Outdoors / Buying Guide

Wild at Heart: Great Gifts for Adventurers, Explorers, and Nature Lovers


The fan of fresh air 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 outdoors enthusiast. Fortunately, B&H is here to help, with a great selection of gear for everyone from the casual dabbler to the obsessed adventurer.

Optics: Getting a Better View

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 the majority of situations, 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 reaches 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. 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 various prices, from the high-end Zeiss Victory Compact 8x20 T* to the moderately priced Pentax 8x21 UP.

Swarovski 8x42 SLC Binocular

When checking out binoculars, you might hear or see 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 offer more power and brightness than binoculars, with zoom magnifications beginning below 10x and ranging to more than 60x, depending on the model, and objective lenses ranging from 40mm to 100mm or more. And because they’re almost always used with a tripod, vibration isn’t a factor. The Celestron LandScout 12-36x60 is a good example of a beginner’s scope; it comes with a table-top tripod and has the 1/4" thread that’s compatible with standard full-size tripods. Higher-end spotting scopes include the Vortex Razor HD 11-33x50, the Leupold SX-1 Ventana 2 20-60x80, and the Bushnell Elite 20-60x 80mm, among many others.

Celestron LandScout 12-36x60 Spotting Scope with Tripod

What to look at through the new binoculars? Natural features, scenic vistas, historic sites—and wildlife. Birding has become enormously popular, and the outdoors enthusiast in your life might enjoy having a copy of the birder’s bible, the Sibley Field Guide. Editions include Sibley Birds East (2nd Edition) and Birds of Western North America.

Sibley Guides Book: Sibley Birds East (2nd Edition)

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 scope, or a simple grab-and-go option for intermediate users, consider the Celestron Inspire 80AZ 80mm f/11.3 Refractor, an easily operable unit which can be utilized for both night-sky and terrestrial viewing. Its StarPointer Pro finder scope allows you to home in on the celestial feature you’re seeking, and offers a large 40mm window to give you a wide field of view. Ideal for intermediates, the Meade Polaris 90mm f/10.0 Equatorial Refractor Telescope elevates astronomical observation to the next dimension, offering a complete setup for viewing the Moon, planets, and brighter deep-sky objects like star clusters and galaxies.

Celestron Inspire 80AZ 80mm f/11.3 Refractor Telescope

For a good first “serious” telescope that’s still an economical option, check out the Celestron NexStar 4 SE 102mm f/13 Maksutov-Cassegrain Go-To. This powerful, versatile scope can be used to observe everything from the Moon and planets to galaxies and nebulae, and features an optical system and precision tracking capability that make it a suitable astrophotography/astro-imaging platform. Its NexStar computer hand controller displays nearly 40,000 celestial objects and can hold up to 25 additional user-defined destinations.

Celestron NexStar 4 SE 102mm f/13 Maksutov-Cassegrain Go-To Telescope

At the other end of the spectrum are monoculars, nifty little mini-telescopes. Kids can use them for backyard adventures; grownups like them as easily pocketable devices for viewing distant objects or scenes. The Brunton Echo Pocket Scope 7x18 is an inexpensive model with good multicoated optics; the Vixen 8x20 Multi Monocular is a high-quality instrument that has notable magnifying power, yet can focus as close as 10"—making it great for museums and exhibitions. At the same price as the Vixen, the Pentax 8x42 is equipped with a larger objective and also features a waterproof housing for worry-free use in inclement weather.

Celestron NexStar 4 SE 102mm f/13 Maksutov-Cassegrain Go-To Telescope

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. The Carson HookUpz 2.0 is an updated version that accommodates larger phones and phablets up to 3.75" wide, such as the iPhone 6 Plus and the Samsung Galaxy Note 7.

Carson HookUpz Universal Optics Adapter for Smartphones

Cutting-Edge Tools

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 well-made folding knife will last for years or even decades, and can easily be carried just about anywhere.

The Zero Tolerance 0801 is a beautiful folding knife with an extremely durable, 3.5" ELMAX steel blade, as well as a ball-bearing opening system, titanium handle, and lifetime warranty. Kershaw's 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, making it perfect for everyday carrying. A larger and more rugged option 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, and webbing.

ZERO TOLERANCE 0801 Folding Knife

And then there’s the Swiss Army Knife, which is, of course, much more than a knife. Don’t be fooled by lookalikes; B&H carries only the real thing, made by Victorinox Swiss Army. The SwissChamp Pocket Knife is a marvel of engineering, packing 33 tools (including two blades, five screwdrivers, corkscrew, ballpoint pen, magnifying glass, and too many more to list) that unfold from a handle covered by the iconic polished red scales. Combining a multi-tool, a ratchet set, and a set of bits, the Victorinox SwissTool Spirit Plus features 14 implements that perform 22 functions. A pair of folding pliers is joined by wire cutters, screwdrivers, scissors, a serrated blade, a wood saw, a crate opener, and more. Snapping the pliers into the folded position, in the words of one veteran B&H sales associate, “is like closing the door of a Mercedes.”

Victorinox SwissTool Spirit Plus

Let There Be Light

A flashlight is a must-have for every household, while 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 incredibly bright 960 lumens, controlled by a smooth and solid Smart Selector rotating ring at the base of the head. It emits white, red, blue, and green light, and also offers strobe and beacon modes. As a huge added bonus, it’s waterproof and submersible to 131'.

NITECORE SRT7 Revenger Tactical Multi-Color LED Flashlight

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 3310PL Photoluminescent Flashlight: it glows in the dark. Its 378-lumen maximum output provides plenty of light, and it also has a flashing mode for emergency signaling. The 3310PL runs on three AA batteries and will shine for a whopping 200 hours on the lowest setting. Like the SRT7, it’s waterproof and submersible, though to a much more modest 3.3'.

Pelican 3310PL Photoluminescent Flashlight

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, and runs for 12-161 hours, depending on the setting. Additionally, it can throw a beam nearly 300 feet.

Bushnell Rubicon Lighting H250L AD Headlamp

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 AA battery-powered 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 can be packed down to 5 x 3" and is easy to position: Just 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.

Black Diamond Apollo LED Lantern (200 Lumens Max, Process Blue)

It’s hard to imagine a cleverer and more compact lamp than the LuminAID PackLite Spectra Multi-Color Rechargeable Folding Solar LED Lantern. It’s inflatable for use and will float if dropped in water, though it’s also waterproof. The unit also folds flat for convenient storage in a pack, bag, or emergency kit. The Spectra features eight color modes and runs for up to 12 hours. Another small lamp offers big functionality: the GOAL ZERO Lighthouse 250 LED Lantern / USB Hub runs on USB, solar, or hand-crank power and works as both a lantern and a flashlight. But that’s not all—it can also charge your USB-equipped mobile devices. The Lighthouse outputs up to 250 lumens, and can be hung by its folding handle or placed on its fold-down legs on a table or the ground. And if you want your lantern to rejuvenate your smartphone and play music for you, behold the Secur SP-5004 Bluetooth Lantern & Power Bank.

LuminAID PackLite Spectra Multi-Color Rechargeable Folding Solar LED Lantern

Into the Wild

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 lying 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 in which 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 and can be packed down smaller than a football. As an extra convenience, it comes with the hardware needed 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. You’d be wise to grab a Grand Trunk All Purpose Rainfly to shelter your hammock from a downpour, as well. And for the ultimate in versatility, consider the Grand Trunk All-Terrain Hybrid Shelter, usable as a tent, tarp, hammock, rain fly, or sunshade.

Grand Trunk All Purpose Rainfly

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 option 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 is also a handy accessory for a backyard grill, and both camp and backpacking stoves can be important gear in emergency situations, such as power outages.)

Optimus Crux Weekend HE 3-Piece Cook System

Many of us are accustomed to navigating with our 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) and offers added functionality as a compass. Plus, it 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.

Brunton World's Best Compass

Keep in Touch

Even when they’re trying to get away from it all, outdoor types have uses for communications technology. Hikers, hunters, and backcountry skiers often make use of two-way radios, and others 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 in dense urban environments. They also get NOAA weather stations and come with rechargeable battery packs.

Motorola Talkabout MD207R 2-Way Radios

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. The ER310 can even 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.

Midland E+Ready ER310 Emergency Crank Weather Alert Radio

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