It’s time for my yearly shopping guide for Christmas because people are just too dang hard to buy for. And if you're just looking for cool ideas for yourself, well who can blame you: half of the stuff on this list is things I want and if I don't see them under the tree they'll be on order December 26th.
Thermarest Ultralight Cot: $220
This is an expensive piece of gear, and if I hadn't seen it in person I probably would have written it off as a gimmick. The Thermarest Ultralight Cot though is definitely the most comfortable way to sleep I've ever seen for backpacking or lightweight car camping. Weighing around 2lbs and packing up to the size of a bag of tent poles, the cot raises you off the ground only several inches but gives you plenty of support and cushion to make sure you get a good nights sleep after a long day on the trail. It also isn't the loud, squeaky sound of a traditional cot so if you toss and turn all night you hopefully won't keep your tent mate awake.
JBL Clip Speaker $50
Confession time: I'm the obnoxious hiker who blasts Rock and Metal music while hiking up hills or whenever I need a boost; during the flat sections or at camp I also listen to Folk, Bluegrass, and Celtic music. For years I've had a small battery powered speaker that's about the size of a hockey puck with a headphone cord, and while its been good it also has been impossible to position just right when I'm scrambling up a mountainside masquerading as a trail.
The JBL Clip though is perfect; first, its wireless so I don't have to reach into my pack and grab my phone every time I want to hit skip on my playlist. I can keep my phone in my pocket and my speaker separate which is a huge improvement. The speaker also has a built in carabinier so you can hang it from anywhere on your pack: I have not done any longevity testing but it should hold up fine. Finally, it’s loud enough that if you turn the volume to maximum and position it just outside your buddy’s tent, playing the screech of a barn owl will not only make him need a change of underwear but also causes him to imitate a potato sack race while in his sleeping bag. The only cons is the battery only lasts 5 hours and is built in so you’d have to bring along a solar charger if you plan on rocking out for days on end.
Vintage Axe: $10-As much as you want to spend.
I've already bought myself this and it cost me all of $20 for 2 old axes at an antique store. My main purpose was for splitting small logs while camping because while my pocket saw does a good job with branches occasionally there's a downed, dead tree that's just begging to be broken up into firewood. Just like everything, there are very high quality axes still being made but expect to spend anywhere from $175-400 for a 3-1/2 lb. ax. Older axes can be of similar quality they just need some cleaning and sharpening to bring them back to usable shape. In some cases a new handle may need to be hung and there's plenty of information on how to do that on the internet. If at all possible, get an ax that is stamped with a makers mark: typically those are of better quality and are worth the amount of time and effort to refinish. It can either be given as a project to the DIY person or you can refinish it yourself to spare them the disappointment of opening a present only to find it has to be cleaned, sharpened, and finished. If they're excited by the idea of sharpening things though...
Speedy Sharpener :$14
If you haven't had the opportunity, next time you're driving down highway 11 stop at the legendary FMart outside of Jones Gap State Park. I did last month after hiking because I wanted the cheap burgers and hotdogs that they're famous for. The other trait they're best known for is the old man who runs the place will not take no for an answer and will spend every moment trying to sell you a knife. After telling him for the 4th time that I didn't need a knife while taking another bite out of my hamburger, he switched tactics and said if I had so many knives I needed a way to sharpen them and he had something better than anything I've ever seen. He had me hand over my knife and he pulled a small orange stick with a shiny metal end and quickly ran it over the edge of my knife a few times and when he handed it back it was sharp enough to shave the hair off my arm. Knowing when to give in to a perfect sales pitch, I left with one in hand and have used it on everything from kitchen knives to axes. I will say that it is probably not as good as a professional sharpening, and I'm not sure I'd use it on a very expensive knife (it is aggressive when sharpening/honing) but for a quick fix you just can't beat it.
The old man made me promise to send "all my kin and friends" so go to the FMart and tell the old man Cameron sent you. If you can't make it there, Amazon works too but they charge a whole dollar more than he did.
This was put on my list 4 days after I moved out of my parents house and hasn't come off since. Good, breathable, comfortable underwear will please anyone over the age of 18: I'm a huge fan of lightweight wool but I won't turn up my nose to wicking synthetics though. If that's too personal of a gift (my mother in law wasn't quite sure how to take it last year) getting a gift card for them to make that choice on their own might be the best option.
Sierra Trading Post Clearance Specials
If you just have run out of ideas and are on a limited budget, (e.g. everybody), sign up for Sierra Trading Post's Dealflyer email newsletter and wait for them to send out a 35-50% off coupon to be used in addition to their already low prices. My wife and I paid $130 for gear that has a retail value of over $500. They carry more than just gear which is why someone this Christmas will be getting a very nice Boker kitchen knife set that cost me all of $13 and I really hope they don't read this article.
My final advice is the same advice I give every year: if you don't know what to give them, give them memories. Go see the elk, fish on the Chattooga, rent a cabin in the Shenandoah for a weekend: just get out there and do something with them. Or...if you don't like spending time with them, send them somewhere far away with lots of bears. I hear the Kenai Peninsula in Alaska is beautiful this time of year.
Amish in the sense that, at one point, my family helped others raise barns.
Now I build websites to help others build their businesses.