20 Crappy (but practical) Christmas Gifts for Hikers

Last year I posted a list of “ten crappy, but practical christmas gifts for hikers.” This year I’ve decided to up the tight ass ante with twenty backcountry-ready gifts that you can purchase for $5 or less.

If money’s tighter than a hairpin turn, but for some inexplicable reason you feel a sense of obligation to give your hiker buddies something, consider the following items:

1.  A Box of Ziplocs – Pretty much everyone takes ziplocs backpacking. But let’s be honest, nothing says, “I don’t give a shit about you” like plastic bags for Christmas.


From Walmart with love.

2.  Socks – For less than $5 you will have to go synthetic or even cotton. No Merino Wool or any of those other fancy blends. If possible try to make your choice seasonal appropriate. You know the ones with little christmas trees and snowmen on them……..maybe some reindeer as well.

3.  Bandana –  You can often find these multi-purpose gems at the bottom of outdoor store bargain bins. Potential uses include: towel, water filter, neck protection, pot cleaner, tent drier, hanky, makeshift gaiters, useful to wear on your face during sand storms, handy if you are low on funds and decide to rob a convenience store.


Bandana………..7-Eleven mode.

4.  A Six Pack of Ramen A culinary staple for backpackers. If you really want to make an effort, select singles with a variety of flavours. Remember, it’s the thought that counts.

5.  Toilet Paper – If they aren’t too picky in regards to softness/quality, $5 worth of bog roll can potentially last the giftee most of a multi-month thru hike…………at least when supplemented with the stuff they will pinch from hotels, restaurants, gas stations and classier public restrooms.

6.  Dr.Bronner’s Soap – Not only is it cheap, but it’s a none-too-subtle way of saying, “mate, you really need to work on your hygiene next year.”

7.  Lint –  Makes for a great emergency fire starter. Empty the contents of your clothes dryer’s lint catcher into a tiny ziploc bag. Throw in some extra lint from your belly button just to give the gift a more personal touch.


Belly lint extraction – Japanese style.

8.  Crazy/Super Glue – Useful for sleeping mat repairs, small holes in tents and at a pinch, even cuts and blisters.

9.  Tent Pegs – If you want to go fancy, for a fiver you can probably pick up one or two titanium stakes. Alternatively you can buy six to eight of the Army Disposal Store variety.

10.  Plastic Disposable Kitchen Gloves – You can purchase 100 count packs (or more) of these for a song on Amazon. They can be used as part of a layering system for your hands when hiking in extreme cold and wet conditions. For details see “How to Keep Your Hands Warm While Winter Backpacking.”

plastic disposable gloves

11.  Baking Soda – Another excellent multi-purpose item that more hikers should know about. Potential uses include: toothpaste, deodorant substitute, cleaning pots & drink bottles, helps to remove foot odour from shoes, antacid for tummy rumblings, and; assists in relieving itching associated with insect bites, bee stings and poison ivy/oak.

12.  3M Micropore Tape – Breathable paper medical tape. Adheres well. I’ve used it for years instead of band-aids and other adhesive strips.

13.  $5 Goodwill Gift card – Polyester Hawaiian-style shirts, sun dresses, baggy shorts………..the list of bargain basement hiker options are almost endless. Avoid socks, undies and bandanas. There’s cheap and there’s just plain tacky.


Tatu Jo – Legendary long distance hiker and long-time connoisseur of thrift store hiking shirts (photo courtesy of Whitney LaRuffa).

14.  Hand Sanitizer – I haven’t had a case of the trots in the backcountry (so to speak) since 1999. I suspect that diligent use of hand sanitizer is part of the reason. I always keep a small bottle handy in one of the shoulder strap pockets on my backpack.

15.  Folgers Classic Decaf Instant – None of that fancy Via stuff from Starbucks. The fact that it’s Decaf, leaves the giftee in little doubt as to how you really feel about them.

16.  Tyvek Groundsheet – This might actually cost you nothing if you can find a piece in a construction site dumpster. Customize the size for the giftee. It’s the little things that count.

17.  Mini Dropper Bottles (2 Pack) – Another long time favourite. I repackage my hand sanitizer and Aquamira in these tiny bottles for all of my backcountry trips.

18.  Trash Compactor BagWhen purchased in packets of 10 or 20, these babies usually work out to between $1 and $2 a pop. It puzzles me as to why anyone would spend $40 plus for a cuben fiber/dyneema pack liner, when a trash compactor bag weighs about the same (a tiny bit heavier) and performs just as well for a fraction of the price.

19.  Ibuprofen – Vitamin “I”. A hurting hiker’s best friend. Can be found in many (if not most) hikers First-Aid kits. Forget about the name brands such as Advil and go generic. For $5 you can usually pick up a 50-100 count bottle at most major supermarkets.

20.  Backcountry Bidet / Reconstituted Sports Drink Bottle (600ml) – Cheap and multi-purpose. You can pick one up at any gas station. Look for bottles with a flip-cap spout. Show you care by including the following instructions and warnings on an accompanying Post-it note: A. Be sure to fill the bottle to the top before use, as approximately only the first 200 ml are spurtable; B. Short, sharp squeezes fired at an upward angle of 45° work best, and; C. Don’t put the spout too close to your freckle as accidents can happen, and there’s nothing worse than finding poo floaties in your drinking water over the course of the hiking day.


A reconstituted sports drink bottle and four squares of TP are all you need for your morning constitutional.



20 Crappy (but practical) Christmas Gifts for Hikers — 12 Comments

  1. Another item I like but they can be hard to find are old fashioned diaper pins. They are much larger and stronger than standard safety pins and I keep a couple hooked to my packs for drying socks or other pieces of clothing.

      • Thanks Gerry B. and Lori for the tip. I just googled “Baby’s R Us” diaper pins and you can pick up a six pack for under $3. Not too bad at all!



  2. Can you go into detail about how you clean your pots with baking soda in another post? Pot cleaning in the back country is something I haven’t got down yet.

    • Hi Adam. With the cooking pot dry, sprinkle a little baking powder into the base of the pot. Take a dry or barely damp cleaning cloth place over two fingers and rub the stuck on good it works like a scourer/scrubber. Then just rinse the pot. You don’t use much water this way either. In fact you can do this with all of your cooking eating items. The baking soda will lift oil/grease or other residue from surfaces. And like Cam said it has lots of other uses too. It’s great stuff.😊

  3. Oh Cam thanks for the great laugh. My husband ( not a hiker), had a great start to his day thanks to you. Like the idea of the safety pins too on a post. Thanks guys. Regards from Oz

  4. Baking soda is super useful in the laundry department, too. You know all those non-merino garments that you can’t get the stink out of? Give them the Volcano Treatment. Yes, I mean like a grade school science fair volcano. Put your stinky shirt, or socks, or paddling gloves in a bowl, and cover them with water. Dump in maybe half a cup of baking soda, less for small things, more for larger batches. Swish that all around until the baking soda is dissolved and the soda water had throughly permeated the items to be washed. Then pour in enough vinegar to get some of that frothing volcano action going. Just don’t use so much it froths over the edge bowl! Fun to watch, but not necessary. Stir that in a little bit and then let it all sit half an hour, or overnight. Then dump it in the washer with the rest of the load and wash as usual. The nasty stank will be all gone! I had a paddling instructor who was grumbling about needing to buy new gloves because they smelled so bad. First thing she said next time she saw me was “It worked!” Stinky teenage boy P.E. shirts? Yup, fixes that. Never had it fail.

  5. I got my tyvek ground cloth exactly how you described, out of a dumpster on a house renovation. It turned out to be the best ground cloth I’ve used. It’s lighter and more durable than anything else I’ve used. Plus, it was free.

  6. Really funny and really good. Someone once told me that she had used tampons as an emergency light source. Never tried it, but thought it was innovative.
    Got your list forwarded by the inimitable Scott Williams. Thanks!

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