15 best gifts for teenagers that they’ll actually use

Jess Denham
There's something for all ages and interests on our list, from must-have tech gadgets and trendy fashion brands: The Independent/iStock

Scratching your head over what to buy the teenager in your life? Rest assured, you’re not alone.

If you fear being labelled “cringe” by a discerning young relative, the good news is that we’ve tackled this gifting minefield for you by going straight to the source and asking teenagers what they’re hoping to find under the tree.

There’s something for all ages and interests on our list, from must-have tech gadgets and trendy fashion brands to environmentally friendly gifts for the activist generation.

So sit back, relax and shop away knowing you’ll be down with the kids this December.

You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps to fund journalism across The Independent.

Chilly’s Bottles 500ml reusable water bottle: £20, Chilly’s Bottles

It’s seriously uncool to be seen using single-use plastic, making a hard-wearing reusable water bottle a savvy gift for the eco-conscious teenager. Chilly’s is the leading name thanks to the trusty quality of its leakproof stainless-steel bottles that keep drinks cold for up to 24 hours or hot for up to 12. Our 13-year-old tester told us that the plain coloured bottles are cool but the lairy patterns are a no-go, so if in doubt, heed her advice!

There’s a mammoth choice of pretty pastel shades, edgy neon hues and matte and chrome finishes, and you’re given the option to customise the lid or add a carabiner for an extra few quid. Four sizes are available: 260ml, the 500ml shown here, 750ml and 1.8l. Pair this present with a pack of reusable metal straws, such as these gold, copper, silver and rainbow ones, found on Amazon for less than £3.

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Fujifilm instax mini 9 instant camera with 10 shots of film, built-in flash and hand strap: £64.99, Currys PC World

Instant cameras are top of every vintage-loving teenager’s wishlist. The ideal party accessory, these Fujifilm snappers print crisp and vibrant photos within seconds, with white frames for handwriting personalised messages. The mini 9 features a selfie mirror, a “high-key” mode for brighter pictures and a close-up lens. Its compact enough to carry everywhere, runs on AA batteries and has a built-in flash. Choose from eight colours including blue, green, pink and purple.

If your teen has their heart set on an a la mode rose-gold Instax, then the mini 70 costs £20 more. The cameras come with a two-year guarantee. The downside is that the film refills are pricey – expect to pay £30 for 50 shots. If you’re looking for a retro-inspired gift but have a smaller budget, we also love this PAC-MAN desktop arcade game.

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Copic Ciao 5+1 set: £17.99, Cult Pens​

Copic’s pens have won rave reviews from artists for their blendability (none of those scratchy lines you get from other fibre-tips) and long life. Creative teenagers will be overjoyed to receive one of the Japanese brand’s “5+1” sets, each featuring five markers and a fine drawing pen that’s resistant to Copic’s alcohol-based ink, making it ideal for outlining drawings.

The refillable pens are all double-tipped – one end is chisel-shaped for thicker strokes and the other is brush-shaped for more detailed colouring – and have airtight lids to stop them drying out. Choose from brights, skin tones, cool and warm grey shades, pastels and eight different “manga” colour combinations aimed at budding cartoonists. Help your teen keep their markers safe with this senseBag roll case, which holds 18 Copic markers.

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Fjallraven kanken backpack: £64, Cotswold Outdoors

Scandi brand Fjallraven was founded by a 14-year-old Swede back in the Fifties, so it’s perhaps no coincidence that its iconic kanken backpack is a hit with today’s retro-loving teens. Simple, practical and available in a huge range of block colours from neutrals to brights, the kanken has unisex appeal and is a school staple. It’s made from a robust, water-resistant vinyl that can be wiped clean and closes with a two-way zip.

It’s big enough (16L) to hold a number of books and has an inner sleeve that fits most 15in laptops. There’s a front zipper compartment, two side pockets and adjustable, ergonomic shoulder straps. Parents will appreciate the safety implications of the reflective badge, earning you extra brownie points. The glaring downside is the price; it’s an expensive buy, but it will be a surefire hit.

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Urban Outfitters velvet hair scrunchie hair band five pack: £5, Urban Outfitters

The Nineties scrunchie trend is alive and kicking again. Velvet is the fabric du jour, making this pack of five hair ties from the perennially popular Urban Outfitters an easy win. They’re surprisingly high quality – expect durable elastic and a soft feel that won’t rip hair. There’s a choice of six colourways, which is helpful if you’re buying for a group of teens and don’t want to give them identical presents, and the price point is bang on for a stocking filler. Reviews by teenagers have confirmed that these are, officially, “the pengest scrunchies ever”. (That’s a good thing.)

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Ultimate Ears wonderboom Bluetooth waterproof speaker: £49.99, Currys PC World

For decades, blasting music has been a surefire sign that a teenager is nearby. This lightweight portable speaker from Ultimate Ears can be taken anywhere, from the bedroom to the beach, and has a built-in loop for hanging from backpacks or belts. It’s waterproof enough to withstand the shower and float in the bath, too. The big, bassy sound belies its small size but if your teen demands a higher decibel level, they can wirelessly pair two together.

Expect up to 10 hours of listening before it needs recharging. The wonderboom comes in four colourways and if you fancy earning extra brownie points, Currys PC World is currently running a juicy deal offering a free six-month Spotify premium subscription with every purchase. For an extra £20, the wonderboom 2 offers better battery life, dust resistance and an even fuller sound.

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Glossier brow flick + boy brow duo: £25, Glossier

We have it on good authority that when it comes to beauty, “it’s all about the brows”. Brand-wise, Glossier is a hot favourite among teens, making this brow kit an inspired gift. For the fair price of £25, you get the brow flick detailing pen, with its fine tip for filling in over-plucked brows and adding definition to arches and tails, and the boy brow brushable wax for shaping, fluffing and holding brows in place.

The end result looks incredibly natural, without feeling stiff or flaky. The downside is that your teen will love it so much they’ll need to top up within a month or so. There’s a choice of clear, blonde, brown or black but, unfortunately, no auburn option for redheads yet.

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Amazon gift card in a mini envelope: From £10, Amazon

Is a gift card a cop-out? Probably. But if you’ve got a fussy teenager on your hands who’d much rather choose their own present than get what they’re given from “an oldie”, then fair enough. Gift cards are available from loads of shops, of course, but the likes of Amazon offer so much choice that your lucky recipient is bound to find something they love. This card comes in a mini red and gold envelope printed with seasonal snowflakes and doesn’t have an expiry date. How much cash you splash is up to you, ranging from £10 to £50.

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Victoria’s Secret best of fine fragrance mist gift set: £21, Victoria’s Secret

The infamous Victoria’s Secret fashion show may have got the axe, but the US lingerie and beauty brand’s range of body mists remains a hit among younger teens experimenting with fragrance for the first time. There are 30 collectable sprays to choose from, each packaged in a colourful bottle. Some shimmer on the skin and they all have sweet fruity or floral scents.

Treat your recipient to this new collection of four of the bestselling mists – bombshell, tease, heavenly and dream angel – so they can mix and match according to their mood. If your budget doesn’t stretch to a gift set, the individual sprays are currently in the sale, starting at just £3.85 for the mini size.

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Champion C logo teal beanie: £30, Urban Outfitters

Stateside sportswear brand Champion is a firm favourite label among teens. This teal beanie featuring the classic “C” logo will keep them warm through winter without denting their street cred. It comes in black, mustard yellow and a soft charcoal grey and has unisex appeal with a fold-over brim. Easy to team with casual tees and vintage sweaters, it’s a safe bet for a younger relative whose tastes seem to change daily. While you’re on the Urban Outfitters site, we have it on good authority that “anything from here” is cool, including the canvas belts and home range.

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Prezzybox llama slippers: £29.99, Prezzybox

Llamas are the new unicorns. This might seem an unexpected turn of trends, but we’re told it’s got something to do with the fluffy Peruvian animals appearing in the video game Fortnite. That and the fact that llamas are always cool, obviously. These slippers from Prezzybox play into the fad in the cutest way, right down to the colourful pom poms. They come in three sizes (if in doubt, size up) and feel gloriously snuggly on a chilly winter’s day. They’re also highly Instagrammable which, let’s face it, lots of teens care more about than warmth.

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Apple airpods with charging case: £138, Currys PC World

The majority of teenagers we quizzed for this round-up have the new Apple wireless airpods at the top of their wishlist (sorry!). They’re undeniably cool, though – the music automatically starts playing as soon as you put them in your ears and stops when you take them out. The sound quality is fantastic and you simply double-tap to skip a song.

Check the battery level by asking Siri, “how’s the battery on my airpods?” and leave them to charge quickly in their portable case, which holds up to 24 hours of charge, while not in use. Best of all, there aren’t any pesky wires to untangle.

The obvious downside is that the price tag may elicit despair, and that’s if you don’t fork out the extra £30 for a wireless charging case or pay £249 for the latest airpods pro. They could also be easy to lose, but we’re on the teenagers’ side here. Go on, treat them.

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Adidas originals firebird tracksuit bottoms: From £42.95, Adidas

We were told in no uncertain terms that while Adidas remains the height of cool (more so than Nike, apparently), those three-stripe leggings you’ve seen on teenagers everywhere are out and looser trackies are in. There’s an extensive range of styles to browse but the iconic firebird bottoms are inspired by Adidas’s Nineties roots and are available in both men’s and women’s sizes. These tracksuit bottoms have front zip pockets, ankle zips, a drawcord at the waist and offer a regular fit that’s neither too tight nor too baggy. Men can choose from six colours while women have a choice of five, including black, red and purple.

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Buy for men now

‘Resisters: 52 Young Women Making Herstory Right Now’ by Lauren Sharkey, published by Hachette Children’s Group: £8.99, Waterstones

This new book about 52 young women who are uniting to create lasting change will make an inspiring gift for teenagers with a conscience. Illustrated by Manjit Thapp, it came out earlier this year and covers everything from feminist issues such as period poverty to political problems like police brutality. These female activists are ordinary people, not celebrities. The one thing they have in common is that they’re all doggedly fighting to improve the world with their great ideas, from Twitter campaigns to lifesaving apps. It’s empowering stuff for all ages, proving that you don’t have to be rich or famous to make a difference, so nab it off your teen and have a flick through yourself!

Buy now

Reese’s lovers collection: £7.99, Amazon

These peanut butter sweet treats from the US are in demand with British teenagers. Luckily, there’s a mouthwatering selection box available to buy online in the UK, so you don’t need to book an expensive flight to the States to source them. This pack contains seven full-size bars, including the big cup, the nut bar, the crisp wafer sticks and the moreish white cups. Yes, it’s an unhealthy gift packed with sugar, but it’s a treat after all. If you’re lucky, your teen might even offer you one (who are we kidding?).

Buy now

The verdict: Gifts for teenagers

Our top pick is the Chilly’s water bottle, which is budget- and eco-friendly, practical and, most importantly, officially cool. Tech-loving teenagers would also love the Apple airpods, Fujifilm instax camera or the Ultimate Ears wonderboom speakers if you’ve got cash to splash.

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