Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Gearhead gifts for Santas on a budget

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OK, so it's four days before Christmas and you feel the need to buy that gearhead you happen to love some new piece of camping equipment. Unfortunately, the price tag attached to many pieces of high-quality gear is relatively insane.

Instead of freaking out, think small -- as in stocking-stuffer puny. Small pieces of gear always need replacing and also tend to be inexpensive.

Here are some options that should make the backcountry-camping geeks in your life happy -- without adding too many digits to your credit-card bill:

Mini dry bags

While waterproof backpacks, panniers and paddling bags don't come cheap, pocket-sized dry bags and other small waterproof containers are not only affordable, but extremely handy for protecting the likes of medications, cameras, spare batteries, money and other itty-bitty items.

Outdoor retailers carry a variety of containers by various manufacturers. I can personally attest to the quality of transparent SealLine map cases, hard-shell Pelican micro cases and roll-up M.E.C. pocket bags. This stuff retails from $6 to $19 a piece.

Yet another compass

Every year, handheld GPS units get funkier and funkier. But you will always need to rely on a compass as your navigational backup plan. In fact, it's not a bad idea to stash a spare compass into every pack or jacket you own.

The day will come when your loved one will be separated from a group or even completely lost. Help them return safely by getting them another compass. Basic models start around $10.


When asked what piece of gear is essential in the backcountry, many campers will cite their headlamps, which have grown smaller, more powerful and longer-lasting over the decades.

Like other small pieces of gear, headlamps tend to go missing or wind up getting "borrowed" by tripmates. A spare is never a bad idea: the inexpensive Petzl Tikkina retails for $18.50 to $25 at stores such as The Wilderness Supply, M.E.C. and Cabela's.

Merino gitch

To the average human, there could be no more dull a gift than a pair of underwear. But if you're into multi-day paddling or hiking trips, you will come to cherish merino boxers, briefs or T-shirts.

Merino wool is just as good as polypropylene at the task of wicking moisture from your skin. But unlike polypro, which tends to get stinky after a few days, merino has a seemingly magical ability to avoid absorbing odours.

On the downside, merino is less durable than synthetic fabrics and also more expensive. But that makes a pair a good gift, as most people wouldn't dole out a few extra bucks on their own. M.E.C. sells particularly comfy men's merino boxers for $32 - as well as women's briefs for $25. I assume the latter are comfy, too.

Hiking socks

OK, so socks sound just as boring as underwear -- unless you're a hiker, backpacker or trail runner.

A well-padded, quick-drying, insulative pair of socks will do more to keep you comfortable in bad weather than any other piece of clothing, including a toque. Any combination of wool or synthetic fabric will do the trick, usually for under $25.

Just don't buy your friend or loved one anything cotton, unless you actually hate them.

Outdoor wine kit

When it comes to luxury items on the trail, some people swear by folding camping chairs or hammocks, both of which can go a long way to easing up on back pain and sore legs during a strenuous trip.

There is of course another way to ease your pain: Take wine on the trail with you, along with near-unbreakable wine glasses made out polypropylene plastic ($6 and up) or stainless steel ($10 and up).

For canoe trips, box wine will do the trick, as you can always burn the cardboard and pack out the empty bag. The other option is to pick up a collapsible Platypus wine bag ($8-$10 in most stores), which also can prove useful at home for the short-term storage of wine from an unfinished bottle. Far less practical but more stylish is a GSI Wine Tote ($25), which swaddles a bottle in a neoprene case and also holds two glasses.

Pointy things

Like many Canadians, I can never have too many knives. I tend to hit the trail with a redundant trio of a small Swiss Army knife, a Leatherman multitool and an oversized hunting knife that mainly functions as a kitchen utensil. One of these days, I'll also get around to attaching a serrated river knife to my PFD.

Small knives do not last forever -- while they can be sharpened, they eventually wear out. An inexpensive backup knife or small multitool should set you back less than $25.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 22, 2012 C10

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About Bartley Kives

Bartley Kives wants you to know his last name rhymes with Beavis, as in Beavis and Butthead. He aspires to match the wit, grace and intelligence of the 1990s cartoon series.

Bartley joined the Free Press in 1998 as a music critic. He spent the ensuing 7.5 years interviewing the likes of Neil Young and David Bowie and trying to stay out of trouble at the Winnipeg Folk Festival before deciding it was far more exciting to sit through zoning-variance appeals at city hall.

In 2006, Bartley followed Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz from the music business into civic politics. He spent seven years covering city hall from a windowless basement office.

He is now reporter-at-large for the Free Press and also writes an outdoor-recreation column called Offroad for the Outdoors page.

A canoeist, backpacker and food geek, Bartley is fond of conventional and wilderness travel. He is the author of A Daytripper’s Guide to Manitoba: Exploring Canada’s Undiscovered Province, the only comprehensive travel guidebook for Manitoba – and a Canadian bestseller, to boot. He is also co-author of Stuck In The Middle: Dissenting Views of Winnipeg, a collaboration with photographer Bryan Scott and the winner of the 2014 Carol Shields Winnipeg Book Award.

Bartley’s work has also appeared on CBC Radio and Citytv as well as in publications such as The Guardian, explore magazine and National Geographic Traveler. He sits on the board of PEN Canada, which promotes freedom of expression.

Born in Winnipeg, he has an arts degree from the University of Winnipeg and a master’s degree in journalism from Ottawa’s Carleton University. He is the proud owner of a blender.

On Twitter: @bkives


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