Find the Perfect Gift
Give the gift of the great outdoors! These gift ideas will wow everyone on your list, whether they love bike commuting, car camping, hitting the trail, or shredding down the slopes. With reviews by gear guru Steve Casimiro, we've found the best gifts of 2011 for every budget.
Photograph courtesy Klean Kanteen
Klean Kanteen Reflect - EDITORS' PICK
Klean Kanteen has turned the simple water carrier into a work of art that is streamlined, cool to the touch, and sleek when tucked into a backpack pocket. That slender silhouette is echoed in the simplicity of its construction: The Reflect is made of nothing but stainless steel with a small silicone seal and bamboo cap. There’s no lining (so no BPA worries) and absolutely no aftertaste ($33; www.kleankanteen.com).
Photograph courtesy Adidas
Adidas Outdoor Boat CC Lace
It looks like a skate shoe and it feels like a skate shoe, but the Adidas Outdoor Boat CC Lace is a water baby through and through. It has 25 drain ports in the sole so H2O is out as soon as it’s in, and the grippy rubber tread clings like a barnacle to all but the slickest rocks. This might be the comfiest of all aqua footwear ($65; www.adidas.com).
Photograph courtesy Levi Strauss & Co.
Levi's Commuter Series - EDITORS' PICK
A cycling blue jean? Huh? Levi’s could be accused of jumping on the urban cycling bandwagon, except that these denim commuter pants rock. Based on the 511 skinny jean design, they have a slight stretch and the very important Nanosphere treatment from Schoeller, which sheds dirt and moisture like nothing you've ever seen (which makes them odor-resistant). There’s a tab on the back in which to slip your U-lock, and coolest of all is the reflective piping on the inside of the legs—when you roll them up, your visibility increases by orders of magnitude. There’s just one "but," and it centers around the butt: Skinny jeans for cyclists? How about a cut for those with strong, not-so-skinny thighs? ($78; us.levi.com)
Photograph courtesy Arc’teryx
Arc’teryx Cierzo 25
A summit pack like the Arc’teryx Cierzo 25 might at first seem like an indulgence. But once you’ve dropped your heavy backpack in base camp and donned an ultralight carryall for peak bagging or day tours, you’ll soon find it a necessity. The Cierzo carries a hearty 25 liters but weighs just 15 ounces and stuffs into its own top pocket to the size of a Nalgene bottle. There’s room for lunch, extra layers, hydration reservoir, and more—plus two ice axe loops outside and an elastic bungee for strapping even more to it ($99; www.arcteryx.com).
Photograph courtesy Hiplok
Bike Lock Hiplok
Bike locks have been carried in every way imaginable, and most of them are uncomfortable, inefficient, or dangerous. The Hiplok, on the other hand, is the most comfortable bike lock you’ll wear. Yep, wear. It consists of 30 inches of 8mm steel chain wrapped with nylon to soften the links against the body and a long hook-and-loop strap that loops through a buckle. Simply put, you wear it like a belt, where it sits low and snug and stable on the hips. The strap is infinitely adjustable, so it slips over a summer t-shirt or winter puffy, and it connects without actually locking the lock (a potentially hazardous situation). As for peace of mind, it’s rated silver level by the Sold Secure association, which means it won’t foil a big set of bolt cutters, but should dissuade most thieves ($110; www.hiplok.com).
Photograph courtesy Merrell
Merrell Barefoot Trail Glove - EDITORS' PICK
The path to true barefoot running is a gradual one. After decades of overprotecting your feet in traditional footwear, you risk injury by kicking off the shoes and running free. Merrell’s minimalist Trail Glove is a great bridge—it has a thin layer of EVA foam padding and low-to-the-ground construction that ease you into unbound running while allowing your feet to strengthen, bit by bit. The sole flexes effortlessly, the interior is lined so it’s comfortable without socks, and there’s plenty of room for your toes to wiggle and spread. It’s such a great shoe, you might start moving toward bare feet but never get past the Trail Glove ($110; www.merrell.com).
Photograph courtesy Brooks
Brooks Cascadia 6
Trail runners don’t need as much cushioning as road runners—dirt is softer than pavement, of course—but they do need some, and the new Brooks DNA cushioning system in the Cascadia 6 adds some welcome springiness to the heel of this excellent trail shoe. With each step, it provides the perfect amount of float, without giving up trail feel. There’s additional DNA padding in the forefoot, but that’s less apparent. The more noticeable sensation is the neutral, gently curved arc of the shoe pushing off the trail as if it were an extension of your foot ($110;www.brooksrunning.com).
Photograph by Kelty
Kelty Cosmic Down 20
A hundred bucks actually buys you a heck of a lot more than you might expect: The Kelty Cosmic Down 20 has a few frills tucked into its no-frills price. There’s a full-length tube of down behind the zipper to guard against drafts, an insulated hood with elastic to cinch it tight, and a down collar. Oh, and a full-length zipper and European standard comfort rating of 32 degrees. So where are the cut corners to reach that awesome price? The 550-down fill doesn’t loft as well as spendier 800 fills. And the size regular claims to fit someone up to 6’0” comfortably, but 5’10” is more like it ($110; www.kelty.com).
Car Camping Cook Set
Photograph by GSI Outdoors Pinnacle Camper cookset
GSI Outdoors Pinnacle Camper - EDITORS' PICK
There’s something just plain cool about modern cooksets such as the GSI Outdoors Pinnacle Camper. Tucked inside its tidy nest are settings for four, including mugs, bowls, and plates. Its three-liter pot, two-liter pot, and nine-inch frying pan are coated with three-layer Teflon. The lids are strainers and everything is color coded so you won’t mix up your pasta primavera with your pals. And the weight? While it’s designed for car camping, not backpacking, it tips the scales at a respectable four pounds ($120; www.gsioutdoors.com).
Photograph courtesy REI
REI Half Dome 2
REI’s Half Dome 2 is just right in almost every category. And it’s awesome in the one that matters most: value. At 5.5 pounds, it’s in the middle of the range for a typical two-person, three-season backpacking tent. Ditto on the 32 square feet of sleeping space and 16 feet of vestibule. The extras, though, make all the difference: Whereas many backpacking tents stick to one door for weight savings, the Half Dome has two, which makes sharing a small space far easier. And when REI last redesigned the Half Dome, its engineers added a third pole that runs horizontally across the top, which allows near vertical walls and a great sense of space ($179, on sale for $135 last we checked; www.rei.com)
Sleeping Pad System
Photograph courtesy NEMO
NEMO Astro Insulated, With Pillowtop - EDITORS' PICK
Whoever said camping means forgoing the comforts of home never slept on NEMO’s Astro Insulated pad paired with the NEMO Pillowtop. This sleeping system sports more than three inches of soft foam and air cushioning for an awesome night’s sleep. Use them together for trailhead car camping, then leave the Pillowtop behind when you head into the backcountry. Without the Pillowtop, the Astro weighs a pound and a half and still provides 2.5 inches of dreamy bliss ($175 for both; can be purchased separately; www.nemoequipment.com).
Photograph by Deuter
Deuter ACT Lite 50 10
When people speak of the joy of backpacking, rarely are they talking about shouldering a 40-pound pack, but Deuter’s ACT Lite 50 10 has the odd quality of seeming to disappear, even when fully loaded. The secret is the suspension, called Aircontact, which features two thickly padded, curved ridges that rest gently against either side of your back. Not only does the padding of this top loader nestle softly against you, there’s a large channel in the middle of it to funnel body heat and keep you cooler. The traditional 50-liter hauler has an extendable top that adds ten liters of capacity, there’s a zippered lower compartment for sleeping bag, and two side stash pockets hold standard size water bottles ($179;www.deuter.com).
Photograph courtesy Mountain Hardwear
Mountain Hardwear Stretch Cohesion Jacket - EDITORS' PICK
The boom in versatile softshells has reduced the need for overbuilt and spendy hardshell jackets, opening the door to more affordable options like the multisport Mountain Hardwear Stretch Cohesion Jacket. Although designed for mountaineering and alpine climbing, the Stretch Cohesion is far too adept to restrict it to one pursuit. The oversize hood works just fine with ski or snowboard helmet, the stretch panels on the sleeves soften the reach to mountain bike handlebars, and its highly compressible 13 ounces make it a worthy backpacking companion. Complaints? Not a one ($170; www.mountainhardwear.com).
Photograph courtesy Pendleton
Pendleton Glacier National Park Blanket
A Pendleton commemorative national park blanket should be in the back of your car at all times—you never know when you’re going to need to cuddle up in woolen warmth or have the urge for a spontaneous picnic. The Glacier National Park blanket has been made since 1916—it’s the original outdoor insulation from one of America’s great brands ($178; www.pendleton-usa.com).
Photograph courtesy Revo
Revo Spool - EDITORS' PICK
Plant-based plastic is making its way, slowly, into sunglass frames, which is great. But even better is when the material used is 100 percent recycled, as in Revo’s wraparound Spool shades. The “Re-Use” plastic diverts top-grade TR-90 nylon that’s headed for the landfill, with no difference in performance. The polarized lenses are impact-resistant polycarbonate, extremely clear and sharp, and they’re treated with a coating that rapidly sheds water and sweat ($189; www.revo.com).
Photograph by First Ascent
First Ascent BC-200
First Ascent from Eddie Bauer has been riding a wave of publicity and good will thanks to a mountaineering team that includes all-stars such as Ed Viesturs and Peter Whittaker. But the question that’s often raised is whether the product is as good as the PR. And the answer is yes. After testing at least a dozen of First Ascent products over the last couple years, including the 11-ounce BC-200 three-layer shell, it’s clear the brand has done its homework and builds “guide tough” gear. Indeed, the BC-200 is light but not the lightest: Its greater focus is on being the best combination of waterproof and breathable, and we found it every bit as airy as Gore-Tex, if not more so ($199; www.eddiebauer.com).
Photograph courtesy Oakley
Oakley’s Fast Jackets
The only way swapping lenses on your sunglasses can get easier is if a concierge does it for you. Oakley’s Fast Jackets have a “SwitchLock” lever built into the earpiece: Flip it down, the lens is unlocked; to change the lens, flip it up. When dusk falls, you can change out of your dark lenses and into clear ones in 15 seconds. The twin-lens, sports-oriented frames have slightly less coverage than Oakley’s M Frames, but convenience far outweighs any drawbacks ($220; www.oakley.com).
Photograph courtesy Sierra Designs
Sierra Designs Pyro 15
When was the last time you woke up while camping because your knees were cold? Cold feet, yes, and certainly a cold body core is nothing to mess with, either. But for the Pyro 15, Sierra Designs decided that to save weight, they could reduce the amount of 600-fill down below boxer short range, then increase the down that surrounds the foot well. The result is a bag that stuffs smaller and at 2 pounds, 13 ounces, weighs less than other 15-degree bags, but is just as toasty. Their next trick comes in the spring: A Pyro with a removable chest baffle, so in one purchase you can get the effect of owning two bags—one for colder temps and one for milder conditions ($250; www.sierradesigns.com).
Photograph courtesy DeLorme
DeLorme’s InReach - EDITORS' PICK
Imagine the relief when you send a smoke signal for help and then, on the horizon, see a puff of smoke in return. DeLorme’s InReach stands to revolutionize backcountry communication by allowing you to call for help and get an instant response by sending and receiving text messages via satellite. “On r way” could be the best text you ever get. The small device pairs with your Android smartphone or DeLorme’s own PN-60w GPS unit for interactive texts and works on its own to send prewritten notes. Text plans start at $10 a month ($250;www.delorme.com).
Women's Hardshell Jacket
Photograph by Marmot
When there’s rain in the forecast and you’re heading for a hike, the last thing you want to shove into your pack is a heavy, old-school shell. As with most gear technology, Gore-Tex has been on a diet for a few years. Witness the result in the wafer-thin Marmot women’s Whisperlite jacket. At eight ounces, you won’t find a much lighter Gore-Tex shell, nor, with the Paclite fabric, one that’s more durably waterproof. Our favorite feature: the moldable hood brim, which can be sculpted to ward off rain or even sun ($250; www.marmot.com).
Photograph courtesy Casio
Casio Edifice Black Label Collection
Casio’s Edifice Black Label is one of those atomic timekeeping watches—it syncs wirelessly with signals worldwide—that looks like it could survive an atomic blast. Rugged, water resistant to 330 feet, and decidedly macho, the EQWM1100DC-1A2 model also tracks 29 world city times, is solar powered, and has a stopwatch accurate to 1/1000 second (starting at $250; www.casio.com).
Photograph courtesy Victorinox Swiss Army
Victorinox Swiss Army Original Timepiece - EDITORS' PICK
The Victorinox Swiss Army Original Timepiece is unlikely to ever go out of style. Its 40mm bezel forms a simple and elegant circle, with no hints of ostentation, while the army-green nylon strap hints at a military toughness. The watch can, in fact, take it: It’s water-resistant to 330 feet, has a shatter-resistant crystal, and is built of stainless steel, aluminum, and nylon ($295; www.swissarmy.com).
Photograph courtesy Danner Inc.
Danner Mountain Light - EDITORS' PICK
The trail doesn’t know that vintage designs are hot. Your feet don’t care that heritage hiking boots are second only to beards in today’s hipster wardrobe. No, when it comes to where the literal rubber meets the road, the only things that matter are fit, comfort, performance, and durability. The Mountain Light from Danner’s neo-retro Stumptown line has all that and then some. This full-grain leather boot is absolutely gorgeous, a handmade in the U.S.A. thing of beauty that seems too perfect to mar. The moment you slip inside and start walking, you feel like you’ve come home. The leather is buttery soft but offers a ton of support; the outsole is sturdy without being inflexible. And in these months of sloppy autumn storms, the very modern Gore-Tex shores up the protection from mud, water, and goop ($330;www.stumptown.danner.com).
Car Roof Racks
Photographs courtesy (L) Yakima, (R) Thule
Thule AeroBlade and Yakima Whispbar - EDITORS' PICK
Silence is better than golden: It’s easier on the brain, more refreshing, and gets you better gas mileage. Both Thule and Yakima have just introduced teardrop-shaped roof-rack bars designed with much-improved aerodynamics, and they both make such a radical difference in noise reduction it’s revolutionary. Thule’s version is the AeroBlade (right), Yakima’s is the Whispbar (left), and for real-world use you can ignore each manufacturer’s claims about which is better or quieter. In fact, both are nearly silent—ambient road noise drowns out rack noise, and only by climbing through the sun roof and putting your ear next to the rack can you actually hear the air flow. Compared to traditional bars, it’s astounding.
The aero racks are so close in performance, and they work with most of each brand’s attachments, so we’ve given the nod to both. Thule’s is $65 less and far easier to install, but once the rack is on, it’s on. If you have an allegiance to one brand or the other, buy your fave. If you don’t, check them out in person and see which one calls to you ... in a whisper ($325; thule.com; $389; www.yakima.com).
Photograph courtesy Timex
Timex Global Trainer
Until now, GPS-based training watches have either been Rube Goldberg affairs with bulky external GPS receivers or they’ve given short shrift to the important training metrics like heart rate and its training zones. In the Timex Global Trainer, all the key functions come together in the best all-around training watch we’ve tested. GPS is integrated; control over measuring heart rate, pace, and more is easy and powerful; and, finally, you don’t need an advanced degree to program it ($360; www.timex.com).
Photograph courtesy Nikon
It has to be said: What took you guys so long? Nikon was the second-to-last major camera manufacturer to make a rugged point and shoot, but the very tough Coolpix AW100 was it worth the wait. The Nikon is packed with high-quality specs, including full HD video at 1080p, and it cranks out top-shelf images in challenging conditions. It’s drop-proof from five feet, waterproof to 33 feet, and freeze-proof to 14ºF. ($380;www.nikonusa.com)
Photograph courtesy The North Face
The North Face Jammu - EDITORS' PICK
The North Face Jammu softshell jacket is built with NeoShell fabric from Polartec, one of a handful of new materials trying to break Gore-Tex’s lock on the apparel market. And while fabric makers squabble over whether their product is more waterproof and breathable (or even how to measure it), the bottom line is that every time I tested NeoShell I felt more comfortable than in Gore-Tex. The reason is air flow. The Jammu fabric is very slightly permeable—not enough to let in water, but enough to let water vapor escape faster than a hardshell using Gore-Tex. For skiing, climbing, and other winter pursuits, you stay completely dry, not just from the inside, but the outside, too ($399;www.thenorthface.com).
Photograph courtesy Eddie Bauer/First Ascent
Eddie Bauer Emperor
Those puffy down jackets we all love so much sure are purty ... and for skiing and the like, they’re ideal. But when you’re tough on your coat out in the cold, you need a jacket that can take it, such as Eddie Bauer’s Emperor parka. The Emperor is work wear, designed with input from Antarctic Logistics and Expeditions, which provides support for expeditions down south. It's the real deal: The heavy-duty nylon shell resists abrasion, precip, and water, while the 700-fill down insulation is so hearty it feels like you could survive a long South Pole winter in it. There are seven external pockets, most of which are large enough to access wearing gauntlet gloves or mittens, and four internal ones, too. The hood is huge—plenty big enough for a helmet, but if you actually use the Emperor for snow play, make sure it’s really cold ($399;www.eddiebauer.com).
Photograph courtesy Mont Bell
MontBell’s Ultralight Super Spiral Down Hugger (15 Degrees)
This is the most comfortable sleeping bag you’ll ever use. A bold claim? Yes, but MontBell’s Ultralight Super Spiral Down Hugger 15 is constructed with a tricky little sewing sleight of hand. The threads are cut at a 45-degree angle, the fibers are coiled, and the stitches are elastic—all of which adds up to a bag that stretches and moves with you no matter how much you toss and turn. You could inchworm your way along the length of the Pacific Crest Trail and still not feel constrained. Insulation is 800-fill down and, you’re right, that 15-degree temperature rating is wildly optimistic. This is a three-season bag, not four—but a mighty comfortable one ($399; www.montbell.us).
Photograph courtesy Columbia Sportswear Company
Columbia Omni-Heat Bugaglove Max Electric
Yes, 400 bucks for a pair of gloves. And the Columbia Omni-Heat Bugaglove Max Electric is a heavy glove, too, because it runs on the same battery technology that keeps your iPhone happy. But if you ski in bounds and suffer from cold hands, you’ll happily pay—and forgive the weight. That juice sent steady warmth to the very tips of my fingers, keeping my hands from freezing in a full-on ice storm and even sweating on an ultra-cold powder day. The bonus: If you forget to charge the Bugaglove overnight, its space blanket-like interior is still warmer than any glove I’ve used—and I tested these, without the battery, down to minus 5ºF ($400; www.columbia.com).
Photograph courtesy Apple
Apple iPad 2
Thinner = winner. At just 1.3 pounds and skinnier than an iPhone 4, the iPad 2 is our choice for the ultimate travel companion, especially now that it has front- and rear-facing cameras that enable free video calls from, say, the Piazza San Marco. It’s impossible to beat for books, movies, and maps—and it’s not just us saying that. The FAA just gave conditional approval to an airline that wants their pilots to use iPads instead of paper maps ($499-$699; www.apple.com).
Photograph courtesy Arbor
Arbor Element RX - EDITORS' PICK
There is no single snowboard that’s perfect for all applications, but for sidecountry and on- and off-piste shredding in every condition from crud to powder, Arbor’s Element RX gets our vote for about 20 reasons. We’ll pare that to three. First, ecodesign: Arbor doesn’t go green just for feel-good points, but because sustainably sourced bamboo and poplar make for a snappier deck. It's also lighter, since these materials are stronger than fiberglass and let Arbor cut back on heavy, petro-based resins. Second, true rocker: The promise of rocker boards has been gutted by their inherent instability at speed, so a lot of companies reintroduced a bit of camber. Arbor didn’t. Instead they went old school, adding more sidecut, so you have greater edge control when you’re bombing it, without compromising quick edge-to-edge turn-ability. And third, beauty: Just look at it. ($550; www.arborcollective.com).
Photo courtesy Necky
Necky Vector 13
Sit-on-top kayaks are great for many things—stability, fishing, forgiveness—but they just don’t have the sex appeal of sleek and speedy sit-insides. Well, Necky set out to change that with its first sit-on-top in a long time, and the Vector 13 will make you rethink just how cool the category can be. This 13-footer is just as newbie-to-intermediate friendly, but it gets up to speed more quickly and turns more nimbly than you’d expect from a typical sit-on-top. It also offers adjustable foot pegs, a touring seat with back support, and optional rudder (starting at $899; www.neckykayaks.com).
Photograph courtesy Canon
Canon’s EOS Rebel T3i
The still photography capabilities of DSLR cameras have been so good for so long that now the excitement is how each new generation ups the capabilities in video. Canon’s EOS Rebel T3i rocks full 1080p high-def resolution and adds a new flip-out, vari-angle LCD monitor, along with up to 10x movie zoom. It also packs a host of creative filters and newbie-friendly on-screen guides that are like having a photography professor hidden inside ($899 with 18-55mm IS II lens; www.us.canon.com).
Photograph courtesy Olympus Imaging America Inc.
The first versions of the compact Olympus E-P series performed as if they had a Celica engine in a Corvette body, but no more. The E-P3 is a hot rod under the hood. Critically, its autofocus is blazingly fast—it evaluates focus 120 times a second—and combined with 3.0 frames per second shooting rate you get a compact camera that’ll grab action like a much bigger DSLR. There’s a new built-in flash, too. And with the Micro Four-Thirds format, you can swap lenses for a bigger zoom or better light gathering, depending on whether you want to pull in the big game or shoot after sunset—the versatility is incredible ($900; www.olympus.com).
Photograph courtesy Salomon.com
Salomon Rocker 2
Ain’t nothing stagnant about the ski market: Powder is still the holy grail, and manufacturers are continuing to push the technology and design to fine-tune deep-snow surfing. Witness Salomon’s Rocker 2, which has the upturned sweep at tip and tail to ease turning in even the thickest blanket of snow and but just the right amount of camber under foot to help the ski hold on groomed runs. The dimensions are a fat 142-122-132 mm at tip-middle-tail, but unlike so many of today’s powder planks, the R2 isn’t heavy: Salomon reinforced the extremities with light honeycomb structures while maintaining a wood core in the middle. The result: It turns easier and faster, but still feels solid where it needs to be ($935; www.salomon.com).
Photograph courtesy Fujifilm
Fujifilm’s X100 - EDITORS' PICK
At last, a great-looking retro camera that shoots as good as it looks. Fujifilm’s X100 is the runaway camera of the year, thanks to its 1950s rangefinder styling. But this is one digital model that backs up its pretty facade with dynamite performance. Photos produced by the 12.2-megapixel CMOS sensor are stunningly true to life, with the strong color accuracy, great skin tones, and a minimum of noise even in low-light situations. The metal body feels rugged but not heavy, the flash results look natural and blend nicely with ambient light, and the viewfinder displays all the settings you need. Oh, and the operation is nearly silent. Its best application might be for travel shooting, where being unobtrusive counts. Keep in mind its fixed focal length lens (f/2, 35mm equivalent) can’t be swapped for a telephoto ($1,200; www.finepix-x100.com).
Photograph courtesy Santa Cruz Bicycles
Santa Cruz Tallboy Carbon R XC - EDITORS' PICK
Here’s what Santa Cruz does that other bike companies don’t: They do their own thing. So they were late (very late) to the oversize-wheel, 29er mountain bike party. But then they brought the keg, so nobody cares what time they showed up. The Tallboy Carbon R XC is the first full-suspension (four-inch travel, front and rear) mountain bike that rides like an XC bike with “normal” size, 26-inch wheels. That means it rips on acceleration, corners tightly, and yet gives you some of the leverage advantages that 29ers offer when plowing over rocky trails. Best of all, you have the sweet, smooth suspension action of the bike it was based on, the Blur, one of the best mountain bikes ever invented—by Santa Cruz, of course ($3,899; www.santacruzmtb.com).
Photograph courtesy Giant Bicycles
Giant Defy Advanced 3
The Giant Defy Advanced 3 is an ideal road bike. Its geometry is more relaxed than you’d find in the pro peloton—and that’s exactly the point, since relaxed geometry is more comfortable on your neck and shoulders. Yet if the Giant is “defying” anything, it’s the notion that a less aggressive geometry equals soft handling, since this full-carbon rig still offers snappy acceleration and takes corners effortlessly. Note that its ride is smooth as glass, though somehow just lively enough to not feel like it’s tuning out the road, a trait that’s often too common at this price ($1,870; www.giantbicycles.com).