Shopping for someone who prefers hiking and camping to the great indoors can be tricky. Not only are outdoor enthusiasts usually less impressed by traditional gifts (clothes, games, etc.) but their preferred realm of technical gear is vast and confusing. If you’d rather not go deep on the research yourself, we’ve got some solid touchpoints for expert outdoor gear gifting.
1. Party tent
Okay, hear me out. As a pack weight-conscious backpacker the idea of a light-up tent sounded ridiculous at first, but Big Agnes is onto something with their line of mtnGLO tents. I’ve been camping with the 2-person Big Agnes mtnGLO Copper Spur tent for more than a season now and these things are really cool. The company has embedded thin strips of LED lighting into the tent itself, illuminating the inside more evenly than you can pull of with a headlamp alone without overpowering your hard-earned nature vibes.
A small detachable battery pack powers the lights and you can jettison that bit if you’re really looking to shed ounces. If not, enjoy tent-bound activities like reading and looking for your prescription medication with the newfound freedom of ample light. If your special giftee prefers car camping then even better: insta-party tent. Or you know, they can fish last night’s socks out of the bottom of their sleeping bag in record time.
If this is too gimmicky (I’m telling you, it’s not!) but you’re looking to gift a tent, check out REI’s in-house brand. They make super solid tents that are generally priced well below the competition and even offer a backpacking bundle and a camping bundle that make the perfect starter set of gear for someone new to losing themselves in the great outdoors.
2. Solar Charger
If you’re shopping for a car camper or a day hiker, battery life isn’t much of a concern, but if your special someone likes to get lost in the wilderness overnight, they’ve probably stressed about battery life. Many people rely on their smartphone as their primary camera in the outdoors, so keeping it charged deep into a hike, climb or backpack is key. In most of these circumstances, a traditional portable battery back would be too heavy and wouldn’t be rechargeable in the field, but solar chargers can solve those problems.
Some people swear by solar panels by Suntactics and the Suntactics sCharger-5 Solar Charger is a reasonably sized option. Goal Zero is another prominent brand in the solar gadget market and the Goal Zero Nomad 7 Plus Solar Panel could make a good personal panel option. For car camping, #vanlife or something else epic yet experienced by car, check out the Goal Zero Yeti 400 Lithium Portable Power Station, a compact beast of a charger that’s priced accordingly ($599.95).
Note: Of course, solar chargers don’t work where sunlight is limited, so if you’re in the Pacific Northwest maybe skip this section.
3. GPS watch
Why not an Apple Watch? Well, a lot of reasons. For anyone who does much extensive hiking, climbing and camping in the backcountry, Apple’s smartwatch is far too puny and fragile. Sure, it’s fine for running, but you need something with battery life worth writing home about and GPS features that help keep you safe — and on route — outdoors.
Garmin makes a lot of solid options here at different price points, including the Garmin Fenix 5 ($449.99) which happily comes in three sizes to accommodate small wrists. Garmin claims up to to 2 weeks of battery life in smartwatch mode on the Fenix 5, up to 24 hours in its GPS mode and up to 60 hours in battery saver mode. The Fenix 5 is configurable depending on your activity of choice, with profiles tuned to hiking, snowboarding and mountain biking.
Compass-maker Suunto also offers a few well-liked watches in the space, including the Suunto Ambit 3 Peak which boasts “route altitude profile navigation and extremely long battery life” i.e. the stuff you really need.
4. Compact camera gear
We covered camera gifting more extensively in out dedicated photography gift guide, but we’ll toss in a few ideas here just for fun. For anyone into the extreme outdoors (backcountry skiing, mountaineering, climbing etc.) a GoPro is a no-brainer. The company’s latest offering, the GoPro Hero7 Black, is top of the line for $399.99, but other GoPro models are available for significantly less.
If you’re looking for something more geared toward photography rather than video, Sony’s RX100 line offers a killer compact camera that won’t take up much space in your pack. The new Sony RX100 V ($899) and RX 100 VI ($1,199) offer a higher end tiny pro camera, but the still-excellent older models of the Sony RX 100 can be had for a fraction of the price.
5. Satellite messaging
This one might sound a little morbid, but if your loved one gets into a sticky situation miles from civilization they won’t be complaining. A handful of different devices can allow you to send an emergency signal when your phone can’t and many of them also allow for non-emergency satellite messaging — handy for coordinating meet-up points or checking in from the backcountry. Among these, the new Garmin InReach Mini ($349.99) is well regarded for its diminutive size and well-rounded feature set, though the Garmin inReach Explorer and Spot X are also solid options.
6. Small Stuff
Okay, so you need a gift for someone outdoorsy but you want to find something a little more low key. Maybe a stocking stuffer or a casual friend gift. We can do that. A lot of people have touchscreen-friendly gloves but do they have technical touchscreen-friendly gloves? Snag a pair of the North Face’s ETip gloves which are both cute and functional or pick up a set of Mountain Hardware’s Power Stretch Stimulus Gloves, which make a nice grippy glove liner.
And we’d be remiss if we didn’t recommend the Gaia GPS app, available for both iPhone and Android at $19.99. For navigating outdoors with topographical maps and even fairly complex routefinding, Gaia can’t be beat. Of course, we’d also be remiss if we didn’t remind you to bring a paper map — just in case.