These are the best of the items that found their way to my desk over the past few months. There are camping gear updates, tough travel items, and a couple of game-changing gadgets. I’m most interested in gear that is versatile enough to function equally well in the backcountry, at altitude, at the campsite, in a canoe, or in an airport or chicken bus. Enjoy these gift ideas, either for yourself or the burly camper in your life.
Haswell Survival Knife 2.0 ($119, pictured above) is a hand-forged carbon steel knife with a Scandi grind blade and old-school leather sheath. It will be nice to have around the campsite, for bushcraft, or for outdoor survival, if it comes to that. The Haswell’s wedge-shaped blade is ideal for cutting, shaving, and whittling, and it just looks plain savage.
Boulder Smart Lantern ($99.99) is the latest release in the Lander lantern line. In addition being a robust power storage unit and device charger, the 350-Lumen Boulder adds proximity lighting, a feature which adjusts light intensity based on how close you are to the unit. The Boulder connects via Bluetooth to a phone app, where you can control power, dimming, color, light alarms, and strobe lighting. It also has wireless device charging, plug-in ports, and an IP65 waterproof rating.
Triage Kit ($34.99) is an ultra-lightweight (100g) backcountry first aid, repair, and survival kit, which was curated by interviewing over 100 outdoor professionals about the most vital items they carried. The small kit (which I keep in my larger first aid box as a mobile unit to take and leave) includes UCO Storm Matches, a variety of bandages and wound care, zip ties, duct tape, 22-gauge wire, aspirin and painkiller, and emergency blanket. Unchartered Supply Company also makes a number of larger survival kits, both for outdoor expeditions and in case of natural disaster or emergency.
Zenbivy Quilts ($129-299) are soft, warm blankets in a variety of creative designs with footboxes for your tootsies—and no zippers to get jammed or add weight. These quilts can substitute for sleeping bags, wrap you up in a hammock, or just serve as nice, warm blanket to have around the campfire or in the car. They range from thinner 40º synthetic quilts for summer, to 800-fill 3-season quilts rated as low as 10º for other seasons.
Outside Inside 5-in-One Game Set ($25.95) is ideal for the backpacker/ board-gamer in your life. The roll-up board is lightweight and packable, and the set has chess, checkers, ludo, backgammon, and Snakes & Ladders, all in one kit. It comes with its own carrying case; the same company has other fun gifts for the trail, like harmonicas and lightweight kites.
PATCH bamboo bandages ($8.99) are now in my first aid kit. They are a 100% compostable and hypoallergenic, and are made from 100% organic bamboo fiber (no plastics, latex, silicone, or toxins). Patch bandages come off easily and come in four styles, depending on the injury: natural, coconut oil kids, aloe vera, and activated charcoal. We all know band-aids are the ultimate placebo for kids, so giving them a cool container and selection helps with the healing as well.
The Bags, Man
Pelican Air Travel 1535 Carry On Case ($332.95)is a hard-sided, bad-ass, overhead bin–compliant case for important or delicate adventure gear (or precious, breakable souvenirs, for that matter). Its interior dimensions are 20.4″ × 11.2″ × 7.2″ and it weighs just over 10 pounds. Bounce it, drop it, freeze it, submerge it, hand it over-eager baggage handlers—it’s as tough as any other Pelican case. It has has press-and-pull latches with integrated locks, a lid organizer with zip and mesh pockets, and comes with two packing cubes. Its stainless-steel-bearing roller wheels are handy, it has a purge valve for high altitudes, and watertight O-ring gasket for river trips.
SMARTY CO’s Clear Backpack ($42.97) is a good choice for concerts, festivals, or even just for the TSA in airports. Seems more and more events and venues are demanding clear backpacks these days. This one is made of heavy-duty, clear PVC material, and is stitched three times with “military grade” nylon fabric.
Titan Deep Freeze Expandable Lunch Box ($27.99) is handy for either school, road trip, or a day hike. It’s effective for up to 12 hours of cold, with its removable “ice walls;” freeze them at night, then insert in the morning without having to open the (already packed) lunch pack. It has thick insulation, a radiant sun barrier and antibacterial lining which is easy to rinse out. The outside is also easy to clean and has plenty of handles.
Gadgets & Phone Stuff
ChargeHub Auto Phone Mount & Wireless Charger ($59.99) is not actually adventure gear, but it’ll help get you to the campsite. This particular unit solves several mounting and charging problems at once, so I thought it was worthy of this list. The ChargeHub mounts on a pivot ball, either clipped into your car’s air vent (my preference), or on a bendable arm and suction cup mount that attaches to the dashboard or windshield. The motorized arms with automatic phone detection grab and grip your phone when it is placed on the foot of the mount, so no more dangerous steering the car with your elbows while fumbling with the mount (as I’ve, um, heard some people do); tap a touch sensor on the side to automatically release. It also has a wireless charging pad, plugged into the USB separately, which charges the phone more quickly than direct from the car’s USB.
CatTongue grip ($14.95) is a minimalist no-slip device for your phone, either in the car or elsewhere. They have an enormous variety of designs for their non-adhesive grips for your phone or tablet, and they also sell rolls of non-adhesive grip tape to keep your other gadgets from sliding around. The idea is to be able to place your device down on the dashboard of a moving car or boat and not have to worry about it moving.
MyCharge PowerFold ($59.99) is a portable, compact solar charger with three foldable panels and a removable 8,000 mAh powerbank that can provide up to three times extra battery life for most phones. It can be recharged via the solar panels or micro-USB. I’m going to strap it to the top of my backpack to test it out. They say it takes about four hours to recharge the battery pack. Start hiking … now.
Truly Wire-free Earbuds ($79.99) from iLive are wireless, Bluetooth buds with either yellow or all-black black rubber ear-hook that wrap very securely and, so far, stay in place. This pair is equally ideal for outdoor activities, exercising, or zoning out in an airport or train station. They slip right in and stay in place, rivaling even the personal-molded earbuds I’ve tried. I’m always worried I’ll lose things like these, but the hard-shell carrying case (which doubles as a charging unit and can itself be plugged into a USB port) helps alleviate that fear.
TikiTunes 2-Pack Wireless Bluetooth Speakers ($69.99) is an awesome addition to your back porch, garage, or living room. The two 5-watt speaker speakers link up automatically for surround sound, have LED atmospheric lighting that looks like flickering flames, and each gets about six hours of continuous playtime from any wireless compatible device. And yes, you can screw them into custom poles and ground posts for the full tiki torch effect. The range from your device is about 30 feet.
Coffee, Whiskey, and Water
STEEPED Coffee ($15 for a 10-pack) is single-serve coffee in compostable bags. I always wondered why coffee never came in bag form like tea, but here it is. These could be very convenient when traveling or camping. The biggest perk (sorry couldn’t resist) is that all their coffee is sourced from high quality, direct trade, single origin farms, and there are many blends from which to choose. You can sign up to their subscription service, or just buy a handful for your backpack or travel bag.
Flaviar Membership ($300/year or $95/quarterly) is the gift that keeps on giving. Especially recommended for dads. The club focuses on fine spirits from around the world, with a focus on whiskey (and including Flor de Caña rum from Nicaragua!). Membership includes quarterly spirits delivery of one tasting box and one full size (750ml or larger) premium bottle. Flaviar’s holiday gift campaign includes the chance to punk your friends with fake crappy gifts (think ugly socks, ties, scarves, and slippers) when, in reality, you’re giving a $300 annual membership. Be sure to film their reaction. Flaviar membership also gets you access to rare spirits like Yamazaki and Pappy, limited-edition private bottlings, free shipping, and periodic access to massive pop-up tasting events and concerts. Membership can get you VIP access to these tasting events, or just sit at home and sip. Their current special bottling is HerculesMulligan Rum & Rye, a blend of Caribbean rum and American rye (kind of like a ready-made Old-Fashioned) “inspired by the unsung Revolutionary War hero” Hercules Mulligan, an Irish immigrant, tailor, rebel, and spy (this batch of bottles is available to both the public and Flaviar members).
Love Bottle ($25) is an elegant, reusable glass water bottle that donates 5% of their revenue to water related charities. It’s made in the USA and comes in many fun designs. This could make a nice stocking stuffer.
SHEER crew neck T-shirt ($38) is part of a line of crowd-funded Merino wool shirts, which they claim are so odor, stain, and wrinkle resistant, that users can “go several days, even weeks, without washing their Oxford shirt or crewneck t-shirt and still feel fresh.” The products are 100% sustainable, origin-sourced merino wool. There’s a crew-neck T-shirt, a button-down Merino wool Oxford, and also boxer briefs.
Insulated Touchscreen Gloves ($45, but anyone can get 15% off any product on mujjo.com with coupon code #qualitygifts, valid through Dec 16) from Mujjo have always been a solid, low-profile, and practical pair of gloves. This year, they are warmer, thanks to an extra layer of Polar fleece and the added option of “double-insulated” thickness for colder temps. This year’s version also has a new-and-improved thumb construction to help when using larger screens.
FITS Socks Holiday Gift Pack ($49/ three pairs) is your more traditional gift, but with an outdoor angle. These socks are all made in the USA out of 18.5 micron merino wool, which is not as itchy as old-school wool and even has a soft, cashmere-like texture. The gift pack includes a pair each of Light Runner Low, Performance Trail Quarter, and Medium Hiker Crew socks. They stay warm even when wet.
CHUPS Socks ($35/pair) are another option for the traditionalist; they are thick and cozy and come in a variety of bright, multi-color, festive patterns (plus a few cheesy Santa designs for good measure. They are made from either cotton, recycled cotton, or merino wool and are all soft and hypo-allergenic.
JUMPER Boxer Briefs ($25) were created by a former Airborne Ranger and outdoor apparel executive “who wanted to reinvent underwear.” This really is a remarkable pair of skivvies made out of—wait for it—peppermint leaves. Fabric made from peppermint is, apparently, breathable, stretchable, environmentally friendly, and has natural anti-odor properties. These are actually 18.5% peppermint leaf, 34.5% promodal (from birch and Eucalyptus trees), 39% polyester, and 8% elastin. They come in a range of colors and have a unique top-releasing, quick release fly system.
Maloja StiafenM. Cardigan ($219, pronounced “mah-low-yah”) comes from a German based brand specializing in stylish adventure wear that doubles perfectly on the airplane (or, in my case, teaching in the classroom). This zip-up cardigan has simple, slightly-retro lines, a stand-up collar, and a natural, casual fit. It is made from high twisted cotton, fits well, is just heavy enough, and has been my daily companion all autumn long. It comes in both grey and blue.
KUHL’s Resistor Pants ($99) are are tough, stretchy, waterproof, and wrinkle-free, even after a few days crumpled on the floor (my wife told me to put them away, but I argued it was scientific research). I love that I’ve seen KUHL pants and shirts for sale in hardware stores and dude ranch gift shops, that’s a good sign. This morning, while hiking at a ranch in New Mexico, I was wearing these pants over waterproof boots when I stepped into a frozen creek while carrying my 6-year-old daughter; the water went up to my calf and the pants were dry before we got back to the lodge, despite freezing temps. They’re made of 65% Cotton, 26% Nylon, and 9% Spandex, making them just stretchy and lightweight enough. They go well with KUHL’s “smoked paprika” short-sleeve Response Shirt ($49).
Sawyer Kids T-Shirts ($25) are not your average children’s designs for T-shirts. They are a fun mix of outdoor themed, adventure promoting messages and, yes, the company is named after Tom Sawyer, the quintessential adventurer. Messages like “grow wild,” “free range,” “climb a tree,” and “Lil ripper” make for fun gifts. Plus, Sawyer donates 10% of its profits to causes that support kids in need and the environment. They also cover carbon costs with shipping, have eliminated all plastic bags in their packaging, and use only recycled packaging. Definitely check out all the options first before deciding; there are many.
MagnaReady flannels ($64.95) have a patented magnet-snapping false button open/close system, which I’ve never seen before and which makes putting it on an effortless, well, snap. Even better, ripping them off feels pretty good. The shirts are pretty thick, made of 100% brushed flannel herringbone cotton, and come in a few classic plaid designs, with button down collar and rounded breast pocket.
Mack Weldon’s 37.5 Oxford shirt ($88) is another handsome but “low maintenance” shirt, which I’m a sucker for. It has a classic fit, button-dock collar, and double-button cuffs, and is 60% Cotton and 40% 37.5 Polyester. “37.5” refers to the optimal body temperature in degrees Celsius, referencing the shirt’s ability to breathe and keep you from sweating. It’s another great bridge shirt that I can wear to work and also run around town in.
10. Helly Hansen Calgary Parka ($350) is the grand finale—a big ticket gift item that will last through the last of the spring snows. It has a simple, unassuming profile, but is insulated with PrimaLoft, covers hands and down to the thighs, and is perfect for long, wet, cold, and windy winters. The Calgary has pockets inside and out, fold-up reflective sleeves, and a large hood. This jacket would be equally appropriate on the slopes or the Safeway parking lot.
Safe Catch Pouches (from $2.99/packet, or $35.99/12-pack) are mercury-tested tuna fish snacks in single-serving pouches. You can eat it with a fork right out of the packaging without refrigeration or cooking, making for a protein-rich snack (14g of protein per serving). I’ve eaten these during a busy day of teaching for a boost, and also while hiking. The tasty flavors include chili lime, citrus pepper, habanero mint, tandoori, and cajun.
—Joshua Berman is the author of Moon Colorado Camping: The Complete Guide to Tent and RV Camping and is the “Around Colorado” travel columnist for The Denver Post. His website is https://joshuaberman.net/ and he is on Twitter at @tranquilotravel