10 Great (and Affordable) Gifts for Backpackers

By MattFromTexas on December 15, 2012

I don’t work in retail. But if I did, I would be the pushy, highly opinionated guy in the travel and outdoors section who imposes his point of view and insists that you only take his recommendation. Some people love that guy. Most people hate him. But for better or worse, here are my top 10 best gifts for a backpacker in no particular order updated for 2012.

Travel Bag

1.  ENO SingleNest Hammock (with Straps)

This travel hammock packs down to the size of a softball and is awesome. It is made of that good, cool nylon that breathes and stays cool on a hot day. Backpackers who don’t travel with a hammock need to seriously reconsider their packing list. Some people may say, “You don’t need to purchase something this high quality.”  Well, actually, you do. This is the type of product you purchase once, take care of, and use for the rest of your life.

Cost:  $50 to 60 bucks

Important note: You will also need to purchase the ENO SlapStraps.  They cost an extra $20 or so, but are absolutely necessary. If you plan to do some overnight camping, consider the ENO Guardian Bug Net, which is made of no-see-um material and is just as light and compact (retails at $54.95).


2.  Eagle Creek “Wallaby” Toiletry Bag

This is single-handedly the best toiletry bag on the planet. You need not look at any other bag on the market as you will be wasting your time. Whatever toiletry bag your backpacker friend is using at the moment, getting them this bag will absolutely be an upgrade. I’m not even going to get into everything it can do because describing it will not do it justice. Click on the photo to see all the specs. Just get them this bag and move on.

Cost:  $25 to $30 bucks


3.  Platypus Water Bottle

Environmentally-minded backpackers will appreciate the Platypus Softbottle. Made with zero BPA and weighing less than bottles using hard plastics, the Softbottle folds, bends, and collapses to fit neatly in your bag. You’ll not only save money but you’ll also travel with a lighter conscious. Choose the 1 liter bottle with closed cap if you’re worried about leakage.

Cost:  $8 to $10 bucks

Space Bag

4. SteriPEN Freedom Water Purifier

The perfect compliment to the soft water bottle. The best of the SteriPEN line, the Freedom weighs less, is more compact, and comes with a USB charger, perfect for backpackers traveling with a laptop! Use in countries with poor tap water quality or where filtered water is not readily available. The Freedom easily pays for itself considering the amount of water you’ll consume on one round-the-world trip. 

Cost:  $120 bucks


5.  Moleskine Pocket Notebook

Moleskine is the most practical pocket notebook out there. Accept no substitutes. It fits in your pocket. You can beat the hell out of it. The paper is high quality and doesn’t ruffle up with use. But shop with caution! There are a lot of Moleskine products out there. You want the one that is 3 ½” x 5 ½” with a hard cover and 192 plain pages. 

Cost:  $5 to $15 bucks


6.  Superfeet Premium Insole

An insole is just an insole, right?  Wrong.  When you buy a new shoe, the insole that comes with it is not nearly as high quality and versatile as these SuperFeet insoles.  I was about to give up on a pair of expensive hiking shoes because they hurt my feet, then I replaced the standard insole with a SuperFeet insole and I've worn them every day for the past year without a problem.  They have different models to fit activity type and foot shape.  I suggest the green pair.  These insoles are not cheap, they're $40+ per pair, but that's what makes them the perfect gift.  It's one of those items that your backpacker friend will not buy for themselves, but once they try them out will be so happy to have them. 

Cost:  $40 to $60 bucks


7.  Joby Gorillapod Camera Tripod

I'm not even going to begin to talk about travel cameras as there are so many great options on the market. But every traveler needs this. It secures your point-and-shoot camera to just about any surface. It is small enough to fit in your daypack and is essential for those awesome group shots that you want everyone in. Or for those times you're on your own, wondering some deserted paradise and you want to document that you were actually there by taking a photo from further than arms-length away.

Cost:  $12 to $17 bucks


8.  Icebreaker Fast-Drying Tees

This is the perfect go-to shirt. Icebreaker’s natural tees are made from soft New Zealand merino wool. Lightweight, comfortable, fast drying, and weatherproof (keeps you cool or warm no matter where you go), the Tech tee is a great travel basic. Don’t leave this one off your Christmas wishlist, cause it ain’t cheap!   

Cost:  $75 bucks

Travel towel

9.  Eagle Creek Travel Towel

Look. Your backpacker friend probably already has a travel towel. But that doesn’t mean they don’t need another one. The travel towel is the item I lose most frequently while on the road. When you buy it, do us all a favor and get your friend the large or extra large-sized towel so that they can fit it all the way around their body. Nothing is worse than that guy who walks into a full dorm room with a towel that barely covers his ass. 

Cost:  $20 to $30 bucks

Five Fingers

10.  Vibram FiveFingers KSO

My “Super-Lock Pick of the Year” award goes to Vibram FiveFingers KSO. I bought my first pair over 5 years ago and absolutely love them! You can walk, run, or swim in them. They dry quickly. They are treated with an anti-fungal so they don’t stink once dried. And, they are light and don’t take up much space in your bag. Sizing can be a bit tricky. If you are buying them as a gift, I’d suggest getting them at a store where your backpacker friend can swap them out for one that is the proper size and color.

Cost:  $80 to $90 bucks (and worth every penny)