Cold weather, gray skies, bitter winds, and an occasion engineered by the diamond industry to make money depending on who you believe: it's what makes Valentine's Day special. But if you have someone special in your life who is more into double black diamonds than the kind you wear, it can be difficult figuring out something nice to do just to show that you care. Flowers and fancy dinners are alright, but it’s also what everybody else is doing which your inner contrarian despises. But that's what I, the Dr. of Adventurer Love, am here to help with.
Clothing is always a risky proposition, because you could get the wrong size, the wrong color, or something that's just plain hideous. Unless there was a specific incident where they looked you in the eyes and said, "I want a Mountain Hardwear Compressor Hooded Jacket in Inca Gold, size Large" it's a gamble. Unless you buy them socks; socks are useful, they can be fun, they can be lavish, and anyone older than the age of 14 is usually happy to get a nice pair of socks. Pick a nice brand: Smartwool, Point 6, Darn Tough, TEKO and get roughly the right size and you're done. They run around $20, and yes that's expensive for a pair of socks, but they will also last 6+ years of constant use. There's options of course: large fluffy socks for around the house, tightly woven and supportive socks for running, and socks that have designs and patterns and sometimes a mix of all. Don't believe that it works? I have a wife as proof it does; and if she had bought me socks, I would have proposed 6 months sooner.
If socks aren't cutting edge enough for you, a multitool or nice pocket knife is definitely the way to go. The Leatherman Tread is something uniquely perfect for Valentines because it is both a bracelet and a functional collection of tools to handle anything from a bottle opener to an 8mm box wrench. Pockets sometimes work better than wrists to carry tools, and in that case I'd recommend the excellent Skeletool which is the perfect size to slip in a pocket but also have enough tools to get the job done. For just a good cutting blade though, I'd stick to something more unique done by a local maker. A good friend of mine Randy Nance (https://www.facebook.com/NancesForge) makes a huge variety, everything from log destroying cleavers to small pen knives and mini hatchets. He also does custom Kydex or Leather sheaths which just make it that much more one of a kind.
Communal gear, like tents, can be a good idea; you know what’s a better idea? Mating sleeping bag and sleeping pad couplers. If you’re not familiar with stuffing yourself into insulated cocoons, it’s a solo sport to say the least. Even something as simple as throwing your arm around someone means you begin to slowly freeze to death and fall into the gap between sleeping pads. Sadly, no manufacturer makes a proper 2 person size sleeping pad for backpacking, but Thermarest makes a universal coupling kit which squeezes 2 regular size sleeping pads together. Sleeping bags are another story though, with several big manufacturers like Big Agnes making couples sleeping bags that are great for any adventures in the backcountry. If you already have sleeping bags, that through some bit of luck have zippers on opposite sides, you can use coupling kits to zip them together.
If you'd prefer your gift giving to be something a little more adventurous, and you get something out of it too, go take a class on something you both want to try. Whitewater kayaking is scary to some, but between the NOC and the USNWC there's plenty of options for all skill levels. Nothing brings people closer together than a near death experience, so go to Inner Peaks new climbing gym on South Tryon and take a belay class if you've never rock climbed before. It's actually totally safe as long as your partner is paying attention and does their part. Trust falls take on a whole new meaning 30 feet in the air, and they still mean plenty only 10' up on a bouldering wall.
It is February though, and if there's enough snow there's always the options of going to play in the white stuff at higher elevations. Most state parks are open year round, so Mount Mitchell and parts of the Smokies are your best bet if you just want to spend the day playing in the snow and looking across miles of snow covered peaks. You can choose to camp, or if you really want to turn up the romance, find a place on www.bedandbreakfast.com and spend the weekend hiking, sightseeing, skiing, or even just sledding and come back to a nice meal and a warm bed. This time of year, I always like areas around Linville , Asheville, Boone, and Wytheville VA and all of these places are perfect for a weekend getaway.
Despite what the jewelry commercials tell you though, the real importance in whatever you do February 14th is just having a quiet, intimate moment with whoever loves you enough to put up with your garbage on a day to day basis. My wife, for example, has to put up with a lot. I work very long hours, and am on the road fairly regularly. Wet towels never seem to make it to the hanger, and sometimes it's hard to tell the clean clothes pile on the floor from the dirty clothes pile. Every day though, she's there with something good to eat or goofy to say to make me laugh and relax; the times that we do get away too, just spending time together enjoying the greatness of nature, is one of the reasons we, as a couple, work.
February 14th is just a single day, and it's easy to do something just once and then stop. But for 2016, make the effort to go out on adventures with the people that you love. It will make for a better present than any amount of flowers and chocolate.