer friends!

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