Happy gifting season, y’all! I’m starting this year’s gift guides off with small gifts and stocking stuffers to ease into the holiday spirit. This Christmas is weird. People are showing a lot less interest – searches for decorations are down, likewise for gift ideas, and retailers predict tepid customer spending through the holiday season. It makes sense. Inflation’s a bitch. Holiday cheer feels like emotional whiplash coming out of a stressful midterm election. So let’s start small and make sure we’ve got at least a little something for our loved ones in time for our holiday gatherings.
Gloves: Hats get all the glory as a wintery, outdoorsy small gift. The options are limitless, they always fit, and they’re a great vehicle to convey your personal style. But we all have tons of hats. So instead, let me pitch gloves and mittens. Unlike hats, every sport requires their gloves – ski gloves (ideally 2 pairs, since they get wet and dry slowly), ice climbing gloves, belay gloves, biking gloves (including road vs. mountain bike, or warm weather vs. cold weather). And that’s not even including casual gloves for work, travel or emergency gloves to keep in your car, or work / gardening gloves for projects at home. Plus, unlike hats, the insulation breaks down or they get holes in them over time. Have I made a sufficient argument for gloves? Great, here are some recs:
- Printed lightweight/liner gloves: I wear the Burton Touch-N-Go gloves 7 days a week. They’re very lightly insulated; perfect for Seattle winter temps or uphill skinning or hiking in the mountains. They’re knitted, but no too stretchy, which strikes the perfect balance of wind resistance and breathability. And the fun pattern makes them easier to spot in my pack and makes me a little bit happier on long slogs. Dakine’s Rambler is a lighter, true liner version (I’m obsessed with their floral print). Smartwool offers a merino blend version. New Balance has a budget version with strong reviews. And these are some of my favorite that we sell at work with lots of clip spots to make on-and-off wearing more convenient.
- Innovative running gloves: Nathan and Oiselle both make reflective gloves so that winter runners are a bit more visible, and the latter even has a spot to clip a light. Or this one has a neat little window for a smart watch.
- Sophisticated liners with versatile use: My work travel takes me to the mountains in Vermont, and it’s nice to keep the luggage lighter with a glove that does double-duty from the office and work dinners to post-meeting adventures. I’m a sucker for anything with an animal motif, so I love the merino Harrier gloves from running brand Jacksmith (the synthetic Invernos are chic too). Pendleton’s wool blend gloves come in a wide variety of colors. Or if you’re going for luxury, Garnet Hill’s cashmere gloves use longer, more durable cashmere fibers for a high-quality glove that can last for years.
- Bike gloves: Bike gloves get a lot of abuse. They get so sweaty and stinky during warm weather. Mountain bike gloves see a lot of abrasion. These road biking gloves have a cool reflective design on the backs of their hands. Shredly has great mountain bike gloves in a wide range of prints for women. And Wild Rye offers an insulated glove for cold weather biking.
- Emergency Mitts: I nabbed a pair of down mittens of Sierra last year and I highly recommend them. They’re light, they pack down into nothingness, and they’re like little sleeping bags for your hands. They’re the perfect backup mitten and always manage to fit in my pack, even when it seems like it’s packed to the brim. They come in handy when my main mitts get wet, or I underestimated how cold I’d get. Not super weather proof or abrasion resistant, but that’s not what they’re made for. Mine are a previous iteration of the Outdoor Research Coldfront and hunting brand First Light makes a nicer version that’s warmer, lighter, more packable, and with a more durable face fabric.
Socks. One sock brand owns my heart. Darn Tough socks are elite. We need short sock for summer and long socks for wearing with boots and thin socks for tight footwear and thick, cushioned options when we need to take up extra volume. Some days we want crazy socks and some days we need something more subdued. Darn Tough carries all of that, plus they’ve got insane durability and a lifetime warranty.
I’d just skip ski socks. Most skiers are very particular about getting the right weight that plays nice with the amount of volume in their boots and likely have a particular brand or line that they’re loyal to.
A tote. Totes don’t get enough love. They’re so versatile. Can’t decide between 15 jackets and want to decide at the trailhead? Throw them all in a tote. Organizing ski gear the night before an early ski morning? Throw it in a tote. Bringing beers, snacks, even a whole picnic for the après scene? Tote. Going midweek grocery shopping? Tote. Dog towels, beach days, tiny kid mittens that get lost so easily, all your crag climbing gear.
We’re not talking about your classic reusable grocery tote. The best outdoor totes have a few differences: A nice blend of structural integrity and packability; ideally, they can stay upright no matter what awkwardly shaped stuff is packed inside. Some sort of zipper or cinch closure to keep everything inside. Reinforced fabric on the bottoms and straps. And some weather or water resistant features are nice.
- We sell the 51-liter Adventure Tote at Orvis, and they come in handy for everything. Most coworkers use them as a work tote. One of them moved houses with mostly Adventure Totes. It’s a treated polyester that makes the bag durable, but also easy to wipe off or even hose down. It zips closed and there’s an additional zipper pocket for small or important items. Fits under an airline seat for travel. Folds flat and rolls up when not in use. And if you think I’m biased, just take it from the 400 customers who have given it 4.9 stars over the years.
- The Cotopaxi Alpa 60-liter Gear Hauler tote is huge, colorful, and environmentally-conscious. It’s made completely from remnant material leftover from other Cotopaxi bags and garments, so the colors you get with the final product are a total surprise. It’s got extra side handles and a rectangular, semi-structured design that keeps most things inside despite lacking a closure. The only downside of repurposed fabric is that you most likely won’t get a coated fabric that’s the most durable or easiest to clean, but it’s reinforced where it matters and will still give that scrap fabric a long life.
- The Hydroflask 34L insulated tote is the way to go if you love a good picnic. It gets the job done as a soft-sided cooler, and the mesh external pockets make it easy to stash plates, cups, and silverware for ultimate convenience.
Camp Food. Camp food is expensive. It’s also inconvenient. As you’re packing for the mountains, you have to spend your Friday afternoon driving past 15 grocery stores to your local REI where all the good options are sold out. You wait in line behind 34 other weekend warriors and spend $12 on bad mac and cheese. Instead, hook them up ahead of time with something like:
- Nomad Nutrition specializes in plant-based meals that are vegetable forward (yams, mushrooms, quinoa, cabbage, beets – you’ll never find those in a Mountain House). Outdoor Herbivore is another veggie-friendly options enjoyed by omnivores too.
- Good to Go (not to be confused with the toll road pass) focuses on well-rounded nutrition and considerations for dietary restrictions (gluten-free, low sodium, vegetarian, pescatarian, etc.)
- Next Mile Meals for keto-friendly meals.
- Heather’s Choice for hearty meals with a focus on high-quality protein.
- Packit Gourmet is run by an Austin family making Texan favorites into trail-friendly package.
- Mary Jane’s Farms offers organic food and great buy-in-bulk options for people looking to get the best value and minimize packaging.
And tie the whole gift together with a GSI camp spoon. The long handle and spatula-like qualities make it easy to get every morsel out of the bag when you’re starving on the trail.
Headlamp or camp lighting. Did you know headlamps are the only piece of gear that can grow legs and run away? Or at least that’s what it seems like. We like to keep an extra in our vehicles and camper. We got reusable ones for walking the dog and city running since they’re better for the environment and more affordable in the long run.
- The Astro 300 is a bright headlamp for the money ($14.99 through tomorrow), with adjustable brightness, a strobe, and water-resistance.
- We added the Spot 400-R at home since it charges by mini-USB just like our dog’s light up collar. They’re bright, yet dimmable. There’s a battery gauge. It’s waterproof enough to handle being submerged in water. I like being able to bring backup batteries on the trail, but for town adventures or short dusk patrol tours, I’ll be getting a lot of use out of these this winter. Cheaper BD headlamps are “rechargeable” through a BD-specific battery and charger sold separately, but the ones that use USB cords are the most convenient.
- Energizer 100 lumen headlamps go for $10-for-two, which makes them an affordable option to toss in a stocking. It’s not the lightest, and I’d want something brighter for most outdoor adventures, but it’s a solid option to stash in the glove box for emergencies, putting on tire chains, or when you inevitably leave the Cadillac option behind and want to fall back on something.
- Collapsible camp lanterns like Goal Zero or Luci lights. They’ve got rechargeable batteries and a solar patch to recharge on the go. These are a great option for long winter camp nights where 6 hours is a long time to sit around with a headlamp strapped to your noggin.
- Camp string lights have a similar story, adding a bit of light to a campsite. It also makes you easy to find if friends are joining you at a backcountry spot or RV lot. The MPowered Luci String lights have the same solar panel patch as their inflatable lanterns. I’ve also found their hook system really easy to use and hang. These string lights are a cheaper battery powered option that has a couple of twinkle settings.
Sustainable snack accessories (snaccessories?) Hiking snacks tend to involve a lot of single-use plastic. Either it’s single-serving snacks in aluminum bonded plastic or it’s treats transferred into a plastic bag. It’s not good for the planet in general, but it also creates risk for microplastics and litter in the world’s most beautiful spaces. Instead try:
- Beeswax Wrap: Cotton, beeswax, food-grade oils, and a bit of pine tree resin team up as an alternative to cling wrap. The fabric’s slightly sticky, so it can fold, wrap, and stick just like plastic wrap. It’s washable and clean for most food types (just not raw meat). And the waxes and oils keep your jelly or mustard from seeping out of the wrap and getting on your expensive gear. After around a year, it’ll be time to slice them into pieces and drop them in the compost bin. Bee’s Wrap is the OG and a certified B-Corp, but Target has a more affordable knock-off and Food52 has some beautiful prints on organic cotton.
- Snack Bags: Stasher made the reusable silicone ziplock bags. These hold up to high heats, so if you bought one of those bulk Mary Jane’s Farms dehydrated meals, you can mix in boiling water and cook in one of these. They also hold up to the microwave and dishwasher at home. And bees wax is still an option here (Bee’s Wrap makes bags too) and HoldOn has compostable options for single-use.
X-Tiger Sunglasses. The materials used in X-Tigers are affordable, but sometimes cheap materials are a good choice. The frames are TR-90 plastic, which is lightweight and flexible, often worn by kids or athletes who are hard on their eyewear. The lenses (it comes with 3-5) are CR-39 resin, which offer incredible clarity and respectable shatter and scratch resistance (especially when treated with a scratch resistant coating). Compare that to a Smith Wildcat, you’re paying an upcharge for polycarbonate lenses, which are more shatter-proof, but offer some of the worst optical clarity and are easily scratched. They wrap fully around my face, and the clear and yellow lenses are perfect for nighttime touring or dark, shady mountain bike trails.
Face balm / Hair oil. Winter sports are tough on your skin. The air’s dry. Exposed skin gets wind whipped. Even nice days bring the risk of UV damage, and a few bevvies at the lodge don’t help. A balm-y skin protectant (like Sun Bum sunscreen stick, this Raw Elements sunscreen, or Burt’s Bees Miracle Balm) lock in moisture with a mix of oils and non-comedogenic wax.
Overnight, a deep moisturizer like CeraVe Cream or Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Cream helps moisturize and repair damage overnight. Kiehl’s also offers a mask version for extra pampering after a hut trip or ski traverse where skincare frequently gets neglected.
Our hair’s not immune, either. Cold air causes the hair cuticle (or protective layer) to lift, allowing dry air to strip each strand of moisture. Dry hair loses flexibility and becomes prone to breakage or a brittle feeling. Stuffing your strands in a jacket is better since it stays warmer, but then you’re still dealing with friction from your clothes and helmet. A slinky balaclava (like these from Skida) and a light hair oil reduce the friction and related damage. I swore by the Trader Joe’s Jojoba Oil when my hair was long, and also recommend this Squalene Oil. Make sure to read the label – some “oils” contain mostly silicone mixtures.
A Book. Here’s a few on my shortlist:
- Staying Alive in Avalanche Terrain: Mandatory November read for every backcountry traveler. It’s a great primer for an Avy 1 class, so you’re familiar with some of the concepts before the course, and it’s an even better refresher to start the season with.
- Powder Days: An survey of skiing over the past decades, from small mom-and-pop resorts to mega-resorts run by publicly traded companies. It captures how the change in ski business structure is changing skiing and the mountain communities.
- The Great Bicycle Experiment: In the late 1800s, the government wanted to cut costs by switching from horses, who had to be fed and allowed rest, to bikes. In order to test the idea, they had an all-Black regiment bike from Missoula, Montana to St. Louis on heavy, single speed bikes over mountain passes and on old tech-y forest roads. It hits a lot of interests across Black history, military history, and bike touring.
- A Field Guide to Dumb Birds of North America: Birding and a comedy roast have a baby.
- America’s Best Day Hikes: For the traveling recreationalist. Or make it Lonely Planet’s Epic Bike Rides of the Americas for road, gravel, and trail bike enthusiasts.
- The MeatEater Fish and Game Cookbook: What’s the point in harvesting food from the outdoors if you’re not going to eat it? The author gets rave reviews for the recipes, but they also talk ethical consumption with topics like animal conservation, sustainable hunting practices, and food utilization.
Katadyn BeFree: Even if your loved one has a water filter already, the Katadyn Be Free serves a separate purpose. It’s a filter and a water bottle all in one, which makes hydrating on-trail far more convenient. I clocked 30+ mile trail days this year where I never had to stop and filter water. My hydration bladder got me through the dry sections, and the BeFree let me get a few clean, cold gulps while on the go. And since they’re soft sided, they’re easy to stash in running vest or hip belt pockets for maximum convenience. Lifestraw also has a cheaper competitor, but the bag and filter cap are bulkier and heavier, but some recipients may not mind.
Monocular or Binoculars: I know you probably got binoculars as a kid from a weird uncle and that you never used them, but they’re really a good gift now. Price varies with quality and level of magnification., and some hobbies require a powerful and expensive set. But most hikers, climbers, skiers, and road-trippers can get an affordable option to get an eye on their route or enjoy the sights on a scenic drive.
- Brunton Echo Pocket Scope Monocular: My friend Ian keeps a monocular in his pack similar to this, and it’s great for ski touring and glacier travel to see the route ahead of us and keep an out for other parties. It’s under 2 ounces, meaning weight’s unlikely to be a deal breaker, and at $22, it can be a great stocking stuffer or smaller gift on its own.
- Bushnell H2O Waterproof-Fogproof Compact Binocular: If you’ve been tempted by Nocs, this pair offers a similar package for less. These binoculars weigh about 2/3 of a pound and are a solid multi-purpose option. The waterproof option makes them handy for boating and fishing, they’re light enough to carry in a ski pack or backpack, and they have enough magnification for casual birdwatching.
One thought on “Gift Guide 2022 – Budget Gifts and Stocking Stuffers”
GREAT RECOMMENDATIONS!! Thank you!