There’s no denying it – this has been a hard year to be a small business owner almost everywhere, and Montana is no exception. Nearly half of the state’s small businesses say Covid has negatively impacted them, and almost all say they’re worried for the future, and it’s not just because of new government restrictions.
Stuck at home or just trying to minimize contact, many shoppers have turned to retailers like Amazon and Wal-Mart to conveniently get holiday shopping all in one place while also staying socially distant (and of course, to get free shipping in two days or less).
But you can shop online without giving your money to faceless corporations – and use it instead to support local businesses that impact their communities and have been struggling all year to stay afloat.
I’ve long been amazed by the number of small Montana-based businesses making all kinds of unusual and innovative products, often from local materials. Now, many of those businesses sell their products online and ship them straight to your door – and they make great gifts.
From snowboards to dog treats and many things in between, these are some of our favorite unique ideas for gifts from Montana (or just a fun treat for yourself!) this holiday season.
Our Favorite Gifts from Montana
Kombucha – Dean’s Zesty Beverage, Bozeman
A recent meme that was going around described kombucha as “Gatorade for people who do yoga,” which is…not totally inaccurate.
Kombucha is a fizzy, sweet-but-sour fermented tea, usually flavored with fruit or herbs. Like other fermented products, it’s believed to have health benefits like improved gut health, although evidence is admittedly limited. We’re not saying kombucha’s a miracle drink, but it’s definitely healthier than soda or beer.
Just a few years ago, kombucha was a niche product, something you could only buy at Whole Foods or your local hippie market. These days, you can find it on tap at chain grocers, in bottles at the gas station, and even at Wal-Mart.
Dean’s Zesty Beverage was one of the first to introduce kombucha to Montana back in 2016. They were a pretty small operation then, piggybacking on the Gallatin Valley’s rapidly growing brewery scene.
Dean’s has since expanded to include both traditional non-alcoholic kombucha alongside hard kombucha seltzer, with several flavors of each. Now, they sell variety six-packs with one of each flavor. If you’re shopping for someone who’s health-conscious or just likes trying new things, they’re sure to at least be intrigued by Dean’s kombucha.
Illustrated Map – Xplorer Maps, Missoula
We are an unabashed map-loving couple. Back when we lived in Boston, we had a world map that covered half our living room wall, and we debated for weeks over what color and projection (say no to the Mercator – Greenland is not that big!) to get. So when we found Xplorer Maps at the Missoula craft fair a few years back, we were excited, to say the least.
Xplorer’s maps are hand-drawn and one-of-a-kind, with illustrations representing historical sites and popular destinations. The drawings add a personal touch and tell you a little more about each place. The Montana map includes a dinosaur to represent the museums and dig sites along the Hi-Line, a depiction of General Custer near the National Battlefield in the southeast, and a skier near Whitefish.
They make maps of U.S. states, national parks, and a handful of islands and countries around the world. In addition to the Montana state map, there’s also one of Glacier and one of Yellowstone.
Xplorer doesn’t just sell paper drawings, either. You can also buy magnets, mugs, blankets, puzzles, and other products featuring their maps. If a mug featuring a hand-drawn map of Glacier National Park or a puzzle of a state map aren’t the perfect Montana gifts, I don’t know what is.
Cutting Board – Montana’s Lost Art, Butte
At first glance, Montana’s Lost Art’s products don’t look all that different from all the other beautiful woodcraft made in the Treasure State. But what sets this family-run business apart is the source of their materials – all of the wood they use comes from trees afflicted with pine beetles.
The pine beetle has ravaged forests across the Pacific Northwest and Rocky Mountains for 25 or so years now, but the epidemic has really worsened in the last decade. Once a tree has been affected by pine beetles, it starts to die off within a few weeks. Affected trees can’t be turned into lumber for construction, and stands of dead trees block out sunlight for vegetation on the forest floor and present a wildfire risk.
Fortunately, the wood is still perfectly usable for craftmanship, and Montana’s Lost Art has found a way to make something beautiful out of this environmental blight. They make everything from home décor items like vases and picture frames to full-sized dining tables out of the afflicted wood. Each piece is handcrafted with an emphasis on using the wood’s “imperfections” to highlight its natural charm.
We’re particularly fond of the Montana cutting boards made from blue pine, white ash, or oak. If you love Montana (or the person you’re shopping for does), these cutting boards are a useful and environmentally-friendly way to spruce up any kitchen.
Dog Treats – Doggie Style Gourmet Dog Treats, Billings
Give my family’s golden retriever Kokanee a generic dog treat like a Milk-Bone, and he’ll sniff it, look at you, and then wander off disappointed. He
is a snob has a discerning palate, and pretty much only eats treats if they’re homemade with real ingredients like oats and peanut butter. I enjoy baking those for him, but if he could talk, I’m sure he’d say I don’t do it enough.
Fortunately, there’s a fantastic company in Billings baking healthy and delicious dog treats that are just as good (or if Kokanee was being honest, better than the ones I make for him). Doggie Style Gourmet Treats are prepared using only human-grade ingredients like oats, apples, cheddar cheese, bacon, peanut butter, and pumpkin. If you’re in need of a snack, you could even have one yourself – we don’t judge, though your friends and family might not be as open-minded as us.
Throwing a birthday party for your furry best friend? Doggie Style also makes a special dessert called a “pupcake,” which is exactly the spoiled-rotten treat it sounds like: a fully decorated birthday cake for your dog, made from oats, peanut butter, bananas, carrots, and other canine-safe ingredients. And of course, you can even get one in the shape of a bone. Maybe I’ll buy Kokanee one for his next birthday – if he’s a good boy…
Snowboard – Notice Snowboards, Whitefish
With over 300 inches of glistening fresh snow every year, Whitefish Mountain is a powder lover’s dream. It’s also home to seven terrain parks filled with jumps, jibs, and half-pipes that keep the freestylers entertained. Whatever you’re into, Whitefish has it. Now you just need the right board to get you down the mountain.
Notice Snowboards has you covered. Recognizing that serious athletes need gear tailored to their specific needs, owner Brittan Ellingson started building custom boards back in 2012.
Everything on a Notice board is customizable, from the basics like length and shape to details like the level of rocker and types of wood used in the core. Your board will be designed for exactly the type of riding you like to do. The choices of graphics are near endless too, letting riders show some personality while shredding the gnar.
Of course, a custom snowboard is probably only a gift for a very special someone, since they run around $1,000 (about 30 percent more than a regular high-end board). But it will give them the perfect fit and feel, and you’re guaranteed they’ll think of you every time they ride.
But if your special someone is a skier instead, fear not: Northside Skis in Bozeman makes custom skis for around the same price. They’ll put together a pair with any type of ski surface profile and your choice of graphics from local artists (or design your own!).
Tote Bag – Designs by Della, Crow Agency
Fashion designer Della Bighair-Stump, an enrolled member of the Apsaalooke (Crow) tribe, first got a taste of creating clothes by making her own powwow regalia. Today, she runs Designs By Della and makes a huge variety of handmade clothing and accessories, all featuring Apsaalooke designs passed down by her family.
Designs By Della’s motto is “Where Culture Meets Fashion,” and the products live up to that sentiment. They put a unique contemporary twist on traditional geometric and floral patterns, resulting in items anyone could wear.
She also uses fashion as activism, creating designs that speak out on issues affecting her tribe. One dress she presented at a 2019 fashion show featured 27 feathers – one for each of the 27 missing and murdered indigenous women from Big Horn County (which contains most of the Crow Reservation).
Shopping from Designs By Della means getting unique Montana-made gifts that honor tradition and support a Native-owned business. Choose from clothing items like dresses and leggings, accessories like beach towels and phone cases, or our favorite, the tote bags, which come in over half a dozen colorful prints.
Coffee Table Book – Abandoned Montana, Plentywood
Montana is chock-full of beautiful landscapes – awe-inspiring peaks, tranquil alpine lakes, even otherworldly badlands out in the eastern part of the state. No matter where you go, Montana’s backdrops feel tailor-made for Instagram.
But when I’m searching for interesting subjects for my photography, I like to hit the backroads, exploring the state’s ghost towns or abandoned farmsteads. You never know what you’ll find, but crumbling wooden frames set against blowing wheat fields or majestic mountain slopes are guaranteed to be photographic gold, not to mention a chance to explore the rich history contained within the sites.
But if you don’t want to muddy your tires or risk getting lost on a desolate country road to see the best of Montana’s deserted homes and barns, there’s good news. Photographer Liselle Strassman has compiled some of the most striking images of these buildings in her book Abandoned Montana.
It’s 104 pages of ghostly prairie churches, caved-in roofs, rusted-out farm implements, and eerie interiors that have been reclaimed by nature over the decades. Her shots capture the desolation and incredible beauty of Montana’s often overlooked (and not-widely-photographed) northeastern corner.
Liselle received permission from dozens of landowners to access the plains’ forgotten treasures, which allowed her to capture far more than the average looky-loo could see from the side of the road. If you’re an Atlas Obscura fan (or need a gift for one), this is the perfect coffee table book.
Sandals – Bedrock Sandals, Missoula
A few years ago, I was looking for a pair of sandals that could do it all, mainly so I could cut down on luggage (and possessions in general). I wanted sandals that would be as comfortable walking on the beach as they were trekking through the mountains, and I wanted them to be packable and lightweight.
The pair that checked all the boxes came from a little company in Northern California called Bedrock Sandals, which was producing minimalist sandals inspired by indigenous ultra-marathon runners in Mexico. If you’re wondering why I’m hyping a California company on a post about gifts from Montana businesses, it’s because Bedrock moved their headquarters to Missoula at the end of 2019. Like many outdoor gear companies, they wanted to be close to the trails where customers would actually be wearing their product.
I was not disappointed in my choice – I live in these shoes when it’s warm out, and I’ve worn them in Montana, in Thailand, and everywhere in between. When I eventually wore them out, I immediately ordered another pair. These sandals are super unique in that they’re lightweight, sturdy, and comfortable for all kinds of activities, including running.
While I love Bedrock’s minimalist Classic sandals (the sole is thin enough that you can roll them up), their Cairn line is the most popular. These are more similar to Chacos, with a thicker sole, wider straps, and more foot stability. Whatever your preferences, though, these are some amazing made-in-Montana shoes for anyone who spends a lot of time outside.
Body Products – Windrift Hill, Conrad
Whether you’re a lifelong Montanan or someone who once visited Glacier, you know the air here is dry. Not quite Phoenix-in-the-summer dry, maybe, but enough to cause nosebleeds or sore throats if you’re not accustomed to it.
It’ll also leave your skin feeling parched, flaky, and itchy. No one knows this better than the little town of Conrad, up against the Rocky Mountain Front where the wind never stops blowing and can gust up to 100 MPH.
Enter Windrift Hill. Conrad resident and former occupational therapist Deena Maier founded this small business after noticing that many of her clients had excessively dry skin that couldn’t be treated with medication.
Looking for a natural remedy, she found goat’s milk, which does wonders for eczema, psoriasis, and generally dry or sensitive skin. The milk has a high fat content, which helps the skin to lock in moisture.
Windrift Hill uses goat’s milk to make all sorts of products to soothe dry skin – lotions, soaps, body butters, lip balms, even shampoo. All of the milk comes from Maier’s farm, where she’s raising over 60 goats, and all the products are handmade by her family. Everything comes in a variety of scents and flavors, including the most Montana of all: huckleberry.
If you’re looking for an inexpensive stocking stuffer, the bars of goat milk soap go for just $5. But if you’re really looking to pamper someone in your life (or maybe yourself), their Ultimate Gift Box will be a much-appreciated holiday surprise.
Gift Box – Last Best Box, Stevensville
There are so many exciting small businesses in this state that it’d be hard to choose just one or two gifts from Montana – and fortunately, you don’t have to.
Last Best Box got its start after Scott and Amy Sacry noticed just how many different interesting products were being sold at the craft fairs and farmers markets in Missoula and throughout the Bitterroot Valley. These were niche items with a small distribution network, just waiting to be discovered by the rest of the state (and beyond).
Now, the company finds all of these interesting foods, soaps, crafts, and more from all around the state and packages them into bi-monthly subscription boxes. Every box is a surprise, though many have a theme like Montana history or national parks. Each one is varied enough that there are bound to be a few products you fall in love with and want to buy more.
Or if you’re just looking for a one-time shipment of goodies, Last Best Box also sells themed boxes with just one type of gift like snacks, spa supplies, or organic foodstuffs. With quality products from across the state, their individual gift boxes and the multi-month subscription are both perfect Montana-made gifts.
More Places to Shop for Montana Gifts
There are so many more amazing small Montana businesses than we can include here, and not all of them have websites. If you’re looking for even more ideas for Montana-made gifts that you can order online, check out one of these sites:
Know of some other great made-in-Montana gifts? Tell us about them in the comments!