Best $50 gift for someone who loves camping?
November 11, 2015 10:42 AM   Subscribe

In my family secret santa exchange, I have been chosen to buy a gift for my sister who is a 31-year old lawyer, married with no children. She loves to go tent camping with her husband, usually at drive-in (rather than hike-in) camp sites. I would like to get her a camping-related gift that is awesome but which she is unlikely to already own.

She definitely already has the basics (tent, sleeping bag, air mattress, camp stove, etc.). What is something I can get for her that she may not have known she needed? The budget is $50, though there is some wiggle room on that. (And, yes, I will include a gift receipt.)
posted by 256 to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (27 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
The Luci lantern is a big hit every time I take it camping. Get two!

Pie irons are fun.
posted by The corpse in the library at 10:55 AM on November 11, 2015 [7 favorites]

We recently discovered these inflatable, solar-powered lanterns and they're kinda awesome. When not inflated, they're flat and take up basically no space.
posted by rtha at 10:55 AM on November 11, 2015 [7 favorites]

Solar light. They make pretty, sitting things that are good for night lights, by now should have reading lights. Also take along phone chargers, those sticks you charge before you go and hold a couple of phone charges. or a hammock with bug screen.
posted by Oyéah at 10:56 AM on November 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

Campfire pie iron.

They make great grilled cheese sandwiches, and lots of other things. You open it up, put in two pieces of bread with cheese (or anything else) between them, close it again and stick in into the coals of your campfire.

For $50 you can get two.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 10:59 AM on November 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: This is not the thing you want to hear but the absolute best $50.00 gift you can get for a camper is a $50.00 REI gift card.

Seriously. Imagine if this question were "my sister likes to play guitar. What's the best effects pedal I can get for her?"

Without knowing what sort of music she likes, what sorts of sounds she prefers, whether she likes analog or digital stuff, whether she prefers sliders or knobs or touch screens, it's impossible to say and no matter how great a suggestion might be from someone, it could very easily be wrong or just something she already has. An electronic tuner would be a good gift, sure, but most guitarists probably have one already. Or maybe they prefer a clip-on tuner. Who knows?

Camping gear is a very personal thing. People value different things in their gear. Even something that seems simple to a non-camper, like a headlamp, has a million different options. Maybe she likes to stargaze and would want one with a flip-up red lens, or maybe she likes cold weather camping and wants buttons she can press with gloves on. Just getting her a headlamp, any headlamp, risks getting her a headlamp that would never leave her house because it's... just wrong.

Hobbies are tough. People often have what they need or they're picky about what they want. People outside of that hobby, though well-meaning, very rarely choose the right things.

Sorry to sound harsh and bitter and no fun, I'm just an avid hiker/camper who has received countless gifts over the years, most of which was useless to me. Including pie irons.

But $50.00 to spend at REI on what I actually want? That's a great gift!

All that said, those solar powered inflatable LED lanterns suggested above are probably the single greatest piece of gear to come along since the Leatherman. If you don't want to do the gift card route, that would be one of your better options.
posted by bondcliff at 11:06 AM on November 11, 2015 [20 favorites]

Swiss Army Knife
posted by HuronBob at 11:07 AM on November 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

A hammock. Makes any campsite into a luxury pad, assuming they came somewhere with trees (and not, like, the desert).

REI has a few within your budget but you'll also need straps for tying it to said trees.
posted by quaking fajita at 11:09 AM on November 11, 2015 [2 favorites]

if they're coffee people then an insulated camping french press is pretty great. We also use it to make tea. I couldn't find the one we have on REI's site but there are other options
posted by brilliantine at 11:18 AM on November 11, 2015

I, too, love the inflatable solar lights, and they are only $10 each on Amazon so you could get 5 of them!
posted by gingerbeer at 11:22 AM on November 11, 2015 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: This is not the thing you want to hear but the absolute best $50.00 gift you can get for a camper is a $50.00 REI gift card.

Oh, I am well aware of that. I'd rather receive cash as a Christmas gift as well, but that's not really within the spirit of our family gift exchange, and I'm happy to play along if it's what makes everyone else happy. To this end, I am hoping to buy something from MEC (Canada's version of REI) and include a gift receipt so that she has the option of taking it back there and essentially trading it in for a gift card. It's not quite as convenient as just giving a gift card in the first place, but it's the best option.

I suppose I could just go in and buy any old $50 thing, but I'd like to make it seem like a thoughtful gift and maximize the chance (however small) that she would rather keep it than return it.
posted by 256 at 11:29 AM on November 11, 2015

I would go with an insulated Coffee Press or this individual self contained one which I can recommend.

In case you haven't seen it, MEC also has a car camping subcategory which might give you some ideas.
posted by Snazzy67 at 12:05 PM on November 11, 2015

Could you ask her husband? My in-laws do a similar exchange and my husband is a bear to shop for, so every year whoever has him asks me what would be a good gift. If she camps with her husband, he probably knows what she has already and what she has her eye on.
posted by notjustthefish at 12:05 PM on November 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

I car camp.

I got one of these about 25 years ago.

Life changing.

The bag is icky, I never use it, but this is perfect for 'cat hole' use.
posted by bricksNmortar at 12:41 PM on November 11, 2015

I car camp. I really, really, really want one of those Luci lanterns, but they seem too expensive for what they are -- which would make them awesome gifts. I'd be super happy if someone gave me one of those.
posted by OrangeDisk at 1:55 PM on November 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

Oooh, I know! I do a lot of camping through the year: As long as your sis isn't a hiker worried about carrying everything on her back, you can't go wrong by getting her a couple of these Coleman Portable Deck Chairs. This is seriously the best camp chair ever: I love love love mine and even give them as gifts. People are always stealing my chair when we camp in a group. They fold up flat and though they aren't tiny, they're really light-weight (much lighter than most bag chairs) so they're easier to carry around the campground than bag chairs and super sturdy. That side table is really useful too and once she has one she won't know how she got along without it.

As far as other camping things I really like: If her trips are more than a couple days long she might need to wash clothes and this Mobile Washer with a 5 gallon bucket is great for doing laundry. Or she may really like to have an outdoor mat (search by "RV mat" or "patio mat") to put on the ground outside of her tent or in the tent. I camp in an RV and having this mat is a must outside our door so we don't track mud inside, but we have a lot of tent-camping friends that love these mats outside of their tent door. Or even inside, so if you're walking in the tent barefoot it adds a little cushion between your feet & the bumpy ground. The mats are super lightweight, water proof, and rinse off with a hose. Very handy.
posted by cuddles.mcsnuggy at 2:20 PM on November 11, 2015

I do more backpacking and motorcycle camping, but this year I added a Hobo Roll to my lineup and it really is the thing I didn't know I needed. It's a segmented stuff/compression sack, so you can divide up your clothes (one day's clothes per segment, or all socks in one - all long johns in another, or keeping your dirty clothes from your clean clothes.) It's a new product so the odds are slim that she already has one, and it's handier tan a pocket on a shirt.
posted by workerant at 2:35 PM on November 11, 2015 [3 favorites]

they're inexpensive, but you might try this camping fork and spoon set. key feature: the two can clip together to make an extra long handled spoon that's perfect for using with a pot or deep bag.
posted by bruceo at 3:24 PM on November 11, 2015

How about a nice plate/cup/bowl kit that stacks together and is super durable, and a little nicer than whatever they currently have? I was intrigued when I saw this set but thought it was too spendy at CAD$64.

I'm also very happy with this TINY ultralight backpacking stove that can be had for CAD$8 shipped. You screw it on top of your little fuel tank and you have a very serviceable way to boil water quickly.

People who car camp can be converted to hikers, if that is interesting, upgrading camping equipment to something lighter (thus easier to carry long distances) is a win. Titanium sporks? Cool Tools has some good reviews also for inspiration.

Oh. and everyone who camps should try using a headlamp instead of flashlights. Game changer.
posted by enfa at 3:25 PM on November 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'd go for a Snow Peak double-wall titanium mug. It's the ridiculous kind of thing you (well, I) would hesitate to buy for yourself, but would love to get as a present.
posted by gyusan at 4:42 PM on November 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

Nthing the headlamp and lantern suggestions. Headlamps are essential and soft-lit lanterns are a really nice luxury.

If you have any money left over, I get a lot of inspiration from hiking guidebooks. Something like "Best Easy Hikes on the Oregon Coast" or "Best Waterfall Hikes in Vermont" but specific to her area would probably be really appreciated. Bonus points for quirky guidebooks that might take into account her other hobbies (dog-friendly, local history, geology, hot springs, wildflower hikes, etc.).
posted by scrubjay at 5:16 PM on November 11, 2015

We do a huge group camp out every year and the most essential item is the Mr. Coleman coffee maker our friends bring-works on the Coleman stove. Basically, anything that gives you good coffee camping is top of my list.
posted by purenitrous at 6:04 PM on November 11, 2015

The most ooh+ah-eliciting camping thing I've seen in the past few years is those inflatable solar camping lights people started suggesting early in the thread. I think they strike a good balance: they're not so personal that she's going to have a really strong preference about them (like chairs or other camping furniture or clothes), not so essential she likely already has them, and not so superfluous en mass that if she already has some it would be pointless to get her more.
posted by c'mon sea legs at 6:51 PM on November 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

If she already has a good LED headlamp, then maybe get a long hank of the ultra-light, ultra-strong cord called Amsteel. Buy it in 7/64" diameter (which is like 28 cents per foot at West Marine), and be prepared to show her a couple of animations or YouTube videos on how to splice loops in the end -- because the damn stuff will NOT hold a knot.

The good news is that splicing this stuff is a bunch of fun and only requires a sharp scissors and a long piece of thin wire (or, I suppose, some fancy splicing needle or whatever). It weighs virtually nothing and is incredibly strong, so if you have several lengths of it with you, you can string up clotheslines or lash up tarps even when the trees are way far off.

And if she already has a hammock, she can make her own Whoopie Slings with the Amsteel you give her. Cool, a new skill!
posted by wenestvedt at 7:32 PM on November 11, 2015 [2 favorites]

Also, topo maps printed on Tyvek -- like this set for the White Mountains -- are awesome. (I have one of the maps form that set, and I love it…once the noisy crinkling stopped, that is!)
posted by wenestvedt at 7:35 PM on November 11, 2015

For $50 I would go with a solar charger. I just got one as a birthday gift and loved having it with my on my last camping trip. Plus it is also nice to have at home in case of emergencies.
posted by amelliferae at 8:22 AM on November 12, 2015

Another vote for the inflatable solar lantern. I recently received one as a gift and took it out to a wilderness cabin last weekend, where it made a very nice area light. I'm planning on sending a couple as gifts to friends and family.
posted by Nerd of the North at 7:56 PM on November 13, 2015

I'm late to the game, but I wanted to add to this thread that I just received one of these, and it's amazing. Like the ultralight down jackets, but blanket sized.
posted by sweetmarie at 9:44 AM on December 10, 2015

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