30 Crappy (but practical) Christmas Gifts for Hikers

Over the past couple of years, the most popular articles on “The Hiking Life” haven’t been about outdoor skills, backpacking equipment or trip reports from exotic locales. Nope, they’ve been about crappy hiker gifts that you can pick up for less than a fiver.

Therefore, I have decided to up the tight ass ante yet again, and give my thrifty readership more of what they seem to love. Without further ado, 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 gift items for under $5:

1.  A Box of Ziplocs – Pretty much everyone takes Ziplocs (or equivalents) 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.  Dental Floss – In addition to helping to keep your teeth clean, uber-strong dental floss can be used as thread for gear repairs in the field, an emergency replacement for a broken shoe lace, and even a makeshift clothesline under your shelter at night.

4.  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, pee rag for she-hikers, 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.

5.  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. It’s the thought that counts.

6.  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.

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 and drink bottles, antacid for tummy rumblings, and helps to remove foot odour from shoes. In addition, it 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 (along with sunscreen and lip balm).

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.  Simpsons Bic LighterCustomised Bic lighters featuring characters and scenes from The Simpsons will set you back $15 for a set of 3. While cooking up a feast at day’s end, these little flame throwers are sure to bring a smile to your fellow hiker’s dials. And remember…….

17.  Hacky Sacks (set of 6) – I have a few hippy hiker mates that love these little bags. At just over $2 each they represent excellent value, weigh only a couple of ounces, take up virtually no space in your pack, and can make for a fun diversion during long days on trail. With every third set purchased, buyers will receive a complimentary eBook copy of The Gentle Art of Bong and Pipe Making. 

18.  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.

19.  Talenti Ice Cream – As regular readers of ‘The Hiking Life’ may be aware, my “no-cook” vessel of choice has long been a Gatorade Powder container. However, that’s a little too pricey for the purposes of this article. A good alternative is the Talenti Tub, which sports a wide mouth, a screw top lid, and of course, the not-to-be-scoffed at bonus of a tasty pint of ice cream.

20. Diaper Pins – This one is courtesy of long-time subscriber, Gerry B, who wrote that, “old fashioned diaper pins 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.” You can pick up a six-pack at Baby’s R’Us for $1.99.

21.  Beer Flavored Lip Balm – For $4.50 you have your choice of flavors such as All Day IPA and Breakfast Stout. These hop-infused wonder sticks come with SPF 15, and are made in Michigan from organic and natural ingredients.

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

23.  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.

24.  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.”

25.  Condoms – The old Johnny bag. In addition to the obvious, connies can also be used as an emergency water holder (up to 2 liters) in case one of your bottles develops a leak. They also come in handy as a waterproof cover for your phone during river crossings. It’s even possible to use the touch screen through the latex; useful for safe sexting.

Whether you are sexting or fording a challenging river, if it’s not on, it’s not on.

26.  Bag Balm – Bag Balm now comes in practical travel-sized 1/4 oz tubes. Not only does this stuff works wonders on thigh and bum chafe, it also comes in handy if you are overcome by the urge to milk a cow while out on trail (i.e. Which was its original purpose when developed back in 1899).

27.  Titanium Sewing Scissors – I have a couple of gram weenie hiker mates who love these things. They tip the scales at only 0.3 oz, and if you add the mini-tweezers from the Swiss Army Classic, you have a gossamer weight combo (0.4 oz), which should cover virtually all of your repair and tick removal needs while out in the field.

28 Quick & Dirty Hiking Guides – Nobody does practical and crappy better than Paul “Mags” Magnanti and myself. These guides aren’t the slickest eBooks out there, but they are chock full of all the basic planning info you will need in order to tackle some of America’s finest hikes, such as the Colorado Trail, Sierra High Route, Wonderland Trail and the Long Trail.

29.  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.

30.  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 squirtable;

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



30 Crappy (but practical) Christmas Gifts for Hikers — 16 Comments

  1. Dang! That link for titanium scissors leads to a “10 Page 20 Card Plastic Wallet Insert for Bifold Business Credit Card Holds” on Amazon. Where are those scissors???

    • Haha. Thanks for the catch. The “plastic card holder/wallet” was almost included, but in the end it didn’t make the cut. The correct link is now up.



  2. Oh Cam haven’t laughed so much in ages. Keep it up. I
    Walking the Bibb (WA Aus) solo next year after Breast cancer this year. Will be taking some of your listed items with me. My husband might raise his eye brows at the condoms though LOL

  3. lol My brother already gave me 3 gallon ziplocks loaded with lint for my birthday(packed around some gear) now he has a list of more fun stuff thanks.

  4. Some very novel ideas indeed. Put a link to this post in my newsletter and got some rave reviews from my readers. Thanks! Would never have come up with the alternate uses. Has anyone actually ever used it as a water container?!!? 🙂

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