Active Outdoors: Christmas gifts for the outdoors lovers

  • For the right person, a guided backcountry ski adventure or lesson would make a memorable Christmas gift. Courtesy of Tim Jones

  • Traction aids like these Kahtoola MICROspikes are a useful gift for anyone who steps outdoors in winter – even just to get the mail! Courtesy of Tim Jones

For the Monitor
Published: 12/9/2018 9:43:48 PM

Getting Christmas gifts for Active Outdoors folks can be a real challenge. If you surprise someone with something they really want and can really use and enjoy, you’ve created a moment you both will cherish always.

But if you miss by even a little, your gift won’t have the same effect.

Gear gifts are a particular challenge. So many outdoor sports require very specific gear. Unless you know the person you are gifting really well, and share their love of the same sports, it’s easy to get it wrong. Even giving something as basic as a gift card or store certificate can be fraught with hazard if you don’t know which brands of gear they prefer or what their most immediate needs are.

Then there’s the risk of giving “agenda” gifts. You honestly think you are giving something that will enrich a person’s life and make it easier or more comfortable to enjoy more outdoor time, perhaps together. Meanwhile the receiver feels he or she is being pressured to do something he or she may not want to do.

My long-suffering sweetheart knows all about agenda gifts, and I’ve learned the hard way to really consider her wants and needs before I go merrily gifting.

So with those hazards in mind, I have a handful of ideas that might work for the outdoors addict in your life this Christmas.

I’ve chosen things that I consider essential because they work so well in many different outdoor pastimes. Perhaps they’ll work for you or the person you want to like your gift. Life isn’t a spectator sport. Get out and enjoy.

Wool socks

I use wool socks for skiing, snowshoeing, skating and mountaineering all winter, hiking all year around, biking all summer. I think I’ve tried every brand of socks and every possible combination of fibers and nothing – I mean nothing – works as well as merino wool.

My go-to brand these days is Darn Tough (darntough.com) which are made right here in New England and live up to their name. This is a product I can recommend without hesitation. That said, however, I’ve had really good wool socks from Smart Wool, Fits and Bridgedale as well.

Lightweight long underwear

If gift givers make a mistake with long underwear. It’s in thinking that heavier is always warmer and warmer is always better. But the long johns (or janes) and tops that get used on outdoor adventures almost all year long are the lightest ones you can find. You wear them next to your skin for skiing, hiking, or even just shoveling. They are great to wear inside a sleeping bag, or as pajamas or just around the house if you’ve turned your thermostat down. They don’t overheat you and you can always throw a heavier pair over if you need more warmth. These days, I prefer merino wool to all other fibers. My favorite brand is Minus 33 (minus33.com) – another New England based company (though the garments are manufactured in China). But I’ve also had good luck with synthetics (which are cheaper), particularly a quirky Japanese brand called Uniqlo (uniqlo.com). Again, when choosing long underwear think lighter rather than heavier.

One other note: Zip neck tops are far more versatile for active sports than crew neck or turtleneck.

Liner gloves

Like socks and underwear, lightweight gloves are pretty much essential equipment in a New England winter. You can use them alone or under other gloves and mittens. Most of them will allow you to use a camera or smart phone without having to expose skin to the elements. There are dozens of good brands on the market; I’ve had especially good luck for many years with liners made by Seirus (seirus.com).

Traction aids

It seems to me that, in recent years “ice events” have become more and more common. Think of how often snowstorms end with some rain. As a result , anyone who ever sets foot outside in New England in winter – even if it’s just to walk out to the mailbox – really should have a set of traction aids to keep from slipping on ice. If all you ever brave are city sidewalks, the traction aids with little tungsten spikes are good enough, but if you are walking crust or snow-covered ice then the chains-with-spikes generically known as “microspikes” are far more versatile. My favorites are still the original MICROspikes made by Kahtoola (kahtoola.com).

Giving experiences

Most gifts are objects, but some of the best gifts for Active Outdoors folks are experiences. You just have to be careful who gets what gift. Just because you enjoy something, doesn’t necessarily mean everyone else will.

A number of times in the past, we’ve given gift certificates for specialized instruction (skiing, climbing, paddling, wind surfing, first aid classes, avalanche training). Other times, we’ve given people experiences we thought they would enjoy – ski lift tickets for a new area, kid-friendly guided hikes, hut overnights, whitewater rafting adventures, ziplining, guided trips for kayak camping, birding, wildflower identification. The possibilities are almost endless.

Generally, those have worked best when we’ve really considered the personality and interests of the person receiving the gift. They haven’t always worked, but when they have they’ve been gifts that get mentioned with fondness, sometimes many years later.

(Tim Jones can be reached at timjones@easternslopes.com.)




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