Grandparents, friends, secret Santas, least-favorite Aunt’s: we know you mean well. You want get us a good Christmas present and you know that we like hiking, but you don’t know what to get. Instead you end up wasting money on a bunch of junk we will never use. Don’t worry though, we here at Lesser Places have your back. Because we want good presents. And we love you. But mostly because we want good presents.
5.) SWISS ARMY KNIFE
You know what is great? The idea of a single tool that can do everything. You know what is terrible? A tool that actually tries to do everything.
Exhibit A is the Swiss Army knife. The blade can’t hold and edge, the tools are too small to actually do their jobs, and you end up carrying around a bunch of stuff you don’t need (a toothpick? really?). In real life it is better to have quality versions of the few tools you need (e.g., knife, pliers, maybe a screw driver) than bajillion tools shoved into the smallest space possible. Who would have thought the Swiss would come up with a hyper-engineered, overcomplicated solution to a simple problem?
Alternative that is actually useful: The formula for a good multi-tool is simple– use good steel and tools that you will use. The Leatherman Skeletool fits the bill.
4.) ARMY SHOVEL
When we dig a hole while hiking it is for one reason: to poop. We’re not sure how big your poops are, but we don’t need a trenching tool to bury ours.
Alternative that is actually useful: A reasonably sized GSI Outdoors Camp Shovel ($9.95).
3.) LOW CUT SOCKS
This is dangerously close to a good gift. Every hiker loves socks. Ask any of us about socks and we will reflexively word-vomit a dissertation worth of opinions on which specific sheep should get the opportunity to wrap our tootsies in their sweet soft fur. That being said, one kind of sock makes us upset: the low cut sock.
There is literally nothing a low cut sock does better than a higher cut sock. Personally we spend 99% of our hiking time in boots, meaning useless low cut socks do nothing to protect our precious ankles from the inside of our shoes. Even if we hiked the tennies, the only purpose a low-cut sock would serve is to make us look cooler. Too bad we won’t be looking very cool after the stupid socks you gave us falls below the shoe-line and our achilles is growing a blister the size of a small child.
Alternative that is actually useful: The best sock in the world, the Smartwool PhD Mid ($18.99).
2.) BIG MAGLITES
Imagine you are getting ready to climb a mountain. It is high. The trail is steep. There is probably some snow at the top. Just before you leave your hiking partner throws a pile of D batteries in your pack. Would you be happy with this person?
Well, that is exactly what you do every time you carry a giant Maglite. Don’t get me wrong, big Maglites serve a purpose (hitting bad guys), but on top of being heavy you have to hold them all the time, making trekking poles an impossibility. A nice, light headlamp is a better option.
Alternative that is actually useful: A headlamp, like this Black Diamond Revolt ($46.00), that recharges using your phone charger.
1.) LITERALLY ANYTHING FROM THE WALMART CAMPING SECTION
Unpopular opinion amongst the blog-insita here, but we love WalMart. It’s cheap, we’re poor, and Target is full of people who are just rich enough to look down on everyone else at Target.
That being said, the camping section of WalMart is a nightmare. Yes, the WalMart tent might be a lot less expensive than the one at REI, Cabelas, or BassPro but it is false economy: a $30 WalMart tent will last a trip or two while a $150 tent can last a lifetime. The only reason to find yourself in the WalMart camping section is convience. However, if you need this kind of one-stop shopping just do us both a favor and get a gift card to a real outdoors store.
Alternative that is actually useful: Gift cards.
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Max Wilson is a graduate student studying ecology at Arizona State University. He write here at Lesser Places, occasionally for Backpacker.com, and even more occasionally for scientific journals. You can follow him on twitter @maxomillions.
Mark Golab is a hiker, backpacker, and cubicle jockey whose hobbies include listening to the Kornheiser Pod and hoping his fiance’s cat doesn’t kill him in his sleep. You can’t follow him anywhere because he hates social media.