10 Ultralight Stocking Stuffers for the Trail Trash in Your Life

From tiny pocket knives to freeze-dried foods, these ultralight-friendly gifts are best presented in a sub-1-ounce merino sock.

Photo: trendobjects / iStock / Getty Images Plus

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Many of us have a loved one who deeply worries us. Maybe they’ve started cutting perfectly good toothbrushes in half “to save weight.” Maybe they’ve started wearing shorter shorts, stopped carrying toilet paper on the trail, or started identifying as “trail trash.”  

While you may be tempted to interpret these antisocial behaviors as shameless cries for help, rest assured that they are merely symptoms of an incurable but mostly benign disease called “ultralight hiking.” If you have an ultralighter in your life, you might find yourself feeling frustrated—not only by their moralistic harping, but by how impossible it is to shop for someone who identifies as a minimalist. 

But, hey. If you can’t beat them (or join them), you might as well add fuel to the fire. Gift these 10 items to enable your loved one’s strangest and most obsessive ultralight habits. 

1) Extremely tiny toothpastes 

The ubiquitous travel-size toothpaste is fine and dandy, but it’s not nearly as exciting as its smaller cousin, the sample-size toothpaste. Most often found in airline and hotel toiletry kits, these tubes contain just 5g of product and are perfect for a fast-and-light weekend trip. They’re also heartbreakingly adorable. 

You can order sample-size tubes online, though most purveyors are based in Europe or Asia. Some dentists’ offices also carry them. If you go in for a cleaning between now and the holidays, it’s worth asking what’s available. Need a shorter lead time on shipping? Try these refillable tubes instead.

2) A shiny new zip-top bag

Boring? Maybe to a suburban house husband. But to an ultralight hiker, there’s nothing quite as thrilling as a new zip-top bag, its sleek and transparent sheen representative of all the hope and promise the future might hold. Will it become a toiletries kit? A wallet? A storage receptacle for ramen noodles? A containment vessel for used toilet paper? The possibilities are endless.

If you feel a little lame stuffing a stocking with something you already had in a kitchen drawer—well, your feelings are invalid. Still, if you want to go the extra mile, you could purchase a lightweight, reusable zip-top bag for the trail trash in your life instead. (Just don’t take it personally if your loved one keeps on using a disposable sandwich bag.)

3) A knife they will certainly lose

At just 1.6 inches long, Spyderco’s ridiculously small Bug Stainless Steel is one of the smallest camping knives we’ve ever used. The blade is sharp and reliable, making it perfect for trimming cord, slicing cheese, and cutting gear patches every time a flimsy silnylon tarp or wind shell decides to tear. If your loved one doesn’t drop it on the forest floor and immediately lose it forever, it will serve them well for decades to come. 

4) Halves of things

Want to give your gifts a home-crafted touch? Buy something moderately useful—say a comb, toothbrush, or foam sleeping pad—and then cut it in half. Your loved one will appreciate that you’ve already done the work for them. Bonus: If you have two ultralighters in the family, you can give one half to each. Though, be warned that folks are generally less pleased to receive the back half of a toothbrush.

5) All the pockets

There’s nothing ultralighters hate more than a backpack covered in pockets. Paradoxically, there’s nothing they love more than purchasing after-market pockets to cover themselves with instead. Stuffing your loved one’s stocking with shoulder-strap pockets, water bottle sleeves, or a swanky Hyperlite hip pack will show them you care about their organizational fanaticism, even if you don’t quite understand it. 

6) Sharp scissors

If your loved one is a true ultralighter, they may have some strange habits with regards to chopping up their gear (see: “Halves of things,” above). Enable them by providing them with the right tools for the job. A sharp pair of scissors will allow your dirtbag relative to cut out clothing tags, unnecessary backpack straps, and excess lengths of shoelace pre-trip.

7) Horrible food

Ultralight hikers tend to favor such delicacies as Honey Buns, Pop Tarts, and most foods involving cheese powder. These meal options may not be vitamin-rich or even delicious under normal circumstances, but they meet a much more important nutritional requirement: a high calories-per-ounce ratio. Fancy ultralight food items like freeze-dried chicken or salmon jerky make nice gifts, but Hostess products tend to be a little more on-brand. (Shopping for someone you actually do care about? Consider pairing your family-size box of Honey Buns with a jar of multivitamins to encourage balance.)

 8) Single-serving condiments

Lightweight backpackers are notorious for raiding the local Panda Express for soy sauce packets before hitting the trail. Save them the trip by gifting a selection of travel-size condiments this season. Honey packets, teeny Nutella jars, tiny Tabascos, and miniature bottles or packets of olive oil are all big hits.

9) A bulk order of Ibuprofen

Nothing says “I love you” like expressing concern for the inflammation in someone’s lower extremities. Keep your gifting practical by purchasing some single-serving Ibuprofen packets, which fit beautifully in a DIY ultralight first aid kit. Or, for more humor value, purchase an XL-sized 1000-count jar of Vitamin I instead.

10)  Clinical-strength deodorant  

Love isn’t always about accepting someone as they are. Sometimes it’s about compromise. If your ultralighter’s post-hike odor is interfering with the closeness of your relationship (and we mean, literally, how close you’re able to get to them without gagging), consider a thoughtful and potentially insulting gift of clinical-strength deodorant. Happy holidays!    

From 2022