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What’s the greatest, most fantastic outdoor-related Christmas gift that you ever discovered under your tree?
For me it’s an absolute quick and no brainer answer. My first snowshoes are by 10 snowy winter miles the best present that anyone — Santa I mean — ever gave me. I was around 11 years old I think.
I’ve written about those snowshoes so often that I’m sure many of you might recall. They were handmade in Gander from local birch and were trimmed with wool tassels. They excite me to this very day. Now that’s a Christmas that Dad really outdid himself.
Funny thing, I was thinking of those old racquets today while I was ordering the latest and greatest from MSR — Mountain Safety Research, for those of you not well versed on outdoor companies and brands. I ordered yet another pair of snowshoes. I can’t help myself.
Oh well, I’ll attempt to justify my madness. I have way too many snowshoes.
There’s a new style of snowshoes afoot and I have not trekked on. A few companies are fabricating racquets with a solid plastic core section, also called the deck, surrounded by or encircled within a metal outer band. The metal perimeter with serrated teeth grip and bite into icy surfaces while the plastic core provides excellent lightweight flotation. I ordered the 25-inch MSR Revo Ascent model. I just have to give these new innovations a go on the snow this winter.
What intrigues me about this design? First off they are purported to be light, durable, nimble and extremely robust on the most rugged terrain.
They have both an outside edge of serrated steel and in addition a dedicated crampon under the foot bindings. They are rumoured to give amazing traction on steep icy slopes. We have plenty of those around here. And the ascent model includes the televator feature that’s standard equipment on all of MSR’s mountaineering and expeditions shoes. It’s a rigid metal bar that flips up and elevates the heel for trekking up steep inclines. It does really work to gain speed and reduce fatigue. I have them on my traditional MSR Lightning Ascent shoes.
If you are buying snowshoes this Christmas for either a self-present or a gift for a special friend or relative, give MSR a look.
They have a great line of snowshoes all the way from a beginners series to the ultimate hardcore grade. Other good companies to check out for snow racquets are Tubbs, Atlas, Redfeather, Crescent Moon, and Faber. I’ve tried all of these with the exception of Crescent Moon. I have a 36-inch Tubbs pair that remain my deep powder go-to shoes.
Christmas gifts, now that is the timely question, and more specifically what to buy for outdoor folks on your not so naughty list.
Snowshoes are great, but neither can you go wrong with a quality axe or hatchet. You know what I always say, never venture into the woods without the company of a sharp axe. Yes sharp, because a dull axe is downright dangerous.
I’ll explain another time.
But double that for winter and always carry an axe even if you’re not planning a boil-up.
For my money the best bush axe on planet Earth is the Gransfors Bruk Hunter’s Axe. It’s a two-lb hand-forged axe head with a 19-inch hickory handle. It has a rounded flay pole for skinning moose and comes with a vegetable tanned leather sheath for around $180. You can’t beat it for tradeoff between carry-weight and time needed to chop an ample supply of firewood for a night of winter camping. A two-lb head gets the job done and the 19-inch handle is good for either a one or two-handed swing.
A multi-tool — outdoor oriented of course — also makes a great gift. But there are so many different sorts to choose from.
I’ve experimented with Gerber, Buck, and Leatherman tools, but the latter is really my favourite.
I have two models I carry depending on what I am at. For everyday use, including hiking and hunting I carry a Leatherman Charge. It’s a full size 252-gram tool with 19 listed functions.
It’s got an absolutely wicked saw.
Seriously, I once cut a Christmas tree with it — took a bit of time but it got the job done. It’s got both a regular and a serrated blade, the latter with a gut hook sort of end that is indispensible for opening boxes and cutting packaging. It is supposed to be perfect for cutting seatbelts in rescue mode. And, of course, I have actually gutted a moose with it.
It fits in a nice genuine leather sheath and has all the screwdriver standard stuff as well, oh and a can opener of course, and a great file — one side for wood and the other for metal.
I love it.
Not often, but just sometimes I like to be a minimalist. I alsohave a minimalist multi-tool. Hey, is that an oxymoron? No, I don’t think so.
Sometimes I like to go fishing with just my shorts, sling bag, flip-flops, and a fly rod. But I still need a knife and pliers, both essential to angling. Enter the Leatherman Skeletool. At just 142 grams it gives you an excellent quality 2.6-inch blade, and a dandy set of pliers for cutting leader wire, removing stuck hooks from fish, and pinching down barbs. It also works well for removing a steel mug of boiling water from a campfire.
I just wish they would include a file for touching up hooks. Then it would be absolutely perfect.
What really does it for me with the Skeletool is the integrated carabiner that doubles as a bottle opener. So you can hook it on a belt loop or fishing bag gear eye. It makes for very quick access when you want to release a fish. It also has a screwdriver for fixing stuff.
What more could an angler ask for, other than a file.
By the time I write again Christmas Day will be past.
Have a fantastic and healthy Christmas everyone, and I hope you find lots of outdoorsy stuff under your tree.
Paul Smith, a native of Spaniard’s Bay, fishes and wanders the outdoors at every opportunity. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on twitter at @flyfishtherock.