Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Gift guide for hikers

This year I decided to actually post a gift guide before the major giving season. I want to suggest items that I have experience with, are relatively affordable, and are useful or needed as emergency gear. Rather that suggest specific items, I mostly want to give categories with some rational.

Small waterproof bags for electronics, maps, etc. This is a natural thought now that the PNW's wet season has started. Anyone carrying a GPS, cell phone, camera, or other personal electronics hiking probably wants to put them in a waterproof bag, a dry bag. There are a lot of choices out there from small ipod cases to camera cases which can be used to take pictures in shallow water. Beside electronics, they are useful for first aid kits, lunch, maps, and wet clothing. If you don't know the specific needs of a hiker, a good choice is Aloksak's combo of 3 different sizes of bags.

Stainless steel or coated aluminum water bottle. With the recent concern over BPA in plastics, many more choices of metal water bottles are available. Even if you aren't concerned about BPA or use a hydration bladder, a metal bottle has some advantages. It will usually last longer than a plastic bottle, I have a Sigg aluminum bottle I've used for over 15 years, I don't have any plastic bottles from that era (partly because I've lost a couple). It is battered and dented but still very functional. I sometimes like to take diluted orange or grapefruit juices instead of sports drinks and don't get the plastic taste from this bottle. Also, it can be cleaned with boiling water if I wish.

Seat pad for hiking. This is a somewhat a PNW item, even in the summer it can be difficult to find a dry place to sit and a pad really is nice when hiking in snow - I like to sit down while eating. I prefer my standard foam pad for hiking, I cut it down slightly from the size sold for easier carrying. I tried a nicer, self-inflating pad but it is heavier and a bit more of a bother so I've saved it for camping. Also potentially an emergency item, if caught in a storm overnight, sitting on the pad will reduce heat loss greatly over sitting or lying without insulation on the ground.

Thermometer and compass zipper pull. Yes I know, the compass is too small to really navigate with and the thermometer will only give the temperature within 5 degrees and you may need a magnifying glass to read either. Still, attached to a pack it is light weight, handy, and likely to be used. I've seen too many hikers apparently with no compass or with only a battery powered compass, anything is better than nothing. A better compass would be great if you think the hiker would take it and know how to use it. I like having a ballpark idea of the temperature and it helps me think about appropriate clothing for resting even if I'm hot and sweaty from hiking uphill.

Fire starter. Every hiker, even casual day hikers, should carry some means of starting a fire. A box of wind and waterproof matches in a freezer bag may be adequate but there are a lot of more gift-worthy things out there. A nice wind proof lighter can be bought for less than $20 to $100 and are much more user friendly than a Bic. Also available are various fire strikers, such as the BlastMatch and fire steels. A good addition is to include some type of easily lit tinder, either commercial or homemade, e.g. cotton balls soaked in Vaseline. Campers and backpackers may wish to carry multiple means of starting a fire.

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