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Essential gifts: Time-tested outdoor gear worth getting

Buying gifts for outdoors enthusiasts is as specialized as the sports they pursue. They may appreciate the thought, but junk isn’t likely to be prized – or used.

Having the latest product isn’t as important as making sure you have proven, useful stuff.

Following are items Outdoors editor Rich Landers considers “must haves” for certain outdoor quests.

Pack some heat: Bear spray

Bear spray ought to be standard equipment for anyone hiking, paddling, cycling or camping in bear or wolf country, which includes a huge chunk of the Inland Northwest.

The pepper-based products have proved in every published test or survey to be more reliable and effective than firearms in deterring bear attacks, with the added benefit of not injuring or killing the bear – or other predator.

Check out Counter Assault and UDAP brands in sizes no less than 9 ounces. Experts say you want a minimum of 9 seconds of spray time, which is extended by using short bursts rather than blowing it all out at once.

Also get a holster to assure the spray can is kept handy and not stuffed in a pack.

Look for the expiration date on the label and be sure it’s fresh for at least three years out. The expiration date, primarily for the propellant, is four years from the time of manufacture.

Be sure the can label has a picture of a bear and says something about being a “bear” deterrent. Otherwise it may not be the proper product and Canadian Customs wouldn’t allow you to take it across the international border. Cost: $45-$55.

Life-saving frequency: Weather radio

A weather alert for incoming high winds saved my butt while sea kayaking to the Apostle Islands in Lake Superior.

After five days at elk camp in the Blue Mountains – just enough time to start losing touch with the world – a bulletin about a storm that would dump 8-12 inches of snow saved my heinie again. If I hadn’t broke camp and headed to lower elevations, I may not have been able to drive my vehicle out of the Blues until spring.

A handheld radio that receives weather-band frequencies should be considered for any extended trip. NOAA weather channels broadcast constantly updated forecasts 24 hours a day.

An accurate weather report can influence success in sports such as hunting, fishing and climbing. Or it could earn its keep in your gear bag simply by saving your life. Cost: $18-$80.

Bright combo idea: LED Lantern/device charger

Mobile phones provide an element of convenience and safety for any trip, but they’re almost useless if the battery is dead.

New battery-powered lanterns are offering the efficiency and dependability of LED illumination with a USB output that allows you to charge electronic devices. Keep one in your vehicle for emergencies.

The Mr. Beams UltraBright LED Lantern, equipped with four D-cell batteries, will provide about 30 hours of light at the bright setting of 260 lumens on one set of batteries.

Or the weather-resistant lantern will deliver 15 hours of bright light and fully recharge an iPhone three times. Cost: $40.

Downright dependable: Synthetic down sweater

Synthetic fleece is my preferred insulation while being active, but when the heart rate calms down and I need to contain heat, I layer on a windproof sweater.

Down gets thumbs up for lightweight warmth, especially in winter, but I lean toward synthetic insulation for three-plus-season dependability.

My favorite light insulating garment is Patagonia’s Nano Puff. The pullover version is lighter than the jacket, saving weight on the zipper. The hoodie version offers the most overall warmth and versatility. (I have both the pullover and the hoodie).

They can be worn as an outer garment or as a midlayer with a slick water-resistant-treated polyester surface that slides easily into other garments.

The insulation is highly compressible PrimaLoft ONE, which may not be as warm as down out of the house, but surpasses it quickly if the insulation gets damp. It’s cheaper and faster drying than down.

The Nano Puff has become an item that’s too light and stuffable to justify leaving out of any pack, large or small.

I bought my first several years ago, but it kept disappearing. Not until I gifted three more – to my wife, and two daughters – could I depend on finding mine when I needed it. Cost: $85-$250.

Expert advice on demand: Field guidebooks

A good guidebook for hiking, biking, paddling, climbing – you name it – is the next best thing to hiring a guide.

Guidebooks for the Inland Northwest, including books on the Ice Age Floods, are excellent gifts for newcomers to the region, and they often enlighten locals, too.

Trail books specific to national parks or regions such as the Canadian Rockies pinpoint directions to specific sites and trailheads and spotlight tips on flora, fauna and history.

Exploring an area without a little research and background is like speed-dating – flirting with no substance – leaving much to the imagination.