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Gifts for the Nature Explorer

Written by Rhonda Ferree, retired horticulture educator

Every year I try to provide ideas for those of you who are searching for the "perfect" gift for a gardener in your family. This year I thought I'd focus instead on the nature explorers, though most are also gardeners.

As the state Master Naturalist program coordinator for University of Illinois Extension, I travel all over Illinois training Master Naturalists. Part of my orientation program includes recommendations for gear and accessories to use while exploring natural areas. Many of these would make great gifts.

My usual attire while hiking is a hat, sturdy shoes/boots, pants that zip-off to shorts, and a shirt with built in sun protection. The addition of a vest with lots of pockets for accessories also provides another layer on a cool day. And, quality rain gear is essential on a rainy day.

I carry a durable backpack or field bag to hold accessories that I find useful while hiking. My accessories serve the following four roles: hydrate, protect, reference, and document.

To hydrate, bring a refillable, environmentally friendly water bottle with a hook for hanging from a belt loop or bag. Bandanas also make great hydrators. On a cool day, soak a bandana in cool water and wrap it around your neck for quick cooling. Or even better, try one of the newer cooling wraps or towels.

Protection includes the obvious insect repellent, sunscreen, sunglasses, lip balm, and sanitizer. Some people also like to use gloves and a walking stick. If you are going to be out an extended period of time be sure to bring along snacks and first aid supplies. Finally a cellphone is a must in the event of an emergency – assuming cell phone is available where you are hiking.

My favorite hiking accessory is the reference material that I bring along. Depending on the location I might include a map of the area, a GPS device, hand lens, and binoculars. As a plant geek I always bring along a wildflower and tree identification guide, though I sometime use apps on my Smartphone instead.

Finally, bring along resources to help you document your trip. The obvious choice is a camera, though phones are getting better and better at this too. I like to carry a notepad since I like to write down my thoughts about what I see and feel. Many folks like to carry check lists to document the birds, butterflies, dragonflies, and such that they encounter along the trail.

You might also consider putting together a nature creativity pack to use on nature walks. Fill a backpack with crayons and paper to do nature rubbings, children's nature books for entertaining rest stops, a sketch pad and pencils to draw what you see, and so on.

Happy shopping! Oh, and if you are the outdoor explorer, cut out this article, highlight the items you want, and leave it in an obvious spot for your loved one to see and get the hint! View my YouTube video on this topic at



As horticulture educator, Rhonda Ferree inspired citizens in local communities to grow their own food and improve their home landscapes. She focused on high quality, impactful programs that taught homeowners how to create energy-efficient landscapes using sustainable practices that increase property values and help the environment.

After 30 years with University of Illinois Extension, Rhonda retired in 2018. She continues to share her passion for horticulture related topics as “Retro Rhonda” on social media.

ILRiverHort is a blog that helps people connect to nature and grow.