Gear crazy: Outfitters brainstorm on holiday gift solutions

With only a couple weeks left for holiday shopping, local outfitters are stocked with solutions for the outdoor aficionados on your list. Even for the casual outdoors person, simply living in the mountains gives rise to the need for outdoor-related items, whether it’s trinkets like carabineer flashlights or expensive winter jackets.

We checked in with outdoor shops for a few suggestions to whet your appetite.

Budget stocking stuffers

n The stainless steel water bottles with screw-on tops are all the rage, from the woods to the office. Although they have an uncanny resemblance to camping stove fuel canisters, they are durable, lightweight and have nearly nudged the old Nalgene bottles out of the market. Every outdoor store carries them in a line of funky metallic colors.

n The Nantahala Outdoor Center carries a cool item called Kayak Joe Benders, a crazy bendable stick figure sitting in a little tin kayak. You can stick it on your fridge or on your desk at work to remind you of what you’d rather be doing. The little dude is a hip and cheap trinket for boaters. “We tell people it is our number one selling kayak,” said Melanie Singer, the manager of the outfitters store at NOC.

n It’s the T-shirt to have in the paddling world: “Paddle faster, I hear banjo music,” the shirt reads. NOC keeps it well stocked. “We get orders for that shirt from all over the country,” Singer said. For those who don’t know, the reference is to the movie “Deliverance,” which was filmed in the area in the 1970s.

n While socks might sound unexciting — like the gift you got dad as a kid — who can’t use an extra pair or two of Wigwam or Smart Wool socks? They are no doubt the prized possession of your sock drawer, and the more pairs you have the less you have to ration yourself. While the big, thick ones are great for inside your hiking boots, the light weight ones give you all the benefits of moisture-wicking fabric for a day around town or at the office.

“They’re for everyday use and also when you are out camping,” said Drew Cook, the manager at Blackrock Outdoor in Sylva.

n Maps, maps and more maps. Even those who don’t plan on any bushwhacking expeditions, maps of the mountains are just fun to pore over.

“We have plenty of maps for all of Western Carolina and Northern Georgia and Tennessee,” Cook said of Blackrock in Sylva.

Or, go full hog with a CD-ROM of the Southern Appalachian mountains allowing the user to zoom-in as detailed as they’d like for armchair perusing or to print out ahead of an adventure. With the CD-ROMS, you can periodically update the data to stay on top of the latest map editions.

n Useful for the outdoors, little LED lights come in all shapes and sizes and make perfect small gifts. NOC has a line of little lights called Life lights. “They are little carabineer flashlights shaped like little critters, like salamander and bears. They are really cute,” said Singer.

Toggle lights at Mast General Store are mini-lights that go on the drawstring of a jacket, backpack or anything with a cord. They weigh nothing but give you a light where you need it.

As for the ubiquitous Key chain light, who couldn’t use one? “It’s a cool gift that every time they use it will say ‘Oh yeah, cool Jay gave me this,’” said Jay Schoon, outdoors gear expert at Mast General Store in Waynesville.

n Hands-free lights — what they call headlamps now — are useful to anyone, not just those backpacking or night riding. They can be used around the house, whether you’re trying to see in the attic or take the dog out at night.

Outdoor clothing

n You can’t go wrong with outdoor clothing, according to Jay Schoon, outdoors gear expert at Mast General Store in Waynesville. Schoon sometimes sees shoppers riffle through the price tags on North Face fleeces and winter jackets and question why they should pay more instead of going for a look-alike product at Wal-Mart.

“What’s the difference? It lasts,” Schoon said of the real McCoy brands. Instead of a jacket that will last a year or two before it either comes apart or starts looking ratty, the outdoor clothing lines at Mast and other outfitters are products that will still be with you a decade from now.

“This one has been through hell and back,” Schoon said of his own Patagonia fleece.

It’s also about buying a coat that will be someone’s “favorite” thing to put on instead of something they’ll wear a year and then send to the thrift store.

“You’re going to feel good when you put it on and you are going to enjoy it more than you would a cheaper version,” Schoon said. “I would rather have one really good jacket than three that are so-so.”

Buying quality products rather than cheap ones that need constant replacing is better for the environment and the economy.

“That’s the right way for us to go as a country,” Schoon said.

Drew Cook of Blackrock in Sylva agreed. Whether it’s Patagonia, Mountain Hardware, North Face or Columbia, the extra cost is worth it.

“Compared to the cheaper knock-off companies, they are better quality, they last longer, they will keep you warmer, they have better wind stopper performance and better waterproof performance,” said Cook.

Schoon said he is offering deep discounts now to get people buying, making it a good time to strike if a purchase is in your future.

n The latest and coolest shoes for outdoorsy types are Keen shoes — the Austin for men and the Presidio for women, said Melanie Singer an NOC. They’re lace-up soft leather, looking like a cross between a hiking shoe, bowling shoe and dress shoe.

“They are super comfortable and stylish,” Singer said. “Pretty much all of our staff either have them or want them. That is the hot thing going on around here.”

n With the tough times, who doesn’t need a reminder that life is still good in WNC. Jake’s Mountain House in Sylva, run in conjunction with Blackrock, has the full-line of Life is Good clothing and paraphernalia.

“Basically everything you need from ‘Life is Good’ we got it,” Cook said.

Specialty items

n With disc golf courses at WCU, the Waynesville reek park and soon on the campus of Haywood Community College, the sport is surging. Blackrock in Sylva carries a full spread of disc golf gear. He’s got every type of disc from drivers to mid-range putters, disc golf baskets for mounting your own practice goal out back, carrying bags and other accessories.

n Bike accessories are a good buy for the biker on your list, said John Midge, the owner of Rolls Rite Bicycles in Waynesville. There’s always new gadgets to be had — gloves, lights, mirrors, hand grips, speedometers, water bottles and locks to name a few. For carrying stuff on your bike, there’s everything from racks for books to zipper pouches for a wallet. If you know a biking parent of a small child, a pull-along for kids to ride in behind the bike is super present.

If you don’t know what to get, buy a gift certificate, said Dave Molin, who works at Motion Makers bike shop in Sylva.

“If someone isn’t all that familiar with the bicycle world, they are overwhelmed when they come in here because they don’t know what all these gadgets are for,” Molin said. But that biker on your list does, and armed with a gift certificate will be like a kid in a candy store.

n What about the fisherman on your list? Matt Rosenthal, the owner of Waynesville Fly Shop, recommends a fly-tying kit.

“This is a great time of year to bunk in and get ready for the spring. You have time in the evenings when it’s cold and gets dark early,” Rosenthal said. But be warned, once you learn to tie flies, it’s addictive.

“A lot of times once they start they completely get absorbed by it,” Rosenthal said. “It is a productive way to spend time, too, because you are actually saving money.”

For the fisherman who already has the gear he needs and a workshop full of tying materials, you could pick up a video. Topics range from casting instruction or region specific information like where to fish in the Smokies.

And fishermen always like to surround themselves with fishing décor, so the fly shop has everything from hand-painted gourds with trout or paddles with carved outdoors scenes.

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