By Gear & Beer editors, Bill McKibben and Sue Halpern
The holidays are a time for indulgences—that extra piece of pie, yet another craft beer, and stocking up on stuff you didn’t even know you coveted (for family and friends, of course), until you read about it here, in our annual holiday gift guide for serious athletes. Here are a few of our favorite things to give for 2015 or to get in 2016.
Designed and custom-made in Vermont by storied snowshoe racers Bob and Denise Dion, Dion Snowshoes (approx. $240) are a unique gift. The snowshoes are modular: pick a frame—racing, hiking, expeditions—pair it with snow-specific Teflon-coated cleats, and add quick-fit or secure-fit bindings. Each component can be swapped out with the others, meaning no more one-size-fits-all—people or snow conditions.
All-Weather Battery Charger
It’s hard to keep a cell phone charged in the cold and if you are out for a multi- day hut trip or backcountry ski, forget it. Now, there’s a solution: The All Terrain ($39) and All Terrain Plus charger ($59) meets military specs and is pretty much waterproof, drop-proof and freeze-proof (we put ours in the freezer for a week and it still worked). The Plus 6000 mAh version can recharge smartphones, tablets and other mobile electronic devices in the worst conditions. Ours charged an IPhone 6 three times faster than the standard Apple charger. The All Terrain Plus pumps out 3.4 amps of power across two USB ports for dual charging purposes.
Fast Skis, Good Grip
The big question everyone has when it comes to buying cross-country skis is wax or waxless? It can be a pain to wax, but waxless skis with their plastic fish scales tend to be noisy and slow. The waxless Atomic Sport Pro Skintec ($449) has a new take on old tech: it uses a short ribbon of replaceable synthetic mohair in the kick zone to give you grip on the uphills. These skis are surprisingly fast and responsive, with enough grip to make climbing a breeze and going downhill even breezier.
Get Your Wool On
Keep that person on your list warm and dry in a pair of Ibex Woolies base layer long johns ($85 and up), made from the Vermont company’s signature superfine merino wool. Magically, Ibex has managed to make a base layer that’s not only cozy, wicking, smell-resistant and easy to care for, but one that’s stylish as well. There are stripes, vibrant colors, Henleys, zip-tops and crews as well as insulating tights with wide waistbands. Woolies come in a variety of weights for a variety of activities; all luxurious against the skin.
Based in Jackson Hole, Wyo., Stio knows what serious skiers need. This season the company has come up with an especially head-turning alpine kit, the Stio Shot 7 Down Jacket ($550) and Shot 7 Insulated Pant ($395.) Both are made with down with an outer layer of Pertex that will keep you dry and clement no matter the weather on the mountain. (There are men’s and women’s models.) Down is an especially efficient insulator—ask any duck—but paired with an outer layer of Pertex, it’s a super-breathable fabric that moves well while casting off excess heat and water.
A Day-to-Overnight Pack
Hikers and backpackers will appreciate the integrated rainfly on Osprey’s Kestrel 38 ($160) and Kestrel 48 ($180) daypacks. Both are big enough to stow a sleeping bag and enough gear for a couple of days. They also have a slot for a hydration bladder and incorporate the kind of sophisticated, back-sparing, sweat-shedding suspension system typically found on much bigger packs.
Mad River Rocket Sled
When Warren architect Dave Sellers designed the first Mad River Rocket back in the 1980s he had no idea the sled would catch on as it has. Sellers, world-renowned for his unconventional approach to design, began working on the plastic kneel-on sleds at the Mad River Canoe company. The sled uses a “negative” keel that acts like a rail in the snow: you kneel under a strap and steer by pivoting with your body weight and your arms. (Note: this works best on steep slopes.) Soon a cult following developed of serious backcountry sledders and along with it two popular models: for kids, The Stinger ($124) and for adults, the Killer B ($179).
Carbon Touring Poles
Snowshoers and back country skiers will welcome a pair of ridiculously easy-to-adjust Black Diamond Razor Carbon Touring Poles ($124.95), which are light in the hand (only 1 lb, 5 oz.) but strong enough to withstand the twists and torques of bashing through deep snow. These poles do double duty in the off-seasons, as hikers and trekkers will find it simple to remove their baskets and use them to wander through the woods.
A Shoulder-Season Hoody
It’s hard to find something truly new in the outdoor apparel world. But OR’s Deviator Hoody ($185) is like nothing we’ve worn before. It’s lightly insulated over the torso while the back, sleeves and neck use a wicking fabric that’s soft and comfortable. This makes it perfect for the shoulder seasons, the hardest-to-dress-for seasons of the year — a trail run at 40 degrees, a cross country ski on a sunny afternoon, or a zippy trot on a pair of snowshoes.
The Ultimate Indoor Trainer
The BKool Smart Pro Turbo Trainer ($559 and up) may be the most ambitious cycling simulator yet invented. You can choose from more than 500,000 routes on 3D video and, as you ride along, sensors automatically change the machine’s resistance to meet the route’s topography. If you ever wanted to climb the Alp D’Huez, practice cycling around a velodrome, or compete on the pave of Paris-Roubaix, you now can—at home. While you’re riding, the machine’s software also gathers data on your heart rate, power, speed and distance, all of which is uploaded, analyzed and stored on the cloud. (Note that while there is a free library of 2-D videos, to get the full 3-D experience requires a $15/month subscription after the first year.)
Itching to get back on the bike? The new Specialized Fuse Comp 6Fattie. ($1600) will get you through the winter. The Fuse (and its sister, the Ruze) are proven hardtails with aluminum frames and use Specialized’s new 6Fattie Wheel System: giant 3-inch knobbies on 27.6 inch wheels. The big tires provide superb traction and control, which makes the bike appealing to novices as well as to more experienced riders. The 27.5-inch wheels split the difference between the old school 26s and the newer school 29s, making the ride smooth and the Fuse easy to maneuver. The base model is the Comp, but if you want to upgrade your components or are looking for hand-built wheels the Expert and the Pro models crank everything up a notch.
With a wide field of vision and the stunningly clear optics, Julbo’s Venturi ($180, www.julbo.com) sunglasses are designed for trail running, but ideal, too, for cycling and Nordic skiing. No matter how humid I’ve gotten, these glasses have not fogged up, and the bendable nose and earpieces keeps them firmly and comfortably on my head.
A Monthly Box of Goodies
Sure you can give monthly boxes of wine, fruit or chocolate, but what about giving something your favorite athlete will actually use year-round? That’s the idea behind giving a subscription to a Cairn mystery box ($25 a month). Each month a Cairn box arrives with things outdoors people need and use: trail mix, insect repellent, socks… you name it.
A Beer Lesson and a Bottle of Christmas Cake
Anyone who appreciates good beer will appreciate it even more after getting gift certificate for a Beer Appreciation class at the American Brewers Guild. Based out of Middlebury’s Drop-In Brewery, the Guild draws both home and professional brewers from all over the world for advanced courses in brewing. However, anyone can take the 3-hour class in Beer Appreciation ($75). In it, Drop-In brewmaster Steve Parke (formerly of Woolavers, Otter Creek and Humboldt) covers everything from the history of beer to sensory analysis to food pairings. Oh yes, and tasting and cheese pairings too. The three-hour class will let you trump any wine snob. Or take it to the next level with a novice brewing course. Cap it off with a growler of Christmas Cake. We’re not talking about a fruit cake here but, Drop-In’s holiday ale that’s brewed with dried fruit, cinnamon, nutmeg and a “super secret” ingredient.