For a few years my family have been nagging at me before Christmas and my birthday for present ideas. “What should we get you? You never want anything!” Do you know that too? This year, of course, isn’t the least different. So I decided to provide my loved ones with a list of my wanna-get travel gear! Some of these items have been with me for over 10 years; they’re still in great condition and I love them. Others in the list are real gift ideas for myself. They’re the results of genuine research as I happen to need them (you hear, mum?). Use this list of gifts for travel lovers either for yourself – of course you deserve it– or for friends who love going travelling.
Almost all product recommendations in this gift guide are from REI Co-op, a cooperative in the US and Canada with worldwide shipping possibility. As eco travellers and responsible citizens we chose to partner with eco-friendly REI instead of climate change denying Amazon Network. If you buy an item through these links, that will mean no extra cost to you and we’ll get a small commission. It will help us spread our travel stories to a wider audience and inspire people to travel.
What gifts for your travelling friends?
If it’s December, you hear bells and see (fake) snow everywhere, but don’t know what gifts to get yourself or those relatives and friends who love going travelling?
I’ll tell you what, if they’re anything like me, they can’t be bothered with a travel journal, a toiletry bag or yet another scratch world map. And if you think “who wants a second hiking t-shirt anyway”, you’re wrong. It’s never enough of funky-coloured hiking t-shirts, and long-sleeves, and socks, and fleece. (I’m already getting excited!)
For responsible travellers it’s important to have good quality gear that will last for years; so ultimately we produce less waste. That’s why even us budget travellers (read: stingy bums) like investing in good quality things from time to time.
We put together this ultimate list of things that we loved or would have loved having on our epic backpacking trip in South America in 2018-19. We believe that travellers will be very happy with these useful and somewhat unique travel gifts. This list is for backpackers who will do a range of activity from city visits to hikes. Complement these responsible travel gifts with tips on how to travel responsibly!
Is luggage a good gift?
Obviously, a list of travel gifts for backpacker friends has to start with the single most important accessory, the backpack. Finding the perfect backpack is a deal-breaker. Some prefer travelling as lightweight as possible; others rather take more stuff to be comfortable and have options. Whatever your preference, a backpack that fits well to your own back is vital.
Hand-luggage size for long weekend trips (and longer if you are a light traveller)
As for me, I am a light backpacker and I have been travelling with my lovely 33 + 10 litre Lowe Alpine backpack for more than 10 years. When it comes to backpacks, the other brand I love is Osprey – it’s a mid-range brand with super features, such as the adjustable back, padded straps, side pockets. Also, I find the Osprey bags look beautiful!
Being a short person, an adjustable back is very important to me. My next backpack will definitely be this 36 litre Osprey Sirius 36 pack specifically made for women. And here’s the Osprey Sirius 36 men’s version which is an equally perfect choice for guys. Both come in beautiful, vibrant colours that I just love!
And the best part in these bags? The size is that small that you can use it as a carry-on on most low-cost airlines as I’ve been using mine on these airlines for 10 years. The luggage policies change from time to time though, so please double check it before travelling.
Big backpack for longer trips
To tell the truth I wasn’t always a light backpacker. A few years back airports saw me running around with my big Osprey 65 liter backpack (hence my love for Osprey), and I still use this piece when moving country. I’m convinced that it wouldn’t have been so smooth to move country, if it hadn’t been for this backpack! Luckily, it’s still available.
The support system is so good and I could fit it on myself so perfectly that I hardly felt the weight. Check out the men’s version, equally pretty.
Day pack, well, for the day
The day pack I used in South America didn’t turn out to be durable. The fabric broke, the zip broke and our back always got sweatier than with the bigger backpack. I’d bought it in a supermarket to use it as a gym bag; so it wasn’t supposed to get promoted to a hiking day pack in the first place.
Fast forward a few months, and here I am in the need of a good day pack. So I did my research. I want a day pack that is 20-30 litre and has a lot of options to strap things outside. I love having additional space to pack outside of the backpack.
This 22 liter Deuter Speed Light (for women) seems like an ideal day pack: pockets on the side, pocket in the front and pockets even on the hip strap! Here’s the Deuter Speed Light men version that is 2 litres bigger compared to the women’s. Who knew that women packed less stuff?!
You might be wondering whether it’s important to get a backpack specifically for women or men. These bags are designed and built taking into consideration the anatomical differences in genders. So their support system is more efficient. My very first big backpack was designed for men and I found it constantly uncomfortable.
What campers need
Light sleeping bag
When we went on our backpacking trip, we didn’t plan all accommodations in advance. Since we Couchsurfed a lot –where bedding is sometimes unavailable– and planned to camp every now and then, a compact and light sleeping bag was essential for us.
Specifically for this trip we bought a double sleeping bag to warm each other, like this King Solomon double sleeping bag. We find it so romantic! I also have a single sleeping bag, like this Big Agnes comfort but pack small sleeping bag that I use when travelling alone or when camping with friends. It’s perfect for the great outdoors.
A tent is not necessarily an essential equipment for backpacking trips; it depends on what sort of accommodations you’re planning to choose. I absolutely love camping and we were really toying with the idea of bringing our own tent to South America. Finally we decided against it, as it would have been more of a hassle to carry it all the time for the few nights we’d spent in it. Luckily, we managed to borrow tents on occasions and had lifetime experiences such as our wild camping trip in Argentina.
There are a handful of items that I think one shouldn’t save money on, and tent is one of them. A bad, not enough water resistant tent can really turn your beautiful camping trip into misery.
We have a 4-person tent where we comfortably fit with all our backpacks. I prefer the easy shapes, which I can build up with closed eyes. In fact I did, I mean I sometimes had to build a tent in the dark. Check out this super simple and economical ALPS Mountaineering weatherproof, dome shape tent that packs to a regular size.
Solar charger for phone and camera
If you’ve been on a multi-day hike or at places where there’s no electricity outlet available, you know that feeling when your phone or camera gets to the last percentages.
To avoid those sad moments when your (phone) camera is off power and cannot take any more picture of your epic trip, gear up with a solar charger, like the Powertraveller Extreme Solar Charger. It works even with a small daylight, is super small and can be attached to your backpack to charge up while you’re hiking.
Pair this handy charger with an international travel adapter.
Clothes gifts for travelling friends
These hiking boots are made for walking
I think good hiking boots are the second most important accessories for a good backpacking trip (after an excellent backpack), and in general, for a walk in the nature. Badly fitting or poor quality boots can ruin the hike; instead of enjoying the scenery, you’ll be occupied with the pain or discomfort in your feet. So they’re probably the best gifts one can give to friends going travelling.
In my opinion the most important features of good hiking boots for multiple terrain are: waterproof, middle height, sturdy sole.
I’ve been wearing my Salomon boots for 10 years, and I can only recommend this brand. Check out these Salomon mid-high women boots for multiple terrain, or these women’s Salomon mid-high mountaineering boots with attachable crampons that you can use even for snow walk. Salomon has also men boots for multiple terrain including glacier.
Fleece for when the chill bites
Temperature can seriously drop in the nature or after sunset, and that’s when a warm fleece will come in handy. We used ours a lot more times that we expected in
warm and sunny cold South America!
I must say that my favourite models fully zip up and have an elastic band at the end of the sleeves to stop the wind blowing in. (Yes, I’m freezing all the time!) Of course, a nice colour is a must, since I often wear it without a jacket.
I am a happy owner of an amazing fluffy North Face fleece without hood. Another one has thumb holes for even more protection from the wind, a feature I just love. Check out this similar model for women with a hood from Patagonia – it comes in nice colours!
Actually, my ideal fleece would be a mix of these two styles. Just like this Kuhl Flight Fleece made of a fluffy but durable fabric, with thumb holes and a hood!
For men, we highly recommend this warm, technical Marmot hoodless fleece in deep blue, or this beautiful hooded fleece from Arcteryx; that can serve as a soft shell too. Both are perfect for hiking, so great gifts for your adventurous friends going travelling.
Hiking trousers against tearing
On our trips we find it important to wear proper hiking gear. Why? The durable textile is more resistant to tearing, absorbs sweat and rain, and dries quickly. Once I hiked in my leggings (it was an unexpected hike) and they ended up with a rip! Anthony used to hike in his jeans; when it rained, he spent the rest of the day soaking wet.
When it comes to hiking trousers I have both short and long pairs with high waist (so I’m not freezing). Check out this pair of The North Face hiking pants for women with big pockets, available in multiple colours. For your male friends going travelling, these Craghopper convertible and super lightweight pants would make good gifts. They have large useful pockets. Think about the things you need to have readily at hand when you’re hiking.
T-shirts for hikes or sporty activity
One of the best gifts for an outdoorsy woman is a hiking T-shirt made of synthetic fabric, which absorbs my sweat and it dries fast. Columbia’s Bryce Peak for women ticks all the boxes, and is available in classy black or fun turquoise.
For men, our choice is Outdoor Research’s technical hiking t-shirt, in similar fabric type. Long sleeves are also good to have, because they provide extra protection against mosquitoes and other insects. They are so comfy and they’re the best gifts because they make me think of going travelling with my friends!
Keep all your travel clothes sorted in a couple of practical packing cubes.
Wool long-sleeves to keep you warm
I wear my hiking long sleeves not only when I’m hiking, but also when it’s just a bit cold but I don’t want to wear something bulky. These pieces function as light wind stopper, absorb water well and keep the body warmth.
My absolute favourite long sleeves are from Icebreaker, made of merino wool. Merino wool is a type of sheep wool produced mostly in Australia, the finest and softest available today. So it’s mostly used for next-to-skin garment, such as high quality base layer for hiking and winter sports. You buy it once and will keep it for years!
I really like the colour and neck finish of this blue Icebreaker 200 long-sleeve for women available in different colours. The men’s Icebreaker 200 long-sleeve even comes with thumb holes. Icebreaker clothes are marked with a number, like 150, 200, 250: the higher the number, the warmer the garment is. I have a 200 and a 250 long-sleeve but for most of my hikes I find 200 just perfect!
Rain jacket to make you unstoppable
Have you noticed that it rains on every holiday? Well, maybe not on every single one, but even in places where we wouldn’t have expected. Like in South America. Despite the common idea, it’s not always sunny and hot, so our rain jacket came in very handy… many times.
My criteria for a rain jacket: light weight; foldable to a small size; and can be worn as a normal jacket as well (so with a certain thickness).
That’s why I fell in love with my North Face rain jacket with DryVent technology. Check out these beautiful North Face women’s rain jackets – my favourite colour is the Galaxy purple – and North Face rain jacket men’s version in colours like sky blue and grass green!
Smaller gifts for friends going travelling
Green Mochila readers know that travelling responsively is very important to us. Having a water bottle is the number one requirement for a responsible traveller; the very first eco accessory we took on a trip several years ago.
Imagine not having to buy bottled water, and still enjoy the drinkable tap water or filtered tap water from your accommodation! To value the drinkable tap water like we have in Europe was one of the important lessons of our South American trip.
It’s good to get a well-sized bottle, so even on a hike you have enough. My bottle is 0.8 litre (800 ml) and I’m very happy about it. The cap should be easy to open but close properly to avoid leakage.
My favourite design comes with a narrow piece at the mouth that makes it easy to drink on the go. It’s the case on this Nalgene 0.7 litre water bottle made of hard plastic. Bring the water bottle with you every time you go out: city sightseeing, hikes, when hitting the road or chilling in a park.
A water filter comes in really handy in countries where tap water is not drinkable. No matter if you are out hiking or touring the city, a water filter will significantly simplify your life. You won’t produce any plastic waste from buying bottled water; you don’t need to worry about finding a shop every time; and you will save money!
We had a water filter on our multi-day hike at Choquequirao, Peru and it was a life saviour because the water wasn’t drinkable. We didn’t have to carry around litres of water, which would have meant a significant extra weight. I’m sure you know what I mean! We just needed to refill it from the tap or from springs on the fly.
We had a bag type of water filter, such as this 2 litre filter kit from Platypus. But there are even handier bottles with built-in filter, such as this all-time favourite LifeStraw filter bottle that comes in 22 fl oz (0.65 litre) and multiple colours.
Usually the question is whether to have a hat or a headband. I’m a complete headband fan! Those who have read hiking articles on Green Mochila (such as our waterfall chasing hike in the hidden Chapada Diamantina National Park in Brazil) often see me wearing my beautiful pink headband on pictures.
For me a headband is pure practicality: it protects my ears from the wind; it covers my scalp and helps to avoid sunstroke; it’s a good strategy on bad-hair days; and it functions as a scarf when not on my head.
Since it touches delicate skin, it’s important to choose a comfortable, sweat absorbing material with UV filter, like this unisex royal blue Mountain Hardwear headband.
If we mentioned hiking boots then we need to mention hiking socks too as essentials. Anthony actually didn’t believe in having hiking socks, but trying a pair out convinced him.
No surprise that my favourite brand is Icebreaker here too. I really like the fact that I can wear a pair more times without washing; the thick fabric absorbs sweat and odour too. And because of the merino wool, it’s nice on the skin. Here’s a pair of Icebreaker hiking socks for women, and one for men.
I bought a very colourful belt bag in Buenos Aires. It turned out to be one of the most useful travel accessories on the trip. They might look cheesy at home, but I swear that your friends will be grateful if they have it as gifts when they’re going travelling!
Even a simple and inexpensive piece is perfect for holding cash, credit card, phone, tickets, tissues and whatever small items you have in an easily accessible place. You can also wear it high at the waist and hide it under your shirt in risky places.
Check out these unisex turquoise or black REI Co-op Trail 2 bags! (Anthony says that turquoise is not unisex, but don’t mind him.)
First aid kit
For adventure trips such as hikes and road trips, or for travels with kids, a first aid kit is essential. Injuries can happen on travels, but having the proper tools can save the situation and might prevent later issues. Fortunately we haven’t had any serious injuries yet. But we met fellow travelers who told us horror stories of fractures, sickness, bleeding and so on.
A great option is this small beginners’ first aid kit from MyMedic, a family company who started their business after a personal loss. The size is really compact so you can keep it in the car or fit it in your backpack. If you are on a hiking trip with limited space, choose this mini first aid kit specifically designed for hikers.
What do you give a traveller?
What do I give a traveller? I have a few friends who are always going travelling, yet sometimes I still find it hard to choose gifts for people who love to travel. Although it’s quite natural to discuss travel gear between travellers, making a bigger purchase without knowing if that friend will like it or not is risky.
Luckily our affiliate partner REI has a good return policy. Or if you rather leave the choosing to your travelling friends, you can always buy a REI gifts card to get going freely.
My most successful travel gifts so far were: hand luggage sized backpack, day pack, water bottles and hiking socks.
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