I am not a shopper. The idea of me writing a gift guide is a bit curious. I don't spend much time browsing in stores, paging through catalogs or shopping on the Internet. The stuff I buy somebody else already owns. I see them using or wearing it and realize owning this product is going to enrich my outdoor experience. Safety is also important to me. If a product will protect me from injury or make it less likely I'll be run down by a car, it is probably a good investment. Most of the items on this list I never knew I needed until I saw them in use. Then I had to have them.
1) Yaktrax or Snow and Gripper Ice Traction Aid
Yaktrax look like rubber webbing with steel coils wrapped around the framework, and the Traction Aids have small spikes instead of metal coils on the bottom. Both products are a big improvement over trying to travel on ice with just a rubber sole. Each product retails for about $25.
2) Trekking poles
Two years ago I used a pair of these on a backpacking trip in Arizona's Galilura Mountains. Going up and down steep inclines the poles provided balance and took the pressure off my knees, hips and back. They are great for recreational walking as well. With a pair of poles in hand you now can give your arms a workout. Telescoping poles allow you to adjust them for height. Fixed poles are lighter and cheaper. Basic poles are made from an aluminum alloy. Carbon fiber poles are more expensive. Prices range from $50 to $200 a pair.
When winter winds are blasting and the temperature is heading toward zero, you need more than a hat to cover up. Having a balaclava handy to covers your neck and most of your face allows you to stay out when most others have retreated inside. Prices range widely depending on the fabric.
4) Arm warmers
At the start of a bike ride or run I'm often cold, so I wear an extra layer. Of course once I start working out, I generate some heat and soon I'm getting too warm. Typically I either let myself overheat or stop and pull off a layer. The solution is a pair of arm warmers. These are sections of tight fitting cloth that extend from the end of a short sleeve to your wrist. When you start to warm up, you just pull these off or slide them down to your wrist, the latter activity can be done without having to stop pedaling. These are available in various fabrics, including those that wick away moisture to keep you from getting wet and chilled. Prices range from $25 to $40.
5) Water shoes
Kayakers have been wearing these for years to protect their feet and the neoprene ones keep their feet warm if they end up swimming. The presence of zebra mussels in many lakes have made these a necessity for those who walk or swim. The sharp shells of these aquatic invaders easily cut the feet of those who tread on them. Prices range from about $20 for a pair of rubber ones to $40-80 for the more durable neoprene ones.
6) LED headlamp
The old-fashioned hand-held flashlight has been rendered obsolete by the headlamp. The first ones were incandescent lights but because the batteries depleted so quickly, they were frustrating to use. The development of the LED light provided a light that, depending on whether high or low power is used, last 50 to 140 hours on a set of AA or AAA batteries. Good ones cost $30 to $80.
7) Fire tube
If you have ever found yourself kneeling next to a dying campfire or woodstove blowing air to try and coax the embers to flame or are trying to keep wet or green wood burning, you will love a fire tube. And they are easy to make. At a building supply store, purchase a three-a-half foot section of 1/2-inch by 5/8-inch vinyl tubing and a one foot section of copper tubing. Shove the copper piece into the vinyl tube and hammer the copper end to flatten it somewhat to concentrate the air flow. For the cost of few dollars you will be able to nurse anemic fires to life without ever leaving your seat.
8) Head net
When the buzzing of mosquitoes fills the air or a cloud of black flies descends on you, having a polyester mesh head net to slip on can be a lifesaver. Any store with a decent stock of sporting goods in the Midwest will have these on hand during bug season. Selling for $2 to $5, the cost is cheap and the relief provided is priceless.
9) Reflective windbreaker
We don't glow in the dark and walking along a road shoulder, we are practically invisible to traffic. Every auto driver knows that. Yet if you are wearing a windbreaker trimmed with reflective material, an automobile's headlights will illuminate you from several hundred yards away. Purchase a lightweight windbreaker and you can add under layers to fit any weather condition.
10) Bicycle helmet
Everyone who rides a bike needs a helmet. I wonder why it is that while parents insist that their kids wear a helmet, adults often ride without head gear. It may be that folks that grew up in an era when helmets weren't worn, don't feel they need them now. This would be a wonderful gift for a family member and it might save their life. Buying a helmet will cost between $35 and $80.
Dave Foley hopes to have his Christmas shopping done by the time this gets published so he can spend more time cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.