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How-To Geek’s Holiday Gift Guide 2013: Stocking Stuffers Sure to Please

With all the great gadgets and geeky toys ‘n trinkets that fall into the small-enough-for-a-stocking category, there’s no need to limit yourself to boring stocking stuffers. Read on as we showcase some great items to tuck in all those stockings hung on the mantle with care.

While what constitutes a stocking stuffer varies from household to household, we’ve opted to stick with two traditional traditional measures. All our stocking stuffers actually fit in a stocking and they’re all relatively inexpensive ($25 or less).

This is the fifth of the How-To Geek 2013 Holiday Gift Guides; to keep up with the rest of the guides throughout December, be sure to keep an eye on the article tag GiftGuide2013.

Ruggedized Flash Drives for Geeks on the Go

For the geek on the go, it’s nice to keep portable apps and data right at hand (and, conveniently, on your key chain). Flash drives are perfect for that, but historically they were made of cheap plastic that often ended up cracked or, even worse, snapped right off the key chain attachment.

Fortunately there are a wide variety of metal/ruggedized flash drives on the market now. I keep the Kingston Data Traveler SE9 ($11 and up) on my keychain: it’s so small and lightweight it’s hard to believe  32GB of storage takes up less space than my house key. Speaking of house keys, the LaCie PetiteKey ($19 and up) actually looks like a key thanks to an extremely slim form factor. There’s also an aluminum and chrome model from Silicon Power ($19) that offers slightly different styling but the same rugged durability.

Given that all these drives cost pretty much the same (give or take a dollar) as their cheap plastic counterparts, there’s really no good reason to go for a plastic body/removable cap model over a waterproof all-in-one ruggedized model.

Battery Packs to Power Gadgets Galore

Smartphones, tablets, and portable gaming systems like the DS and PSVita are all power hungry (and there’s nothing worse than not having power when you need it). For those go-go-go movers on your list that need power away from their home or office, a battery pack is a great way to make their lives easier. The devices work on a simple principle: you charge them up at home like you would charge up your phone or tablet and then, when you’re out and about, you can plug your device via its USB cable right into the battery to get extra juice.

For lightweight use, little lipstick-sized chargers like the Anker Astro Mini ($20) are perfect for topping off a smartphone with a charge or two. A similar device is the Intocircuit T5000 ($22), which offers additional battery life in a slightly bigger package.

Be forewarned, however, if you want a battery pack beefy enough to charge an iPad or other large device while you’re actively using it, you’ll need to spend a little bit more than our $25 stocking stuffer limit and pick up a larger battery pack with a 2A output (most smaller/inexpensive packs have 1A output which doesn’t provide enough output to keep up with an in-use iPad). For such situations, something like the Anker Astro ($30) is a better fit.

Robots!

We know, we know. Our list is overly serious so far with all this talk of flash drives and batteries, so: unleash the robots! Whether you’re slipping them in the stocking of a five year old or a fifty year old, the antics of tiny robots delight just about everybody.

One of the biggest producers and certainly the company that really kicked off the tiny-robot craze across the country last year is Innovation Labs, the maker of the Hexbug line of toys. They make bigger Hexbugs, about the size of a child’s palm, like the Hexbug Scarab ($10) and the Hexbug Ant ($9) as well as the very popular and tiny Hexbug Nanos ($11 for one or $30 for a set of 5).

The larger robots each have their own trick (the Ants run around and change direction when they bump into things, other Hexbugs hide from light, respond to sound, etc.). The smaller Hexbug Nanos are essentially pager motors with little rubber legs: the vibration of the motor causes their little rubber legs to vibrate and propel them forward quickly and unpredictably. The Nanos were a huge hit at our house last year with grown ups, kids, and cats alike. If you’re headed to a holiday party or have a bunch of stockings to stuff, we recommend getting a Nano pack. Watching a bunch of Nanos interact with each other is way more fun than watching a single one zip around.

Headphones for Ears Big and Small

Headphones cords take a beating, headphones themselves get lost, and it’s always nice to have an extra pair of earbuds tucked away somewhere. Given the prevalence of portable electronic gift giving, it’s nice to have a fresh pair of headphones to go with your shiny new device.

While there’s certainly a market for crazy $$$ audiophile earbuds, most people aren’t going to be dropping $300 on a pair of Etymotic Research Noise Isolating Earbuds to stuff a stocking (if you are, we’d like to come to your house for Christmas). Fortunately for the budget conscious, there are a ton of really highly-reviewed earbuds on the $ to $$ end of the scale.

Panasonic’s RPHJE120K earbuds are a mere $5-8 depending on the color you select and are among the highest ranked earbuds on Amazon with 4.5 stars based on a whopping  8,191 reviews. In a similar price range, you can pick up Sony’s over-the-ear MDR-ZX100 headphones for a mere $17 (also highly rated with 4 stars based on 2,786 reviews).

One thing we’d strongly recommend if you’re purchasing headphones for a child is to buy a volume limiting attachment or a set of headphones with volume limiting built right in. Kids often turn up their devices way too loud, volume-limiting circuitry keeps them from turning the volume up into the hearing-damaging range. JLabs and Sony both have kid-friendly over-the-ear headphones ($14-20). In-ear headphones for kids are a bit trickier to find (most companies make over-ear as it’s much easier to fit a wide range of kids and nobody wants to be the company that encourages children to shove things in their ears) but they’re out there: dB Logic’s EP-100 model retails for $15-20.

Magnets: Because Science is Magic

Magnetism is one of those fun-to-play-with phenomena that appeals to all ages. There’s no shortage of cool magnetic toys either. The Mysterious Magnet Tube ($15) is a sealed 5″ tall cylinder filled with iron shavings and a magnet you can use to visualize magnetic waves. If you want to actually get your hands on the magnets, Crazy Aaron’s Super Magnetic Putty ($15) is a weird but fun hybrid of silly putty and ferromagnetic particles.

 CMS Magnetics’  building kits ($9 and up) that combine power magnetic spheres with steel connector rods encased in plastic that combine to for all sorts of neat structures all held together by magnetism.

Speaking of magnets, let’s not neglect the magnet mecca in the home: the refrigerator. Have a LEGO fanatic? Give them a pack of magnetic LEGO bases ($4 for 5) to showcase their favorite LEGO figures or lightweight creations on the fridge. Know they have a favorite LEGO series? You can buy the bases and the figures together like these Star Wars figures ($14) or these Harry Potter figures ($24). No need to stop yourself at LEGO magnets, you can find them for all manner of subjects like Doctor Who, Star Trek, and more.

 Finally, Indulge Their Fanhood

The last bit about LEGO characters, Doctor Who, and the like, brings us to the best thing about geeky stocking stuffers. Your avenues for indulging your friends’ and family members’ geek streaks is effectively unlimited. Pick something they’re into, hit up Amazon and Etsy, and you’ll find more geeky stocking stuffers than you could fit in a hundred stockings. Triforce Keychains ($8), Star Wars Light Sabers ($15), a huge pound bag of role playing dice ($19); if you know what your geek is into you can find piles of cool trinkets, heck even socks, to share with them.


Whether you’re inspired by our stocking stuffer ideas or you already have a few of your own, sound off in the comments. We want to hear about your geeky stocking stuffers whether they’re store bought, DIY, or somewhere in between.

Jason Fitzpatrick is warranty-voiding DIYer and all around geek. When he's not documenting mods and hacks he's doing his best to make sure a generation of college students graduate knowing they should put their pants on one leg at a time and go on to greatness, just like Bruce Dickinson. You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 12/17/13

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