Over the past few years, the most popular articles on “The Hiking Life” website 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 five dollars.
Therefore I have decided to up the tightwad ante once 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 fifty gift ideas for under $5.
(Note: The list contains all your previous favourites, plus twenty new additions. For folks familiar with the older recommendations, feel free to scroll down to numbers 31 to 50):
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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 Lighter – Customised 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.”
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.
23. Trash Compactor Bag – When 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.
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.
31. Bleach – Forget about those fancy filters and chlorine dioxide drops. Bleach tastes terrible and may not be very effective combatting giardia and crypto, but what the hey, for $5 you can buy enough to last you a couple of thru-hikes, and then put your savings towards a course of Fasigyn.
32. Animated Knots by Grog App – For $4.99 this useful offline app gives you a step-by-step animated guide to every knot you might ever wish to tie.
33. Nemesis Safety Glasses – Three pairs of these lightweight, sturdy and Presidentially-endorsed sunnies will set you back less than $15. This gift recommendation is courtesy of Paul “Mags” Magnanti, long-time devotee of Nemesis and budget backpacker nonpareil.
34. Tuna Can Stove (aka Cat Food Can Stove) – For the price of a can of tuna and a hole punch, you can make a simple, ultralight and almost indestructible stove. On the not-so-great side, they aren’t the most efficient burners and are often banned in areas prone to high fire danger (e.g. Southern California).
35. Inflatable Pillow / Wine box bladder – The redneck’s backcountry pillow. For bogan bonus points and a surefire thumper of a headache the following day, pack in a full box and drink it all on the first night of your trip.
36. Make America Great Again cap – Practical and crappy. In regards to the former quality, the hat’s brim helps to keep the sun’s damaging rays off your face. As for the crappy part…….well……….you know.
37. Beer Koozie – Multi-purpose item. Emergency mitten, storage for your DSLR lenses, paw protector if your dog steps on a cactus, and helps to keep that post-hike beer that you left in your car refreshingly lukewarm. Earn gram weenie bonus points by purchasing it from one of your favourite ultralight cottage gear companies.
38. Therm-a-rest Z-Lite Seat Pad – When your old Z-Lite has gone flatter than gander’s arch, lob off a couple of segments and gift them to a hiking buddy in search of a bit more back-country comfort during their midday breaks. Alternatively, big spenders can splash out on a new Z-Seat Pad ($14.95 – six sections), and share the posterior love among three of their hiker friends.
39. Frogg Toggs / DriDucks Rain Pants – The complete Frog Toggs suit will cost around $17. However, while the jacket may be a functional option for many three-season backpacking excursions (est. value $16.90), the pants (est. value $0.10) are about as durable as a French designed automobile. Irrespective of the environment, chances are you will blow out the crotch, backside or rip a hole in one of the legs within a couple of days of leaving the trailhead.
40. Mylar Blanket (Pack of 10) – A bargain at less than a dollar a pop. In addition to being used in emergencies, space blankets can also be employed as a lightweight ground sheet, signalling mirror and makeshift tarp.
41. Baskin & Robbins Pink Spoon – If you order a sundae at Baskin & Robbins it comes with a semi-durable, difficult-to-lose, long handled pink plastic spoon. I used one of these for 2000 miles on the Pacific Crest Trail in 2012.
42. The Fellowship of the Ring – This is the first part of “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, and for my money the best thru-hiking tale ever written. You can generally pick up a used copy for less than a fiver on Amazon. Basically it’s the story of a diverse bunch of guys who went out for a multi-month walk, got up to lots of memorable adventures, met some cool trail angels, took some zero days, had some differences of opinion in regards to route selection, split into separate groups, stood by each other when times were tough, finished their trips at different termini, and, finally, met up for celebratory post-hike beers on a field called Cormallen at journey’s end.
43. John Muir’s Works – You can pick up either a paperback or Kindle version of “The Yosemite” and “My First Summer in the Sierra” for less than $5 on Amazon. Three decades after first reading Muir’s works as a teenager, he remains my favourite wilderness writer.
44. Tenacious Tape – An upgrade from duct tape for out-in-the-field gear repairs to your tent, rain jacket or wind shirt
45. Mini Dice – This one is courtesy of my old friend, Liz “Snorkel” Thomas, backpacking sage, author and Queen of Urban Thru-hiking. According to Snorks, “five mini-dice weigh in at grams and provide hours of entertainment for hikers trapped in a tent or shelter on a rainy or snowy day. Good for Yahtzee, Farkel, and anything else you can make up.” A 100 pack will set you back $5.99.
46. PeakFinder App – This is another recommendation from Pmags. While hiking in Colorado’s Sangre de Cristo range in 2016, Mags blew me away when he started randomly rattling off the names and altitudes of every mountain within sight. Just when I thought he was taking the piss, he showed me the PeakFinder app on his phone ($4.99). To use this amazing offline app, simply point the camera at your mountain of choice, and a panoramic drawing will overlay the image and give you all the relevant details. It currently has information on more than 350,000 peaks around the world.
47. Head Net – Weighs only an ounce or two and can be a sanity saver during the height of bug season. Indeed, when the midges, mozzies or sandflies are swarming, I’m not sure there is a better value-for-money item in one’s backpacking kit.
48. Barcountry Dehydrated Cocktails (2) – Perfect for hip flask carrying backpackers that want to extend hiker midnight past 9pm. A packet of four will cost $10, and flavor options include Margarita, Bloody Mary and a cherry-infused Old Fashioned.
49. Ultralight Backpackin’ Tips – One of the most informative and entertaining books on how to lighten your pack weight. The kindle edition will set you back $8, but if you already own a physical copy, you can pickup the MatchBook version for $2.99.
50. Hand Rake (Set of 2) – Hikers can do their part in helping to keep America’s “forests floors” clean, by picking up a pair of these lightweight, Finnish-inspired leaf scoopers for their next backcountry excursion. They weigh in at under 6 oz per item ($11.17 for the pair), and are easy to strap on to the back of your pack when not in use. With every third pair purchased, buyers will receive either a “Rake America Great Again” or “I Love Finland” bumper sticker.
*Disclosure: This post contains some affiliate links, which means ‘The Hiking Life’ receives a small (in this case very small) commission if you purchase an item after clicking on one of the links. This comes at no additional cost to the reader, and helps to support the website in its continuing goal to create quality content for backpackers and hikers.