BOULDER, COLORADO — To complement my springtime Father's Day gift guides (“40 Father’s Day Gift Ideas for Burly Dads" and "The Burly Dad’s Ultimate Camping Gear Guide"), I offer this annual fall/winter–based list of durable, multi-purpose travel tools and apparel gift ideas—for both Mom and Dad, or anyone else who likes to chop wood and get around. The following items are suitable for international travel, car camping, and some for backcountry trips, with a focus on Colorado-based companies.
The following gift ideas span a range of budgets and burliness. Hopefully something will jump out at you that is suitable for one of the travelers in your life.
I field-tested many of these products during a month-long trip to Nicaragua last summer, where, as a travel writer updating the 7th edition of the Moon Nicaragua, I stayed at a different hotel nearly every night. That means I hit my gear hard—then I brought it all back to Colorado, where I took it camping with my wife and three daughters, in all kinds of weather and conditions. Here are the items that survived:
Luggage & Packing Accessories
Let’s begin with the bag, man. I’ve been testing this Genius Pack Aerial Hardside Carry-On ($179.99) in all kinds of conditions and across borders. It gets two thumbs up for its low weight (6.2 lbs), deceivingly large interior (43 liters), and practical compartments inside that let you separate and compress dirty laundry, or store extra shoes and not contaminate your clean gear. It comes in a classy white, making it nondescript but easy to pick out among other bags. It was equally stylish in Nicaraguan chicken buses as it was in private taxis, boats, pangas, and single-prop puddle jumpers.
Genius makes a more compact, daily bag: the Genius Pack Commuter Backpack ($75), made of durable, water resistant fabric, weighs 1.7 pounds, and includes a padded computer compartment in a butterfly design which allows you to keep a laptop inside the backpack while you pass through security. An evenmore gear- and tech-centric daypack, the URBEX “modern commuter backpack” from LowePro (from $99.95) is a slim, laptop- and camera-friendly, compact affair (but expandable, comes in three sizes: 20L, 24L and 28L), with a removable “gear box” for chargers, ear buds, and peripherals, and room to spare for a change of clothes and water bottle.
Another deluxe, super-tough technical day pack, this Cotopaxi Allpa 35L Travel Pack (from $169.95) is just available this month (Nov. 2017), after a successful crowdfunding campaign last spring (raised $1.3 million on Indigogo). It’s a slick, 35-liter burly pack, designed for adventure travel, is carry-on size, and comes loaded with compartments, straps, and mesh pockets.
Once you’re on board, buckled in, and your bags are stowed away overhead and below, break out the AirPocket Personal Travel Carry-On ($68) and hang it on the seatback in front of you. This neoprene, soft bag protects and organizes your gadgetry and makes it all accessible during the trip; tuck it back into your daypack when you land. This is a really handy tool and another great gift for travelers. For further clothes-laundry-gear compartmentalization, this TravelWise 5 Piece Packing Cube Set ($24.95) was more useful than I expected and you can use it with all your existing luggage, making it a very adaptable gift idea. The cubes are made of lightweight, tough nylon with see-through mesh tops so you can see their contents; using them sped up my daily packing/unpacking process.
Sunglasses: I spent decades squinting without sunglasses, since I needed prescription shades and was usually too cheap to shell out for a nice pair. These days, prescription-based UV protection is a must. There are a few companies out there that handle this, but SportRx makes it easy and professional by assigning you an optician to guide you through prescription, style, and price preferences. They do custom ski goggles, sports glasses, and military/tactical, all with top brands like Kaenon, Oakley, and Smith (prices vary).
Shirt: Ably is a $48 T-shirt that is odor and stain resistant, liquid repellant, and fast to dry. The Seattle-based apparel company uses 100 percent natural fabrics. I successfully reenacted their shirt vs. ketchup and chocolate syrup videos, the repellent quality is pretty impressive. They also have long-sleeve shirts, hoodies, and jogging gear. For dress shirts, it’s nice to have a wrinkle free, stain resistant, basic white, longsleeve that’s appropriate in any social situation. This MagnaReady Oxford dress shirt ($64.95) has magnets sewn into the pleats, snapping the shirt together in seconds. It’s pretty slick and doesn’t require ironing.
Lid: As a Spanish teacher, this “Super Bueno” trucker cap ($17) from Mountain Standard, a new company out of Boulder, CO, was just what I needed for my hat lineup. For serious traveling however, I'm a big fan of Real Deal Brazil recycled tarp hats ($39.99), ond of THE best, practical, weather-proof lids I've tried. The company's hats, bags, and laptop sleeves are made from retired Brazilian cargo truck tarps and truck tire wires. My Real Deal endured daily assaults of rainy season sweat, tropical sun, and downpours, for 12 hours at a time as I made my rounds. It's a super bueno lid.
Jacket: this Men’s Drifter Flannel Lined Jacket ($178) from Mountain Standard is a mid-weight flannel lined jacket disguised as a gray work shirt with wind and water resistant shell. It's a little different, and the flannel inner and pockets are really nice in the shoulder seasons. Similarly, I like the thermal-lined Carhartt jackets and shirts disguised as jackets, like the snap-down Rugged Flex Rigby Shirt ($69.99), lined with warm fleece and perfect for cold, shoulder-season days.
Pants: DU/ER jeans ($129) takes a strong, slightly stretchy approach to denim and outfits their pants for travel, including a moisture wicking fiber and anti-bacterial silver ions. It's a Canadian company which just launched in the US last year and offer a full range of fits and colors. Lululemon ABC Slims ($128) boast about their "Anti-Ball Crushing technology" that guarantees stretchiness where it counts, especially as you cramp into airplane and taxi seats on long days (the pants are part of an interesting “Strength to Be” men’s ad campaign, which features various inspiring activists and vegan athletes). For something basic and more inexpensive, Carhartt, mentioned above, also has a nice collection of comfortable, rugged jeans (from $34.95). Finally, here's something a little different: reDEW Jeans (from $150) are made with sustainable materials like organic cotton, recycled polyester, non-galvanised copper buttons, and use environmentally friendly manufacturing practices. Also each year, reDEW donates 25-percent of profits to international wildlife conservation, making this a nice item for the environmentalist on your list. They use eco-friendly colorfast dyes that last up to ten times longer than traditional indigo and sulphur dyes, which are toxic to plants and animals.
Underwear & Socks: For Dad, you can never go wrong with a pair of SAXX premium pouch-centered underwear, with merino wool options and many designs, including an "ugly Christmas sweater" Fuse underwear ($31.95) for the season--think candy canes, plaid, and reindeer. For socks, these supposedly "odorless socks" might have something to them: MP Magic socks ($19 for 3 pair) are infused with silver, copper and zinc to kill stinky bacteria. They do smell better than cotton. So far. Definitely would make a nice tongue-in-cheek gift for that foot-funky person in your life.
Shoes and Boots: For around the house, campsite, or beach, these slip-on Chiba Quest Knit shoes ($85) are pretty suave. They’re lightweight with cushiony footbeds and stretchy uppers. For something tougher, I’ve been a fan of Danner since I wore their 10”-high wildland firefighter boots during a stint with the National Park Service many years ago. Those were some burly boots, so when I heard about their new Mountain 600 Low ($180) I thought I could recapture some of that old swagger, but this time in a shoe that was brown, low, and leathery enough to wear in the classroom. It’s also tough and waterproof. For this winter, I am finally getting rid of my beat-up old Sorrels for these the Original Muck Boot Company's Arctic Ice boot ($180, comes in both tall and mid calf-heights), with its sticky Vibram Arctic Grip outsole, warm fleece lining, and 100% waterproof 5 mm neoprene.
Travel Gear & Accessories
Phone & laptop accessories: These classy Toast laptop and phone covers ($34 for phones, $69 for laptops) are made out of real wood and bamboo veneer from reclaimed materials. They have various natural styles and can customize an image or words for your brand. Toast also donates 1% of their annual net sales to environmental non-profits and partners with Trees for the Future to plant one tree seedling for each product they make.
JOBY, famous for their bendable GorillaPod tripods, also makes this GripTight ONE Mount & Micro Tripod ($34.95), an unbelievably small and simple solution to watching stuff on your phone, or for just mounting and propping it on the desk. It’s basically a little easel for your device that breaks down into nearly nothing, making it perfect for a travel gift or stocking stuffer.
Water Bottle: These Black Blum EAU GOOD DUO water bottles ($31) are the result of an ongoing Kickstarter project—made of hard plastic, formed to fit in your hand, and designed to carry a replaceable carbon filter that looks like a black rod in your bottle. The Japanese Binchotan activated charcoal supposedly softens the water, adds healthy minerals, removes contaminants, balances PH, and absorbs unwanted tastes like chlorine. Great for hiking, Bindle Bottle ($31) is another interesting water bottle project on Kickstarter, offering a dual-walled, stainless steel number with screw-on bottom storage compartment for keys and money.
Water filter: GRAYL Ultralight Filter and Purifier Bottle ($59.50) makes safe, purified, potable water from any freshwater source in only 15 seconds to convert any freshwater source. It's a push-down filter that uses full-spectrum purification and carbon filtration, eliminating pathogens (viruses, bacteria, protozoa), particulates, chemicals, and heavy metals. This is a nice item to have in the backcountry or natural disasters.
Device charger: AdventureUltra ($129.99) keeps batteries full via various USB ports and an AC power port that can “power a 32-inch television for up to three hours, along with fans, laptops and any other device that is 45 watts or under.” So you can have a fully equipped and connected campsite. Or just use it for charging your lantern and camera. It is a powerful charger in a small package (1.2in x 5.8 in x 4.1 in., weighs 1.05 pounds). I keep mine in the car for camping trips.
Skin Care: I like these small travel tins of skin remedies from Green Goo, a women-owned, family operated business whose organic Outdoor Travel Pack ($24.95) of lip balms, first aid and arnica salves, and citronella based bugspray. I kept it in my med kit this summer and used it daily. If the gift is just for Dad's crazy-cracked hands, check out this Bloody Knuckles Hand Repair Balm ($15) from Duke Cannon Supply Co., five ounces of hand cream for "workers, fighters, and world champions." This is the same company that brings you a enormous bricks of themed soap, like Big Ass Beer Soap and Big American Bourbon Soap with Buffalo Trace whiskey ($9.50 each).
Road Trip & Camping Gear
Camp Blankets & Hammocks: Kammok launched a pre-sale for this All Adventure Camp Blanket system, a durable, cozy, packable three-part kit is made up of the Mountain Blanket ($85), Field Blanket ($75) and Mesa Mat ($30). Looks like a highly adaptable solution for different situations and temperatures--and one that kind of invites the person to go camping with you if you give it correctly. For a field hammock, there are a ton of options these days, but I’ve only found one Colorado Flag Hammock ($79), a 10 oz., ultra-packable hammock made of micro-light diamond ripstop fabric, holds up to 400 pounds.
Lunch box: This plastic-free Box Apetit lunch box ($34.95) is stainless steel with an anti-bacterial bamboo lid which doubles as a chopping board, perfect for roadside picnic situations (and school).
Lantern: Check out the Lander Cairn ($49.99, available at REI retail stores and REI.com), designed for backcountry environments, in all types of weather. It has a slick, low-profile design, produces 300 lumens of soft natural light, and its 3,300 mAh battery can charge other small electronic devices—or keep your light going for 150 hours.
Knife: For the whitler in your life, this classy all-purpose handcrafted Sigmund anniversary knife ($169) was originally designed by Sigmund Helle in the 1930s and updated for today's camper. It has a triple laminated stainless steel blade with a razor sharp Scandinavian grind, and handle made out of stacked pieces of beech, leather, and darkened oak. It comes with a leather sheathe and Scotch bottle–like packaging, making it an ideal gift for the right person.
Handheld car vac: The gift that keeps on sucking: You can use these every day in the house, but can give the Dyson V7 Trigger ($199) as a road trip accessory—for before, during, and after car camping adventures. It's cord-free, rechargeable, powerful, and adjusts to different sizes and attachments for the dust, pet hair, and dirt in your car, RV, or tent. One of their longer stick vacuums may work even better for bigger vehicles. Has about 30 minutes of run time.
Coffee & Cups (and Tequila)
Coffee beans: Of course, I'm partial to Nicaraguan coffee, because (1) it is recognized as some of the best quality coffee in the world, and (2) there are so many great non-profit organizations that sell coffee to help raise money for their causes. Bueno here are two: The 2017 Cup of Excellence winner is Twin Engine Coffee, grown on Elefante Reserve in northern Nicaragua; they offer various blends (from $13.99/lb). Thanksgiving Coffee Company's SongBird Coffee ($16/lb) is a medium roast with a nutty, smooth, milk chocolate flavor with hints of dried mango. I'm a coffee snob but I don't mind drinking instant once in a while, especially when I'm camping or traveling (or home and run out of whole beans). Also, despite the known dangers, I'm not ashamed to get stoked every once in a while, so these organic-certified Stoked Stix ($9/box) are an option. Stoked Roasters, based in Hood River, OR, also makes whole bean, single origin blends like “Dawn Patrol,” “Soul Session,” and “Bluebird."
Cups: Join the pourover revolution with this Thermal Pour Over Coffee Brewer Travel Mug ($25.99), a 13.5-floz, or 400mL set made from "surgical-grade 304 stainless steel coating a smart copper layer" to keep the contents hot. For coffee, whiskey, soup, or water, this Kupilka K37 cup ($25) has a gorgeous, minimalist Scandinavian design which feels perfectly balanced in your hand. It's made from a 50/50 wood and thermoplastic composition and holds 12.5 ounces of liquid.
Tequila: These Root7 Himalayan Salt Shot Glasses ($25) an be used up to 80 times each. That's a lot of shots, and they taste great. The cups are hygienic because of salt’s qualities and are the kind of gift that invite the gift receiver to invite the giver to a drink. Especially if you make the obvious move of pairing the glasses with tequila, perhaps an award winning bottle of Boulder- and Jalisco-based Suerte Reposado, aged 7 months in oak barrels (with "butterscotch, subtle plum, and oak notes"). ¡Salud! y ¡buen viaje!
—Joshua Berman is the author of MOON NICARAGUA, MOON COLORADO CAMPING, and is a monthly columnist for the Denver Post. His website is http://joshuaberman.net/ and he is on Twitter at @tranquilotravel. Note: The blogger received product samples from some of the companies mentioned above for review and photography purposes. He was not paid by any company for inclusion in this article.