Last Minute Gift Ideas for the Thru-Hiker Who Already Has Everything
Shopping for thru-hikers is hard. We’re picky about our gear and normally have every ounce in our pack rationed out. On top of it all, many of us have a minimalist streak that makes gift-giving even more of a challenge. Unless you have a very specific request from the thru-hiker in your life (down to the make, model, and size of the requested piece of gear), gift shopping can be a minefield. Luckily, this article is here to help with plenty of suggestions that don’t weigh an ounce, can be bought last minute (hello, holiday shipping deadlines), and will be appreciated by any hiker.
Gift cards are often seen as a kind of “meh” gift, but they are perfect for thru-hikers. Before the trail, hikers can put them towards big-ticket items that are otherwise unaffordable. They can also use the whole amount on a cheaper piece of gear. However, they are even more useful if the recipient can save them for when they’re actually on the trail. Gear breaks, wears out, or no longer fits after your feet grow or you lose 20 pounds.
Gift cards make it easy to replace gear and shoes without dipping into your budget. Larger retailers such as REI and Backcountry offer e-gift cards. These weigh absolutely nothing and you’ll always have access to them in your email. They will happily ship to you on-trail when you desperately need new shoes. My parents have sent me an REI gift card for birthdays and Christmases for years. I’m always incredibly excited to spend them on-trail.
Many small outfitters also offer gift cards, although they may not be able to ship quickly to thru-hikers on the trail. If shopping small and local is important to you, check out your local outfitter. Some cottage gear companies also offer gift cards. If your thru-hiker has a ZPacks or Superior Wilderness Designs pack on their list that is out of your price range (or you missed the shipping window for an item arriving before the holidays), a gift card is a great option.
Non-Outdoors Gift Cards
Gear isn’t the only expense that you can help cover. Food adds up quickly. Give your hiker gift cards for town food and they can enjoy a meal on you during their hike. Large fast food restaurants such as McDonald’s or Subway can be a good choice since they are found in many larger trail towns. Even if your hiker does not normally eat fast food, chances are that will change a few months into their hike. If you’d prefer to support small local restaurants, research a few trail towns your thru-hiker is likely to visit and pay for a meal they’ll love at a more unique establishment.
Grocery store gift cards are another safe bet since resupplying can get expensive. Keep in mind that grocery store chains vary from state to state. Unless you’re close to the trail your thru-hiker is hiking, your local grocery store might not be the same as one along the trail. If you can’t get a gift card for a store near a trail, a visa gift card would also be appreciated.
A night in town is one of the surprising highlights of a thru-hike. You can help your hiker out by offering to pay for a night or two in a hostel or hotel of their choice. Keep in mind that hikers might not choose to stop in every trail town. Where they decide to stop often depends on their resupply strategy and who they hike with. A simple IOU would work well if you aren’t sure if the exact locations your hiker is planning to stop. If there are certain places you know your hiker would like to stay, look for a gift card, or call the hostel to find out if you can pay for a room in advance. Some hostels, such as the Station at 19E in Tennessee, let you buy your hiker a room, food, and even beer online.
Getting to the start of the trail, or getting home again after, can be one of the most expensive parts of the whole trip. A travel voucher can help make this possible for your hiker, or can allow them to make a trip home during their hike. Obviously, the best mode of transport depends on where your hiker lives and where they are going, but check for flight vouchers, or with Amtrak or Greyhound buses.
You can also help your hiker out with on-trail travel. The AT in particular offers many shuttle services to help hikers get into town to resupply. These aren’t normally too expensive, but costs can add up if your hiker uses them frequently. This gift would be especially appropriate if you are a concerned family member who is worried about your thru-hiker hitchhiking.
Thru-hikers rarely watch a lot of Netflix, but there are some subscription services that they absolutely love. Thru-hiking is as much a mental challenge as a physical one, and great music or a good podcast can turn your mood around when you’re having a bad day. Spotify Premium is my personal music service of choice, since you can download both playlists and podcasts to listen to while you hike. Music subscriptions might seem frivolous when you’re budgeting for a hike, so they are extra appreciated as a gift.
Amazon Prime is another service that makes a great gift. Fast, free shipping makes it easy to replace gear on-trail (although Amazon has a smaller selection than REI or Backcountry), or to buy food to supplement a resupply. There are a few thru-hiker favorite items, such as leukotape, that are almost impossible to find in towns or gear stores, but are always available on Amazon.
Ebooks and Audiobooks
A book can save your sanity if you’re stuck waiting out rain alone in a shelter, or get to camp too early to sleep. Paperbacks are heavy, but ebooks and audiobooks are weightless. Audiobooks are also great to listen to while you hike. Audiobooks are available through Google Play, Audible, and other services. Either gift your hiker a subscription service or a gift card. You can also gift a specific title if you have a favorite book you think they will love.
IOU Care Packages
When I reached Harper’s Ferry on the AT, I received a care package containing a homemade fruit cake. It was amazing, and one of the most thoughtful gifts I’ve ever received. A promise to send a care package to a thru-hiker is a fantastic gift that will be very appreciated. These packages can range from simple candy resupplies to homemade baked goods.
Trail Association Memberships
Trail associations do so much work to protect the trails that we love. Gifting a membership helps support the trail, and often comes with great benefits (for example, Pacific Crest Trail Association membership comes with a year’s subscription to Backpacker Magazine). The Appalachian Trail Conservancy, Pacific Crest Trail Association, and Continental Divide Trail Coalition are all great choices. Almost every smaller trail also has an association that helps to maintain and protect it.
Gift a class
No matter how experienced you are, there’s still plenty to learn. Whether your hiker would benefit from an introductory backpacking class or is looking to up their skills in navigation, wilderness first aid, or even avalanche safety, there is a class that’s perfect for them. REI has good options- check your local store for classes currently on offer. Guides and outdoor centers in your area may also have great options. If you think your hiker already has the skills they need for hiking, consider a class in a complimentary outdoor activity. Activities such as rock climbing or snowshoeing pair well with hiking. They will have a great time and learn a new skill.
Hopefully, this gift guide helps if you have missed shipping windows or want to get something non-physical for your hiker. You can’t go wrong with something a hiker doesn’t have to carry, but that will still help them complete their hike. At the end of the day, your hiker will love anything that helps them get out on the trail.
Featured image: Graphic design by Charlotte Simons.
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