Top photo: Outlandish as it may seem, this 19th-century multitool from the Smithsonian, above, is actually pretty incredible — albeit utterly useless.
There are 1,001 gift guides out there. But whatever you do, avoid these common bad outdoor gifts.
I get it. With so many gear and gift options for the outdoorsy, it can be nearly impossible to know what to buy. So instead, let’s talk about what not to buy.
For every quality outdoor brand, there are a dozen or more knockoffs peddling cheaply made gear that either doesn’t work or isn’t actually useful. Remember, just because it’s unique doesn’t mean it’s good. Take this thing, for example:
See? So while you scan the countless digital and real aisles, please — please — avoid these terrible, horrible, no good, very bad gifts.
5 Bad Outdoor Gifts
I see this a lot: Someone who isn’t outdoorsy picks up a multifunctional, fit-in-your-pocket tool from the checkout counter impulse buys. Bad move. First off, your best bets for multitools are found at REI, Cabela’s, or any number of independent shops — not dangling on a hook next to chapstick, Tic Tacs, and Applebee’s gift cards.
Here’s a good rule of thumb: If you wouldn’t put it in your pocket, odds are nobody else would either. Believe us, we’ve tried it. This isn’t to discourage you from buying a multitool — by all means do; they’re great gifts.
We recommend Victorinox Swiss Army, Leatherman, Gerber, or another reputable brand.
To be fair, cotton is great for many things. And lots of people, us included, love it. But we almost never use it for our outdoor pursuits. And for good reason: When it’s wet, it stays wet (and cold) and it doesn’t stretch (it tears).
Whether you’re looking for base layers, activewear, or socks (please buy us good socks!), cotton is not the way to go. Instead, look for synthetic materials mixed with elastane for stretch, Cordura or Dyneema for workwear, or wool (we all love wool).
Looking for some good ideas? Do shop for Smartwool, Icebreaker, Patagonia, or Mustang Survival base layers. And for socks, check out Darn Tough, Farm to Feet, and Wigwam.
Almost Any Travel Mug
If you’re looking for a good side hustle to make some extra cash next year, why not consider launching a line of travel mugs? After all, you can buy them at virtually every gas station, hardware store, and secondhand shop in America for less than 10 bucks. That’s because any off-brand mug is made to be easily lost, broken, and replaced.
But the outdoorsy person in your life doesn’t want to replace their mug. They want to have it with them on every adventure from now until the end of time.
Stick with Stanley, YETI, Hydro Flask, Klean Kanteen, or a select few others. Those will last basically forever and be treasured additions to an outdoor recreation collection.
Survival Kits (or almost any ‘kit,’ for that matter)
In theory, these are a great idea. In reality, most curated “kits” for any specific event come loaded with low-budget doodads the recipient will never use. I once opened a festival camping kit that included a tarp, a few squares of toilet paper, burn gel, and some condoms. In my wildest dreams, I cannot fathom a series of events in which my needing those items turns out well for me.
More importantly, most outdoorsy folks have most of what they need to survive (and enjoy) many activities. Your goal should be to ask what they don’t have that they will actually use.
If you’re set on a kit, we recommend looking at a Cairn Box for a selection of quality outdoor products. Or check out any Adventure Medical Kit, available at REI stores.
Anything With ‘-in-1’ on the Packaging
This is a toughie because more and more products aim to solve multiple problems at once. Unless we’re talking about a good pocket multitool (see above) anything that’s trying to perform multiple tasks decently rarely accomplishes any one task well.
Thirty-two-function keychains, 27-in-1 backpacks, hammocks that are also ponchos — none of them carry the Patagonia, Black Diamond, or The North Face name. And there’s a reason.
So instead of potentially blowing it, we recommend just asking your loved ones what they want.