to Your Lady
According to Tracy Tuten, a professor at Virginia's Longwood University who studies the psychology of gift giving, most people drop gift hints unconsciously. Write them down (or call them in; Tuten uses the online dictation service Jott.com). For example, when your partner mentions how nice it would be to have more backyard parties, scribble Blomus stainless-steel Orchos Miniature Torches on the list (four for $84; netixchange.com). Next, shamelessly mine her nostalgia. If she's mentioned how much she misses her old cruiser bike, present her with a shiny, bow-wrapped Schwinn Classic AL Three Cruiser ($449; schwinnbike.com). Just need a stocking stuffer? Get her something with a story, like a colorful beanie from Wizbang Hats ($25; wizbanghats.com), which are stretchy, comfy, and cuteand handmade by athletes and moms in Big Sky, Montana.
on a Budget
Avoid panicked splurging by shopping early at Web sites like steepandcheap.com , sierratradingpost.com , and backcountry.com for discounted gear. And think accessories. Petzl's e+LITE headlamp is tiny and waterproof, and you can clip it to practically anything. Everyone you love should have one stashed in their glove compartment or pack ($30; petzl.com). Ditto Adventure Medical's UltraLight .7 Medical Kit, which has all the essentials and comes in a sandwich-size waterproof pouch ($26; adventuremedicalkits.com). Homemade treats are acceptable, but when it comes to store-bought, stick with tastefully packaged items like Theo's Fair Trade, organic Chocolates ($6; theochocolate.com). Just remove the price tag.
A gift certificate to Kiva (kiva.org), an organization that doles out microloans to small-time entrepreneurs in developing countries, is a no-brainer. Your giftee chooses the recipient from a roster of real people and can keep the repayment of the loan. Need something tangible? Stuff a cyclist's stocking with accessories from Planet Bike, which devotes a quarter of its takings to grassroots cyclist advocacy (planetbike.com), and End Footwear, which offers some of the most sustainably made outdoor shoes around (endfootwear.com). Don't forget the final touch: Wrap your gift in recycled or tree-free paper from paporganics.com or, even better, with any kind of paper you happen to have lying around the house.
Before you start rolling pennies: Does this person actually drink, and somewhat regularly? Yes? Then let's begin! For a lady, Belgian or Swiss chocolate and a nice, complementary red wine, like Andrew Rich's 2006 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir ($35). For any gentleman, a tasty, off-radar Scotch, like the Singleton 12 ($36) or Glenrothes Select Reserve ($45), both from Speyside, or the Yamazaki 12 ($45), from, yes, Japan. For her dad, a shrewd buy, like Herradura's sublime, all-natural Añejo Tequila ($50) or Zacapa 23 ($45), a well-aged sipping rum. For a connoisseur, an exotic, like Lucid Absinthe Supérieure ($60).
to Your Rival
You have to be sport-specific. If he's a mountain biker, and he's better than you, consider a guidebook to a singletrack mecca like Crested Butte, Colorado ( Mountain Bike Crested Butte, Gunnison and Salida Singletrack , $15; amazon.com). He'll take a trip the first chance he gets and, if you're lucky, like it enough to relocateat which point you can find a new, slower bike buddy. If he's a backcountry skier and outclimbs you every time, get him a big, sturdy shovel like G3's AviTech ($74; genuineguidegear.com). I think the reason for this is obvious. And if your foe happens to be smarter than you, don't worry. Research suggests he's probably less coordinated, too. Remind him of this, deceptively, by encouraging him to try something new. Surfing works best, and who would suspect foul play if presented with Surftech's Bear All-Around longboard ($1,000; surftech.com)? Just be ready: Several years from now, he'll be booking regular surf trips to Costa Rica, and he might just return the favor with something new for you, like a Mulholland Brothers traveler's Chess & Checker Board Set ($80; shopmulholland.com).
to Your Mother-in-Law
First, know your competition and the stakes. This is a contest among all the sons-in-law. With moms, packaging counts big: No Amazon.com cardboard box, no matter what's inside, will play. Pick wrapping that says, "I know what you love"perhaps a cat pattern?use double-sided tape, and, if it's a family gathering, try to display the package in a prominent position so she'll be ooh-ing and aah-ing before she ever opens it. Try to find a gift that demonstrates your overlapping interests; she'll find this endearing. Suggestions: a coffee-table photo book of the most adventurous place she's ever been, or a gift certificate to a local outdoors store taped to a photo of Ibex's merino-wool Rhyme Sweater ($155; ibex.com; no selecting the size yourself). Victory is yours if she gasps and looks at your wife, who everyone knows picked it out anyway.