We know: Shopping for outdoorsy gifts at REI can be as intimidating as getting lost in the mountains.
That’s why we’ve put together this list of specialized outdoors items to minimize your pain as you traverse the gauntlet of confusing gear that lies between you and the perfect gift. Just don’t unclip our carabiner if they already have what we told you to get them, OK? We can only help so much.
Yeah, this is kind of a cop-out. But blame it on Denver’s Topo Design for having too much drool-worthy, outdoor-inspired gear to pick any one item. If pressed to pick favorites, the Klettersack ($170), which may be the brand’s flagship product, is a safe bet. Designed and produced in Colorado, the bag sports oversized zippers and corder stitching, mimicking the look and quality of high-end outdoors gear in a bag that can equally take on both the work week and a quick Saturday hike. If bags aren’t your bag, check out the Tech Trench ($230), the company’s first waterproof jacket. The jacket marks a trend toward technical gear (as the name suggests) for Topo and is the company’s first piece of gear with a 10K waterproof rating. Translation: It’ll hold up to most rain and snowstorms you’ll encounter in Denver. But it’s sleek enough to keep your business attire dry while still looking fly.
A nip of whiskey, some steak, a change of underwear — overnight camping is about the little luxuries. After particularly long days on the trail, the right place to sit at quitting time can make all the difference. Enter the easily inflatable Lamzac The Original, the outdoors equivalent of a couch. This human-sized inflatable pocket can seat you and a friend sitting up. Or, if you don’t want to share, it’s perfect for a full-stretch plop down. The best part might be how easy it is to inflate. Instead of huffing and puffing into a weird plastic tube, you grab either end of its opening and run with it, filling it like a windsock before sealing. (Imagine catching a butterfly with a plastic grocery bag.) It’s made of nylon, so it’ll resist rips, and can support 440 pounds, more than enough for your buffest hiking buddy — provided they don’t have their overnight bag on.
What do you get the hiker who has everything? How about this half-of-a-backpack-slash-over-the-shoulder-fanny-pack thing? It’s niche to be sure, but the Atomic Sling makes sense for the large swath of Colorado’s outdoor-casuals who stroll up mountains like they were lapping around the mall. The bag prizes comfort over space, just big enough to stuff your phone in the strap and a camera, water and a few Clif Bars in its main container. Or, just fill the entire thing up with chestnuts. Your call.
4. Henry David Thoreau’s “Natural History Essays”
Sometimes, the best company for a walk in the woods is a book. Publisher Gibb Smith’s new edition of this classic updates Henry David Thoreau’s book of nature essays with a rubberized hardcover and a dandy design. But it’s what’s on the inside that counts. While some drank or fought, the outdoors was Thoreau’s choice for erasing the worries of society. He shares that on the page, meditating ecstatically on “the butterfly carrying accident and change painted in a thousand hues upon its wings” or showering the birds of the United States with praise in the way a kid might do to his favorite toys. Stick with it far enough and time spent away from society and among the trees starts to make sense. As Thoreau puts it, “We must look a long time before we can see.”
You never realize how often you need a knife than when you’re camping. Sometimes, you can just use your teeth, but when you want to cut some rope to size, gut a fish, whittle a stick or, god forbid, defend yourself, you’re going to want something sharper — and preferably not attached to your mouth. You can get a decent knife at any outdoor retailer, but if you have a bit of cash to splash, consider springing for Best Made Co.’s Benchmade 318 Proper Knife. The American-made knife sports a handle crafted from lightweight, warp-resistant micarta, and the blade itself is made from CPM-S30V, an incredibly wear- and corrosion-resistant steel made specifically for knives. (It’s superlative enough that you can watch people geek out about it on long-winded YouTube knife videos.) It’s a lot, but for outdoor-gear heads, it might be their gift of the year.
For the hardcore, there’s no better reassurance that you’re not going to die than access to clean drinking water. Even if your friend already has a water filtration system, a LifeStraw makes for an invaluable backup. The 2-ounce water-filtration tube works just like a straw, but one you might imagine Davy Crockett would use because of how awesome it looks: You just stick it in a river and start sucking. The company claims its .2-micron-thin filter removes 99.9 percent of bacteria and 99.9 percent of little parasites such as giardia, known affectionately (in my household, anyway) as “the diarrhea bug.” Thanks, LifeStraw!
If you don’t know what to get for your special person and don’t want to be responsible for whether they like it or not, leave it up to Cairn, a monthly outdoors gift subscription service. For about $30 a month, they’ll send your hiking buddy a box of outdoor gear that’s worth roughly $50. Past shipments have included things such as a Cotopaxi bag, portable plastic dishes, energy-rich snacks and, of course, a poop trowel.
Hiking is about the journey, not the destination. But the destination puts up a pretty good fight when you’ve got a miniature keg waiting for you at the end of the trail. That’s essentially what uKeg — a metal growler rigged to carbonate fresh beer — is. Fill one of these little miracles at your favorite brewery and it will keep your hop juice pressurized and cool until sipping hour sets in. Then, load it with a CO2 cartridge to dispense your brew, fresh as the day it was born. It comes in four different finishes (stainless, copper, black chrome and matte) and two sizes (64 and 128 ounces). Beer sold separately.
If you’ve got an outdoorsy friend who’s obsessed with shaving fractions of a pound off everything they own, consider tossing them a HydraPak. It’s made of thermoplastic urethane, which means it’s uber-light — just 1.9 ounces empty for the 1-liter size — and can squish down to the size of a pair of rolled socks. While you still might prefer a CamelBak for a long camping trip, the 500-milliliter bottle is great for quick hikes, sessions at the climbing gym or just a thirsty trip into town.
Let’s get something straight: Hiking a 13.9er doesn’t make you any more or less of a person than hiking a 14er. But if it’s bragging rights your eager significant other is after, consider slipping them a 14er Summit Register for your non-denominational holiday of choice. The handsome poster (printed on French Sweet Tooth 65 stock, so you know it’s good) lists all 58 of Colorado’s 14ers in striped relief, each peak reduced to a simple but evocative craggy line. Bonus: Each poster comes with a custom stamp and ink pad so you can check off each agonizing climb (never again, Longs) in style. For $140 more, they’ll even pop it into a Colorado-made, ready-to-hang frame for you.
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