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2012 Holiday Gift Guide for Hikers

The Best Outdoor Equipment (When Price is no Object)


Question: What do you get for a hiker that already has all the essential gear?

Answer: More of it!

So sneak a peak at what kind of gear the favorite hiker in your life already uses, and don't be shy about replacing something that's been so well-loved it's started coming apart at the seams, or buying more of something that gets a lot of use. (Socks and long underwear! Socks and long underwear!)

If all your hiker's gear is still in good shape, though, the following wish list of high-end gear -- some staples, some using the newest technology -- is a great place to start. Some of it's pretty pricey, but it's worth it; and you can sometimes score great deals on high-quality gear like this from outdoor retailers known for their low prices.

I've also assembled gift guides for $100 or less, $20 and under, and hiking-related books.

1. Outdoor Research Axiom Jacket

Photo © Outdoor Research

Repeat after me: No pit zips. No pit zips. No pit zips! This 13.5-oz. jacket uses Goretex Active, a membrane that's so breathable, Outdoor Research actually did away with zippered armpits for ventilation (also known as an entry portal for snow or rain every time you raise your arm). The Axiom is spendy, but you just can't do better for a bombproof, lightweight hardshell jacket.

My only gripe about the Axiom? It doesn't come in a women's version, and as far as I can tell, OR doesn't produce any women's jackets with Goretex Active at all. What's up with that, guys?

Why it's in here: No pit zips! Okay, that and 13.5 ounces of weatherproof breathability. Outerwear just doesn't get any better than this.

2. Custom Boots from Limmer and Sons

Photo © Pete Limmer and Sons

Peter Limmer and Sons can start building your boots based on a foot tracing and circumference measurements, but prefer you to come to their New Hampshire shop for final measurements. That might seem extravagant, but given their reputation for superb comfort and fit (and lasting for decades), these leather-lined, Vibram-soled boots are well worth it. They also offer a few stock options for sale in their shop.

Why they're in here: If you're a long-distance backpacker or prefer sturdy leather boots, you can't do better than Limmer and Sons.

3. Smartwool TML Mid Full-Zip Hoody

As a general rule I love SmartWool's products because they fit well, wear reasonably well, and don't stink to high heaven like synthetics when placed against my skin. The best thing about the SmartWool TML Mid Full-Zip Hoody, though, is that the hood leaves only a small circle of your face showing and fits comfortably under your jacket's hood, your hat, or your helmet. This high-end hoodie can function as a jacket (over base layers) for active, close-to-home pursuits during mild weather, or toss a weatherproof jacket on over it to turn it into an all-warmth, no-bulk middle layer.

Why it's in here: Lightweight, comfortable warmth (even when wet) that moves with you but doesn't add bulk.

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4. Black Diamond Mega Light Tent

Photo © Black Diamond

Black Diamond's Mega Light replaces their cherished Megamid. This floorless tent isn't for the faint of heart, and you should definitely practice pitching it in different circumstances before you hit the trail. But once you master the art of the floorless pyramid tent, the Mega Light becomes versatile, roomy, featherlight housing, and one of the very best options if you're backpacking with a dog. Average packed weight: 2 lb. 13 oz., or 45 oz.

Why it's in here: House two or three people for less than a pound-and-a-half per person (it actually sleeps four if you're feeling friendly)

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5. Deuter ACT Lite 50 + 10 Pack

Photo © Deuter

I've recently become a huge fan of Deuter's packs. They're lightweight (3.5 pounds for 50 liters of carry capacity) and unusually comfortable and flexible on your back, even when loaded down. The Lite 50 + 10's minimalist design has plenty of functional storage space and adjustments, but won't leave you trailing bungees and daisy chains everywhere you go.

Why it's here: Deuter's anatomical hipbelts make its packs the most comfortable I've ever worn.

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6. Outdoor Research Alpine Bivy

Photo © Outdoor Research

Bivy sacks aren't for everybody -- they're basically an extra layer of protection around your sleeping bag. But if you're aiming for ultralight travel and feel comfortable sleeping in a cocoon (think of it as a really, really tiny one-man tent), you can't beat the OR Alpine Bivy for weatherproof, relatively breathable* protection.

* I have yet to see a truly, completely condensation-free bivy sack, but OR's Alpine Bivy does better than most, and has an overlapping zipper to help with venting.

Why it's here: True minimalist protection that works very well.
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7. Wilderness Survival Class

Taking a wilderness survival class was one of the best investments I could possibly have made in my own safety, well-being, and sense of security. It wasn't so much learning survival skills like starting a fire with a bowdrill (which I'm really lousy at, by the way), but developing the confidence to stay calm and use anything and everything around me as a tool when things go wrong. (And yes, the very first thing I did after taking that class was get myself nice and lost.)

Anyway, if the hiker in your life already has all the gear he or she could possibly need, a wilderness survival course -- learning how to use the gear he owns to its fullest, and how to get by without it -- is the perfect gift. Odds are good that he'll have a blast and (re)learn something new, even if he's taken wilderness survival classes before or is already pretty good at improvising under pressure.

Why it's here: Your brain is the most important survival tool of all. Feed it!

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