Gift Giving Guide 2018

What makes a good gift? In 2018, I’ve been thinking more about what it means to care about our footprint on the planet while also showing others we care for them during the holiday season.

The best gifts for the planet are the gifts that are worth giving in the first place.

To guide these decisions, I came up with the following criteria when thinking about gifts for outdoors people:

Game changers: A great gift allows someone to upgrade their quality of life in a way they may not realize they’ve been missing yet. For me, a gift that improved my life in a way I didn’t know needed improving was going from pocket-less running shorts to the pocket-covered Purple Rain Skirts.


Wished For: As a giver, the reaction you want when the received opens the gift is, “I’ve always wanted this!” A good gift is something we’d want ourselves, but might think of as “too much” to get it for ourselves.


Gets Creative Juices Flowing: Items that spark a dream give far more than their face value. A map or guidebook leads to plotting and planning and dreaming providing hours, days, or years of entertainment. People are happiest when they’re planning for a trip. Sometimes, it is the planning—not the actual doing—that can be the reward in itself. Even if your friend can’t hike the Appalachian Trail anytime soon, get them the maps, books, or a memoir about a hiker to get the cogs turning in the brain.


Makes YOUR life (as the giver) better: Ok, so the best gift you can give to someone else is also a gift to yourself. Back at home, the gift that comes to mind is, “Here’s a shoe rack for you so you actually put your shoes away and stop driving me nuts.” In a hiking context, though, a gift to them that is actually a gift to you are items that make you feel like your hiking friend is making safer decisions in the backcountry. When your loved one carries these items, it gives YOU piece of mind.


Things of beauty: A great gift is when you can give someone a memento or piece of art or handicraft that “speaks” to them. Art is personal. What makes it powerful is that it is able to evoke thoughts and memories in ways that photos or the written-word cannot. When hung in a home, it says something about a person’s values. But because mementos and handicrafts are so personal, I decided they often don’t make a good present. Because unless you know that person very well (or created it specifically for them), the message may not resonate and it could turn go from junk to landfill.

A nice gift is one that the other person appreciates but will also give you piece of mind. Here I am in the remote Buckskin Gulch along the Utah/Arizona border–a place where I wouldn’t want to get injured.
Photograph by Duncan Cheung

Gifts that are cherished—that don’t end up in landfills. Here are eight for all budgets that I think are worth considering in 2018:


1) Garmin InReach Mini: Essentially the Furby or Tickle-Me-Elmo of the outdoor world, hikers are lusting after this item with the zeal of a drooling toddler. The hottest new innovation in the hiking world, the 3.5 oz two-way satellite transmitter allows you to text back and forth with folks at home and Emergency Responders, even when you’re some place without a cell signal. The Mini is a significant weight and bulkiness savings over the previous model and anything else on the market.

What puts the InReach Mini on this list is that it hits several of the criteria for a good gift—it’s a game changer as far as gear goes while also being a Wished For Luxury (every hiker dreams of getting it, but it is on the pricey side, so they’ll settle for their heavy and less-reliable Spot). Another plus for the gift giver is that the InReach Mini is also a safety device. If you worry about a loved one in the wilderness without cell reception (or if you want them to have a way to contact Emergency Search and Rescue should an adventure turn dangerous), you’ll get piece of mind giving this gift. In some ways, the InReach Mini can be as much of a gift to you as it is to the receiver.

“People are happiest when they’re planning for a trip. Sometimes, it is the planning—not the actual doing—that can be the reward in itself. ”
2)  The Hidden Tracks: Wanderlust Hiking Adventures Off the Beaten Path: The new coffee-table Book of Long Trails by Cam “Swami” Honan from the Hiking Life hits the sweet spot of being a Wished for luxury item that gets creative juices flowing. Filled with photos and tales from trails across the world, The Hidden Travks (and it’s prequel, Wanderlust ) are also a things of beauty. As a coffee table book, it’s not an essential item in anyone’s life—but that is one makes it a great gift. It’s something that those on a tight budget (aka, hikers) may think is “too much” to get themselves, but will lead to hours of plotting, planning, and dreaming once it is in their hands.
Photos from places that get me excited about going hiking in the summer

3) Purple Rain Skirt: This one pops up on the gift giving list every year and with good reason. Like Wanderlust, it hits three of the it’s a the definition of a game-changer, but is also a special Luxury and a thing of beauty. I’d been hiking in pocket-less running shorts and ever since I was gifted a Purple Rain Skirt, I never looked back. The pockets have enough room for maps, phones, sunscreen, and lipbalm in a way that women’s outdoor clothing never does. It stays up even as I gain and lose weight throughout the hiking and not hiking season. It looks nice on trail and at fancy events. These hand-made things of beauty are also high on hiker’s Wisher For List. They

4) Darn Tough Socks: A perennial on this list, it is impossible to have too many socks. These socks fit so well and are so comfortable, that they are gamechangers. I have a (non-hiking) friend who I put onto Darn Tough socks a few years ago, and every time I see him, he raves about how much better they are than all other socks. They’re also more expensive than other socks (made in the US can drive up the price a bit), so they fit into that Wished For Category, too. But with a Lifetime Warranty, they’re good for life, so that makes it a worthy investment. Also, even if you don’t get the “right” type of socks here (some hikers like thin socks, some like thin), turns out that people wear socks when they’re not hiking, too.

It’s hard to get gear for a hiker, but a Purple Rain Skirt and socks are never wrong in my book

5) Tablet: Ok, so electronics don’t seem like they’d be a “hiker gift,” but hear me out—for years, hikers have been sending photos and blogging about their adventure on their phone. And while this system works fine when you’re 20 years old, for many hikers, it’s nice to actually be able see the photos you are sending or the text that you’re typing. I’ve come to bouncing a cheap laptop from resupply town to resupply town so that I can actually work on something with a keyboard.

cheap tablet also makes it easier to blog or share photos when in town (plus, it’s a better way to watch movies on-demand in town than hoping that hotel cable will just happen to be playing the title you’ve spent the last 100 miles reciting to your friends). A tablet or cheap laptop hits the sweet spot of Wished For Item (it’s hard to justifying buying one when you have a nice laptop at home already) and a Game Changer (it’s a heckuva a lot faster and easier to share trail stories when you’re doing it from a bigger screen). And while they seem like they’d be expensive, I was pretty shocked how affordable a decent quality laptop or tablets can be had for these days.

I’m Another Standard Image Caption.
Photograph by Lorem Ipsum via Unsplash

6) Maps: Give the gift of hours of entertainment in planning and days, weeks, or months of life-fullfilling hiking through the gift of a map. Too often, I find myself using crappy internet maps and just my Gaia app to plan out routes. But there’s something about looking at a big map that gets the creative juices flowing like no other. It opens possibilities, sparks questions, and leads to new routes and adventures. The internet is nice and all, but hikers flock to paper maps like a moth to a light. A paper map is also an important safety device (phone maps can get wet, paper maps survive the rain). If you’re not sure what maps to get, think about what trail your loved one wants to hike. Consider mapsets for long trails like the Tom Harrison John Muir Trail maps or National Geographic Appalachian Trail Maps. For local regions, I’ve been super impressed by the maps by Tom Harrison Maps (Sierra Nevada and California maps), Green Trail Maps (Pacific Northwest), and Purple Lizard Maps (Pennsylvania).

Hiking Mt. Hood on a beautiful day.
Photograph by Kate Hoch

7) Hiking Books and Hiking DVDs: There’s nothing that gets creative juices flowing in the off-season like watching a movie about a trail you want to hike or reading a book. These depictions are important to get excited and inspired about a trail while also tempering expectations of what the trail is like. Creative depictions of trail life allow us to imagine ourselves on the trail. My favorites are the Wizards series by Shane “Jester” O’Donnell, who made a documentary for the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, and Continental Divide Trail. His CDT video, Embrace the Brutality, in particular is quite powerful. Jennifer Pharr Davis’s Pursuit of Endurance book came out in 2018 and is a much Wished For hiking book that also is bound to get some creative juices flowing.

8) Freeze-dried dinners: Give the gift of a nice dinner out (get it?). When a hiker is out for 100 nights, they usually can’t afford to spend $7 a night on a high-quality freeze-dried meal, so settle for 25 cent ramen, $1 Mac n Cheese or instant mashed potatoes, or 50 cents of refried beans. There’s nothing wrong with these meals—but packaged freeze-dried meals are a major upgrade. I like these as gifts because they’re a Wished For Luxury while also being practical—they’ll get eaten and won’t end up in a landfill. They also last for sometimes decades, so even if a hiker doesn’t make it out to the backcountry this year, it’ll still be good when they do. For my gear tester job at Wirecutter, I ran tests on the best flavors. I recommend Good to Go, whose recipes were developed by a Four Star Chef who worked some famous restaurants in New York. I also like Pack It Gourmet.


So if giving Not Junk is your goal this year, I hope this analysis will help make your decision easier.

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