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25 Must-Have Gifts for the Active Traveler


I love the holidays, but not just for the typical reasons.

I always look forward to the big feasts and celebrations with friends and family. And of course I love fireplaces and tiny lights on trees. Those are all great. But the other big reason that I look forward to this time of year is... it Gear Season in the Paradox Travel household! Woot, woot! Being the Active Travel hounds that we are, and my husband being a professional landscape photographer, we both take gear purchases very seriously. So each year, I sit down and assess what we bought. I look back at what items we wore or used the most, what was worth the money and what items I felt like I could in good faith, recommend to other travelers. So below, you will find a list of these items that we both feel will make great gifts for anyone who loves travel, camping or van-life, or perhaps just for yourself.

Why not?

When we shop, we always look for good deals in everything we select. But after careful assessment of price, quality and our needs, we don’t always end up buying the cheapest brands. From our experience, some lower quality items just don't last that long. They wear down too quickly, don't stand up to rigorous use and we end up replacing them quicker than we wanted to. That’s not to say that every expensive brand is of high quality or that you can’t find real quality at bargain prices. But we use our gear and activewear like nobody’s business. It’s almost like a uniform some days. So it has to stand up to rigorous and repeated use, yet look good and be so comfortable that we can wear it around the house as well. If you follow Paradox Travel on Instagram or Facebook, you’ve seen the terrain and use that we’ve put out gear through this year: miles of alpine hiking, climbing via ferrate, wading through rivers in hail, rain and snow - we definitely put our gear purchases to the test.

So every year at this time, as we start the next years travel planning, we take a look at new gear purchases we have made or old ones that we find ourselves repeatedly using, and evaluate if we made good choices or not. There are both definite ‘winners’ and a few ‘losers’. Hey, we make bad choices sometimes just like you do. But since I am a positive reviewer, I am only going to tell you about all the great stuff we bought and used so much of this year. These are the items that we love so much that we feel compelled to pass it on to others.

To be clear,

there is nothing on this list that was given to us for free or to product test.

We paid for each item listed below with our own money.

So if it made this list? Then you can rest assured that its been used repeatedly, is loved and qualifies as one of our ‘Favorite Things’. You can see us wearing many of the items on this list in the gallery at the bottom of this post.

Some of the items are simple, inexpensive purchases and make great stocking stuffers. Others are generous gift items. But we know that each one will result in an ear to ear grin as you watch the receiver (or yourself) use or wear them repeatedly over the upcoming year. And aren't those really the best kind of gifts?

So here we go.

Paradox Travel's recommended Gift List for the Active Traveler

NOTE: All gear types that I have listed below are items that we have purchased and have found to be excellent. For shopping simplicity, I tried to find all the specific brands that I personally use on one site. If I couldn't find a particular brand through Amazon, I did some research and chose one that looked similar in quality and price. None of the listed items are brand sponsored. Recommendations come from our own personal experience. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. But there is no extra cost to you. So if you do find this blog helpful and decide to order any of the items on my list below I will get a small commission. However, my philosophy is ‘you get what you give’. So for every purchase made through these links, Paradox Travel will contribute 20% of the profit to one of the charities highlighted on our site. So not only does this facilitate the continued sharing of great travel tips and recommendations, but your purchase will contribute to something bigger than the both of us. Thank you.

For the Ladies

Let’s start here. I love to purchase gear that is functional, yet soft, warm, cozy and has several color options. And since my husband is a photographer, of course I also want to look good in case I end up in any of his photos.

1. A hooded down/'puffy' jacket (Eddie Bauer Downlight StormDown) – I bought this lightweight jacket almost two years ago and still love it. It's warm, but not too bulky. I can easily wad it up into a medium stuff sack. I got it in 'Peacock' green and love the color. This is the jacket I am wearing in the header photo in the first page of this blog site.

2. Hiking tights (Fjallraven Abisko trekking tights) – This was a big purchase for me. They were definitely a gear ‘investment’, so I took my time researching them. I can honestly say, its one of the best purchases that I made this year. I barely wear my traditional hiking pants any more. I love the reinforced knees and seat, they are stretchy, lightweight, yet warm and have pockets in some really strategic places that you wouldn’t think of. Plus they come in some non-traditional colors (mine are blue-gray) and the fit is flattering. Worth the money.

3. Waterproof/Gortex trail shoes (Asolo Megaton GV) – I ended up buying these in Iceland because I needed a combination of warm, as well as dry, feet. I typically don’t mind getting my feet wet, as long as my shoes drain quickly. But when 'wet' and 'cold' are combined? That’s when I love a Gore-Tex lining. This is the first time I've worn this brand of shoe. But they are super comfortable, have an agressive tread and work really well in snowy or wet conditions. I prefer low-tops but my husband likes the style with ankle support (see below under Men's section)

4. Sport sandals - ones actually made for women! (Taos Trophy) – These are hands-down the most comfortable, and stylish, sandal I have ever owned. I still own another brands river sandal. This other brand is durable, but the sandals are a bit bulky and quite honestly, not very feminine in appearance. I wanted a light-weight sandal with a molded footbed, one that I could hike in, but also wear with a cute sundress to dinner. This is it. I bought the 'Trophy' sandal in light gold reptile, so it has that sporty-feminine look. But they have several other super cute styles, all with great fit, and the molded foot beds that are amazingly comfortable. I am on year three of my first pair, with hundreds of miles on them. I keep waiting for them to fall apart to justify getting another pair in a different style. But so far, they just haven’t. Worth the money.

5. Wool sneaker-slippers (Allbirds) - my husband received these as a gift from a friend and it was love at first wearing. I hesitated for a few months until I saw how much he was using them and then I had to get a pair for myself. They are warm, super comfortable and can even go through the washing machine (air dry recommended). I like that they are a lace-up sneaker design because although I wearing them mostly indoors, they are hardy enough to wear outside, or to even run errands if needed. I wear them without socks and they are my go-to shoe for plane travel. In fact, I am wearing then right now as I write this, so that tells you something. We own the Allbirds brand. But if you like to shop through Amazon, this alternative brand looks very similar and has a similar price.

6. Hanging travel kit (Tumi Voyageur Monaco) – This really is a "Must Have" for any traveler. I've owned other brand name kits and none can beat this Tumi bag. It's sleek and attractive and comes in several colors. The outer fabric wears well and it always looks clean. And when it comes to functionality, Tumi really thought this one out. I love all the see-through zipped compartments for products, as well as the detachable section at the bottom. My husband owns the men’s version ‘dop kit’ and loves his (see below) as much as I love this one. We take them with us on every trip, plane, van or camping.

7. Fingerless gloves with mitten top (Thinsulate Igloo Sentry) – I own about a dozen different kinds of gloves, all for different temperatures and activities. But the ones I wear the most often for warmth and function, are these gloves. They are cozy, warm and soft and I love that I can easily use my camera but simply flipping the top back for a moment. Great buy.

8. Pom beanie (Eddie Bauer) These are very popular these days and come in a ton of colors. I bought this one and love the weave and the folded brim. You can see me wearing it in many of my travel photos as well as my Instagram profile photo. It keeps me warm and I don’t look like a guy (as I sometimes do when I’m wearing my fleece beanie) There are also many other brands and types. But I think it makes an affordable gift that will get used a lot.

9. A backpack actually designed for a woman’s body (Osprey Auro 50 AG) – I’ve gone through a lot of packs. But I bought this one last year and I can honestly say it’s the most comfortable one I’ve worn. It's lightweight, but roomy and has a nice padded waistbelt and lots of features, pockets and places to make custom adjustments. I am 5’9 and have a long torso, so the medium fit me. If you are unsure, do what I did: go have yourself fit at a local gear shop and then order it online (but if they can match the online price or beat it, give the local shop your money, they work hard for it)

10 – A synthetic down jacket (Northface Thermoball) – Although the hooded down I listed above is my go-to for everyday lightweight warmth,I prefer synthetic down like this one in wet or damp weather. It's lightweight, stuff-sac packable, dries faster and is wind resistant without being bulky. I have owed one made by Go-Lite for more than seven years and still love it. But since this company is no longer in operation, the one in the link is a close comparison. But in all honesty, I haven’t tried this exact brand.​ My recommendation is for the gear type in general. But I do like all the bright colors that Northface offers.

For the Dudes

My husband is a gear hound too, but admittedly shopped less than I did this year for clothing. But the items that he did buy, I see him wearing all the time. Which means, it was a great purchase and he loves it.

11. Hiking pants and shorts ( PrAna Stretch Zion). My husband can’t say enough about these hiking pants. Once he found them, he never bought another pair. He found the shorts too and loves them just as much. In fact, every time we pass a outdoor store in any town we go through, he checks to see if they have a pair in another color. What he loves most, aside from the flexibility of the performance fabric, is the abrasion resistance and water repellency. Great buy.

12. Performance Pullover (Arc'teryc Delta Light zip) – My husband bought this item because of the comfort and feel of the fabric. It's a great lighter weight layer. He wears it a lot around the house as well for light travel.

13. Mid-weight hooded layer (Arc'teryc adahy hoodie) - This one is a more active performance layer. Again, my husband loves the feel of the fabric and says its incredibly comfortable. In addition, when hiking, he now prefers using the hood from this middle layer for extra warmth and wind protection, over use of a beanie.

14. Lightweight hooded down jacket (Arc'teryx Cerium LT) - This I consider an investment piece of gear. But if you look at how many times you see this jacket in our personal photos below, you can see it gets worn a lot. My husband loves the fact that's light-weight, yet warm enough to be worn independently in cooler weather or as a layer under his Gore-Tex outer jacket in colder temperatures. Plus it comes in some great colors for men.

15. Waterproof/Gore-Tex hiking boot (Asolo Falcon GV) – This is the men's version of the same shoe I have (see review above) but in a high top boot. My husband likes the ankle support, the rugged sole and the forefoot flexibility.

16. A lightweight, packable waterproof rain jacket (Marmot Minimalist Pac-Lite) - I am still am rotating through several jackets that I own and at this time, can't honestly select one to recommend for the ladies yet. But my husband loves his jacket. And as you can see in the photos below, he wears it a lot.

17. Travel bag/Dop kit (Tumi Alpha 2) - I loved my kit so much that my husband had to get one for himself. That’s the ‘married effect’ I guess. This is a slightly different style, which he prefers because of the large zipped side pockets. But the quality is stellar and this kit can take a beating. He uses it religiously. Worth the money.

18. Camera backpack - for hiking (Manfrotto MB Off Road Hiker Backpack, 30L) – If you have a photographer in your life who has been searching for a hiking backpack for his camera equipment, this is it. My husband really likes this pack because the waist belt and suspension makes it very comfortable for all-day hiking. He also loves all the separate compartments for his lenses and it even has a place where he can pack his drone. It comes with a rain cover and tripod attachment. If you have any more questions you want to ask before you make your purchase, contact him at Nic Stover Photography.

19. Camera backpack - everyday use (Lowepro ProTactic 450 AW) - My husband also owns this pack and uses it most frequently as an everyday pack for his camera and drone. While the Manfrotto pack is more comfortable for shoots that require longer hikes to access, the Lowepro is his go-to pack for plane travel and short-distance shoots.

20. Packable duffle – This is a terrific, yet inexpensive buy that we made while traveling, simply because we bought souvenirs and had no room in our main luggage to get them home. Now, we plan ahead and always pack it with us. It’s also perfect for when you do an overnight stay somewhere within your trip, and don’t want to haul in your bigger bag or pack. I love that it folds up and takes so little room in your suitcase. We bought the Columbia brand but I think you can't go wrong with the brand found here. Plus, it has a lot more color choices.

If you are looking for something different...

21. LED book light (Lumio) – This may seem like an odd item on our list. But we bought the original Lumio brand Wireless LED book-light several years ago after seeing it showcased on the television show 'Sharktank'. We love it. It folds and stores like a book, is cordless and rechargeable and can be used in some many ways. We took it with us on our van road trip and used it ¼ way open for less light, completely open (360) and hanging from the ceiling or canopy for full light, as well as many positions in between. If the Lumio brand is out of stock, this one looks like a less expensive version. But we’ve haven’t tried it ourselves yet.

Must-Have stocking stuffers

22. Portable baggage scale – Every traveler must have this! No more standing on a scale with your bag and subtracting your weight. This little gadget has saved us so many times from that embarrassing look at the ticket counter, when the bag comes in over weight. Get one. You won’t regret it.

23. Stainless steel re-useable water bottle (S'well) – We’ve tried other less expensive brands and they just did not function as well as the S'well bottle. From our experience, the other brands just didn’t keep liquids as cold, or as long. If all you need is a re-useable metal bottle, then those cheaper options will fill that need. But for some reason beyond my understanding, the technology used by S'well really does what it says: keeps cold liquids really cold and hot liquids really hot, for longer, regardless of outside temperatures. Plus they come is a lot of great colors and designs. We now own two 24 oz bottles and are planning to purchase the shorter, wider mouth version to use for coffee.

24. Stainless steel drinking straws – Learning to minimize single-use plastics is all about creating a new habit. And new habits are made easier when your solution is portable. I love these because it comes with its own carry case and brush cleaner, so it can easily be stowed in a purse or backpack. Smart buy.

25. Technical head scarf (Buff) – you can never have too many of these versatile essential pieces! Now that they come in so many designs, location and country representations, I collect them. I notice that many other brands are producing copy-cat versions of this infamous head wrap. But we only have experience with the Buff brand and have loved them over the years. This item can be folded and worn in many ways, offering warmth and wind protection as a headband, beanie or neck gaiter. Great buy. Essential piece of gear.

Happy Shopping! Reminder - 20% of all purchases made through the links in this blog are directed to one of our listed charitable organizations.

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