12 genuinely useful gifts for busy dads, according to a dad with little free time

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  • A gift that a dad just doesn't have the free time to use can end up being a bigger source of frustration than pleasure, so think carefully when buying holiday gifts this year.
  • Practical gifts that make a dad's life easier and more efficient are always welcome, especially if they are an upgrade to a product he already uses.
  • Gifts that are consumable are also always welcome, as dads need to eat, so they might as well have some treats on hand.
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I recently got a GoSun Go Portable Solar Cooker, a camping stove that cooks food using nothing more than sunlight, and at first I was thrilled. What a cool product, right? A totally eco-friendly stove I could use to bake food and boil water there at my campsite — no gas, wood, charcoal, or anything else required. Then I started looking at the calendar trying to figure out the next free weekend where my son and I could go camping. Long story short, we don't have a place to fit in a couple nights out in the woods until late summer.

When you're looking for the perfect gift this year, keep in mind that the dad in question may not have time to enjoy most gifts, thoughtful as they might be.

So instead of giving a golf club that's going to collect dust in the garage or a book that's probably going to serve primarily as a paperweight, look for a dad gift the guy can actually enjoy despite having about five minutes of free time in his day, what with the job, kids, yard work, travel, and the rest of it.

Great gifts for busy dads are those products that replace something he's already using, like a new pair of pants or a high-quality tumbler, or that are treats he'll enjoy without having to carve out extra time in the day, like some gourmet snacks.

And … if you're looking for a great gift for me, keep it simple: I'll gladly accept candies and/or a bottle of gin. Or some socks. Seriously, I know it sounds boring, but great socks are genuinely a great gift.

Shop these 12 gifts for busy dads that are both thoughtful and useful. 

A shirt that can't get stained or wet

Gift the Ably Apparel Lanai Linen Shirt from Ably Apparel for $115

The first time I put an Ably Apparel shirt to the test, I was skeptical at best. The company claims that the Filium-activated coating applied to the linen fibers of its shirts make them all but impervious to water and stains, so naturally I opened the sink tap to full blast and stuck my shirt right into the water. As it turns out, they weren't lying.

Water literally bounces off the fabric, flowing away like the stuff was made from slick plastic. Yet it feels just like any other mid-weight garment out there. As Ably makes polos, T-shirts, button downs, and more, you'll definitely find an option the dad on your list will love. And he'll love getting through meal times, finger-paint sessions, and other messy undertakings with a shirt that looks pristine.

A grill he can use indoors that doesn't get messy or smoky

Gift a Bella Smokeless Electric Grill from Amazon for $49.99

I love grilling, but sometimes the extra 10 or 15 minutes it takes to take the cover off the grill, clean the grates, and pre-heat the thing just aren't worth the effort. Thus my love for our plucky little Bella Smokeless Electric Grill. It uses an electric heating element that warms up fast and, as the name suggests, doesn't produce smoke, but does still produce those satisfying grill lines and more than enough heat to cook steaks, sausages, kebabs, and anything else you would throw on the barbecue outside.

When the cooking is over, you can lift off the copper-coated grate for easy cleaning with a bit of soap and water and dump out the drip tray that collected fats, oils, and other stuff you'd rather have separated from your food.

A multi-tool that can pretty much do it all

Gift a Gerber Center-Drive Multi-Tool from Amazon for $88.99

Dads are supposed to be able to fix everything, but without the right tools, how can they fix anything? While a 64-piece socket set or a table saw might not be the most practical gifts for dad, a great multi-tool is a must-have whether he's a die-hard DIY guy or a rank amateur still set on tightening that loose table leg. The Gerber Center-Drive Multi-Tool has a blade, pliers, and other tools, the most notable of which is a center-axis screwdriver that allows for ergonomic rotation.

The tool comes with 12 different bits for the screwdriver, so it can help you with all sorts of building and repair projects. While a bit bulky for a pocket, the overall quality of the Center-Drive makes up for its size and makes it worth keeping close at hand.

A jogging stroller that combines parenting with exercise

Gift a Chicco TRE Jogging Stroller from Amazon for $379.99

Before I had kids, I would go for an afternoon run all five days of the workweek and often on weekends, too. Now, I'm lucky if I get in three jogs weekly. My run is always the first thing on the chopping block when time starts getting too tight, what with school pickups and dropoffs, this or that doctor, gym class, or other appointment, and so on.

With our Chicco TRE Jogging stroller, however, I can log a few miles out there with my daughter enjoying the ride and my wife getting at least a few minutes of child-free time. The stroller has huge pneumatic tires that absorb the impact created by uneven surfaces and a bicycle-style hand brake that allows for deceleration, which is handy when I'm approaching an intersection or heading down hill.

A Harry & David gift box

Gift a Gift Box from Harry & David starting at $19.99 (shipping not included)

If you know of a dad whom won't enjoy receiving a box packed with savory sausage, sharp cheddar cheese, fresh pears and apples, crackers, cookies, mixed nuts, and more, then no problem; you just send a Gift Box from Harry & David on to me instead.

A snack-filled gift box might not seem like the most personal gift ever, but in fact it really is a thoughtful option. Nothing in the gift will end up sitting on a shelf collecting dust, enjoying it doesn't require any extra time or effort, and the selection is varied enough so that at least many, if not all, of the foods included will appeal to the dad in question.

Cupcakes, because cupcakes

Gift Cupcakes from Baked by Melissa, starting at $32

Even the busiest dads will find the eight or nine seconds it takes to consume a mini Baked by Melissa cupcake, which are properly eaten in one ravenous bite. 

Each box comes with 25 little cupcakes and the presentation is lovely, making an already good gift that much more notable. And given the more than two dozen treats in each box, dad might even share a few sweet morsels with the rest of the gang.

Crazy comfortable and flexible jeans

Gift a pair of DU/ER Performance Denim Jeans from REI for $129 (prices vary by style)

I wear jeans just about every day of my life, and whenever they are clean, my DU/ERs are the go-to pair. DU/ER pants look like regular jeans, but they are as stretchy and flexible as workout pants, and they're amazingly lightweight. I wear them whether sitting at my desk, running errands, or on a long walk with the wife and kids, and I've even kept them on while mowing the lawn or cleaning out gutters.

A pair of pants that's ready for travel, yard work, dinner out, or sitting in the office all day is worth its weight in gold, but fortunately you'll only have to pay about $130 for DU/ER Performance Denim.

Mail-order gourmet meat

Gift all sorts of gourmet meats from Snake River Farms starting at $57

Yes, giving a dad the gift of fancy meat he can grill up is a bit of a cliché, but it's also pretty much a slam dunk, unless said dad is a vegetarian. Snake River Farms offers superlative cuts of beef and pork, including Wagyu steaks, baby-back ribs, bacon, and so much more.

The company's meats are a bit more expensive than those you might get from a competitor like Omaha Steaks, but Snake River Farms meats are consistently excellent. I know because I've ordered foods from them myself several times. And don't worry, you can get a perfectly good gift for under $100.

A digital picture frame that plays videos and music

Gift a Nixplay Seed Wave from Amazon for $219.99

About a decade ago, my brother and I both gifted our dad a digital picture frame. I don't mean jointly; I mean we each gave him a frame pre-loaded with a bunch of pictures. Turns out he loved the idea and was perfectly happy to have two, both of which have been on display on a counter ever since. But while the frames we gave him back then use now outdated SD cards, you can give the gift of a frame fit for the modern era: the Nixplay Seed Wave.

This frame features 10 gigs of storage space, it has built-in Bluetooth speakers that play audio during videos, and you can upload videos or pictures right from your phone. It even turns off when it senses there's no one in the room, saving power and being more eco-friendly.

A fitness-tracking watch that helps Dad make the most of his runs

Gift a Smart Watch from Runitopia, starting at $49.99

If a dad only has a few spare minutes a day for exercise, he better make the most of those minutes. Help a father stay fit with a Smart GPS Sport Watch fron Runitopia. It features GPS and a compass, so Dad will always know where he is, and it tracks heart rate, calories burned, steps taken, and other metrics that help a guy (or girl, for that matter) optimize his training.

The watch syncs with smartphones and will alert you to calls and alarms, and it can hold a charge for more than three weeks if you leave the GPS switched off. At $50, it's an affordable gift, too.

A smart hose timer that lets him control the watering from anywhere

Gift an Orbit B-Hyve Smart Hose Timer from Amazon for $51.45

One of the hardest things about planning a trip out of town is worrying about the home left sitting unoccupied. Whenever we travel as a family, my wife and I have to figure out whether or not to stop the mail, if the cats will have enough food or need to be checked on, and if the yard is going to be ok or needs to be watered by a family member or neighbor. Thankfully, I can now check that last item off the to-do list, because we got an Orbit B-Hyve Smart Hose Timer.

This timer connects to a standard outdoor faucet and can be pre-programmed to turn on the flow when you want. Better yet, it connects to your home Wi-Fi and can be accessed from anywhere. So I can be on vacation a continent away, check the weather at home, and then turn off the flow because of inbound rain. The B-Hyve also tracks how much water flows through it, so I can tell how much water our yard and garden are consuming and adjust as needed.

An oil Dad can use on his face, body, and hair

Gift a bottle of Everyday Oil from Amazon for $14

As much as I hate to admit it, age is catching up with me in a few ways, one of them being wrinkles starting to show up on my face. Another being hair that's drier than it used to be. Also there are the occasional backaches and random grunts when I lift something heavy. While the grunting is probably under my control and the backaches a fact of life, at least I can fight back against the wrinkles and dryness with one product: Everyday Oil.

I used to use several different products on my face and hair, but now I just slather a layer of this stuff over my skin and work it right into my hair and scalp. My skin is better moisturized than ever, and my morning ablutions are more efficient, too. Which good, what with the whole no free time thing.

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