Holiday gift guide: Products for outdoors lovers

December 2, 2014 · 5 minute read

The holiday season is here, and relatives and friends are asking for ideas of what to give you as a gift. Often, just to be polite, you say, “Oh, I don’t know, I don’t really need anything.” Well come on, it’s the season when it’s OK to need stuff!

I bet you’re also trying to figure out what to stuff into the stockings of your tent partner and other outdoor buddies. Sure, fruitcake with it crumbly walnuts, food coloring-dyed candied cherries, and gooey dough provides some needed energy on a winter’s hike, but do you really want to be known as the person that gave such a thing? To provide you some ideas of what to give—or ask for—I’ll share a few pieces of equipment I used this past year that were well trail-tested and are worthy of accompanying you or your friends on that next outing.

ThermaRest's ProLite sleeping pad.

Therm-A-Rest’s ProLite Small sleeping pad

What better gift than that which lightens the load and provides a good night’s sleep could you give a fellow backpacker? Those clever innovators at Therm-A-Rest keep finding ways to make their sleeping pads lighter and lighter. My first pad from them weighed about 2 pounds. By tapering the pad from top to bottom, and using die-cut foam and stretching it to form air pockets, the latest Prolite Small ($79.95) is a three-quarter length pad (20”X47”) and weighs only 11 ounces (my scales said 10.4 ounces.) If you really need a full length pad, the Regular ($99.95; 20”X72”) weighs in at 1 pound. They may be light, but they retain the brand’s well-known insulating properties and comfort. Can we expect a half-pound Prolite pad sometime in the future?

I foolishly carried two Lexan bottles for more than 10,000 miles of hiking. By switching to the soft-sided Platypuses (Playtypi?), I instantly lost a pound—and with the hydration system I can sip on the fly. The 1 liter Platypus bottle weighs all of 1.2 oz. (add 2 oz. for hydration system hose) and the liner is free of BPA and other nasty sounding chemicals. They’re also hardy; you can freeze the water in them before heading out, so you’ll have cool drinks throughout the day. They also stand up to having hot water put into them; think about a warm camp shower as night approaches. When empty, they pack down to nothing and when filled they make great pillows. The one-liter Soft Bottle is $8.95; the one-liter Hoser is $22.95.

It may seem the wrong time of year to be thinking about insect repellent, but, believe me, come warmer weather your gift recipient will be thanking you. Since I’m out in the woods on almost a daily basis, I have some concerns about putting DEET-based repellents on my skin so often. I started using Herbal Armor this past summer and was pleased with its performance. Most natural repellents use only one or two active ingredients. Herbal Armor contains six repelling oils: soybean, citronella, peppermint, cedar, lemongrass, and geranium. Yes, it is quite fragrant, staying that way long after you put it on — and so much so that Laurie makes me wash it off before we crawl into the tent at night. However, it is that fragrance that keeps those nasty biters and bloodsuckers at bay. Unlike one application of DEET that can work all day, I do find I have to reapply Herbal Armor every couple of hours, but I think that’s a small price to pay to keep a chemical that can melt plastic off of my body. A 4 oz. bottle of Herbal Armor is $8.99; a 3 oz. spray can is $9.99.


The Platypus Soft Bottle

Gore-Tex rain gear was a major innovation when it became an item for the outdoors market in the 1980s. No longer did you have to wear a heavy rain poncho whose coated nylon made you sweat so much that you might as well have just taken it off and walked in the rain. However, Gore-Tex has been losing market share to other manufacturers in recent years, and the breathable, waterproof Hellytech Performance technology employed in Helly Hansen’s Loke Jacket ($100; 9 oz.) and Pants ($80; 9 oz) is one reason why. Taking far fewer dollars out of your pocket and weighing significant ounces less than most Gore-Tex products, they performed well during frequent southern Appalachian Mountain rain storms on this summer’s hikes. The jacket, with pit zips, zippered pockets, factory-sealed seams, and a hood that is easy to adjust and the pants, with bottom leg zippers and an adjustable waist, take up little space in the pack.

Speaking about trying to stay dry, especially in a particular part of your anatomy, brings me to Squeaky Cheeks, a body powder made with corn starch, bentonite clay, slippery elm bark, and other natural ingredients. It was developed by Rock Toon — a fireman who certainly would know about sweating — to prevent chafing. I don’t know about you, but greasy lubricants never really worked for me, and medicated powders had to be reapplied numerous times during the day. On my hot weather hikes this summer all it took was one dousing of soothingly fragrant Squeaky Cheeks at the beginning of each day to keep the chafing blues at bay. It’s also worth putting in socks to prevent friction and is quite soothing to rub on your feet after a long day of tramping. As the company’s slogan says, “Funny Name, Serious Comfort.” Made in America. The single use packet is $1.00; the 5 oz. bottle is $13; and the big 20 oz. supply is $44.

Herbal Armor's natural spray is stinky but effective.

Herbal Armor’s natural spray is stinky but effective.

E-Case produces items for something else that needs protection from moisture—those expensive, and quite fragile, tech gadgets that have become indispensible to some people during their outdoors excursions. With various sizes to fit just about everything, including smartphones, e-readers, tablets, cameras, and handheld game systems, the cases are submersible and you can use your device’s touchscreen and talk features while in the case. You can also take photos through the high-clarity windows and some models even have a waterproof headphone jack. I find the cases to be a bit more heavy than I would want to carry on a backpacking trip (I would use a ziplock bag for those outings), but you can be sure my cell phone will be in an E-case during any day trips I take on the water and that my e-reader will be in one during any overnight or longer kayak trips I take. Also made in America. Prices range from $24.95 to $49.95.