Graham holding Helinox chair

Gifts for people who live in small spaces

Have someone on your gift list who lives in tight quarters? MEC staffer and rock climber Graham lived in a van with his wife Kim for almost three years, so we thought he’d be the perfect person to chat with about gift ideas for friends and family who live in small spaces.

Graham and Kim lived in their “Millennium FalcVan” while climbing and travelling from the west coast to the east coast of Canada… and then back again and down to Mexico. During that time, they both ticked off some big accomplishments, including their first 5.14a/b routes.

“Because our van is such a small space, any gift needs to be practical or get used often or else it’s just taking up very limited space.” – MEC staffer Graham

While the person your gift list might not be living #vanlife, there’s a good chance they’d appreciate these space-saving gifts that fit with teeny studio apartments or life on the road:

1. Small but mighty coffee maker

The Aeropress Coffee & Espresso Maker is a compact way to make real coffee, crema and all. Awesome for anyone who needs any available counter space to chop food, not to store coffee machines. “The Aeropress is my go-to for coffee,” says Graham.

2. Bowls that don’t take up space

Ultimate Survival collapsible bowl

Ultimate Survival Collapsible bowls are handy because they don’t break and they collapse down to a flat sphere for the apartment-dweller who’s also a camper or traveller. “Plus,” says Graham, “they’re super easy to clean.”

3. Rumpl blanket

Rumpl old growth blanket

They’ll be just as happy to cozy up with a Rumpl blanket on their couch as they will in their van or camping chair, so it’s always in use. Lots of colours to choose from, but the Rumpl Old Growth Blanket is especially nice.

4. Folding furniture

“We don’t have a van we can stand up in, so a short packable chair is great,” says Graham. “It’s low to the ground so you don’t bang your head when you’re sitting, and you can also pack it up and stow it out of the way.” Try the Helinox Chair One – it folds into a small package that someone could stash in a drawer when they’re not using it outside.

5. Compressible pillow

Thermarest collapsible pillow

A packable pillow is a little luxury for people that like a few creature comforts when they’re camping or travelling. Bonus: all the different patterns and colours mean these pillows also look decent tossed on a couch in a small apartment, which means they never need to get stored… they can always be in use.

6. Yeti Tundra Cooler

If you do know someone spending a chunk of time on the road, a quality cooler, like the Yeti Tundra Cooler, is key. Graham says, “A really good cooler means you don’t need to keep replenishing ice every day. Make sure it isn’t going to leak – it’s no fun when you have a water leak in a small area. One time the water popped off our water jug and sprayed up the walls and into the insulation. It took days and days to dry.”

7. Portable games

A portable boredom buster. “A guy we met on the road had this simple game called a Kendama, basically just a ball on a string with post,” said Graham. “You can just spend hours playing with this thing and it takes up no room. If you’re travelling or living out of a van, it’s a nice game to pass time, especially in winter when it gets dark early.”

8. Lantern that fits in your pocket

Black Diamond Moji lights are awesome,” says Graham. “We usually used them more around camp, because we use solar power in the van, but a lot of people don’t have solar power hooked up to their van, so these are perfect.” Apartment dwellers sometimes need their outdoor gear to be small enough to fit in a drawer.

9. Yeti Rambler Colster

Graham holding Yeti Rambler Colster

Okay, it might not be the most compressible coozy out there, but that’s what makes the Yeti Rambler Colster so useful when you’re on the road: it keeps beverages crazy cold for a long time (refreshing when you’re travelling in hot locations).

10. Do-it-all booties

Chilly basement suite? Cold cabin floor? “Hut booties are nice when it’s chilly,” says Graham, “and vans are not warm in winter.” They also do double-duty for ski or camping trips, so your giftee can have a space-saving one-slipper quiver.

11. A tiny camp stove

“In the van the Jetboil takes up such little space. Plus it makes coffee really quick,” Graham says. Since it’s about the same size as a 1L Nalgene water bottle, it’s also ideal for hikers and campers on your list who have more of a gear cabinet than gear closet.

11. Wireless speakers

The Goal Zero solar speaker pairs wirelessly up to 10m away (with direct line of sight) to power the soundtrack for life in studio apartments, vans and cozy park get-togethers with friends.

Final words of advice from Graham for anyone sharing a small space with a partner? “You have to learn to not let the small things get to you, because there are often no other rooms to retreat to. If something comes up, you have to figure it out instead of letting it stew and become something bigger. We have a rule that we can’t go to sleep mad.”

If you’re looking for even more gift suggestions for small spaces, check out our blog post on the best camp gear for small apartments.

Missy Shana
Missy Shana

A social media specialist, Seinfeld-quoter who repeatedly travels vast distances for good food. Has probably creeped your Instagram profile.