The Smoky Mountain News has teamed up with outfitters for yet another installment of our annual Outdoor Gear Gift Guide. Outdoor fans are no doubt the easiest people on your Christmas list to shop for. Gear makers are constantly pushing the envelope, inventing ever-lighter, ever-cooler amazingly handy outdoor implements.
Besides, outdoor gadgets are just plain fun to get and surprisingly useful even for those who don’t spend much time in the woods.
Gear symbolizes more than the item itself: it transports you to another place and time, that day when you’ll be kicked back on a rock outcrop, watching the sunset and smugly enjoying that new present.
Mast General Store, Waynesville
The Jam Clam by Eagles Nest Outfitters • $19.99
These portable speakers for an iPod sound good, are lightweight, water-resistant and small enough to take anywhere. The case — slightly larger than a sunglasses case — unzips to reveal an internal pocket for your iPod, keeping it protected inside a hard shell.
Clip them on your bike handlebar, slide ‘em into a backpack, toss them on a corner of your picnic blanket — at this price who couldn’t use some tunes next time your outdoors?
Black Diamond Dimmable LED lantern • $29.99-$40
Finally, a lantern that has the best of both worlds. You can dim it like a gas lantern, but it won’t burn you, you can take it inside your tent or car, and it has the long-life of an LED.
“It is as bright as a light bulb,” said Jay Schoon, outdoor gear guru for Mast General Store in Waynesville.
Lanterns make moving about camp at night far more pleasant. You aren’t dealing with the tunnel vision of a headlamp.
“Headlamps are great but once you get to camp and setup it is nice to have a lanterns so you aren’t going around like a miner,” Schoon said. “And you don’t blind your buddy.”
The Orbit is 45 lumens and the Apollo is 80 lumens. A charging system for the car is sold separately.
Nalgene flask and glow-in-the-dark water bottle • $8.99-$9.99
Two latest twists on Nalgene’s popular line of water bottles. A glow in the dark water bottle means no more groping about the tent in the dark when you wake up thirsty in the middle of the night. As for the uber-light Nalgene flask, “it’s weight is so negligible even the lightest weight hiker can afford to take a little Schnapps to warm their belly,” Schoon said.
Now if only Nalgene would come out with a glow-in-the-dark flask….
Camping growler by HydroFlask • $49.99
Stainless steel and insulated makes carrying beer far more doable. It stays cold, you don’t have the weight of glass bottles to pack in and out, and don’t have anything breakable. It holds 64 ounces and keeps cold liquids cold for 24 hours, and hot liquids hot for 12 hours.
“It’s a growler to go straight from your local microbrew out to the trail,” Schoon said.
Blackrock Outdoors, Sylva
SteriPEN Adventurer Opti • $90
A cutting edge water purification system has a probe that emits UV light to treat the water in your water bottle.
“It is a lightweight, faster way to do it,” said Kirk Childress, manager of Blackrock Outdoors. “You don’t have to bend over a creek while you pump. You dip your bottle in the water and stick your pin in it.”
Since it doesn’t pass through a filter, it’s obviously best when the water is free of dirt and debris, but that’s not too difficult find in the mountains. It takes 90 seconds to purify a liter.
MSR Pocket Rocket • $39
A lightweight, long-lasting backpacking stove.
“On an eight ounce canister of fuel, you get 60 minutes of burn time. It boils a liter of water in three-and-a-half minutes,” Childress said.
With those kind of stats, a single canister can easily last four days on the trail making coffee, oatmeal and a quick-boil dinner for two people.
Columbia Omniheat • Prices Range
This line of thermal and electric heat clothing and foot wear lets you enjoy the outdoors no matter how cold it is.
The thermal technology does more than simply retain body heat.
“It is basically like a space blanket inside your jacket,” Childress said. “It has small aluminum dots that reflect your body heat back on to you. It still has breathability and moisture wicking properties.”
The electric line actually has a small battery pack that heats up tiny elements with a low, medium and high setting.
They even come in gloves, solving the age-old problem of how to keep your hands warm during prolonged time outside in winter. Particularly good for the ski slopes.
Nantahala Outdoor Center, Bryson City
Platypus Gravity water filter • $109.95
This innovative new water filter makes purifying water at the campsite a breeze, even if you have a crowd. The design has two bags connected by a hose.
“There is absolutely no work involved other than filling the bag with dirty water, hanging it in a tree or wherever and walking away. The water just flows from the top bag into the bottom bag,” said Chris Hipgrave, retail manager for NOC. “It is the hottest thing in the camping world right now. The thru hikers are loving it because it doesn’t weigh a thing. The bags are compressible and super light so it is not taking up a lot of room.”
It is great for car camping, too. It holds about a gallon.
Patagonia down sweater • $200
Not really a sweater but a down-filled jacket. The design is a classic, perennial favorite, Hipgrave said, that is back with a vengeance.
“It is the hottest thing going on this year. We can’t hardly keep it on our shelves. There are some beautiful colors, a deep plum and a sky blue and a really, really pretty evergreen,” Hipgrave said.
The Raven stand-up paddle board by Boardworks • $1,200
Once a newfangled sport, stand-up paddling is so fun it has become mainstream. And, board manufacturers have been honing their lines.
“They aren’t just using big ole surf boards any more,” Hipgrave said. “The sport is evolving and they are designing these to be solely stand-up boards.”
With the 12.5-foot Raven, stand-up paddlers no longer have to chose between speed and stability.
“It is an amazing board. It is truly badass,” Hipgrave said.
Outdoor 76, Franklin
Darn Tough Socks • $17-$22
“I don’t know what it is but the Darn Tough lasts longer than any other sock. It is the only sock we’ve ever seen with a lifetime warrantee,” said Cory McCall, owner and manager of Outdoor 76.
The natural Marino wool sock is made in Vermont by a company that makes socks for the military.
SOLE orthotic shoe inserts • $45.99
A custom-fit insole that is actually molded to your foot shape.
“We have an oven that heats them up, then we mold them onto your foot. It cools back down and takes to the shape of your foot,” McCall said. “Everything from your arch measurement to a deep heel dish, it is important to anyone who is looking to have a more efficient use out of their shoes.”
The semi-rigid insole is far better than the soft, squishy kind for hiking. Each time your foot pushes off, the energy is transferred into forward momentum rather than dissipating into the foot bed.
Inertia X-Frame sleeping pad • $99
“You have to throw everything you know about sleeping pads out the window,” said McCall. “It is 9.1 ounces. It packs down to the size of a can of Red Bull.”
Instead of a solid pad, blow-up tubes make a weave pattern, with the voids in between the weave. It still keeps you off the ground and insulates from the cold, because your sleeping bag actually lofts out in the gaps between the weave.
“It also has the ‘wow, cool’ factor. As soon as people get their hands on it and lay on it, it is an automatic sell,” McCall said.
And it is extremely durable. McCall knows this, because he put one through Outdoor 76’s own field test.
“We actually throw it on the ground and stomp on it,” McCall said.