The Best Gifts for Hikers, According to Hikers – New York Magazine

The Best Gifts for Hikers, According to Hikers  New York Magazine

Photo: Ronnie Kaufman/Getty Images

You might not be able to give the hiker on your gift list more time outdoors — or immediate climate justice (though you can vote for it) — but you can give them the gear they need (or want) to make any trek more enjoyable. “If you have the right gear, even if your trip goes wrong you can find value in it,” says Latria Graham, nature writer and gear reviewer for magazines like Outside and Backpacker, who notes that the “right gear” differs for everyone, based on all kinds of factors — from the location of a hike to your budget. So, whether you’re gifting to a day-tripper who just got into hiking thanks to the coronavirus, or someone who’s already gone up all 2,190 miles of the Appalachian Trail, we spoke to a handful of hiking experts — including trip leaders and thru-hikers — about the clothing, gear, and other hiking goods they’d actually want to receive as a gift.

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Three of the five hikers we spoke to say that outerwear is at the top of their gift wish lists. Ron Griswell, adventurer and founder of HBCUs Outside — a nonprofit dedicated to diversifying the outdoors by empowering students and alumni of historically Black colleges and universities with the resources and equipment to get outside — is amazed at the power that good rain gear can have on someone’s hiking experience, especially if they’re new to the outdoors. “A lot of people expect that a sweatshirt is going to protect them from the rain,” he explains. (It won’t.) Instead, he recommends something waterproof, with insulation, like this Arc’teryx Alpha SV, which was his first ever weatherproof jacket.

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Similarly, Graham says that gifting the right gear for a hiker’s body and hiking goals is more important than giving the most expensive gear on the market. “Being a person of color and thinking about the outdoors, I think a lot about the barriers, and a big part of it is the cost,” she says, adding that as a fat person, gear sizing is also a big consideration for her. Among her many rain jackets, Graham says the OutDry Ex Reign Jacket from Columbia is her first pick every time it starts to drizzle, and she’s gifted it to two fellow fat hiking friends who also “won’t wear anything else. It is tailored for plus-sized bodies, and everything has the ability to be custom fit,” she says, pointing to the adjustable hood, arm and hip drawstrings, and armpit vents, which prevent you from “boiling in a bag like potatoes,” when hiking in humid, rainy conditions. When it comes to plus-size outdoor gear, Graham says that Columbia has “done the work of understanding the fit for plus-size bodies,” unlike other companies that “pink it and shrink it” — simply taking men’s items and making them smaller. Ashley Manning, a thru-hiker and river manager at Adrift in Utah, who is also a plus-size outdoorswoman, agrees that Columbia’s gear is among the most size-inclusive and makes her “feel comfortable on the trail.”

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Graham prefers hiking clothing that can double as regular streetwear, and says these size-inclusive Halle Pants from PrAna “can go from the trail to a less dressy business meeting” (once that’s a thing again).

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Though most hikers already have boots (or trail runners), Travis Clough, director of trip operations at the Venture Out Project (TVOP) — an LGBTQ+ outdoor organization that facilitates safe and inclusive outdoor trips for the queer and trans community (which you can purchase gift cards for) — says not to overlook the importance of a good pair of camp shoes. “After a day of hiking I need to take my boots off, and these are the most comfortable thing to slip my feet into,” he says, adding that the plastic sandals are so lightweight that he brought them with him while thru-hiking the Long Trail in Vermont. They’re also a Strategist favorite for everything from walking around the city to standing all day in a kitchen.

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For those hiking in the coldest of climates, Griswell recommends a pair of mukluks, inspired by the designs of indigenous peoples’ soft, leather boots by the same name. While working in Minnesota, and leading a winter dog-sledding trip to the Boundary Waters, Griswell wore a used pair from the Minnesota-based brand Steger, and says “they kept my feet so warm it was ridiculous. Coming from North Carolina I didn’t have a lot of cold-weather stuff, but those allowed me to have a great experience out there.”

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Another essential for keeping your feet warm, and sweat-free, is a pair of non-synthetic socks, and Manning says she usually goes through socks “like crazy, but I’ve had a pair from Darn Tough for seven years that are only now showing signs of wear.” The socks are also unanimously recommended by eight hiking experts as an essential piece of clothing for those who are just getting into hiking.

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In a day of 13 or 14 miles of hiking, Graham says she’ll go through three to four liters of water, and though she loves the idea of stainless-steel containers, in reality she says “they’re heavy, and I hate them.” Instead, Graham recommends gifting one of HydraPak’s collapsible bottles, which hold up to 1.5 liters of water, but still “crush down to the size of an eyeglasses case that I can just shove in my pocket.”

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For a gift that “saves your knees and your energy, both going uphill and downhill,” Graham recommends these Cor-Tec trekking poles from Leiki, which she says are sufficient for most hikers. (If you’re looking for something for the hiker obsessed with going ultralight, the brand also carries a pair of carbon-fiber poles — though they are twice the price of this lightweight aluminum pair.)

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Outdoorsy dad Paul Ronto of RunRepeat told us he’d like to be gifted the Black Diamond Spot Headlight, but Graham prefers the UCO Air. “The Black Diamond one has a low setting, a medium setting, and a red-light setting to see the stars. I’ve been in a dark sky zone so many times, clicked the wrong button on that lamp, and ruined everyone’s experience,” she explains, adding that the UCO Air has the same three settings, but they operate on a dial, so you just turn it to get the right light instead of “tapping the side, whispering the magical incantation, and hoping the right light comes on, which is how I feel when using the Black Diamond.” Since the UCO headlamp is USB rechargeable, it lasts for about five hours (and doesn’t require any batteries) so Graham recommends it for a day-hiker or weekend warrior, but not a thru-hiker who could benefit from a longer-lasting battery-operated lamp, like the Black Diamond pick.

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For the low-tech hiker in your life, like Clough, who even prefers paper maps to GPS, this watch makes for a colorful and helpful gift. “There are lots of trail signs, especially on the Appalachian Trail, that indicate the distance between different spots on the trail, so I track time on my watch and self-regulate how long it should take me to hike,” explains Clough, who loves the flexible, Velcro brand, and neon color of this Shark Classic watch. It’s also waterproof, so he can wear it while surfing.

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We’ve said before that easy-to-open Leatherman multi-tools have achieved “Kleenex-style shorthand status for the entire multi-tool category,” and Graham specifically recommends the brand’s PS style, because it is both TSA compliant and has a beer-bottle opener.

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“This is one of my favorite pieces of outdoor gear designed for women, queer, trans, and nonbinary folks who were assigned female at birth,” says Clough of this stand-to-pee device. “What it means outdoors is that I can be backpacking, and then I can go to the bathroom without having to take my pack off,” he says, adding that as a trans person it also makes him feel safer in places that don’t have inclusive bathroom facilities. Clough also recommends the pee cloths from Kula, which are made of anti-bacterial fabric and have a convenient set of plastic snaps for connecting to your pack.

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Another piece of gear that makes going to the bathroom outdoors easier, and more sanitary, is a cathole trowel, which Manning says is “lightweight” and “something that helps you be more responsible” on the trail.

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For a hiker that’s also into car camping, Clough says the double burner propane stove from Coleman is an affordable, and durable gift that enables you to “cook anything you’d cook at home, but at a campsite,” especially if you’re cooking for a larger group, since it heats up big pots much larger than a backpacking stove.

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Or, if the hiking-slash-camping person on your gift list is more of a baker, Clough stands by this reflector oven from Sproul Baker, which is handmade in Maine and operates like an actual convection oven when placed in front of a campfire. “All summer long I’ve been baking muffins, cakes, and cookies in front of a campfire,” he says, adding that nothing compares to the feeling of making and eating fresh baked goods in the outdoors.

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For José G. González, founder of Latino Outdoors — a Latinx-led community and organization that seeks to expand Latinx outdoor experiences and leadership — it’s important to “undo the sense that you have to leave your culture at the trailhead.” González rejects the notion that there’s any one kind of clothing to wear or food to eat in order to be outdoorsy, and instead encourages others to bring and wear gear that makes them feel “comfortable and safe.” So when it comes to bringing cultural elements outdoors, González often thinks of food and likes to bring “little packets of Tapatío or Cholula, which are outdoor usable. It’s that connection; people see it, and they get it.”

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“The way I learned to be in the outdoors is to make as little noise as possible, because other people are trying to enjoy these spaces, too, and I’ve just moved away from that since I think that’s just such a way of trying to control other people and what they find enjoyable,” says Griswell, who likes to engage people through song and dance on the trail and at the campsite, and now finds that a portable speaker is something he can’t hike without.

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Griswell likes to remind others to “bring your creature habits with you” and experience the outdoors in a personally relevant way instead of “doing these specific things so that you can be ‘outdoorsy.’” That’s why he loves when students bring cards on the trail and play Spades. Clough also says that portable games, like Farkel, provide a chance to connect and have fun with others at camp after a day of hiking.

“Being a southerner, there’s no way to get people to get back into their cars, other than to hand them a terrible bar,” says Graham, who herself “can’t tolerate bad food” on the trail. Instead, she likes to pack strawberry-flavored Honey Stinger Waffles, squeeze packs of Justin’s Vanilla Almond Butter, and white chocolate macadamia nut granola from Clif in an ecofriendly Stasher Bag and bring it all on her hikes. But, since Graham is picky about breakfast (“fuck waffles and pancakes, the whole thing, I don’t like it”), she had an especially hard time finding foods to eat outdoors in the morning, until coming across Good To-Go oatmeal, which she says “is gluten-free, vegan, and actually incredible. And I do not usually say that about any breakfast, because I don’t like it.”

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Some people take being outdoors as an excuse to get dirty, but Griswell says, “I’m not about that life. I’m a huge advocate for self-care and cleanliness on the trail,” he explains, adding that he loves talking about “the best kinds of beard oil, or the best products for your hair or locks” when he’s on trips with students. Griswell points out that routines are different for everyone, but since he’s mindful of being minimal on the trail, he opts to bring Dr. Bronner’s Peppermint Liquid Soap for his face, beard, and hair, plus some Trader Joe’s Coconut Oil for inexpensive moisturizing.

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For some post-hike self-care, Clough likes to massage his muscles with one of these cork massage balls from Rawology, which are ecofriendly and ethically produced. “Leave it in your car, and when you get back from the trail you can massage your back on your drive home,” he says.

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