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Trail-tested (and cheap) gifts for gearheads

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Hitting the trail? Check out these tech gadgets.


Hitting the trail? Check out these tech gadgets.

In a perfect world, every Manitoban would own a waterproof, breathable and fully insulated storm suit capable of withstanding the worst imaginable winter weather without causing a single bead of sweat to emerge from any pore.

Unfortunately, most of us can't afford to acquire Everest-worthy outdoor gear. But since this is the season to buy stuff -- ostensibly for other people -- there are plenty of inexpensive doodads and gadgets for the gearhead on your list.

Here are five outdoor-equipment gift ideas that retail for less than $30. I've personally trail-tested all but one of these doohickeys and can attest to their quality, so don't be put off by the low price.

For the night rider

At some point, everyone you know with a bike is going to wind up riding in the dark. Keep them safe by getting them a headlight that will never run out of juice.

Mountain Equipment Co-Op sells a baby-blue, gummy-rubber Front White LED Light that wraps around any handlebar -- and is powered up by a USB cable. The list price is a wallet-friendly $9.75.

For the minimalist

A generation ago, taking a portable stove on the trail meant lugging a massive Coleman around and suffering a hernia in the process. Those big propane-burning Colemans are still dependable -- and even desirable for a large group of paddlers -- but of very little use for a solo hiker, paddler or cyclist interested in travelling light.

There's a dizzying array of camp stoves on the market, ranging from integrated stove-pot-heat exchanger systems that boil water disturbingly quickly to lightweight doohickeys fuelled by hand-pressurized, refillable gas canisters.

But when it comes to simplicity, durability and minimal weight in your pack, it's tough to be beat a simple stove that screws on to a can of liquefied, pressurized gas. For the past five years, I've used a Primus LPG stove that weighs 225 grams, fits into the palm of my hand, takes mere seconds to attach to a gas can and is all but impossible to clog.

The Primus Classic Trail LPG retails for US $31 at but is usually under $30 at Winnipeg retailers. The main drawback is the canisters that fuel this thing can only be recycled at a handful of Winnipeg hazardous-waste depots, such as Miller Environmental on Hekla Avenue.

For the helmet-head

If you've ever tried to slip a bulky toque under a bike helmet during the winter, you might wind up with a headache. All-weather cyclists can borrow a piece of gear from whitewater paddlers and slip on a lightweight, insulative paddling cap, which can slip into practically any helmet without adjusting the fit.

I've also used a paddling cap as an extra layer of insulation for my bald head during severely cold weather. And yeah, it works well on the water. MEC's Seymour cap retails for $13.

For the accident-prone

If you ever head into the wilderness, you will at some point make a mistake that will require a night outdoors without a tent or sleeping bag. Whether you get lost, run out of sunlight or simply plow a car into a ditch, you'll need some means of staying warm while you stay put until it's safe to move again.

Every glove compartment and daypack has room for a thermal blanket with a reflective-metal liner -- the kind they've been stuffing into car survival kits since the '70s. The Wilderness Supply sells the SOL Emergency Bivvy for $19.99. I haven't tested this thing, but can cite two occasions where I wished I had something like it in my pack.

For everyone

It wasn't long ago when the only valuables people took into the bush were a bit of emergency cash and maybe a clunky camera. Now, iPhones and other electronics have insinuated their way into the outdoors. You need waterproofing to keep 'em safe.

Pelican, which makes all manner of protective cases, makes a bomb-proof Micro model that retails for under $15 in most stores. If all you need is waterproofing, transparent SealLine roll-top bags sell for $13 to $17, depending on the size.

I stow a small camera and spare batteries in a Pelican case and stuff cash and essential documents into a tiny SealLine that winds up getting stowed in my PFD pocket on paddling trips.

Both are more reliable than baggies.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 7, 2013 C12

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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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