Let’s face it: gift-giving can create a LOT of waste. For people like us who are hyper-conscious about waste and our own environmental impact, it can sometimes be tough to think about the best way to give and receive gifts. Luckily, there are several creative ways to give meaningful, memorable gifts while also minimizing waste. We partnered with REI Used Gear to create this guide to the most practical, sustainable gifts for environmentalists and climate-conscious folks that can reduce their impact on the environment.
Staple Gifts for Environmentalists
Reusable Shopping Bags
Reusable tote bags are a popular way to reduce the use of plastic or paper disposable bags at the store. It’s also one of the easiest gifts for environmentalists. We’d recommend spending a little more to get a higher-quality bag that won’t rip or break (thus creating more waste).
If you’re looking for something budget-friendly and lightweight, The Packable Tote by United By Blue is one of the most affordable gifts for environmentalists on our list. We love United By Blue because they clean one pound of waste from the ocean for each item sold. Win-win!
For something a little more sturdy and multi-use, we love the United By Blue Convertible Caryall Bag because it packs down small and can be used as both a tote and a backpack.
Insulated Water Bottle
There’s nothing like the feeling of having fresh, cold, clean water at your disposal, and an insulated water bottle is one of the most useful gifts for environmentalists. We use and love Hydro Flask insulated water bottles because they keep liquids cold for several hours, meaning we rarely ever are without cold water on long hikes or paddling trips. Plus, your loved one won’t ever need to buy those pesky plastic water bottles again!
Reusable Lined Coffee Cup
If your loved ones are as addicted to coffee as our team is, they’d probably be very grateful for an insulated coffee mug that will keep their cup of joe warm for hours. Our go-to coffee mug is the Hydro Flask Coffee Mug – an insulated take on the classic mug style that comes with a lid. This way, you can help your loved ones reduce consumption of disposable coffee cups without having to sacrifice their beloved morning pick-me-up.
Collapsible Food Storage
One of the easiest ways to reduce plastic consumption is by avoiding disposable food storage solutions. When we’re on the go, we love using Stasher Food Storage Containers because their silicone construction makes them easy to use, store, and pack away. These storage containers come in lots of different sizes, from very small 18 oz containers to 100+ oz mega bags.
Another easy way to reduce disposable waste is by always carrying reusable utensils! We like the Sea to Summit Delta Cutlery Set as one of the best budget gifts for environmentalists because they’re small, lightweight, and come with a clip-on carabiner for easy portability. We simply throw these in a backpack, fanny pack, or purse for easy access on the go, and we never have to worry about using disposable cutlery while traveling.
Portable Trash Sack
One of the most fundamental principles of Leave No Trace and outdoor conservation is to pack everything out that you bring in. The Sea to Summit Trash Sack makes this easy because you can simply clip it onto your backpack and use it as an on-the-go trash can while hiking or camping. Moreover, if you see additional trash or litter while out on the trails or in the park, you can do your part to pick it up and pack it out too.
Upcycled Gifts for Environmentalists Who Love the Outdoors
One of the absolute best ways to reduce your environmental impact is to buy used gear and sell or trade your old gear so someone else can potentially use it. REI has a fantastic Used Gear store where members of the outdoor community can buy returned items at greatly reduced prices. (If you want to know more, here’s how the Used Gear process works!) Within each listing, you can see the general condition of the item(s) you’re buying, so you know how worn each item will be when you receive it.
We enjoy shopping for used gear and gifts on REI because the items are typically in good, usable condition, and still have a lot of life left in them! Plus, we feel better knowing these items won’t end up in a landfill or in the ocean somewhere instead. This section covers some of the best gifts for environmentalists you can typically find on REI’s Used Gear shop.
Tents & Camping Gear
Anyone who has gone camping before knows that the costs of camping gear can really add up. Between tents, sleeping bags, sleeping mats, and clothes, you can easily spend a small fortune on the right gear to explore the outdoors.
However, if you’re looking for great, sustainable camping gifts for environmentalists in your life, there are tons of great items for sale in the REI Used Camping Gear store. They have a great selection of gently used tents, sleeping mats, sleeping bags, and equipment at excellent prices.
If you love to ski, snowboard, or simply play in the snow, the REI Used Snow Sports Gear is a perfect place to find various gifts for environmentalists who love the winter. Here, you can find used winter clothes, ski boots, snowboard boots, and other equipment and gear that can otherwise cost a TON of money new. Check out our guide to the best gifts for skiers & snowboarders for some additional ideas on what to give the winter lovers in your life!
Pro tip: Check in the off season (spring and summer) for the best deals on snow gear!
Hiking Boots & Gear
If it’s time to buy a practical, sustainable gift for the hikers in your life, REI Used Hiking Gear store is a great place to start. Hiking boots and clothes can be expensive if you buy them all new, but purchasing them used will save you money and help give great gear a new life! REI Used Gear always has a huge selection of hiking boots & shoes, as well as clothes and other gear suitable for day hikes or overnight backpacking trips.
Cycling Shoes & Gear
If the environmentalist in your life is also a cyclist, you’re in luck! REI Used Cycling Gear offers excellent discounts on cycling gear and clothing. You can find especially good deals on cycling shoes and packs – there always seem to be lots of these in the Used Gear store in fantastic condition. Whether your loved ones are avid cyclists or simply want to try it out, there are tons of great options in the Used Gear store.
Climbing Shoes & Gear
For avid climbers out there, the REI Used Climbing Gear shop is a great place to help your favorite climate-conscious climber upgrade shoes or other gear. There are TONS of options – especially for shoes – available in the climbing section of the used gear shop, ranging from beginner to advanced climbing shoes. Other types of equipment, like backpacks and ice picks, are typically available as well.
General Fitness Gear
For everything else that doesn’t fit neatly into one of the other categories. on our list, the REI Used Fitness Gear shop is a great place to look for gently used gifts for environmentalists. Here, you can find all kinds of clothes and shoes that are great for exercising, walking, running, or going on easy to moderate hikes. We love perusing this section of the Used Gear store to find great deals on clothes and shoes.
Trade in Used Gear for REI Gift Cards
If you’re on a budget but are still looking for a great way to offer the perfect gifts for environmentalists to your family and friends, you can send in your own used gear to REI in exchange for gift cards! Here’s a summary on how the trade-in process works, but essentially you can send in any items back to REI and get gift cards based on the condition of the items. You can then re-gift these gift cards or use them to buy things for your loved ones! This is a great way to recycle used gear AND give awesome gifts from REI at the same time.
Books for Environmentalists
A Year in the Wilderness: Bearing Witness in the Boundary Waters by Amy & Dave Freeman
For those who love nature and exploration, A Year in the Wilderness: Bearing Witness in the Boundary Waters by Amy & Dave Freeman is an excellent memoir about a couple who spent a year in the wilderness of the Boundary Waters in Minnesota as activists against a mining operation that was planned for the area. This book is an in-depth look at their experience exploring this pristine natural area, and a call to action about why we need to protect these wild spaces.
Grinnell by John Taliaferro
A look into the life of one of America’s most influential environmentalists, Grinnell by John Taliaferro tells the story of George Bird Grinnell. During the age of Manifest Destiny, Grinnell was concerned that the rise of industrialism would destroy the beautiful nature spaces and wildlife habitats around the USA. This book details his work and quest to protect some of the most scenic and beautiful places in the county, and what it took to convince the people in power to comply.
The Field Guide to Citizen Science by Darlene Cavalier, Catherine Hoffman and Caren Cooper
The Field Guide to Citizen Science by Darlene Cavalier, Catherine Hoffman and Caren Cooper is a field guide to helping scientists understand what’s going on in the world by participating in science experiments. This is one of the most unexpectedly great gifts for environmentalists because it shows how individuals like you and me can have an impact on scientific discoveries for years to come!
Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer
Combining indigenous wisdom with modern scientific findings, Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer is a look into what nature – especially animals and plants – can teach us. This book explore different kinds of plant and animal species and what secrets they hold that can impact humanity, from the eyes on an indigenous botanist, Robin Wall Kimmerer. Any environmentalists who want to gain. anew, profound appreciation for the planet and its living beings will find Braiding Sweetgrass a rich and moving read.
Here at Urban Outdoors, we love exploring the intersection between cities and nature, and Nature Obscura: A City’s Hidden Natural World by Kelly Brenner is an excellent book to learn more about the hidden elements of nature hidden in developed areas. Based largely in the author’s home city of Seattle, she explores the often overlooked wildlife, plants, and landscapes in her area, and how alterations in the land for cities and homes have impacted and changed the environment nearby.
Other Clever Gifts for Environmentalists
Looking for a hiking-friendly backpack that’s aslo super sustainable? The Cotopaxi Batac Del Dia Backpack is one of our favorite pieces of hiking gear on the planet – it’s made 100% from recycled and post-production ripstop nylon and other materials to bring you a one-of-a-kind backpack that’s made of various colors and fabrics. Not only are the materials super sustainable and environmentally friendly, but these packs are also designed to be packed down or rolled super small. Our CEO loves this pack so much, she owns two of them!
Want to ensure you have safe water anywhere without having to resort to disposable bottles? The Lifestraw Filtration System is one of the simplest and most fantastic gifts for environmentalists because it provides a portable water filter. Instead of buying disposable water bottles, you can simply use this straw with any water source for clean, drinkable water. If you prefer the filtration system in bottle form, the LifeStraw Go Filter Bottle is an excellent option as well.
Made from biodegradable materials and tree rubber, the all natural Manduka eKo Yoga Mat is an excellent choice for climate-conscious yogis anywhere. We’ve used this mat for all of our yoga activities for years and it’s still almost as good as new! The 5mm tree rubber construction provides ample grip and the dense, natural materials make this mat durable and stable during any practice. If you’re looking for a more portable option, the 4mm eKo Lite is another wonderful option.
Forget complicated coffee setups with disposable cups! Our favorite, environmentally friendly coffee brewing kit is the AeroPress Coffee Kit. Light, portable, and sustainable, this coffee maker creates strong coffee on the go with ease. A favorite with hikers and backpackers, we love that the filters that come with the AeroPress are compostable/biodegradable, and that this system is super easy to clean after use. If you want to avoid the use of paper filters, there are also several reusable mesh AeroPress filters you can buy as well.
Straws are one of the easiest disposable items to replace, and one of the most budget-friendly gifts for environmentalists is the United By Blue Reusable Straw Kit. With two metal straws, a cleaning brush, and a silicone straw tip all wrapped up in a portable case, this kit enables sustainable sipping for two on the go! We love this simple gift because it’s affordable (under $20!), thoughtful, and plastic-reducing!
For lights that work well for camping, hiking, or backpacking, we recommend the MPOWERD Portable Solar Lights. These camp lights work 100% on a solar rechargeable battery so you can use them anywhere there’s sunlight! Easily clip these little lanterns onto a bag or backpack to charge during the day, then light them up at night. If you prefer a little more ambience, there are also MPOWERD solar-powered string lights available.
One of the coolest ways to ensure you always have power on the road is by harvesting solar energy. Goal Zero Portable Solar Panels are a big investment, but they make off-grid travel and living possible with solar energy. We like Goal Zero products because they are portable, integrate seamlessly, and require little technical knowledge to get set up. Note that you will need to connect the solar panels to a Goal Zero battery pack, like the Goal Zero Sherpa power bank, in order to use the solar energy from your panels!
The clothing industry creates a lot of waste that ends up in landfills and oceans everywhere. When we shop for clothes as gifts or gear, we always try to opt for sustainable clothing. Whether it’s made from post-consumer recycled fabrics, or supports causes like ocean cleanup and atmospheric carbon reduction, we like opting for brands we know are aligned with our values of environmentalism, conservation, and climate protection.
Outdoor Adventures & Experiences
If you’re going to give a waste-free gift, why not give an experience instead? We love opting for experiences over things when we get the chance, and there are tons of great gift ideas for environmentalists that don’t require buying material things at all! Plan a hike, a kayaking trip, or a camping excursion near your city, or go big with an amazing bucket list outdoor trip like the ones on REI Adventures. By gifting an experience over an item, you’ll create memories with your loved ones that will last a lifetime.
This post was sponsored by REI and written by the Urban Outdoors team. REI’s Used Gear store is a great place to buy secondhand gear in fantastic condition at greatly reduced prices, and we love reducing our environmental impact (and saving money!) by buying our outdoor gear used and trading in our own used items. While we did partner with REI to create this content, all of the opinions and recommendations within this article are 100% our own.