Updated in 2020! Finding the right gift for a backpacker is hard. Their load needs to be light, and they don’t want to carry around anything they don’t need. But never fear, I’ve got your back! Here are 10 actually useful gifts for backpackers, as chosen by… an actual backpacker.
The problem backpackers have with stuff is, obviously, they have to carry all of that stuff on their back! What starts as a loving memento suddenly turns into an Evil Lead Weight From Hell when you’re trudging around with your pack for too long in extreme heat.
But that’s not to say that all stuff is evil! There are some things I’ve accumulated over the years that have actually been useful throughout my travels (weird, huh?). In the spirit of:
- Saving backpackers from being weighed down with useless stuff
- Saving gift givers from spending money on useless stuff
- Making everybody happy
… I’ve put together a list of actually useful gifts for backpackers that you can reference this capitalist holiday season… or any time you need to buy the love of a beloved backpacker. Read on for some great gift ideas.
Some actually useful gifts for backpackers and travelers
- Portable power bank
- Aeropress coffee maker
- Colorful bluetooth speakers
- Waterproof money belt
- Travel insurance
- Compact, retractible headlamp
- Leatherman multi-purpose tool/knife
- Kindle e-reader
- Noise reducing earbuds
- Gap year collection
- Steripen UV water sterilizer
- Shampoo and conditioner bars
- Insulated water bottle
Feast your eyes on my recommendations for useful gifts for backpackers! I promise that none of these gifts will disappoint… unless you or your beloved backpacker are ungrateful wretches.
I’ve loosely ordered these backpacker gift ideas by usefulness/how attached I am to them… but every backpacker’s needs are different. Check ’em all out, then decide which gift is best for you or your traveler!
1. A portable power bank – $41.99
This is, hands down, the best gift for a backpacker, and I’m not saying that just because I’m a blogger.
Unlike other power banks, this one by Anker lasts for approximately one million years. You can charge your phone on these babies more than five times. It’s kept me connected while dying in Tajikistan, saved me from losing my friends in a massive religious festival, and kept Google Maps an option as I motorbiked across Pakistan. And then some.
Never again will you have to worry about your phone dying before you can find the address of your hostel. Never again will you be without music on that sickly long bus ride. And never again will you need to fret if your GoPro dies mid-hike.
(You might, on the other hand, need to fret when you’re battling it out with travel companions over who needs to use the power bank more. I am very familiar with this struggle.)
- Perfect for: The iPhone photo-taking addict, hardcore Snapchatters, softcore mobile gamers
- No good for: The technology-free travel purist
Interested? Buy this portable power bank right now.
2. Aeropress – $29.95
Do you love coffee? OF COURSE YOU DO, COFFEE IS EVERYTHING! (If you’re a tea person, you should probably move to the next item before I get too manic.)
Good coffee makes for good days… but finding good coffee on a backpacker budget ain’t easy, and sometimes it’s downright impossible.
Caffiends, fret no more: introducing the Aeropress coffee press.
It’s light and won’t weigh you down. It’s small and easy to pack. It’s plastic and thus indestructible (trust me, I would know). You can even buy metal filters for it so you don’t have to generate paper waste.
Aeropresses are THE solution to making coffee on the road while traveling. I’ve tried everything, and I swear this is the best and most travel-friendly way to ensure you’ve got coffee everywhere you go. If you need coffee while traveling, you need an Aeropress.
- Perfect for: Coffee addicts, people who have resorted to drinking instant coffee out of necessity
- No good for: Tea people, people who legit enjoy instant coffee (heathens)
Do yourself a favor: buy an Aeropress now. Don’t forget a reusable metal filter!
3. Colorful portable Bluetooth speakers – $139.99
Music is life, amirite? Unless you’re deaf or filled with disdain for all things good in this world, you probably agree with me.
Headphones often suffice, but sometimes there are moments when you need to be marginally more inclusive of the people around you. That’s why portable speakers are the perfect gift. This bad boy from UE is waterproof, can get impressively loud with solid bass, and has a strap to attach to your backpack/shower head/tree/whatever suits you. I literally never pack my backpack without using it.
Speakers are perfect for setting a soundtrack for afternoons outside with new friends. Impressing your worldly backpacker date as you share discount supermarket snacks. Blasting your favorite guilty pleasures as you enjoy your first real shower in days. Or you can just use them to passive-aggressively get under the skin of that one asshole in the dorm who keeps drunkenly shouting at 5 AM.
- Perfect for: Audiophiles, sociable humans, people with taste
- Terrible for: People who will just use them to blast Skrillex all day
Sounds legit? Buy these colorful portable Bluetooth speakers now.
4. Waterproof money belt – $12.95
I won’t lie: I’m part of the cult of money belts. Unless you literally only ever wear maxi dresses, they are one of the most important things a traveler can have, cheesy as they may seem. I honestly think every backpacker should have a money belt, and that they are one of the greatest gifts you can give to a backpacker, though they might not know it yet.
A simple money belt protects backpackers’ passports and money from thieves and forgetfulness (most of the time), but what about….
(Okay, it probably won’t protect against tsunamis.)
A soaked passport is a destroyed passport. Get a money belt for your backpacker friend now.
- Perfect for: All backpackers and seriously sweaty people
- Terrible for: No one. Protecting your valuables is serious business!
Sounds useful? Buy a waterproof money belt now!
5. World Nomads travel insurance – $ depends
This one isn’t sexy. It’s not cool. You can’t wrap it in paper, hide it under a tree, tie a card on it, or coat it with cheap glitter glue.
On the other hand, nothing says “I care about what happens to you” (… or your stuff) more than getting someone travel insurance for backpackers, making this a near perfect gift for a cash-strapped backpacker. Parents, this is a great choice for your traveling child who is totally not paying for insurance and definitely buying beer with the money instead.
If “I care about you” isn’t your style, think of the moment when you can smirk and say “I told you so.”
- Perfect for: Friends and family that attract disaster wherever they go (like me!)
- Terrible for: People you don’t actually care about
Convinced? Invest in World Nomads travel insurance now.
6. A super compact retractable headlamp – $29.95
One of the rules of the universe is that the electricity will always be dead when you need it most.
Most of the time, you can feel your way around and live to tell the tale. That is until squatty toilets are involved. Let’s just say: friends don’t let friends use squatty toilets in complete darkness.
I’m in love with this wee little headlamp. Mostly because it saves my from gristly squatty doom, but also because it doesn’t get tangled up in the bajillion and one cables I have in my pack!
- Perfect for: Klutzes with a tendency to get tangled up in everything, OCD packers
- Terrible for: Backpackers traveling Europe. Europe was pretty set with electricity last time I checked.
Sounds handy? Get a retractable headlamp now!
7. Leatherman – $39.95
My best friend gave me a Leatherman for my 18th birthday. At first, I just played with the endless array of knives and pretended to be outdoorsy. That’s what it’s for, right?
But after traveling full-time for years, I’ve realized how insanely useful it is. I’ve used it to open cans, do DIY clothing fixes, cut branches for campfires, fix wobbly bus seats, and most importantly, open bottles of wine. Just to give you some ideas. It’s basically the classic backpacker gift.
- Perfect for: Hikers, MacGyvers, anyone that ever needed a pair of scissors/knife/screwdriver/anything ever
- Terrible for: Carry-on only backpackers
Interested? Buy a Leatherman right now.
8. Kindle – $99.99
Backpack space is precious… but books are precious, too. What do?
Sure, there are book exchanges in hostels, but experienced travelers know that most of the time those shelves are filled with crap John Grisham or Katherine Steele books. Hard pass.
Enter the Kindle! It’s light, can hold literally thousands of books, charges with the same cable as Android smartphones, AND you can illegally download books for it for free it opens up a whole new world of book acquisition possibilities.
If you’re an extra awesome gift giver, you’ll load a couple of travel-related books onto it, too.
- Perfect for: Bookworms, pretentious literary douchebags, introverts
- Terrible for: Illiterate people, fans of 50 Shades of Grey (don’t encourage them)
Desirable? Get a Kindle right now!
9. Noise-reducing earbuds – $45.99
Travel is a cacophony of sounds—people hawking their wares, the honking of motorbikes, music playing on the streets, travelers chatting, the local lingo.
… and sometimes that cacophony is really freaking annoying.
As wide and wonderful and thrilling as the outside world is, sometimes backpackers just need to shut it out for a moment of peace and quiet and/or some bonding time with their favorite album. Noise-reducing earbuds are perfect for just that, but many a time they’re forgotten from the packing list until it’s too late.
I promise you—these are one of my favorite purchases in the last few years. You should’ve seen my meltdown when I lost my first set on a bus in Pakistan. I actually have a set of Sony wireless noise reducing earbuds, but I prefer the (now lost, RIP) Taotronics earbuds… and they’re cheaper.
- Perfect for: Anti-social trolls, music aficionados, people that generally hate the outside world
- Terrible for: Tech-free purists
Ya feel me? Buy noise reducing earbuds right now.
10. The Tinggly Gap Year Collection – $229
In the name of not overloading people with stuff, here’s a great and mostly intangible gift. The Tinggly Gap Year Collection is a gift box allowing you to pick from 600+ experiences all over the world.
From canoeing and wild camping in Ireland to bungee jumping at Victoria Falls and cooking classes in Morocco, the box is basically stuffed with experiences that your beloved backpacker can choose from. You know what they say about blowing your money on experiences, rather than things.
- Perfect for: People with a sense of adventure, people who don’t like deciding what they want until later
- Terrible for: Miserable materialistic bastards
Sounds useful? Get the Tinggly collection right now.
11. Steripen water sterilizer – $81.99
We all know plastic water bottles kind of suck… but when you’re backpacking around the world you can’t exactly fill your bottle from the tap everywhere you go!
… or can you? I travel with a Steripen UV water sterilizer that allows me to clean (clear) water no matter where it’s come from. I’ve used it to sterilize water from a puddle while trekking (it was a dire situation) and I didn’t get sick. This little machine is freakin’ fantastic, and a must have if you want to travel without leaving a toxic trail of plastic behind you wherever you go.
- Perfect for: Hikers, people heading to unhygienic locales, responsible folks
- Terrible for: People backpacking in countries where tap water is squeaky clean, people who love strangling the planet with plastic
Want to stay healthy? Buy a Steripen on Amazon now.
12. Shampoo and conditioner bars – $15.99+
These bars changed my life. Not in an I’ve found myself! kind of way, more in a thank the shower gods, I’ll never have an oh-sh*t-my-shampoo-exploded-in-my-backpack moment again kind of way.
Rather than carrying around bulky, spillable bottles of shampoo and conditioner, backpackers can carry these tiny bars instead. They look weird, but they’re easy to use. Shampoo bars you rub to make a lather, and conditioner bars you rub along the length of your hair. If you’re feeling snarky, you can also use them as a platform to brag about how plastic-free and ~*sustainable*~ your life is to other travelers.
- Perfect for: Environmentally conscious travelers, people who sit on backpacks often
- Terrible for: Filthy souls
Seems clean? Buy Shampoo and conditioner bars today.
13. Hydro Flask insulated water bottle – $37.99
“You should get this insulated bottles! It’s the best bottle ever!” my best friend insisted years ago.
“Paying more than $10 for a bottle of water is BS.” I insisted.
… yeah, I was wrong.
I’ve taken this Hydro Flask water bottle everywhere (as you can see), and I begrudgingly admit it’s pretty much the sh*t. It keeps cold water cold even when it’s boiling hot outside, and I’ve used it to carry hot tea for hours while hiking in cold mountains.
In short, it’s a magical fluid transporter that will keep any backpacker’s morale up even when the weather is trying to kill you. Oh, and it’s not plastic.
- Perfect for: People tryna cut down that plastic use, anyone who values cold water on a hot day
- Terrible for: Literally no one. Stay hydrated, y’all.
Love fluid? You should. Buy a Hydro Flask insulated water bottle now.
Annnnnd those are my recommendations for actually useful gifts for travelers and backpackers! Is there another item you really love, or another perfect gift for backpackers you think people would find useful? Let me know in the comments!
Yay transparency! The links in this post are affiliate links. That means if you buy any of the products using my links, I’ll earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. Never fear, I actually use and/or want all of these things. I hate crappy gifts just as much as the next person.