Two men hike up steep talus slope above sea, with climbing rope
Two men hike up steep talus slope above sea, with climbing rope (Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

The Best Father’s Day Gifts Money Can’t Buy

Because spending time together is more important than buying new gear

Two men hike up steep talus slope above sea, with climbing rope

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Go Climbing Together

Professional climber Matt Wilder suggests doing some homework to find a climbing area where you can set up two routes with top ropes right next to each other. It's easy to climb together, but having the chance to communicate during the climb is the real treat. You'll need to do the research to find the right spot as well as enlist the help of a couple of friends to belay, but we think this decidedly unique perspective on the climb and the bonding factor are well worth the work.

Go Birding

Full-on birding isn't for everyone, but a taste of the pastime makes an excellent introduction to natural history. If dad isn't a birder, pick a bird before heading out, choose a spot to look for it, and place a wager on who sees it first. Do your research and make sure it will be a sweetheart, but hedge your bets by picking a bird you have a good chance of finding. Binoculars are key. As an introductory pair, we suggest the 8X42 Nikon Monarchs.

Get Lost—In a Good Way

Professional ultra-distance runner Timothy Olsen's would like to get lost somewhere in the woods, set up a base camp to hike out of and watch his 10-month old son Tristan take it all in. “Kids can sit there and play with a rock for hours. It is inspiring to see that,” Olsen says.

You don't have to have a young child to enjoy the simplicity of an impromptu camp out. Let people know you are heading into the wilderness, pack your ideal car-camping or backpacking kit, go somewhere new, and check out. You don't have to need to make a big expedition out of the trip—just end up somewhere new. Ideally get completely off the grid, but wherever you go, put away your cell phones.


First off, you know your dad will be proud. If you want to get outside, go maintain a trail together. Both your local outdoor retailer and nearest REI will have a bulletin board with suggestions. Totally lost on where to start? has over 15,000 volunteering opportunities for you to peruse. Volunteering takes the pressure off of the day being all about you or your father and will give you plenty to talk about.

Thoughtfully Telecommute

Boulder, Colorado, based polar explorer Eric Larsen's father, Andy, lives in Wisconsin, and the two will not be able to see each other this Father's Day. Both are photographers so they plan to shoot focusing on shapes and compare their pictures online this Father's day. If you aren't into photography, just translate Larsen's plan to whatever creative pursuit you and your father share.

Plan an Epic Ride

Obviously, plan the difficulty of the ride around your dad's health, age, and badass factor. Just make sure the ride you choose breaks boundaries. You can also sign up for a ride like the Copper Triangle which is in August and tough, but doable with training. While catching up with your father over beers is nice, catching up to him on Vail Pass is better. And besides, you can talk about the climb over beers afterward.

Go Rafting—Without the Guide

Rent a raft, get on some mellow whitewater, wear a lifejacket, and figure out how to navigate it together—just the two of you. It's going to force you to work together. Will Volpert, owner of Indigo Creek Outfitters and Class V R2er, suggests seeking out a 12 foot raft, sitting in the center of the outside tube of the boat, and—most importantly—communicating.

“You should definitely agree on a form of communication before you push off,” Volpert says. Tandem inflatable kayaks have a relatively smaller learning curve, but you can't fit nearly as much beer in them.

Build a Fly Rod, and Hook a Fish

“If you buy a kit and assemble it, it's not like you are starting from ground zero,” says Meiser Fly Rods production manager, Keith Lyons. “The cool part is that you do feel like you are.” Researching classes at local fly fishing shops is a good place to start.

If you want to go full DIY go to where you can find all of the materials you need as well as instruction books like Fly Rod Building Made Easy. Lyons says it will take a first-timer eight to 10 hours to build a rod, but don't be overwhelmed—you only need about six different materials.

Taste Booze

Wine, beer, or liquor—whatever your dad is into take him on a tour. If you are lucky enough to live in Portland, Oregon, we suggest Brewcycle where you can actually drink and bike safely. Alcohol is something you can debate on a tangible as well as philosophical level—all with the benefit of a few drinks as a social lubricant.

Learn to Tie Flies

We suggest this with a caveat: give yourself plenty of time to learn. “Learning how to tie a fly well is actually ridiculously hard,” says Jefferson Flywater Guide Service owner Ryan Allred. Tying flies is a tactile skill so we suggest you take a class rather than try to teach yourself from a book. When you have learned down, or if you're already an experienced fly tier, we suggest challenging your father to tie four flies then create a fishing derby with them on Father's Day.