When I have the time and mental bandwidth, I am capable of picking out a damn good gift. My process requires a dark room, no noise and the moon to be in a particular phase. I reflect carefully, considering the person for whom the gift is intended and his or her interests. Then I let the perfect gift idea come to me, in that still, dark, moonlit space.
To be honest, I rarely pick out the ideal gift. Most times I find myself in the nightmare scenario of running through the store, cursing myself for waiting so long.
This is a list of potential gifts for the outdoors enthusiast in your life. No, it's not tailored for each individual — yet. That part's on you. But this should give you a head start. No meditation required.
$50 and under
— An inflatable pillow ($14 at Wal-Mart, $42 at REI online) sounds absurd. Until you try it.
These little pillows make the days of impromptu stuff-sack head rests obsolete. You know the "camp" pillows I'm talking about — yesterday's long underwear, the down coat and the last semi-clean socks get rolled up into a ball and poke lumpy fists into your face all night long while you attempt to convince yourself you're too tired/outdoorsy to care.
This was me, but then I tried one of these inflatable pillows. They're ridiculous. I don't care. I haven't looked back.
— The $50 Alaska State Park daily parking pass is a sticker of love and foresight. Every year, I get to Glen Alps trailhead in January, ready to tromp off into the mountains. Then I realize that I need to re-up my pass — just as I'm trying to be good about spending less money after the credit card fest that is the holidays.
That stamp-sized piece of plastic with paper backing? It says "I care."
— "I wish I were a better swimmer." "I'd like to learn how to skate ski." "Pack rafting — that's something I've always wanted to check out."
Why not pitch in for lessons for some outdoor activity, or a gift certificate for someone to pick out what and when they'd like to learn?
The Municipality of Anchorage offers several options for would-be skiers. A masters ski program for beginners starts at $80 for a suite of lessons beginning in January.
Swimming lessons are also a great bet for anyone looking to get in better swimming shape or even learning for the first time. For anyone interested in pack rafting, there are seasonal lessons available with Alaska Kayaking Academy.
— For the diehard winter cyclist in your life or (like me) the winter weekend fatbike enthusiasts, it's inevitable: hands get cold.
Pogies aren't exactly a necessity, until you own them. There are a lot of great Alaska-based designers out there, including Apocalypse Design based out of Fairbanks, which make "Bike Toasties" — $84 pogies. If it's meant for cold weather, and designed by people in Fairbanks, that seems like a pretty safe bet to me.
— Urban Alaskan attire for the modern woman can best be summed up by Danskos and snow skirts. But I think there is another, less popular but still amazing cousin: the vest.
Vests add one more layer of insulation to ward off cold, right where it can seep and settle in the most — your core. No, vests are not the most fashionable. Yes, I have been accused of wearing vests inappropriately (vests and short sleeves are not a good look). But they're amazingly warm, and they disguise my yuletide belly — what more do I need from clothing this time of year?
— I've been intrigued by the idea of a down quilt ever since I went backpacking with a quilt enthusiast.
Apparently, these lightweight blankets, which at about $200 run half the cost of comparable sleeping bags, have quite a few advantages. Sleeping bags, especially those designed for backpacking, tend to be constrictive and claustrophobic.
Quilts are adjustable and function much more like a traditional blanket (although with designs allowing the user to synch the sides to their sleeping pad to avoid drafts). If you're thinking of ordering one, shop online and shop soon — these aren't readily available at stores yet and can take two or more weeks to deliver.
— If you know anyone who's sick of backpacking food and doesn't want to consistently shell out for the high price better stuff, a dehydrator is an awesome gift. It satisfies the creativity and consistency of home cooking and the secret desire to be an astronaut at the same time.
Dehydrators run the gamut in price. For a good one, it's worth investing a bit more.
Hopefully this sparks some ideas before you head online or to the stores. If nothing else, at least you'll know what to buy me for the holidays.
Alli Harvey lives in Palmer and plays in Southcentral Alaska.