Help! Need gift ideas for my backpacking cousin.

So, my little Cousin’s going backpacking through Asia and Africa. I want to get him some kind of going away present, something which may be useful on his journey.

Any ideas? So far, I’ve come up with:

  • a mini maglight.

That’s all I’ve got. Any ideas?

A harmonica?

Two or three pairs of really good socks will make him very grateful sooner or later; perhaps a nice journal, leather covers preferred (I’m thinking of something like this, to take notes and write down memories during the trip.

A titanium spork. I’m not kidding. Apparently, this is a durable, lightweight, easy to clean utensil that backpackers love. It’s two utensils in one. Backpackers are always looking for ways to reduce both the number of items that they pack, and the weight that they pack.

Also, you cannot go wrong with giving a multitool for any gift-giving occasion. Leatherman or Gerber, it’s up to you. Next time I have to give a gift at a bridal or baby shower, I’m gonna go with a Leatherman.

For sentimental reasons, give a towel.

I’ve been backpacking all over the planet and I find a LED headlamp way more useful than a maglight, especially on a low budget safari in Africa.

Thanks guys, some really great ideas here. I like the idea of a travel journal, might go for that one.

Mini-maglights are too heavy for serious light-packers. Headlamps are the way to go. So are fancy journals- you can find a net cafe anywhere these days. For note-taking, the unbound moleskin notebooks are more practical.

If you can afford it, buy him a silk hostel sheet. They are a little pricey, but they are priceless. They will keep him from getting bitten by all manner of insects, keep him cool in warm weather and warm in cool weather, shield him from the sun, dry him when the towel gets lost and help him in a million ways. The silk part is important though. Cotton hostel sheets are not the same. Silk weighs nothing, takes up no space, dries instantly, insulates and breathes amazingly and can be easily washed with shampoo (silk is a lot like hair.) Yeah, it’s a little luxurious. But it will be useful for a long, long, long time.

If that’s to pricey, a set of little luggage locks and a cable lock are useful. You can never be too safe. Even less sentimental is a good surgical tubing braided (not twisted!) portable clothesline, a flat plastic sink stopper, and a bottle of Doctor Bronner’s soap.

If he’s adventurous, he might enjoy a copy of Robert Young Pelton’s The World’s Most Dangerous Places, though maybe you don’t want to give him any ideas.

Tell him good luck! If he happens to be planning to go through Mali or Cameroon, let me know and I can give him some advice!

I must stress that you should not get anything if it isn’t lightweight; mag-lights are convenient for camping lite but not necessarily for the backpacking your cousin’s going on.

Depending on your price range, there are a variety of things to get.

Expensive: Good boots
Moderate: Lightweight windbreaker/rainjacket, Hiking poles (if it fits your cousin’s hiking style), Camelback hydration packs
Cheap-er: Hiking socks/liners, sturdy compass

I’d never buy boots for someone, that’s too personal a choice. You can’t buy boots without trying them on.

If he doesn’t have one, an LED headlamp is a great choice. Same with the sleeping sheet although I personally like the synthetic over the silk; IMO they last much longer. The luggage lock and/or steel mesh netting to keep your pack from getting stolen, cut into, rifled is a great idea.

Dr Bronner’s soap is an acquired taste. Personally, I’d never touch the stuff.

IMHO, socks and packs are just as personal as boots.

The LED headlight was going to be my suggestion, too! I can’t have too many of them, and not just for camping.

I’m sure a gift certificate to Campmor or REI would be welcome, too. He’s probably doing a lot of shopping of his own. You can often find some good deals at Campmor.

I’m a big fan of the MSR packtowel or similar. It’s a little towel about the size of a tea towel, but made of this amazing super-absorbent material, so you can use it as a shower/bath towel. Takes up almost no space in your pack and does the job of a gigantic bath sheet. I never backpack without mine.

MSR’s website is down, so maybe they went out of business, but here’s the cached version of what I mean.

Another idea is synthetic-fiber sweat-wicking clothing. I have a couple shirts from REI, and they’re absolutely awesome: you can wear it for a week and it never feels grimy, and then you rinse it out in a hostel bathroom sink and it dries in thirty seconds. The only problem is that they’re usually pretty pricey.

One thing he should never be without is a medicine kit. They sell a very nice one that packs up small at REI. Came in handy when I was backpacking in Colombia recently. (Nothing serious, I got a blister and it was handy to have a band-aid readily available.)

This is a good idea, but perhaps a slightly better version is a silk sleeping bag liner, which serves all the same purposes.

A titanium kettle/cup would be nice.

I hate to piss on the o.p.'s parade, but I would hate for someone to attempt to buy gear for me. I’m quite particular on what I would use and unless someone is more experienced than me they’ll likely pick out something I don’t need and won’t use. There are good suggestions here, but as the o.p. doesn’t seem to know what the traveler in question needs, he may well end up offering something that is useless.

Get a gift certificate to REI or some other outdoor/backpacking outlet, and let your cousin pick his own gear.


I wonder if one of those outfitter stores might have some suggestions for gifts. The first thing I thought of was one of those thin reflective heat retaining sheets. I think I also see that crazy dude on TV likes to have something to put on the ground prior to making a camp. Also, a waterproof fire source.

Those mylar sheets are mostly useless; better then nothing but not very helpful in a true emergency. For waterproof fire source, a $.99 disposable lighter works just fine.

There is something to the gift certificate idea that appeals to me more and more. I buy my own gear, unless it’s a small item that I’ve never seen I have all the gear I need/want.

I see the heat sheet thing on both the crazy dude shows and on other survival pieces. What makes them “not helpful?” I’m not doubting you, but the rest of the world seems to thing they’re indispensable. What’s the dope?

If you are talking about an aluminized Mylar “emergency blanket”, it’s only real use is in reflecting radiated heat. It is somewhat useful in an emergency to wrap up a person going into shock (reflecting their own heat) but it provides no insulation to conduction of heat to the ground. A good foam pad provides much better insulation. Plus, they don’t generally last too long; a few dozen uses at best.

The above is exactly what I mean when I say I wouldn’t want someone else picking gear for me; the result is well-intended but ignorant and misguided selection of gear that isn’t useful. The thing I might want upon going on such a venture is a small token of sentiment; perhaps a pocket copy of some literary classic, or a personalized Moleskine journal or somesuch. But gear is something most travelers are very particular about.


How about a bit of money to be used for stamps for postcards home. And a really decent writing pen that doesn’t explode ink or run.
I like the Spork idea.

Yeah, that. When space and weight are limited, it gets very personal. I would love an REI gift card, though!

(Well, I should add this – the one thing I loved getting was some cheap lightweight paperback books. Not having spent my own money on them, I found myself more willing to swap them with other travelers and get new reading material. But you have to know what the person likes to read.)