Holiday Wishlist

December 7, 2004

Spreading Holiday Gear: An Outdoor Enthusiast’s Wish List

AMC Outdoors, December 2004

I’ve always loved Christmas. I loved it as a kid because—well, that’s obvious. As a chronically cash-strapped young adult, I loved Christmas because it presented an opportunity to acquire that critical new piece of gear that I absolutely “needed.” And I love it now because I get to see the excitement of my two young kids as I equip them for outdoor fun. If you’re looking for gift ideas for that special outdoorsy someone who seems to have it all—or needs everything—here are the coolest things I’ve seen and used recently.

In my opinion, nothing says “I love you” like a soft shell. Ideal for almost any activity—from hiking and climbing in the cool months of spring and fall, to snowshoeing or skate-skiing in winter—the durable, breathable fabric of a soft shell is sure to keep your loved one cozy and dry. For three-season or aerobic winter activities, my favorite is the GoLite Kinetic Jacket ($199, 15 oz.), which blends two Polartec fabrics to create a stretchy and remarkably breathable jacket with zip-off sleeves. Ditto the Cloudveil Switchback Pants ($165, 14 oz.), made of Schoeller Dynamic fabric with 3XDry treatment for water resistance.

In cold conditions, it is crucial to prevent heat-robbing moisture from building up in your clothing—the exceptional breathability of soft shells excels at keeping you dry on the inside. (I never wear traditional Gore-Tex shells anymore—they’re just not breathable enough.) To really impress that die-hard winter warrior on your list, consider The North Face (TNF) Caber Hybrid Jacket, which marries TNF’s waterproof-breathable HyVent Alpha fabric to its Apex soft shell. I’ve worn it through hours of wind-driven blizzard, moving uphill and down, without getting wet, overheated, or cold. For my legs, I go with either the Arc’teryx Gamma MX Pant ($249, 18 oz.), or Marmot ATV Pant ($159, 21 oz.)—both are great fall and spring pieces as well.

Still in love with the plush softness of fleece? For three-season insulation and a really versatile winter layer, nothing beats Patagonia’s R2 Body Rug Pullover ($115, 14 oz.). If that pushes your budget, check out the REI Muir Woods Jacket instead ($69, 16 oz.); it’s the best bargain fleece I’ve used.

Shopping for a special hard-to-fit someone? Take a look at Beyond Fleece (800-741-3369, They make high-quality fleece garments and outerwear (including soft shells) that you can custom-order to your measurements, at prices that compete with or beat the stuff in stores ($79 and up).

Know somebody who’s always spending long hours in cold, moving water? Given up on getting that person into counseling? Then get something that’ll improve his or her comfort and safety. The latest version of the NRS Extreme dry suit ($450) is made of tough, waterproof TriTon 420-denier tricot, and has a heavy-duty zipper, latex gaskets, and reinforced Cordura seat, elbows, and knees. Packs are hard to recommend—so much depends on fit and desired capacity and features. But if you know an avid backcountry skier or snowboarder, check out the Osprey Switch 40+5 ($189, 2,500 cubic inches, 4 lbs. 6 oz.) and 55+5 ($239, 3,400 cubic inches, 5 lbs. 6 oz.). Both load easily, carry weight comfortably, and feature hipbelt pockets, ski-carrying straps, and dual-position compression straps that haul snowshoes or a snowboard. The adjustable harness doubles as a removable hydration pack, which can be worn separately and refilled without unloading the main compartment (the hose even zips into a shoulder strap to prevent freezing).

Got somebody angling for a new tent? There are a lot of new designs to choose from these days. Single-wall tents have finally come into their own, and feature one waterproof-breathable layer of fabric rather than the traditional double-wall style of tent body and rainfly, saving significant weight and bulk. And new materials on the market help eliminate condensation, a problem with earlier models. Look for one of two fabrics that excel at breathability: eVent, found in the Integral Designs eVent Mk1Lite two-person tent ($530, 26 sq. ft., 3 lbs. 5 oz.); or Epic by Nextec, used in Black Diamond’s Lighthouse ($369, 31 sq. ft., 3 lbs.) and Firstlight ($299, 27 sq. ft., 2 lbs. 9 oz.). For something a little less expensive, look at classic double-wall tents. Among the best and lightest are the REI Quarter Dome ($229, 28 sq. ft., 3 lbs. 11 oz.), which has two doors and vestibules, but is cramped for campers over six feet tall; or the roomier Sierra Designs Lightning ($249, 32 sq. ft., 3 lbs. 15 oz.).

Got a backpacking chef on your list? Backcountry stoves have gotten much smaller and lighter in recent years, but the biggest leap forward has come from a small company based in Guild, New Hampshire. The Jetboil cooking system ($80, 14 oz.) integrates a small, wind-protected burner, one-liter insulated pot/mug, and a heat exchanger, all of which packs neatly together. It cooks so efficiently that it uses only about half the fuel of other canister stoves.

Know somebody who has spent a soggy, cold night out after getting their goose down sleeping bag wet? Consider equipping them with a new bag from Sierra Designs (SD), which offers affordable waterproof bags. Check out the Cloudripper ($220, 20ºF, 3 lbs. 1 oz.) and Thor ($250, 0ºF, 3 lbs. 13 oz.), part of SD’s DriZone series that also includes the women’s Sun Ribbon (20ºF) and Starlight (0ºF).

Tired of hearing complaints from your favorite outdoor enthusiast about a sore back? Eliminate the whine time with the Big Agnes Insulated Air Core ($65, 1 lb. 6 oz.) or Insul Mat max-thermo ($55, 1 lb. 7 oz.) air mattresses. With synthetic insulation and nearly three inches of cushion, these body-length pillows not only insulate your sweetheart from the cold ground, they don’t let his bones near it.

Finally, bring ‘em home with the latest in navigation: wrist-top GPS units. Garmin’s waterproof Foretrex 101 ($139, 3.4 oz.) performs all the basics for a hard-to-beat price. And remember, when it comes to outdoor equipment, the line between “need” and “want” can get mighty blurry. Keeping it in focus will make finding that perfect gift a lot easier.

An archive of Michael Lanza’s columns can be found at toolstrappings/.

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Michael Lanza

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