As you hunt the aisles of local stores this holiday season for that perfect Christmas gift, I have a couple of suggestions for gear that has been given to me, or purchased by me, that has stood the test of time.
Big orange: Years ago I bought a fleece camouflaged jacket purposely a bit large so I could wear my warm winter coat underneath. I may look like a pumpkin when I’m afield, but the fleece has long served its purpose of keeping blood off my jacket and making it so other hunters don’t mistake me for a deer. I like that the sleeves and hood are also orange because when I wear a backpack with a hunter orange vest, half of the vest is covered up – the back half where I can’t see anyone taking aim at me. The camo pattern is supposed to break up my outline, and it seems to have worked, unless those deer that stared at me over the years were just wondering what a huge pumpkin was doing out in the woods. $16 to $30.
Let there be light: Without a doubt a bright headlamp, preferably one that is adjustable to different angles and different strengths to conserve batteries, is a go-to tool for any outdoors person. I’ve hiked in the dark enough times to know that there are a lot of sticks, stones and holes to trip over. That can be tiring or downright dangerous depending on the circumstances. A good headlamp can light up a trail for a night stroll, or allow a hunter to track a blood trail or finish gutting a deer they shot just before last shooting light. A flashlight is only good if it has batteries, so add some extras to their Christmas stocking. A small, bright tactical LED flashlight as a backup is also a good option, especially when your buddy forgets their light. $30 and up.
Knife sharpener: Ranging in cost from less than $5 to around $100, there are a variety of knife sharpeners on the market to fit several different niches. I like an electric one at home to put a fine edge on my kitchen, hunting and fishing knifes. That makes them a lot easier to tune up in the field with a less expensive pocket sharpener. I’ve tried the stones and can never seem to get as good an edge, but that may be more about me and my impatience than those sharpening systems. No matter what you’re doing with a knife, having a sharp one just makes all of those chores quicker and less of a strain, especially if you’re butchering an entire deer or elk.
Rain jacket: If you live in Montana and like to be outdoors, you need to have a good rain jacket to keep you dry. In the old days that meant heavy rubberized coats and ponchos that trapped so much perspiration from your body that you’d get wet from the inside. A variety of new materials now offer rain protection at a much lighter weight and with fabrics that are breathable, so you’re less likely to sweat yourself wet. I prefer jackets with detachable or storable hoods, since I often use my jacket as a windbreaker as well. Good raincoats aren’t cheap, but the first time you weather a downpour and avoid hypothermia you’ll be happy you made the investment, or someone invested for you. Sometimes, but not always, the more expensive products use better fabrics. Do your homework. $50 to $400.
Head smart: I’ve bought a lot of hats over the years because I’m always looking for one that does one thing very well. So I have a bunch of different hats for very specific uses. A wide-brimmed, aerated hat is my summer river rafting chapeau. It keeps the sun off my neck and face. I can dunk it in the water when I get too hot and it has a draw string for when the wind is howling. A beanie is my go-to wear for keeping my balding pate warm when I’m sleeping out at night. I like the super-light merino wool ones that are small but still warm. It also works well under my ski helmet. While hunting I like a brimmed wool hat that has ear flaps that can be tucked up or pulled down depending on the weather. The brim keeps the sun out of my eyes. A couple of hats I own have built-in face warmers, which are nice on particularly frosty days when I’m shoveling the driveway or out for a bike ride. Almost everyone in Montana has at least one baseball cap, or trucker hat, to their name. Look for ones with appropriate logos for your loved one. And take note, some folks are very particular about the style of their cap. Starting at about $20.
Knee and ankle savers: The idea of trekking poles once seemed crazy to me. I did not want to carry things in my hands while hiking or backpacking. But after trying them out more than a decade ago, I’ve become a convert. They’ve saved my knees on many a downhill slog, and given me much-need support when straining to hump a load uphill. They are also incredibly helpful at stream crossings and when stepping over downfall, providing extra support and balance. They double as a prod to get the hiker in front of you moving, but use of them in that manner may result in a fight, so be cautious. Mine are the screw-into-position type, which I find annoying. If I got a new pair I’d look for ones with clips that lock the adjustment in place. Cheaper versions start at $20.
Stay hydrated: Everyone needs a water bottle. I don’t like the old-fashioned squirt type that bikers use with the pop-up top. I like the sturdy plastic models that can withstand the beating I’m going to give them, if I don’t lose them first. That said, the newer insulated metal ones are amazing. I’ve left cold water in a hot car for a day and returned to find the water still chilled. Not sure I’d want to heft that extra weight on a backpack trip, but they are great for road trips. Wide-mouthed bottles are great for adding ice or hooking up to a water filter. Narrower openings are much easier to use while driving. I don’t like the ones with straws in them because I like to freeze water in my bottle in the summer. With a straw, you can’t do that. I’m still looking for the perfect coffee cup, but the new metal ones with a trigger-like lid are the best I’ve found so far for ease of use while driving while still keeping coffee reasonably warm. A portable flask is a good Christmas stocking stuffer. There are plastic ones for backpackers and steel and leather versions for the more dignified drinkers on your list. $10 to $40.
For the cook: The array of items for outdoor cooking seem to be endless, but certain things are downright necessities. One is a good cook kit, preferably with a nonstick frying pan (starting at about $20). Second is a small plastic spatula so you don’t scratch up your new pan. To warm that pan a small stove is tops for backpackers ($35 and up). Look for ones that fold up small and can be attached to compressed gas canisters to provide the least amount of fuss. If your cook is more of a barbecue genius, consider a wild game cookbook like Townsend author Eileen Clarke’s latest: “Tenderize The Wild: Marinades, brines and rubs for wild game.” Or pick up one of the many spice or rub kits or a box of your favorite homemade jerky mix. The beauty of these gifts is that, hopefully, your beloved will cook something nice for you.
Back to basics: Let’s face it, it sucks to be cold. Everyone always needs good hiking or warm wool socks. I even have neoprene socks for wet weather and fleece socks for sleeping on those really cold nights. (Starting at $12) I’m also a big fan of long underwear. Heavier fleece leggings and tops are perfect for downhill skiing. ($40 and up.) Lighter weight fabrics are great for hunting when you’re on the move. ($14 or more). Simple wool glove liners ($8) also have a million uses. I like to wear them inside my mittens on really cold days or under latex gloves when gutting a deer or fishing. Anything that wards off the frost seems like a good idea to me.
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