Published Jul 6, 2022 4:57 PM
Whether you are an avid outdoors enthusiast yourself or a committed armchair adventurer, purchasing a gift for a hiker can be intimidating. Hikers are notorious for being snobs about having a just-so piece of gear, which can make finding something that they’ll actually use a serious challenge. To help you pick something that will impress and delight, we’ve selected some of the top products we’ve tested over the last year as some of the best gifts for hikers available today.
Why It Made the Cut
I carry this on every hike and backpacking trip because what’s an extra 2 ounces for a tad more comfort?
- Closed foam construction
- Provides comfort and warmth
- Simple construction
This is a game-changer for every trip I am on. The 2-ounce weight is negligible, so there is actually no excuse not to carry this. It provides a barrier between your butt and the ground—key for me when taking a break during a XC ski or snowshoe trip. It not only provides comfort, but some warmth.
When you can’t carry one of the best camping chairs, this portable option is convenient to bring anywhere. It folds like an accordion and opens up to a 13 x 16-inch seat. I use this when sitting on snow, wet ground, hard ground, alpine tundra covered with berries, at a picnic table, at a concert or sporting event, kneeling on the ground doing gardening work, and so much more. It can also be a great addition to your first aid kit as a splint or a bit more cushion under your sleeping pad. When I am guiding clients on a hiking adventure, I bring one for them.
There is an option to buy it with ThermaCapture, which has some heating properties by reflecting your body heat back up to you, which I use for winter activities.
Have I convinced you yet? —Justin La Vigne, Best Camping Gadgets
Why It Made the Cut
I’ve hiked thousands of miles in Darn Tough’s hiking socks, across deserts, rocky trails, and snowy mountain passes, and they’re still my number one go to.
- Materials: 61% merino wool, 36% nylon, 3% Lycra spandex
- Cushion level: Medium
- Height: Low calf
- Lifetime warranty
- Durable enough for a thru-hike
- Wicks moisture well in all conditions
- Might feel scratchy to people with sensitive skin
Darn Tough’s hiking sock has been the standard bearer for the best hiking socks for years, and they are still at the top of my list. The balance of merino wool—which both retains heat and wicks away moisture—with nylon’s durability, keeps my feet hot-spot free and comfortable on day hikes and thru-hikes alike. Since wool contains lanolin, a natural antimicrobial, the stink factor stays down on trips where even creekside rinses aren’t an option. The Lycra spandex provides just enough stretchiness to keep these socks from slipping down on high-mileage days.
I’ve worn these socks everywhere from the San Juans of Colorado to the Mojave in California to the temperate rainforest of Olympic National Park, and it performs equally well in all conditions. And when they did eventually blow a hole in the back heel after a thousand miles or so of use, Darn Tough’s Lifetime Warranty means you’re always covered.
Why It Made the Cut
You can go days without washing and this all-wool shirt and still feel good to put it on in the morning.
- Materials: 100 percent wool
- Sizing: XS to XL
- Styles include scoop neck and long sleeves
- Available in men’s and women’s
- Fantastic odor control
- Excellent temperature regulation
- Good wicking
- Not as soft as other shirts in our test
If I’m heading out into the backcountry, where the only “laundry” I’ll be doing is dunking my layers in a stream during the heat of midday, there is only one fiber I want against my skin: merino wool. Whereas synthetic fibers start to feel clammy and sweaty by the end of the second day—if you’re lucky—I’ve gone up to nine days without washing a merino wool top and was still completely happy to put it on in the morning. You can’t have too much merino wool in an article of clothing in my books, and this shirt from Icebreaker agrees. It’s 100 percent merino wool.
Of course, there are some trade-offs here. This shirt wasn’t as soft as many of the synthetic shirts in my test of the best hiking shirts. It also held onto moisture longer than expected during the drying test (wool is hydrophilic, after all). Finally, it’s plenty expensive. But for sheer comfort, this one is worth the price.
Why It Made the Cut
When I need a power bank, I most often reach for the Anker PowerCore 10,000 mAh. It’s a happy medium between a small charger like the Goal Zero Flip 12 and the PowerCore 20,000 mAh. If you are going out for the day or an overnight trip, it provides plenty of juice with two phone charges. It’s also light and small enough to not take up space in a pack or pocket.
- 10,000 mAh
- 3-hour charge time
- Charges an iPhone twice
- One USB port
- Micro USB and USB-C input
- Weight: 8.4 ounces
- Length: 6 inches
- Width: 2.75 inches
- Depth: .5 inch
- Fast charging
- Slim profile
- Only charges one device at a time
- Not the best option for extended trips
The Anker PowerCore went through three key tests: a timed charge, testing how many times it would charge my iPhone 11 Pro Max, and using the power bank in the field. One of my favorite features of this power bank is how fast it charges. In a few hours, you can bring it from dead to fully juiced and ready to hit the field. It’s fast charging ability also makes it an excellent candidate to pair with a solar panel like the BigBlue 24 watt.
In my testing, the Anker PowerCore charged my phone twice. That’s two times with the phone on and in use. So, if you keep your phone off while it’s charging, you can expect the power bank to last longer—Anker rates it at two-and-a-quarter iPhone 12 charges. I most often use this charger when I’m going to be out all day and will need to charge my phone once, along with another device like a GoPro. It would also be ideal for a two-to-three day camping trip where you need to charge your phone twice.
The Anker PowerCore is slim and light enough that you can carry it in a pocket for everyday carry. It’s also perfect for carrying in a daypack or sling bag. Mine has been with me hunting, fishing, and traveling—it’s yet to let me down. —Scott Einsmann, Best Power Banks
Why It Made the Cut
After the first stage of testing, the lightweight Katadyn BeFree Water Filtration System had the fastest flow of any in my test.
- Effective against protozoa and bacteria
- Weight: 2.3 ounces
- Filter Pore Size: .1 micron
- Filters water quickly
- Simple mechanism
- Difficult to get the last of the water out of flask
- No ability to backflush
At its core, all a water filtration system needs to do is move dirty water through a filter, without inadvertently contaminating the clean water vessel on the other side. One of the most popular styles of backpacking water filters leans into this simplicity: all a user has to do is fill up a plastic bag with dirty water, attach the filter, and then squeeze the water through into their drinking vessel.
In testing, the Katadyn BeFree had far and away the fastest flow rate of anything I tested—twice as fast as several other leading models. It was also impressively lightweight (although, like all water filters, expect the weight to go up a bit after the filter is saturated with water for the first time). Check and check.
There are a few design details, however, that I wish were different about the BeFree. The first, and biggest one, is the choice to house the filter itself inside the water flask. This made it difficult to squeeze all of the water inside of the flask out, which may be frustrating for individuals backpacking in parts of the country with difficult to access water sources. The other is the design of the lid cap, which basically resembles what you would see on a sports drink at the convenience store. When I lightly twisted it to test the durability it easily snapped off. Of course, I can still use the filter as long as I hold onto the cap, but I would rather see a more durable cap in exchange for a few extra grams.
Why It Made the Cut
This souped-up smart watch has an incredible number of features, long battery life, and accurate GPS navigation.
- Solar powered (up to 37 days of battery life in smartwatch mode)
- 3 different size options
- Touch screen
- Flashlight (on large “X” size)
- Multi-band GPS and preloaded Topo maps (on Sapphire model only)
- Format settings on your phone
- Variety of health tracking features and programs
- Incredible number of features and apps
- Accurate GPS mapping and easy navigation
- Compatible with other Garmin devices like dog e-collars and inReach
- Rugged, durable construction
- Long battery life
- Not for beginner smartwatch users
If James Bond was into outdoor recreation and fitness, the Garmin Fenix 7 Sapphire Solar would be his watch. Garmin’s new line of Fenix watches includes three different models (Standard, Solar, Sapphire Solar). Each model is offered in three different sizes. There are too many variations to get into, so I’ll stick with the model I tested, the Fenix 7 Sapphire Solar, which is the high-end version. This model has sapphire lens material and titanium bezel material. It has a larger and more efficient solar panel than previous Garmin models.
I’ve used this watch for a little over a month and am still digging into all of its features. On the upside, general setup was quick and painless. I navigated through the watch’s setting options and then paired it with my phone through Garmin’s Connect app. The first thing I did was take it for a run through one of my regular routes and was happy to see the watch tracked perfectly. As it should. The Sapphire Solar uses multi-band GPS, which can access more than one range of frequencies from different constellations of satellites (most GPS systems use a single connection to the satellites). In other words, it utilizes more powerful GPS technology that should mean faster and more accurate navigation. While navigating on hikes, the touch-screen feature made moving around the topo map (which comes pre-loaded on the watch) a breeze.
Like all other smart watch options, the Sapphire Solar has a variety of fitness and health metrics you can track and tinker with (though its offerings go deeper than most). But this watch is a bit heftier and quite a bit more expensive than most other smartwatches. Where the Fenix Sapphire Solar really sets itself apart is with its rugged construction, improved solar charging, and powerful GPS. So if the world (of standard GPS watches) is not enough, then you should go with the Fenix Sapphire Solar. It makes for one of the best gifts for hikers.
—Alex Robinson, Best GPS Watches
Why It Made the Cut
As a leader in wilderness medicine, NOLS designed this first aid kit to include necessary equipment to be out of reach, with room to add your own materials.
- Weight: 1 pound 26 ounces
- Extensive wound care materials
- Materials in accordance with NOLS wilderness medicine curriculum
- Many med kits do not include a CPR mask, duct tape, irrigation syringe, and triangle bandages for sling and swath
- Includes SOAP notes for communicating a patient’s condition to search and rescue
- Extensive wound care materials
- Lightweight, yet there’s room to customize your kit
This is the med kit I’ve been taking backpacking for years, and out of the 11 kits I tested for this roundup, I still won’t backpack with anything else. I have a NOLS Wilderness First Responder certification, and I’ve found this kit has a high emphasis on treating more severe wounds than minor abrasions. If the purpose of a wilderness medical certification is to stabilize a patient until emergency medical services can reach them, then this kit supports that intention.
Obviously this kit doesn’t have everything, so I have added a SAM Splint for fractures (although it adds weight), as well as a “cheat sheet” I made for assessing an injured or sick patient in the field and a lightweight SOTO Amicus backpacking stove. The 4.0’s roomy pockets are also a good place for the group to keep their personal medications if they so choose.
I also evaluated the Adventure Medical Kit Mountain Series Backpacker in my test, but ultimately feel more prepared with the 4.0 in treating significant wounds. In fact, I gave this kit to a friend (an EMT) who had to treat someone in the field with a deep wound that had to be thoroughly packed and was immediately transported. That’s all the additional assurance I needed. —Samantha Silverman
Things to Consider Before Buying Gifts for Hikers
Even if the hiker in your life seems to have everything they could need, there is always one way to impress them with a gift: get them something they already have for hiking, but lighter (and you get double points if you get them something made out of titanium).
Hiking can mean anything from a two-mile river walk before brunch on Saturday to thousands of miles in the backcountry over several months. Knowing what kind of hiker you are shopping for is essential to picking the right gift. Before making a purchase, spend some time asking your friend or family member what kind of hiking they enjoy, and what kind of hiking they hope to do in the future.
Committed year-round hikers typically need a much wider range of gear than hikers that stick to fairer weather, including bulkier layers, more durable rain gear, snowshoes, hand warmers, and more. Knowing whether your hiker is planning to head out in more inclement weather can expand the range of potential gifts that would be appropriate.
Q: How much do gifts for hikers cost?
Gifts for hikers can cost anywhere from a couple of dollars up to hundreds of dollars.
Q: What are the ten essentials for hiking?
According to the American Hiking Society, the ten essentials for hiking include appropriate footwear, navigation (map and compass/GPS), water, food, appropriate clothing, safety items (headlamp, firestarter, and whistle), first aid kit, knife, sun protection, and shelter.
Q: What do you need to go hiking?
What you need to go hiking depends in large part on the type of hiking you are planning on. Hikers headed out on a long (over ten mile) trek on rarely used trails should be careful to pack the ten essentials and share their hiking plans with someone in the frontcountry before they leave. Hikers that stick to short, popular trails can typically grab a bottle of water, some snacks, and appropriate layers and be fine.
Choosing an appropriate gift for the avid hiker in your life is a matter of knowing what gear they already have, what aspirational hikes they are planning on for the future, and what their personal preferences are. Many hikers and backpackers can be quite picky about what gear they do and do not want to carry with them on the trail, so spending a bit of time asking about their preferences is a great way to ensure you give the best gift for hikers in your life.
The Outdoor Life gear team and contributors have been taking the top gear and accessories out for day hikes and backpacking trips across the country for months as part of our ongoing testing. This roundup features the best of the best products we’ve used that are appropriate for hiking, including day hikes, backpacking trips, and even thru-hikes. We’ve also focused here on gear that will accentuate and improve an already dedicated hiker’s gear setup—no gag gifts or party favors. We use these products ourselves and are confident that they will impress even the most avid hiker in your life.