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The outdoor enthusiast in your life might just be the easiest person to please at the holidays. Practically all outdoor activities require some kind of gear, and new products come along on a regular basis to make those activities safer, easier, and more fun. If there’s a challenge, it’s narrowing down the gift choices for your favorite outdoorsy type. B&H has a great selection of outdoor gear for everyone, from the casual dabbler to the obsessed adventurer. Here are some ideas for gifts that will make your outdoors lover want to go outside and play right away.
Everyone should have a nice pair of binoculars. Travel, hiking, concerts, sporting events—these and many more activities often invite a closer look at a distant object or scene. There are other kinds of optical instruments for distance viewing, like spotting scopes and telescopes, but the binocular is the easiest to use; no tripod required, just lift to your eyes and adjust. You don’t need to close one eye, as you do with a scope, and you get a natural “3-D” image.
Three considerations come into play: magnification, brightness, and portability. Most experts agree that an 8X binocular provides enough magnifying power for most situations, and makes for a nice, stable image without the shakiness that interferes with the image on more powerful models. Brightness is determined by the front lenses, which are referred to as the objectives: the wider the lens, the more light gets to your eye. An 8x42 binocular (8x magnification, 42mm objective lens) is an excellent all-around choice. The Swarovski 8x42 SLC produces a gorgeous, tack-sharp image; for a less expensive choice, consider the 8x42 Monarch 5 or the Aculon 8x42 A211, both made by Nikon, one of the best brands in the optics industry. If portability is important—if you want a binocular you can wear around your neck or keep in a purse or pocket while on a trek, at a ballgame or in the theater—there are fine compact models at every price, from the Zeiss Victory Compact 8x20 T* (smaller than 4 x 4" and less than 8 oz) to the Pentax 8x21 UP, a moderately priced binocular that has earned the respect of the B&H Optics Department for its quality and value.
(You might hear the terms “roof prism” and “Porro prism.” In a nutshell: roof prism binoculars are more streamlined; Porros are bulkier but less costly, and some find their image brighter. For more information, see Chris Witt’s Binocular Buying Guide.)
While not as versatile as binoculars, spotting scopes are fun and useful. They have more magnifying power than binoculars, and because they’re almost always used with a tripod, shake isn’t a factor. They zoom from 16x to more than 60x, depending on model, and their objective lenses range from 40mm to 100mm or more. The Celestron LandScout 12-36x60 is a good example of a beginner’s scope; it comes with a table-top tripod and has the ¼" thread that’s compatible with standard full-size tripods. Higher-end spotting scopes include the Vortex Razor HD 11-33x50, and the Leupold SX-1 Ventana 20-60x80, among many others.
What to look at through the new binoculars? Natural features, scenic vistas, historic sites—and wildlife. Birding has become enormously popular, and the outdoors person in your life might enjoy having a copy of the birder’s bible, the Sibley Field Guide. Editions include Birds of Eastern North America, Birds of Western North America, Guide to Bird Life & Behavior and Birding Basics.
Humans have gazed at the stars since the dawn of time. A telescope makes a wonderful gift, and there are great choices in every price range. For a fine beginner’s scope, consider the Celestron AstroMaster-90 AZ 90mm Refractor, which can be used for both night-sky and terrestrial viewing, is easy to operate and is equipped with a StarPointer finder scope to home in on the celestial feature you’re seeking. At the other end of the spectrum are monoculars, nifty little mini-telescopes. Kids can use them for backyard adventures; grown-ups like them as easily pocketable devices for viewing distant objects or scenes. The Brunton Echo Pocket Scope 7x18 is an inexpensive model with good optics; the Vixen 8x20 Multi Monocular is a high-quality instrument that has good magnifying power, yet can focus as close as 10"—great for museums and exhibitions.
Digiscoping—taking photos of the images you see in your optical device—is growing in popularity. The Carson HookUpz Universal Optics Adapter for Smartphones lets you use your phone to capture the remarkable views in your binocular, spotting scope, or telescope. It fits most phones and any optical device with an eyepiece between 20 and 58mm wide, and its rubber pads glow in the dark for easier use in low light or after dark.
Few things are handier than a pocket knife. The list of small cutting tasks you can use it for is seemingly endless: open an envelope, slice pepperoni, strip a wire, clean a fresh-caught fish, cut a bandage, whittle the rough bark off a stick to make a trekking pole—you get the idea. A good-quality folding knife will last for years or even decades, and can easily be carried pretty much anywhere.
The Zero Tolerance 0801 is a beautiful folding knife with a high-quality steel blade, ball-bearing opening system, titanium handle, and a lifetime warranty. Kershaw Chill Folding Knife is slim and lightweight, with a 3.1" stainless-steel blade and a pronounced forefinger groove for sure handling and comfort. It weighs just two ounces and measures 3.9" long when closed, perfect for everyday carry. A larger and more rugged knife is the M21-14SFG by CRKT (Columbia River Knife & Tool), which features a 4" blade that’s partially serrated for cutting things like rope, leather, or webbing.
And then there’s the Swiss Army Knife, which is, of course, much more than a knife. Don’t be fooled by look-alikes; B&H carries only the real thing, made by Victorinox Swiss Army. The SwissChamp Pocket Knife is a marvel of engineering, with 33 tools (including two blades, five screwdrivers, corkscrew, ballpoint pen, magnifying glass, and too many more to list) unfolding from the handle, with its iconic polished red scales. To really go full-on multi-tool, consider the Victorinox SwissTool Spirit Plus, a folding pliers with 14 tools in its handles that perform 22 functions. It even comes with a separate ratchet wrench and a set of bits. Snapping the pliers into its folded position, in the words of one veteran B&H sales staffer, “is like closing the door of a Mercedes.”
A flashlight is a must-have for every household. A really nice flashlight is a love-to-have. The Nitecore SRT7 Revenger Tactical Multi-Color LED is a really nice flashlight. Its output ranges from barely on to an amazingly bright 960 lumens, controlled by a smooth and solid-feeling Smart Selector rotating ring at the base of the head. It’s waterproof; its maximum beam distance is more than 1,000 feet; it emits red, blue, and green, as well as white light; it has strobe and beacon settings. Of course, you only need a flashlight when it’s dark—but when the lights go out, how do you find it? No such worries with the Pelican 3310 Photoluminescent LED Flashlight: it glows in the dark. Its 234-lumen maximum output provides plenty of light, it has a flashing mode for emergency signaling, it runs on three AA batteries and it will shine for nine hours at its highest setting and a whopping 190 hours on low.
There are times when you need to shed light on a situation while having both hands free: camping, after-dark cookouts, nighttime fishing, emergencies, etc. Such moments call for a headlamp. Bushnell’s Rubicon Lighting H250L AD offers hands-free mobile illumination while packing up camp at bedtime or changing a tire on a dark country road. It has spot and flood modes, runs 12-161 hours, depending on setting, and can throw a beam nearly 300 feet.
Everyone loves the glow of a campfire, but for reading, cooking, or rummaging through your pack, firelight is less than ideal. Every outdoors enthusiast will find plenty of uses for a lantern (including at home if the power goes out.) The Black Diamond Apollo LED is portable, lightweight, and versatile—bright enough for evening campsite activity, but dimmable to a soft, pleasant glow for reading in your tent. It runs on four AA batteries, packs down to 5 x 3", and it’s easy to position: stand it on its rubber-tipped legs or hang it from a tree branch. The reviewers at Outdoor Gear Lab gave this lantern their Editor’s Pick award.
It’s hard to imagine a more clever and compact lamp than the LuminAID PackLite 12 Rechargeable Folding Solar LED Lantern. It’s a 4-inch square that inflates to a 4-inch cube for use, and is powered by a solar battery, so you can hang it on your pack or a tree to charge during the day and enjoy up to 35 lumens of light at night. When inflated, it even floats. Another small lamp offers big functionality: the Secur Mini Collapsible Storm Lantern runs on hand-crank dynamo power (never needs batteries!), works as both a lantern and a flashlight, and can charge your USB devices. In closed position, it’s a 2" thick disc with a 3.4" diameter. It opens, accordion-style, to become a 4.5" tall lantern that emanates 63 lumens. Along with the crank, it can be charged with an AC power adapter, DC car adapter, a USB port or an optional solar panel.
Getting a comfortable night’s sleep is still one of the biggest challenges in camping. Even with the best sleeping bag and pad and a well-chosen site, you’re still sleeping on the ground. A growing number of campers are choosing a different way: sleeping up off the ground in hammocks. They sleep soundly and awake refreshed. And hammocks are much easier to carry than sleeping bags and pads, a key concern for backcountry enthusiasts.
To serve this segment of the camping world, manufacturers have introduced a wide assortment of camping hammocks. They’re lightweight but sturdy and pack down to a fraction of the size of a sleeping bag. All you need are a simple set of hanging ropes or straps and a pair of trees. And the same hammock where you sleep in the wild works just as well for a nap in your backyard. The Grand Trunk Parachute Nylon Hammock (Double) holds up to 400 lb, packs down smaller than a football and comes with the hardware to hang it up. For sleeping outdoors during mosquito season, the Grand Trunk Skeeter Beeter comes with a mesh canopy to keep the little beasts away, and to be ready for anything, Air Bivy Extreme Shelter comes with “no-see-um” mesh and a waterproof rain fly.
The first thing a camper wants after a good night’s sleep is a hot breakfast. Campfire cooking has a romantic appeal, but building a fire and establishing a bed of coals is time-consuming. Use a camp stove, however, and you can be chowing down in minutes. The Optimus Crux Weekend HE 3-Piece Cook System is a backpack-friendly system that comes with the burner and a hard-anodized aluminum cooking pot. Just add a fuel canister and you’re ready to cook. For car camping, when portability is less of a concern, the Primus Profile Camp Stove makes cooking outdoors almost as easy as cooking at home, with dual burners and click ignition. (The camp stove also is a handy accessory for a backyard grill, and both camp and backpacking stoves can be important gear in emergency situations, such as power outages.)
Many of us are accustomed to navigating with cell phones, but they’re of no use when there’s no signal. A GPS unit, like the Garmin Etrex 30 X, doesn’t require a signal, let alone a data plan. It communicates directly with satellites and can pinpoint your position on a world map to within about 15 feet. It also rivals a phone for battery life (25 hours on two AAs), works as a compass and will survive being dropped in water. The old-school navigator will enjoy the World’s Best Compass from Brunton, which features a rare earth magnet in a composite body with silicone sealing, making it both weatherproof and resistant to interference and depolarization.
Even when they’re trying to get away from it all, outdoors types have uses for communications technology. Hikers, hunters, and backcountry skiers often make use of two-way radios, and anyone else who finds themselves and members of their party in different locations may find them helpful, too. Motorola’s Talkabout MD207R radios have a range of 20 miles in ideal line-of-sight conditions and 1.2 miles even in dense urban environments. They also get NOAA weather stations and come with rechargeable battery packs.
The great outdoors may be blissfully free of the chatter of civilization, but some news is important, like the aforementioned NOAA weather alerts. Knowing that severe weather is coming can make it possible to avert disaster. The Midland E+Ready ER310 Emergency Crank Weather Alert Radio will sound the alarm, and its built-in flashlight can be used as an emergency beacon. It even has an ultrasonic dog whistle to alert canine search-and-rescue teams. And while its built-in battery will last 32 hours between charges, you can also use six AA batteries as a back-up or recharge the battery with a hand crank or a solar panel.
You can also use it to charge your phone, and it does get AM and FM radio, in case the outdoors person in your life gets a little homesick for civilization’s chatter once in a while.