Christmas Outdoors

By Eric Christensen

October 23, 2013 5 min read

Many of us have friends or family members who love the outdoors. They disappear for days at a time to hike, climb or camp. For those of us who are unfamiliar with that lifestyle, buying gifts for them can be difficult. A trip to an outdoor supply store can overwhelm us with space-age materials, clothes for every climate and technical gear that looks downright alien. But if you think small, focus on the fundamentals and get creative this holiday season, gift giving will be easy.

The first tip is to think small: Focus on the small but useful accessories fans of the outdoors use. Brendan Leonard, who has written for Backpacker, Outside and Men's Journal and runs the website semi-rad.com, recommends water bottles, headlamps and multi-tools. Specifically, he recommends the CamelBak Podium Chill insulated squeeze bike bottle ($12), Hydro Flask standard-mouth vacuum bottle ($26) or the Klean Kanteen insulated stainless steel wide-mouth Bottle ($30). Leonard suggests the Petzl Tikka Plus 2 ($40) or the Princeton Tec Vizz ($50) headlamps, saying, "A good, basic headlamp is useful for trail runners and hikers who stay out after sunset or start before sunrise, anyone who camps, and when you're not outdoors, you can use them when fixing things around the house." For multi-tools, he suggests the Gerber Suspension Multi-Pliers ($35) or the Leatherman Skeletool ($65).

The second tip is to focus on the fundamentals: Look for highly rated gear and clothing that are light, compact and waterproof, such as tents, backpacks, compression sacks, sleeping bags, sleeping pads and clothes. These tend to be more expensive because of the high-tech materials and activity-specific modifications. And many users can be picky when it comes to gear or clothing, so it helps if the person you're buying for can provide you with a list of specific items. But if you don't have such a list, Geoffrey Conner, a gear expert, or "gearhead," for the outdoor gear site Backcountry.com, says, "Don't be afraid to call and pick a gearhead's brain. We all love to help people get the right gear for their trips and activities."

If the site you're using doesn't employ similar experts, Conner says, "Quality is key. Generally, if you spend a little bit more, you will get a product that will last much longer and perform much better. But this is not always the case, so doing research and checking out gear review sites before purchasing can go a long way." In regard to clothing, Conner advises, "Probably the most important thing when buying for others is knowing that person's measurements beforehand. I would say a majority of the returns we see are because the wrong size was ordered. ... Important measurements would be chest size, sleeve length, waist, inseam, torso length and foot size. ... At Backcountry, we can set up orders for multiple sizes and set up free returns so that a customer can check out a variety of options."

The final tip is to get creative: Instead of buying an item, buy an experience. Leonard suggests state parks passes or national parks passes ($80), saying, "A national parks pass gives the holder access to all of America's national parks and monuments for a year. State parks passes can be just as expensive, but give the holder access to lots of wild terrain closer to home. If you're going to state parks more than two or three times a year, they're a value." He also suggests guided adventures, such as whitewater rafting ($100-$200 per person) or mountain climbing. And many rock climbing gyms sell day passes if you want to give the gift of a first climbing lesson. Outdoor supply stores such as REI also sell once-in-a-lifetime travel packages such as a Mount Kilimanjaro climb and safari or a cycling trip in Vietnam. However, some of these trips also come with once-in-a-lifetime price tags.

Buying outdoor gear for a loved one shouldn't be about getting the shiniest or most complex gadget. It should be about keeping your friends and family safe, warm and dry when outdoors. Whether you provide them with a critical accessory or the tent that keeps them out of the rain, if you use these tips, they'll definitely be happy campers.

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