Gifts for the Backpacker

Gifts for the Person Who Doesn’t Want Anything Else

I’m just going to make a wild guess about anybody who’s been backpacking for very long and say that you’ve probably got all the gear you need and don’t want to change any of it. Buying something related to backpacking, for you for the holidays, will probably get a strained “Gee, thanks a lot!” and a pained grimace out of you instead of a big smile. There is hope for the holiday gift giver, however, because backpackers like to think about backpacking when they’re not doing it and reminders of the outside world can be as important as that well worn stove from the 70’s.

Backpackers do like gear but we don’t adopt much of it. There’s no room. I hated it when I had to add a water filter to the pack because there’s just no place for it and it seems so unfair. But now and then there’s something I just have to try.

I wrote about fire pistons a couple of years back and now there’s a wealth of new examples as this old Indonesian technology goes mainstream with new components and new perks. If your backpacking friend doesn’t have one, they’ll be fascinated by it, and for once there’s a good chance that they don’t have this device as yet.

A couple of years ago only a few craftsmen made them. Now there are models a thrifty person can actually afford. You can still get the artistic types like the Custom 2nd Generation Buffalo Horn Fire Pistonfrom Wilderness Solutions, the manufacturer of all the fire pistons I’ve displayed in the widget here. Wilderness Solutions added many other models, all of them practical, and no matter what your backpacking style you’ll find one you like. Choices include the inexpensive Scout model in poly and aluminum and the practical, efficient and lightweight aluminum Fire Pen and Fire Pen II. The Firelight lets you see what’s happening inside the piston through its clear piston chamber, and the Firefly II adds the same perk as the Fire Pen II, a hidden ferocerium sparking rod, just in case you have a problem with the piston method.

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The Good Stuff

There’s gear you take and then there’s gear you just like to own. A compass might not seem exciting and interesting next to a GPS with all the maps and useless but fascinating features, but every knowledgeable backpacker takes a compass. I own several. There’s always a better one. On the wish list I would put a good Global Compass designed to work anywhere in the earth’s several distorted magnetic regions. Backwoodsmen like things to learn, and an advanced compass always presents a welcome excuse to relearn the old navigation skills and figure out the quirks of a better compass than the one you had. People who don’t like a good technical challenge won’t be interested. The brass gimbel compass in the carousel below would make an excellent piece for the office or the cubicle, reminding us that there’s another world and a way to it.

Out in the woods, I enjoy just sitting and looking at things. Yes, there are people who simply want to find out how fast they can get from the trailhead to the trail’s end and back again, but I’m not one of those. A quiet spot with a good vantage point might take me all day to appreciate. If you move slowly and wait 20 minutes or so, everything that ran and hid when you first arrived comes out again and goes back to business. A good pair of binoculars helps us locate what’s behind that interesting but distant scrabbling sound. A bad pair just adds frustration to the day, because there’s nothing worse than a cheap pair of binoculars that tracks a different scene for each eyeball. The Olympus 7X21 PC III combines light weight, low cost and compact size with a design that actually works. Take that one along and consider something from brass for the workspace. The Barska Blueline Spy Scope fits the pocket or the desk, and the Brass Alidade nautical gift set includes all the classical navigator’s tools in one package.


You may expect the usual recommendations about books for backpackers, but I hope that a few or all of my selections surprise you. I’m not listing survival books or how-to guides or books about trail food none of us wants to spend all that time making. If you get a book about gear it’s just something to disagree with, and irritating. There are other kinds of books about hiking that do strike unusual chords in the hearts of hikers. Most of us backpack on weekends or summer vacations and walk relatively short distances on safe trails.

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It’s recreation, not epic adventure. The Long Walk: The True Story of a Trek to Freedom tells a story so incredible you’ll shake your head in disbelief as you read. I stumbled across this book in a Seattle library decades ago and scenes from it still emerge in my everyday thoughts from time to time. Peter Jenkins’s modern tale, A Walk Across America came to me as a gift and I suspected I would not like it, having done something similar but shorter for several weeks in the 70’s. Walking across America by yourself probably isn’t smart today and you do need to be a little naive, like Jenkins and me, to try it. Jenkins met a lot of the same types that I did, people that befriend you and take you into their homes and the occasional person who tries to kill you just for fun.

There are other stories here that will appeal to hikers because they’re about walking, something that most of us take for granted. When you take it to the extreme level, it’s a rare and spooky adventure, even if it’s fictional like Stephen King’s The Long Walk.

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About JTHats

Avid backpacker and outdoorsman with old skills and interests in old ways of doing things; equally fascinated by electronics, from the days of Sputnik, to the Zilog Z80A, to the present day of black box circuitry. Sixty years of experience with growing my own food and living simply. Certified electronics technician, professional woodturner, woodcarver, and graduate of two military survival courses — Arctic and Jungle.

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