No ties, no slippers, no Tickle Me Elmos. Just the stuff your loved ones are silently hoping for.

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
T H E      H O L I D A Y      G I F T      G U I D E
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Outside magazine, December 1998

A Few Things Trick from the Bag of St. Nick
No ties, no slippers, no Tickle Me Elmos. Just the stuff your loved ones are silently hoping for.
By Robert Earle Howells

Have a look at this season's brightest offerings: five items united by nothing but the grand quality of shine. They gleam, beam, dazzle, and do just about everything short of jump up and shout, "Dammit, buy me!"

To wit: the Grundig G-2000A World Receiver ($190), a seven-ounce shortwave radio/alarm designed by none other than Porsche. You can punch in AM, FM, and world-band frequencies directly and wake up to any station you please.

If just the mention of tepid Gatorade makes your stomach flip, you need the half-liter Thermos Nissan Sports Bottle ($40). Stainless steel keeps fluid cold, doesn't "remember" beverages past, and glints like still-potent ordnance.

Inform the recipient that his new Tag Heuer Kirium ($1,895) is not a watch — rather, it's a chronometer. That's Swiss for "guaranteed to be a really kick-ass watch." Specifics? It tells time and date for the rest of your life, guaranteed.

If it's too taxing to choose which CDs to take along, then don't. With the Sony MZ-R50 Minidisc Player/Recorder ($400) you can cram 74 minutes of your favorite tunes onto a single minidisc. This 6.8-ounce gem could be the best traveling stereo yet: A 40-second antiskip memory girds it impressively against jolts.

The binoculars' chic retro look hails from Nikon's first model (circa 1922), but this 6x15 replica ($389) boasts modern, high-clarity optics. With a power of six, Uncle Gus won't be taking them elk hunting, but they focus plenty close (6.5 feet) for tracking hummingbirds.

For the Backcountry

Great Divide Mountain Bike Route Maps
Next summer is set: With these six waterproof maps from Adventure Cycling and panniers or a bike trailer, you're ready to trace the dirt-track spine of the States from the northern border of Montana to the southern border of New Mexico, which amounts to 2,465 miles of wild, remote riding. The painstakingly researched route is glorious and the maps detail specific directions, helpful notes about finding sundries and bike shops, and elevation profiles for each segment — assuming you even want to know what you're in for. $56.

Brunton Outback Compass
No need to brush up on your navigational skills with the digital, idiotproof Brunton. It tells you exactly where you're headed in three formats: a numerical bearing, an arrow, and a good old directional such as "SW." It also saves the headings leg by leg as you go, thus serving as a sort of magnetic GPS. $80.

Camp Cuisine as It Should Be
If you feel like you've already bumped up against your lifetime quota of backcountry preservatives, you'll appreciate MSR's Ecocuisine organic meals ($5-$8), concocted by a former wilderness ranger turned organic farmer and chef. Savories such as curried lentil bisque and southwestern couscous are, we attest, worthy of serving at home. The meals go down best when consumed with MSR's fine one-ounce titanium fork-and-spoon set ($19) and spiced with salt and pepper from titanium shakers ($36) by those Ti mavens at Litespeed bicycles.

Kelty Vortex 2
Like a pair of pricey sunglasses, photochromatic portholes at each end of the tent's rain fly morph from light green to dark blue, depending on what the sun's up to. You stay cool and private with an eye on the world. The three-season, two-person shelter also sports two big side doors and two roomy vestibules. $220.

Iridium/Motorola Satellite Phone
"Hi, Mom. We made it. Told you I'd call you when we got here. That noise? Mountain lions. I think they're hungry. Gotta go." Arcane phone systems, incomprehensible coinage, and operators who speak only Urdu are all just bad memories with the new Iridium phone system. The handheld's signal roams between local cellular networks and 66 satellites to keep you in clear and constant contact with the greater world. Calling out from, say, the Karakoram is just a matter of dialing the number — and paying about $7 a minute. $3,395.

For the Cold

Red Snowboarding Tools
The right tool for the right job, sure, but which one for adjusting your bindings? The tiny Mini Tool ($20) is a ratcheting screwdriver with four bits and a 10-millimeter wrench. The Quick Leash ($10) cleverly houses a box wrench and a Phillips head. The ATM Tool ($12), meanwhile, is a cash-card-size multitool with an ice scraper, a flat-head screwdriver, an adjustable box wrench (4-10 millimeter), a magnifying glass, and perhaps most important, a bottle opener.

Briko Aggressive Winter Sports Helmet
Even if your bell has finally stopped ringing after those first few telemark or snowboard lessons, last winter's headlines offer a compelling case: A shell for your melon just makes sense. This Italian design not only has more structural integrity than your cranium, it's more aerodynamic, too. And an ear-level aerator ensures that you'll hear the yowl of that jeans-clad novice well before impact. $199.

K2 Ice Flight Skates
What they aren't: flimsy as svelte figure skates or relentlessly stiff as hockey skates. What they are: all-around gliders inspired by soft-boot in-line skates, and thus exceedingly comfortable. Moderately insulated and suited for a pickup game of pond hockey, perfecting your back crossover, or just zipping around the rink. $200.

Zoic Cord On Blue
Fleece takes a big leap forward in versatility with this refreshingly suave wide-wale cardigan. It's a technical layering piece, an uptown jacket, and a retro-hip lodge lounger — what Perry Como would doubtless wear both during and after a day of freeriding. $75.

Leki Vision Viper Trigger Ski Poles
It's OK to be wooed by the full-wrap neoprene wrist straps that help you transfer more power to your pole plants. But the real genius here is that those straps break away from the poles if you stick them in at an awkward angle — the sort of angle that would otherwise sprain your wrist. You can also press a button atop the pole to release the straps, creating less fuss when settling into the chairlift. $100.

Lake MXz300 Winter MTB Shoe
Ultracycling martyr John Stamstad wore these toasty stompers while winning the 1998 IditaBike Extreme. 'Nuf said. $210.

Boreal Super Latok
All the thermal advantages of plastic mountaineering boots without ... well, the plastic. They're insulated. They're waterproof. They're purple. $325.

Salomon Snowclog
There's nothing Dutch about these hip new hybrids, a savvy cross between low-tech comfort and high-tech function. They're plenty warm — and just as cool. $69.

For the Hell of It

The Rock
Don't have time to mount an assault of El Cap? Not a problem, assuming you (or a very close, very rich friend) have the 110 square feet of space, the 12-foot ceilings, and the $12,900 needed to bring home The Rock, a uniquely extravagant freestanding climbing wall from Ascent Products. Essentially a vertical 8-by-11-foot conveyor belt of aluminum slats, it rotates at a programmed speed as you make your moves without ... well, moving. With its 60 adjustable holds and a tilt feature that matches the hairiest of overhangs, you can replicate any route you wish — real or imagined — and even download storied climbs from the company's Web site (

Bianchi Pantani 101
Meet the mount that won the Tour, the one that blitzed the world's elite climbers on stage 15, that horrific grind up Les Deux Alpes. Six grand puts you astraddle Marco Pantani's steed, a limited-edition replica of his '98 bike. It's an obscenely lightweight work of hardened-aluminum art dripping with handpicked hardware: Campagnolo Record workings, titanium tidbits galore, and a saddle embroidered with a caricature of Il Pirata himself. World-class quads not included.

Monopoly: National Parks Edition
Want an American treasure to call your own? Mount Rushmore's not a bad investment at 60 bucks. Slap down four tents, upgrade to a ranger station, and you can make a killing renting it out for over $770 — enough to buy Yosemite and Yellowstone. Ideal for that Wise Use contingent on your list. $35.

Lineaus Training Bag
Your inner raging bull has a sparring partner worthy of Jake LaMotta in this gorgeously handcrafted training bag. Made of beautiful chrome-tanned, full-grain leather, it's stuffed to the gills with thread waste and dense kapok, which makes it almost twice as heavy, at 150 pounds, as the typical sand-filled variety. The result? This bag won't duck even your most brutish jabs and kicks. Connecting with it produces a satisfying thud, as if it were a gasping opponent. And it'll last: The one Lineaus donated to the Oregon State Penitentiary in 1987 is still intact. The bag and matching leather training gloves cost $2,400.

For the Water

New Wave Fantum
Trust us here: Some kayakers want to disappear underwater. To a squirt-boat pilot, it's pure frothy fun to dive under, pop up 20 feet later, grab a breath, spin a cartwheel, and do it all over again. All you need is this custom-made, eight-foot-two-inch, low-volume, flat-bottom fiberglass boat. And maybe some reliable nose clips. $1,110.

SeaVision Sea Powers Dive Mask
Ever notice that when you dive below 33 feet, plants and pelagics — not to mention your dive partner — turn a cadaveresque monochrome blue? The reds vanish first, then the oranges and yellows. Enter SeaVision's patented filter, which keeps colors true. This model also accepts prescriptions for nearsighted and farsighted divers alike. $140.

Patagonia Surf Trunks
A purist's suit with clean lines, a rear wax pocket, and hidden key lanyard. They'll surely survive whatever's being served up at Todos Santos or Waimea this winter — probably better than you will. $48.

Grateful Heads Hard Hit
Kayaking: worthy sport, goofy helmets. Until now. If the sparkly spangles shown here don't do it for you, the company's artists will render something more to your liking, typically at no extra charge. The plastic shell is reinforced with Kevlar and comes with foam shims that let you quickly custom-fit this lid and then forget about it. $105.

True North Treknology Sprint Pack
Is it a dry bag? Or maybe a lumbar pack? Well, yes. The roll-top closure keeps hydrophobic personals dry, and patented suspenders keep them from sagging around your waist like a sack of baby new potatoes. $82.

For the Stocking

Perigee Microfleece Boxers and Crop Top
Not much at all in the way of technical details. Just the dawn of recycled plastic's finest hour. Unisex boxers, $30; stretchy top, $32.

Spectacles, Indeed
When function (100 percent UV protection, scratch-resistant lenses, etc.) is a given, form rises to the fore. Take the cowhide trim of Oakley's high-contrast, gold-lens Mars, which features alloy lobster-claw frames custom-fit by way of replaceable nosepieces and inserts at the hinges. $315. Or the nylon and nickel-plated steel frames of Zeal's strong but seemingly weightless Moez, which comes in a variety of lenses, including a very funky blue. $99.

Festina Tour de France Watch
Yes, it's a nice watch. But it's the cachet of irony that intrigues here. Behold the limited-edition Tour de France timepiece from the sponsor of the first team ever to get the heave-ho from cycling's greatest race. It's engraved with the autograph of team leader Richard Virenque — one of the few Festinans who hasn't copped to taking the blood-doping drug EPO — and the bezel is a stylized chainring. Two alarms and a timer keep you one step ahead of the French authorities. $350.

X-It Gojo
Solved: the plight of the groggy bike commuter. How to portage your java? In a stainless steel, handlebar mounted, quick-release cup-holder that grips paper, plastic, or stainless caffeine conveyances. Works with lesser beverages, too (though we recommend a lid). Bonus: Its bracket doubles as a Cateye light mount. $18.

Minox Spy Camera
Honoring 60 years of service to the stealing-of-state-secrets trade, a chrome-plated brass special edition of this Cold War classic is now available to patriots and commies alike. About the size of Roger Moore's cigar lighter, it weighs less than six ounces, shoots inaudibly, and functions with debonair flair: Slide its halves together to discreetly advance the film. $1,695.

MOMA Ice Scraper
A work of Zen art to greet the morning frost, its yin-yang strata are composed of rigid plastic for ice and soft rubber for snow, bound by a stainless plate in the middle. About the size of one hand clapping. $33.

Robert Earle Howells is the editor of the annual Outside Buyer's Guide.

Photographs by Clay Ellis and Gary Hush

Copyright 1998, Outside magazine

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