tl;dr version: Gift Cards, Toilet Paper. (And repeating Tina Fey’s name enough in the hopes she’ll read it.)
Giving gifts to anyone can be a bit of a challenge. If a camper, canoeist or any type of outdoorsy person is on your list, it might seem a little more difficult, especially if you’re not one. Not to toot my own horn, but I have been known to get a few hits now and then, and I’m proud to say even the occasional home-run. The reason is that I use a few guidelines I’ve adapted over the years. While this has been written focusing on gifts for the outdoors person, I think you’ll find that these principals are universally applicable. I’ve also decided to focus on things you can get together relatively quickly and cheaply, assuming that if you wanted to buy something fancy you’d probably have an idea of what that is, and would have got it by now.
1 – Acceptance
Accept and remember this:
Giving gifts is about your intent and receiving gifts is about the thought behind it. What is given, no matter what it is, is the effort thinking about the gift’s receiver, not whatever the it actually turns out to be. In other words, if you’ve put in some thought to it, there’s no such thing as a bad gift.
GIFT CARDS are a totally under-rated gift, when used properly.
A hit might not mean your gift gets used, or displayed prominently or worn all the time. Leave it at that, and don’t be giving the person an obligation on top of your gift.
Learn from gifts. It’s an opportunity to find out more about the gifter and the receiver, but also what works and what doesn’t, present-wise.
Some people don’t accept gifts well. Whether there’s a materialistic reason or an appreciation standpoint, next time, get them a GIFT CARD – or quite frankly, nothing. Which reminds me….
Know to whom to give gifts. A pretty accurate rule of thumb is that if you feel you have to give a gift, reconsider. If you want to give a gift, you should.
The same thing I constantly say about portaging is the same for gift giving: If you’re not having fun, you’re doing it wrong.
Apply those lessons and you’ll be amazed at how stress free the process can be.
2 – Shared interests
I very strongly believe that your gift to someone should reflect a common interest. After all it’s coming from you. It’s like two gifts in one, or a power-up, making your gift a little bit better. So if you’re not an outdoors person, consider finding another shared interest (keep reading for when to break this rule). If you are an outdoor person, then giving gifts should be easy, as you know the kind of gear they’d want and need. If you know specifically what they want, then you don’t need to be reading this. Then again, you may not know what they already have. An even better power-up to your gift would be to give the gift of doing something with them in the outdoors.
You know some things that every outdoor person uses often. Create a care package for next year’s trips with stuff like TOILET PAPER, rope, carabiners, etc.
Maps of places you’d recommend, that you know they’d like, or that you’ve both spoke about visiting.
Get a card and write in a tentative date and place where the two of you will be going.
Instead of a Christmas card, print out a picture of that place and write the details on the back (like a postcard).
A coupon, or coupon book detailing what you guys can do together. (This one’s lower on the list because it’s a bit over-done lately and runs the risk of seeming unoriginal. Besides, all the coupons for hugs I’ve given away never seem to get redeemed – I’m talking to you Tina Fey.)
GIFT CARD to a store you know that they’ll get something nice. Since you’re in the know, try getting one from somewhere a little less popular and specific.
3 – Avoid getting in over your head
Even if you know the person well enough, you might not know as much as them about their gear interests and preferences. If you’re not into the outdoors, or not as hard-core as your friend, you may be tempted to get them something you think they might like. But the problem is that you might not know what they have already or what they prefer (you’d be amazed at how many different types of the same gear there is out there). Sure, it’s the intent, but if you’re looking to get something that will collect some goodwill and less dust, try to avoid specific gear.
Since you’re not an outdoorsy person, here’s a list of some small stocking stuffers that support their outdoor pursuits: TOILET PAPER, first aid supplies, camp meals, batteries, waterproof matches, dry bags, stuff sacks, etc.
GIFT CARD – it turns into a gift from a knowledgable person, the receiver.
There are plenty of cross-over items that you can find that you might like or recommend that can be used camping. Think trail mix, granola bars, instant breakfast, instant coffee (though this would be the only stuff I’d personally recommend), or something else that isn’t food, like TOILET PAPER, for example.
Books are always a great idea. You can either find one on the outdoors, nature, instruction or how-to, travel guides, survival, anything really. In fact, most campers like to have a book or two on the trail, especially for those lazy, rainy days. Even an off-topic book will do in a pinch (like a biography for example), but in any case, look for small, light paperbacks as they’ll be carrying them into the woods.
4 – Make a statement
What does a gift really say? On face value, it says “I like you enough to buy you something”, or in the worst case “I’m related to you close enough that I feel I need to buy you something”. (I’m really not that cynical, seriously.) But you also have an opportunity to say something. If you buy some camping gear, you’re telling the receiver that you both acknowledge and support their pursuits. In other words, “I know you; I’m interested in your interests, and I want you to continue to have a great time doing them”. You’d be surprised at how good that makes people feel. Note however, that if you buy something that can or should be used by multiple people, the inference might be that you want to join them (and so if that’s not the case, be careful). If you really want to make an impression, don’t leave the receiver of your gift with the job of interpreting your gift. Get a card and write your statement.
Once again, stuff some stockings with the little things that show your support: TOILET PAPER, zip-lock bags, soap…
A compass, with a card that reads something along the lines of “Have fun out there, just make sure to come back home.”
Gift Card, inside a card that reads something like:
“To keep you paddling – and taking those great pictures.”
“Love your stories from the wilderness. Hope this helps making new ones.”
“I have no idea why you’d want to sleep on the ground in the middle of nowhere. Hopefully this might help make the experience a little more comfortable.” (Optionally ending with “You Weirdo”, depending on your level of friendship.)
Here’s a real novel idea: Why not give the gift of participation? If you’re not into canoeing or camping or portaging, but think you might like to try it, why not let your gift be an offer to go with you? Personally, I’d love this. I’m not sure why no one has ever thought to give me this – I’m talking to you Tina Fey!.
5 – Tell a story
Remember that time we all … Do you remember that crazy incident involving the … I was laughing the other day about the time we …
If you share a memory with someone from a trip or an experience with someone, why not make your gift a reminder of that great time you shared? Get yourself a card, write out something about that incident, and stick it to something you should have had on the trip, or that was used for something other than it’s original purpose, or that replaces something that broke, or even something that might prevent it from happening again. Don’t worry too much about the “thing” your giving, so much as the laughs and good memories (even if they weren’t so good at the time). Just think about that-thing-that-happened-but-you-can-laugh-about-it-now, and I’m sure something will come to you.
Some ideas (to stimulate your memory, but inspired by my own experiences):
Map, compass, book on orienteering or even a water-proof map holder to that someone who gets you or themselves lost. Another idea would be to get a topographical map of an exotic, far away location, insinuating that they (or in case they ever) get you or themselves really, really lost.
TOILET PAPER – for (or from) that guy who always leaves it at home, or worse, out in the rain.
Pepto Bismal – Maybe your friend isn’t a good cook. Maybe you weren’t on one eventful night
Aloe, balm, burn ointment, band aids – Someone get burned, cut or pass through (or misused) poison ivy?
Bug spray – You have to have a story about a bad bug trip.
Some kind of water-proof case – To remind you of that time you donated something to the lady of the lake.
Bear bell – Remember that time you spent a night huddled in the tent?
Squirrel bell – Same as a bear bell, but you have to re-label it (masking tape will do). Do you have a (or are you the) friend who thinks everything that makes a noise in the woods is a bear?
Gift Card – To replace something that broke at the worst time.
And for less funny and more sentimental, find a nice frame and put something (or a few things) in it:
Pictures of your trips together
Pictures of places you want to go
The permit from your last great trip
Make a story from a frame with a few spots (I don’t know the technical term for the frame spots. Photo holes?), in each tear off something flat from previous trips like a piece of a rain coat, used rope, that kind of thing.
Less outdoorsy and more of a novelty would be to print out a fake restraining order, like the one Tina Fey sent me. It looks pretty authentic too. She’s so funny.
Any of these things remind you of a little incident or funny story from last year’s trip? Get it, wrap it, then attach a card reminiscing.
7 – And finally, know when to throw out the rules
As you shop around to fulfill any of the guidelines listed above, you might come across something and be suddenly hit with the realization that you’ve found the perfect gift. If there’s no doubt, just get it. When you know, you know. And don’t forget, if you find something but it’s too late to get it, you can always get a card and include a picture of what they’ll eventually be receiving. You might seem reluctant to do this because of the impression of giving an IOU, but if you write up your intentions, you’d be surprised at how much that makes up for it. People like to hear you’re thinking about and care for them, and the empty gift might be just the excuse you need to express that.
Some other, random ideas:
Buy a large can of beer (or any other beverage that would be appropriate for the receiver like those big ice tea things), attach a card with this link: http://youtu.be/JoR5VI5QS1I – or choose from any other beer can stove instructions. Alternatively for a group gift, you can buy a six pack, attach a bow and a card that tells the recipients when to come over to help you empty and recycle the cans.
Order up a box of Altoids and include a link in the card on creating a survival kit. Alternatively, if you have the time, purchase all the items in the kit, and wrap them all separately. Make sure they open the altoids first, then the contents of the kit, then finally give them the card with the link.
Get a paddle sock (here or here) and wrap it like a scarf around a stuffed animal or other similar gift.
GIFT CARD ideas:
Canadian Outdoor Equipment Co. – Neat, unique outdoor items. (This card will make you seem like an outdoor expert, and can even be sent electronically.)
MEC (Mountain Equipment Co-op) – Practically everything an outdoor person needs, plus they have a policy that donates “1% of gross sales to environmental causes”.
SAIL – They also have plenty of outdoor gear to choose from, constantly having sales, but it also has an in-store or electronic version that you can even customize.
Canadian Tire – For all those little things I mentioned above, in particular, they often have deals on TOILET PAPER.
Bass Pro – Not my favourite store, but if you’re in a bind and need a gift card quick, you can buy these all over the place, and you can even get one sent electronically.
For my American friends:
Consider Rutabaga. They sell great stuff and you’ll be supporting small business as well as a fun business. This gift card is promoting an added benefit: “the person you give it to can shop any time, anywhere (as long as they have an internet connection) and they can be wearing anything they want!”
I hope you can use some of these ideas, or that they might spark some ideas of your own. Of course if you’ve got some better ideas, I’d love to hear them.
A particular hit I had this year was for a birthday/Christmas gift for the Portaging Niece. I’ve been trying to get her set up with her own equipment the last couple of years and thought it time to she had her own paddle. I contacted Fiona, from Badger Paddles, in hopes we could create a custom paddle made for a 16 year old girl. I wanted her name on it, and something else, though I didn’t know really what that was. Her (properly spelled) name is Saffyre Peace, so we talked about a gem or something blue (to represent “Sapphire”) and a peace symbol, but I left it with her to come up with something. I trusted her as she’s done a bunch of neat things in the past. Also, I have no creative or artistic talent, so I was kind of leaning on her to come up with something. What she did was amazing. First, she came up with a water-styled blue peace symbol on one side, and an Ambigram spelling out her name. If you look at it one way it spells “Saffyr”, but turn it over and it says “Peace”. (It’s a long story, but I’ve been purposely mis-spelling her name since she was born, over a dispute over how to spell her name. It’s now an ongoing, inside joke. Just as all the nieces and nephews call me “Uncle Pest” because of how hard it is for young kids to pronounce my name. The name’s stuck, and I even get called that by many people, even older, unrelated people.)
Fiona is very talented. She even had a personal touch, having me sign the paddle before it was oiled (“From Uncle Pest”), which I sweated over when doing it, filled with anxiety that my poor handwriting and lack of artistic co-ordination would ruin an otherwise amazing work of art. Oh, and if that wasn’t special enough, Fiona included a blue paddle necklace. I knew the Portaging Niece would love it, so I decided to get her reaction on video. In order to keep it a surprise, I tricked her, telling her I needed to take a video of my new paddles, but needed to work the camera. Her reaction is priceless.
If you haven’t viewed it already, see it at the top of the page.