Geeks are hard to buy for—especially if you aren’t one yourself. Here are some ideas to help out if you’re looking for a gift for your nerdy dad, husband, son, or significant other.
Buying gifts for any enthusiast is tricky. The classic example is a grandparent, knowing that their grandchild loves video games but not being particularly fluent in the current consoles, buying a game for the wrong one—the classic “here’s a game for that DreamCube you’re always talking about” predicament.
Sometimes, we find ourselves in the same boat with those well meaning grandparents. Consider that if you’re shopping for a Star Wars fan, they almost certainly already have all the movies, plus several action figures, most of the important books, and lots of other memorabilia. Whatever you find, odds are pretty decent that they either already have it, or have a better version. Working on this principle, we’ve selected gifts that are general enough that anyone should be able to enjoy them, no matter how extensive their collection of any particular niche happens to be.
Naturally, of course, all of these gifts can be given to women just as easily—and we wouldn’t wish to imply otherwise. But since the writer in this case is a guy who loves geeky gifts, we’re going to assert a bit of specialization in this particular article.
Gift Streaming Subscription ($10+ a month)
This one’s a bit of an obvious pick. But getting your guy a subscription to a streaming service that matches his interests is a sure-fire win, and he’ll be thinking about your gift for as long as it remains active. Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime are some standard choices, but depending on where your recipient lives, he might already be paying for at least one of them. Here are some other, more targeted streaming services that offer gift subscriptions:
Crunchyroll: an all-anime, all-the-time service, for the most dedicated fans of Japanese animation. Some shows even stream at the same time as they air in the original market, complete with subtitles. If your guy already pays for Crunchyroll, you can expand his streaming library with alternatives from Funimation or VRV.
CBS All Access: Pretty much the only reason to get this service at the moment is its exclusive showing of the new Star Trek: Discovery (in the US, at least—other markets can find it on Netflix). When he’s done with that, he can binge-watch old episodes of every previous Trek series.
HBO Now: If your recipient has cut the cable cord but doesn’t already subscribe to HBO’s digital-only offering, HBO Now makes an excellent gift. Whatever his particular interests, he’ll find a premium show to dive into, plus a rotating selection of Hollywood movies and original specials. Competitor Showtime also offers digital-only gift subscriptions.
Stargate Command All Access: Stargate isn’t exactly at the cutting edge of geek pop culture. But if you’re shopping for a fan of the older TV shows, this pass lets them watch every single episode of Stargate SG-1, Atlantis, and Universe (over 350 forty-minute episodes, plus the original Hollywood movie and two direct-to-DVD movies) and the new web-exclusive show, Stargate Origins. Not bad for a Jackson.
Pandora, Spotify, or YouTube Music Premium: If everything else fails, you can always give a music subscription. They’re generally cheaper, and you recipient will certainly be able to use it at some point.
Subscription Boxes ($20+ a month)
A recent trend among the geeky has been the subscription box, a mailed package filled with an assortment of toys, T-shirts, and other goodies that will delight the recipient once a month. Most of the stuff inside is relatively cheap knick-knacks—it’s not an especially cost-effective way to build up a collection. But the juxtaposition of both surprise at semi-random fun stuff and the regularity of a timed delivery has proven to be undeniably appealing.
Some subscriptions are less frequent, but offer bigger boxes quarterly or thrice yearly. Loot Crate is the primary example of this kind of subscription box service, offering generalized geeky goodness. But the model has caught on, and there are now dozens (maybe hundreds) of more targeted services delivering monthly bric-a-brac in a variety of niches. For example, there are boxes for gamers, anime fans, fans of horror, sci-fi, and comic books, and even much more specific interests like vinyl records or imported Japanese snacks. Look around and you’re sure to find something that your gift recipient will enjoy, and he’ll get at least something new every month. The site HelloSubscription keeps a helpful database of different subscription boxes, including reviews and discount codes.
LEGO ($15 and Up)
Alright, this is a bit of an easy pick. But I’ve yet to meet a nerd who didn’t find at least some enjoyment putting together a LEGO set, even (and sometimes especially) when they’re adults. Of course the LEGO company has gone a little crazy in recent years, offering a staggering variety of licensed sets to please fans of a huge portion of pop culture: Star Wars, Marvel and DC superheroes, Warner Bros. franchises like Lord of the Rings and Jurassic Park. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
If your guy isn’t particularly attached to a massive movie franchise, there are intricate architectural sets based on famous landmarks, or officially licensed LEGO cars from Ford, Chevy, Ferrari, Porsche, and others. Graduating into the bigger, more technical sets offers some truly amazing models that aren’t for kids by any means: here’s the original Ghostbusters headquarters, or meticulous models of a Bugatti, a massive excavator, or the Saturn V moon landing rocket. The Ideas sub-brand lets regular Joes submit their own designs for possible sale, resulting in marvelous sets like this sci-fi mech, this official Beatles Yellow Submarine, or the upcoming Voltron (complete with lions that really transform, just like the old toys). Whatever your fella’s niche or your own budget, you should be able to find something he’ll enjoy.
Batteries ($20 and Up)
Whoever you’re buying for, odds are good that they have a smartphone and at least another gadget or two that requires some extra juice now and then. Give it to them with a portable battery charger: even if they already have one, a backup won’t hurt (they’re easy to lose and they don’t last forever). We’ve picked out the best general models on the market and some more specific choices [NOTE TO EDITOR: link to my battery article from last week goes here, please!], if your recipient needs to charge laptops or more esoteric devices as well.
Funko POP Vinyls ($10-30)
Funko’s big-headed, static plastic figures aren’t everyone’s cup of tea—their ubiquity has caused them to be derided as of late among some geeky circles. But that’s also part of the appeal: there are thousands of these little things, with themes from the latest movies and video games to the most obscure pop culture fare you can think of.
Want a Funko POP version of The Dude from The Big Lebowski? No problem. How about Dick Dastardly from the 50-year-old Wacky Races cartoon? They’ve got you covered. Perhaps the regular Dragonball anti-hero Vegeta isn’t obscure enough for you…but I bet your gift recipient doesn’t have a figurine of that one episode where he wore a pink shirt. How about real-life icons as far-flung as Mike Ditka, Jimmi Hendricks, and Bob Ross? All present and accounted for.
There are no less than eight Funko POP Vinyl figures based on recent characters played by Chris Pratt: four different variants of Marvel’s Star Lord (not counting mini or promotional versions), Andy Dwyer from Parks and Recreation, two variants of Owen the raptor wrangler from Jurassic World, and even an upcoming Funko POP of The LEGO Movie’s Emmet. Yes, that’s a plastic figure of a plastic figure.
Funko has spent years building up a licensing system that makes Who Framed Roger Rabbit? look like child’s play. And before you ask, yes, of course they have Roger Rabbit too, plus Jessica, bad guy Judge Doom, and his weasel henchman. The point here is, no matter how niche your gift recipient’s particular flavor of fandom is, you can almost certainly find a Funko POP to fill it for an easy stocking-stuffer.
Custom Art Prints or Posters ($50 and Up)
LEGO and Funko POPs are all well and good, but if you’re in the mood to indulge your geek with something a little more personal and limited, the internet provides. There are thousands of independent artists and illustrators who are just as enthusiastic for their cultural niches as anyone else, and turn their talents towards them by creating limited edition posters and art prints that you won’t find in any retail store.
More or less any franchise and any style can be found if you look hard enough: check out this collection of classic movie profiles in the stark style of Patrick Nagel, or this amazing re-imagining of posters for the Bill and Ted films. Here’s a collection of prints from the classic sumi-e inspired game Okami. Do a search for almost any character or franchise plus “art print,” and you’ll be able to find something interesting for your guy to hang on his wall. Keep in mind that, even though the subjects are games, movies, and TV shows, the artists behind these prints are serious professionals, and high-quality prints are often only made in limited quantities. If his sense of décor isn’t flexible enough to include some pop culture, consider getting an officially-licensed art book instead.
Geeky Jackets ($100 and Up)
Some of the most beloved characters in geekdom are defined by their outerwear. If you’d like something a little more impressive than a T-shirt to drape over your nerd, then consider getting a custom jacket inspired by his favorite one. There are a ton of options for vendors, but The Leather City has an excellent mix of different styles and fair prices.
The level of flamboyant fandom can vary here, from the subtle-but-recognizable style of Star Wars’ Poe Dameron and Finn to the movie version of Wolverine to full nerd-out mode, like Soldier 76 (from Overwatch) or Michael Jackson’s Thriller. Tailor your choice (sorry) to your recipient’s interest and sense of fashion.
Game Controllers ($50-70)
If your gift recipient plays video games on a home console, get him a controller or two. No matter what he plays or how many he has, you can always add more. They don’t last forever (especially in the sweaty hands of a frequent gamer) and getting four controllers together for a local bout of Mario Kart or Tekken is an expensive proposition.
Speaking of expense: always go for first-party controllers, the ones specifically made by Nintendo, Microsoft, or Sony (Switch, Xbox, and PlayStation, respectively). They’re pricier than third-party alternatives, but the extra quality is worth it for gadgets that can take a beating. Even gamers who prefer the PC can make use of console controllers now, and many styles of games benefit from the form factor versus a mouse and keyboard.
High-Quality Bag ($80 and Up)
Most of the men in my life tend to buy travel and laptop bags for themselves that are serviceable, but not particularly high-quality. You can fix that. Pick up a bag from Timbuk2, Booq, or Thule, making sure that you choose a style (messenger/backpack/briefcase) that matches your guy’s ergonomic and sartorial preference.
If you’re buying a laptop or tablet-specific carrier bag, be sure you know the dimensions of your recipient’s hardware to pick one that will fit. Here’s a tip: the next time you see them with that laptop or tablet, tell them you like it and ask which specific model it is. You can look up the dimensions online and make sure you’ve chosen a bag that’s ideal. Need some additional laptop inspiration? Check out our roundup of premium picks.
On the subject of bags: I recommend against getting any specific bags for serious photographers. If someone’s already invested several thousand dollars into high-quality cameras and lenses, they’ve probably already chosen a high-quality bag for all that gear, too.