You’ve heard their stories. And you’ve certainly seen their photos — of mountaintops, lakes, hikes, bikes, and dogs (so many dogs). Whether that made you want to get outside more or burrow deeper into the couch, at least you have a good sense of the kinds of things the more adventurous people in your life might be interested in this holiday season. But the world of outdoor gear can be confusing, full of descriptors like ripstop fabric, waxed cotton, four-season hydrophobic, lugged, layered, and limited edition. You don’t have to worry about all that, though. After years as a gear editor for men’s magazines and a lifetime of skiing, camping, log rolling, and, more recently, living out of my truck as I drove across the country, I’ve tested hundreds of outdoor items. Here are some of my favorites. Hopefully the outdoorsy people in your life will like them too.
For the suburban survivalist
The FreeT4 combines the usefulness of a classic Leatherman multitool with the light weight and small size of a folding knife. Although it doesn’t have the pliers that draw so many users to brand, it does have 12 other great tools including a blade, screwdrivers, scissors, and tweezers.
For the hunter cousin who needs his coffee to be hot in the duck blind — even 10 hours after he made it
The vacuum-wall insulated stainless steel keeps hot things hot and cold things cold, whether that’s ice-cold water for a day on the ranch or big-batch hot toddies at a December tailgate. The Rambler is as durable as everything else Yeti makes, and it has useful features like a magnet to hold the cap when you’re drinking, and a massive heavy-duty handle. Plus, it’s dishwasher safe.
For the hiker who always gets their photo
“Pics or it didn’t happen” can be a dangerous motto when you’re standing at the edge of a gorge or on a swaying rope bridge — especially for a phone. This Otterbox case is incredibly tough, protecting their phone while it’s jostled about in a day pack or when it accidentally drops out of a pocket on a rock scramble. And the built-in pop socket pops up for a good grip when they get to any precarious (and stunning) photo ops.
For the camper who doesn’t want to wear a headlamp
These solar-powered lights are great for the campsite or the backyard, providing eight to 20 hours of light on a single charge (depending on the setting). The clever carrying case lets you wrap the 18-foot cord, with its ten lights, in a compartment around the center of the case before pushing the case closed, keeping the string untangled and protected. The built-in solar panel on the case charges the lights and also works as a USB power source if you need to charge your phone.
For the environmentally conscious explorer
Instead of synthetic insulation or down, United By Blue figured out a way to create insulation using fibers from bison hides, turning what used to be a waste product into something useful and warm. It’s a cold-weather jacket (that can be worn in temps as low as minus 20F) that fits and feels as comfortable as a sweatshirt. And it doesn’t smell like bison.
For your favorite Spandex-clad cyclist
The Elemnt Roam has a big 2.7-inch screen that shows turn-by-turn directions, speed and distance traveled. It also connects to a phone via bluetooth, displaying any notifications or text messages they might get while they’re riding. After the ride, all of the information can be synced to their favorite workout app for tracking and bragging purposes.
For the international trekker
A great stocking stuffer for anyone who might find themselves trying to sleep through the noisy bustle of a youth hostel or base camp at Mount Kilimanjaro. The flexible, easy-open keychain case can be attached to the zipper on their jacket or their bag, so it’s always within reach.
For the niece who loves the outdoors — and wants her followers to know
If you have a YouTuber in your family, this setup will really step up their production quality. It comes with a digital stereo condenser microphone (a huge improvement over phone speakers), a phone mount, and a stand.
For the brother who probably cut down his own Christmas tree
The nubuck leather is pristine and beautiful — and looks even better as it ages and collects scuffs. Just as important, it feels soft on the feet right out of the box. They’re useful for yardwork, long spells in the garage on your feet, and anywhere else his work takes him.
For anyone you know who wants to be comfortable
Regardless of their activity level, everyone needs a good sweatshirt. The Norcross is warm and soft, and made from Earth-friendly recycled polyester and hemp. It makes a great layer for casual hiking — or for an afternoon on the couch.
For anyone you know who has feet
Socks may be a tired, disappointing cliché of a Christmas gift, but that’s only if you give the wrong ones. Everyone wants warm feet on a cold day, and these mid-weight hikers will give them that forever. (Yep, forever. They’re guaranteed for life.) Darn Tough socks, a favorite of Strategist writer David Notis, are soft, won’t slide or bunch, and wick away any sweat that would otherwise lead to blisters.
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