16 Outdoor Gift n’ Gear Ideas for a Simpler Holiday Season.
This year we’re trying to adopt a simpler gift giving philosophy for Christmas. The idea is one we’ve heard from others where you get each person in your family just four gifts:
- Something they WANT
- Something they NEED
- Something they WEAR
- Something they READ
Picking just four gifts for each person is going to be a challenge, we’re really going to have to weigh everyone’s various interests to make sure following the gift giving philosophy is a success. But what if we didn’t? What if everyone had just one interest – my interest 🙂 – doing more outdoor adventures and being inspired by nature? Maybe this is what we’d get for Christmas:
Want: Climbing harness
On a recent visit to our local climbing gym, I noticed that for the first time Nyla spent more time going up the walls than going down the slide, using the zip line, and climbing up the fish net. She even grew bored with the obstacle course. It took a number of experiences but she now has the climbing bug. Next spring, I hope to start outdoor climbing on a regular basis but the only gear she has right now is a chalk bag.
Climbing is one sport I need to learn a lot about so instead of independent research I asked a friend and am using his recommendation as a proxy. He suggested the Black Diamond brand and the Momentum DS Climbing Harness for kids seems to be the most adjustable with the greatest range of fit for the size. Of course, she’ll need shoes too and thinking we can go with a less expensive model.
My favorite way to start our mornings is riding with Nyla to school. Silas comes with us to make the drop off and we either take the streets or go by the lake, sometimes with other families but most often by ourselves. We frequently see mule deer, rabbits, ducks and other waterfowl, and will stop to smell the lavender if we see any. For real. It’s such a rejuvenating, energizing experience that transforms our weekday commute into a chance to connect with each other and nature. In October, Nyla started to sometimes ride her three-wheel scooter instead of her mountain bike. Riding the scooter requires different muscles and balance and is more taxing than the bicycle. I was proud of her for putting in the extra effort. But she’s growing out of the three-wheel scooter we have and she needs a bigger one.
Razor is the leader in human-powered scooter manufacturing, featuring state-of-the-art materials like aircraft-grade aluminum for the t-tube and deck. The Razor A4 is the most recent in their two-wheel line up for kids ages six and up. The Razor A4 is the higher performance model, which gives me confidence that this scooter will last through both my children! It features high-speed bearings, full deck grip tape, thick foam grips, and has a rear brake.
Razor A4 Kick Scooter ($47.99)
Read: Fairy tales
We’ve been raising our children as screen-free as possible, one of the results of which is that they can count the number of Disney movies or shows they’ve seen or Disney books they’ve read all on one hand. Since their peer set is also following this idea of a very low intake of popular media, the result is that their knowledge and intimacy with Disney stories is very low. Before that changes, we’d like to introduce them to the classic fairy tales. I love reading fairy tales to our children because they are usually woven with magic and include folk fantasy characters. The likes of dwarfs and elves, fairies and gnomes, mermaids and unicorns, have a connection to an older time and maintain close ties to nature and the outside world.
Grimm’s Fairy Tales, initially published in 1812 by the Grimm brothers, is a collection of German fairy tales that has influenced much of the popular stories today (for example, Snow White, Cinderella, Hansel and Gretel, Rapunzel, and Sleeping Beauty). While the versions found in Grimm’s Fairy Tales aren’t dripping with sweetness like the Disney versions, they are darker and don’t always end well, they are more interesting and gives children a broader perspective on how stories can be told in different ways. The Grimm’s Complete Fairy Tales is an elegant edition that is leather bound and includes all the tales in their original versions.
Wear: Bib ski pants
When I was in college I happened to buy a second hand pair of North Face Scott Schmidt Steep Tech bib ski pants. I love the design of those pants for a lot of reasons – one being they were made so rugged that I still use them today, even with patches and in need of new waterproofing – but what I love most is that they offer more protection against getting wet. The bib goes up about halfway up your chest so if your coat happens to bunch up towards your shoulders there is less risk of getting your insulation layer wet. Designing ski pants that aren’t bib pants doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. Nyla grew out of her bib pants last year and she inherited a hand me down traditional pair of snow pants that are cut at the waist. We play rough, from building snow caves to sledding on steep and deep hills to wandering around in forests knocking snow off tree boughs. We need to stay dry and her waist-cut pants don’t perform well.
The Columbia Snowslope II Insulated Bib Pants has adjustable shoulder straps, a “grow system” that lets you cut a stitch to extend the leg, and boot gaiters. We’ve used these in the past and they provide good coverage as an outer layer while accommodating a base and extra insulation layers. The claim that it can last over multiple seasons doesn’t seem to apply to us since we use these hard and wear through them fast, sometimes we need two for one season!
Want: Camping hammock
When we go camping, backpacking, and even sometimes on our day hikes, we bring my old hammock. My hammock was born a good three decades ago and is made up by some rugged string tied in a grid-like fashion. It has served me well but it is heavy, takes forever to dry, and most importantly Silas has a difficult time with it, getting his fingers and toes stuck in the strings. Whenever we go into the backcountry with friends they have newer hammocks that feature solid fabric that is lightweight, fast drying, and easy for the kids to use.
Many of my friends have ENO (Eagles Nest Outfitters) hammocks, such as the Double Nest. These are easy to setup, lightweight, compact, and spacious enough to hold three 7 or 8 year-olds (yes, that’s our measuring stick!). But the Grand Trunk Double won OutdoorGearLab’s top pick award for best double hammock in 2016. It’s longer and wider than the Double Nest but matches the weight, can often be found for a bit lower price, and comes with cord and carabiners for rigging. It’s made of high-stretch parachute nylon, durable and versatile enough to be taken anywhere. In case my dream list proves a bit too spendy, a good alternate hammock also from Grand Trunk is their Ultralight. It’s made of polyester (not ideal) but is more durable than other similar budget hammocks.
Eagles Nest Outfitters Double Nest ($69.95)
Grand Trunk Ultralight Hammock ($19.58)
Need: Pedal bike with hand brake
If you know anything about Silas, you know he likes to be carried. On our hiking trips, he very rarely (ever?) spends the whole time on his own two legs. When we’re camping and boating, he still likes to be a passive watcher at times. But when he’s on his bike he charges. The other day he took me on an hour-long bike ride, which ended when he realized he needed more water but then upon returning home and resupplying he announced that he wanted to go back out. Biking might just be his thing, at least for now. And unlike some kids who always seem a bit hesitant or uneasy on their bikes, once Silas picked up pedal biking within a week he was at the bike park and days later he was practicing standing up and riding with one hand. Silas is currently on Nyla’s old 12” Trek, which is OK but I think he’s going to be limited by the rear coaster brake. Also, as a balance bike graduate, Silas accidentally pedals backwards, engaging the coaster brake, making him stop unexpectedly, sometimes crash, and lose all his momentum.
The Spawn Cycle Furi 14” bike is the reason Spawn Cycles began. The founders started the company after looking for a 14” bike for their son and disappointingly only found extremely heavy bikes with a range of things they consider “goofy”: training wheels, coaster brakes, chain guards, streamers, baskets, unicorn graphics, etc. Those things seem goofy to me too and the Furi is everything but goofy featuring an aluminum frame, chromoly forks, dual hand brakes, and only weighs 14 pounds – about 1/2 the weight of other 14” bikes. Like other top rated bikes, it has well-designed geometry with a longer wheelbase, low seat, and mid-rise handlebars, which allow children to enjoy a lower overall center of gravity and greater control. What separates Furi from the other bikes with well-designed geometry is that it is one of the few that offers dual hand brakes without a coaster brake. Of course… with such great design comes a high price tag.
Spawn Cycle Furi – 14” ($340.00)
25.4mm diameter seatpost – 130mm length ($12.00) This seat post is required in the US to get seat this low due to regulations that do not allow the product to ship with this seat. See the Furi page for more details.
Read: Nature-based stories
We read to our children every night before going to bed. One of my favorite series is Old Mother West Wind. The books are chapter books with mostly text and a few whimsical wonderful illustrations. We were gifted one of the book sets a couple years ago and Nyla loved them. We quickly read through all of them to her and have done so now several times. Silas is now at the age where he enjoys them and having some additional ones from the series would be great.
Old Mother West Wind was written by Thornton Waldo Burgess and originally published in 1910. Burgess was a conservationist and this series is based on bedtime stories he wrote for his son. Inspired by his love of nature, the characters and stories are inspired by wildlife and unfold in the world of The Green Forest, the Laughing Brook, and the Smiling Pond. We were so lucky to inherit the original box set Old Mother West Wind and 6 Other Stories from our neighbor and want to add to our collection (all Paperback):
Wear: Super rain boots
From what I’ve seen on many off-trail, overland and through waterways adventures, Keen Sandals like the Newport H2, are kinda the perfect footwear for children – in the summertime. For fall, winter, and spring, when we’re playing in ice-cold water, snow, and subfreezing temperatures, it’s harder to find gear that can standup to the elements and abuse. This is more true for Silas who is just turning four years old and is still working to build coordination and awareness. Many of our adventures are cut short when feet get wet and cold.
MyMayu is working to solve this problem with an innovative product line that combines the durability of a boot with the protection of a gator. Their boots are designed for the physique and demands of children and I’d love to see if they really can keep Silas’ feet dryer. I’m a little concerned about the soles, and how much traction they provide, but if they do wonders in keeping the feet dry maybe we’ll add some micro traction.
MyMayu Explorer rain boots ($60.00)
Helios Liners ($17.00)
Want: Trekking poles
A lot of the trails in the Rocky Mountains feature steep ascents, loose rocks, and slippery snowy/icy slopes. In the coming years, as the children get older, I expect we’ll also encounter more varied terrain, such as crossing rivers. Trekking poles increase balance and traction by introducing additional points of contact with the ground. Because using trekking poles distributes some of the effort to your arms, they reduce the impact on legs, knees, ankles, and feet, allowing the legs to tire less rapidly. Of course, you can also use poles to defend against aggressive flora and fauna you encounter on the trail, for creating makeshift shelters, and increasing your overall travel speed (less relevant for families like us who are moving backward as much as forward some times).
There are a ton of trekking poles to choose from and probably we’ll need to try a few out before knowing which is our favorite. What’s important to me is that the pole is super comfortable, light, and compact. The Leki Micro Vario Ti has a folding pole design (rather than telescoping) and it packs down really small. It’s about average price but is slightly heavier than other models. If you bump up in price to the Leki Micro Vario Carbon, then you can get the same small pack down size and comfort but in a very light weight pole
Leki Micro Vario Carbon ($177.08)
Need: Bike helmet
Helmets weren’t always as pervasive across every recreational sport as they are today. For example, I never once wore a helmet skiing growing up and I didn’t always wear a helmet riding a bike. Helmets have gone mainstream now, which is a good thing since they are a great way to protect ones face and brain. Even though my wife doesn’t love mountain biking, she has a hybrid bike on permanent loan from my stepmother but no helmet. She doesn’t mind riding without a helmet – she had a similar childhood experience of mine and still appreciates that sense of freedom, lack of hair crushing, and the ability to wear fancy hats… I get it: it’s fun! But we want to model helmet-wearing behavior for the children and I don’t want to lose my wife’s beautiful face or brain!
Buying anything for my wife that she has to wear is tricky.. she has a refined sense of style and taste that I rarely guess right. I think the best candidates are either The Liv Infinita from Giant or Bern’s Prescott. Both are beautiful, with the Infinita maintaining a more classic look with a modern paint job and the latter being a bit more sleek and simple, but less vented, which could lead to more overheating.
Giant Liv Infinita White/Aqua ($130.00)
Read: Overlanding autobiography
For the first year’s of my relationship with my now wife, we were fortunate to travel internationally to Panama, Mexico, France, and Hawaii, plus a long list of domestic locales. Since having kids, we’ve been more homebound then either of us has in the last few decades. I want to get her a book that inspires her and reignites our travel bug!
The book, We Will Be Free: Overlanding In Africa and Around South America, chronicles the amazing Graeme Bell along with his wife and two children as they “travel the planet by land” in their classic Land Rover rigged with all the gear they need for years on the road. The book has received incredible reviews and their story is so inspiring, confronting, and jaw-dropping – from South Africa to South America! This is one of those books that isn’t just for entertainment, maybe it will set us out on a new adventure. For more on the Bell Family check out their website and Instagram.
Both my children and I have balaclavas but my wife will not buy one for herself. Yes, we look slightly silly in them but of all the outdoor winter gear that we own, balaclavas are my favorite – they protect your head and neck and keep you warm in the coldest of temperatures. They are worn as a base layer that you can wear a hat, helmet, and coat over as you need. You can also adjust them, for example rolling them up to just be on your head as a hat, if you like. I absolutely love them.
Merino wool is terrific material – sourced from an ancient breed of “Merino” sheep that lives in harsh and extreme environments (where other breeds of sheep would freeze to death, Merino sheep’s wool coats keep them warm). The end result for products made of Merino wool is terrific insulation, low weight, breathable, and warm when wet – the perfect combination for being active on cold winter days.
The SmartWool brand tends to finish their products very nicely for a comfortable and good fit.
Want: Toboggan sled
Every year the end of winter begins with the appearance of a sled graveyard, or sleds with altogether too much duct tape on them that they get thrown out. While plastic sleds aren’t especially durable, they are inexpensive and tend to perform well in certain conditions when our other foam sleds don’t work as well. However, after a number of seasons eating through one plastic sled after another, I’m not sure I can stomach buying more plastic sleds that end up only lasting one winter. I know my wife is tired of seeing us head out the door with sleds covered in duct tape. But.. there is one exception, and that is a family toboggan. I want a toboggan that can hold all four of us and is fast and lighter than wood so it is a bit less dangerous.
The Paris Company Expedition Sled is a tough, inexpensive, lightweight sled used by mountaineers going to Everest and McKinley. I can use it for future backcountry expeditions (hut trips, snow shoeing, backcountry skiing, etc.) but also will make a durable family-sized toboggan sled.
Paris Company Expedition Sled ($34.02)
Need: Hydration bag cleaner
I love our Platypus Hydration Bags, they play an important role in my backpacking hydration system (see here), and ensure my children drink enough water when we’re hiking, mountain biking, or backpacking. We initially were attracted to the Platypus bags because of the claim that they had a clean taste (not true, still tastes like plastic but seems like they taste less bad compared to camel backs) and their wide mouth allows for easier cleaning. Our current approach for cleaning them is slightly ridiculous, we take them apart and hang them up by a coat hanger.
Platypus Cleaning Kit ($12.95)
Read: Nature mentoring
The more people I meet who are working to connect children to nature the more roads lead to Jon Young and this book, Coyotes Guide to Connecting Nature, has been recommended to me over and over. Over the last twenty years, Jon has been a nature connection mentor, wildlife tracker, author, workshop leader, consultant, and public speaker, has co-founded the 8 Shields Institute, and authored several works on nature connection mentoring. More about Jon at www.JonYoung.org.
Note: Playborhood: Turn Your Neighborhood Into a Place for Play ($9.95) also looks like an interesting read and is my second runner up.
Wear: Hardshell jacket
Much of my outdoor gear has lasted for decades and this is also true of my Eastern Mountain Sports jacket that I bought in college in the 90’s and use for all occasions in the winter as well as a raincoat at times in the summer. The exterior zipper is broken, the Velcro no longer is sticky, and the fabric is no longer waterproof. Budget aside, I would love to gear up with a softshell jacket, a hardshell jacket, and a rain jacket. But that’s not realistic so instead I want a hardshell jacket. Whereas softshells are mostly breathable and raincoats are mostly waterproof, hardshell jackets are waterproof and breathable. This allows you to be active and sweat and the moisture will transfer through a membrane to the exterior of the jacket where it can evaporate. Combined with a good layering system, hardshells are a very versatile and can be used for everything from backcountry skiing to staying dry in a downpour.
Outdoor Research Men’s Axiom Jacket features GORE-TEX Active (a new, lighter and breathable version of GORE-TEX) and gets terrific reviews as an all-around waterproof/breathable/warm/high-mobility jacket. It’s some ounces heavier than other hardshell jackets, but chances are I’ll be carrying Silas or my kids stuff so weight isn’t really that big of a deal for me. It also has a lot of zippers and pockets, which dad’s like me need to carry extra supplies for the kids, as well as things we find in the woods.
Outdoor Research Men’s Axiom Jacket ($388.95)
Hm.. but there’s a couple things that didn’t quite make it onto my list. Maybe Santa could help with:
- GoPro Hero5 ($399.99) and Black Pro Basic Common Outdoor Sports Kit for GoPro Hero 5 ($19.99) – I have been loving taking photos of the adventures with my family. The best photos are from when I’m shooting with my Nikon DSLR, but that’s bulky and I only have a cruddy telephoto lens for it. More and more I’m finding I don’t want to carry it around and when I do half my photos are out of focus. I keep seeing images taken with GoPro and am really impressed. I want to try!
- Snorkel and fins – we have to get to tropical waters next year. I don’t which ocean, I know how, I don’t when, but it has to happen. When it does, we’re going to want snorkeling gear. I still have fins, mask, and snorkel from my scuba diving days but no one else does.
- Fishing poles and bait – we live within walking distance to a lake where the kids can learn to fish for sunfish, bluegill, or bass. All we need is a couple of rods for the kids and some plastic bait. We can use our needle nose pliers to get the hooks out and cut the line and ride our bikes up to the lake on warm mornings to fish. While Silas isn’t quite old enough to cast by himself, we could do it together and make some great memories. I haven’t done the research yet and can only find an old fly rod and slightly broken spinner rod laying around my gear closet. I imagine introductory rods and bait could be pretty inexpensive.
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