Good gear enables us to be more comfortable doing more exciting things outdoors. This is the stuff I’ve given my girlfriend over the past year, along with a couple new things I plan to get her over the upcoming holidays.
A Good Knife
The first thing I ever gave Virginia was a Spyderco Paramilitary 2. To my mind, it’s the perfect pocket knife—a four-inch blade and a great handle in an easy-to-carry package—and it also looks super purposeful.
Virginia says: Very early in our relationship, this was as much a statement of purpose, and a promise of adventure, as much as it was a practical gift. You should see the looks I get when I pull it out to cut up my steak at fancy restaurants.
Then, for her birthday a couple months later, I wanted to give her something a little classier, so I went for a classic fixed-blade design. My buddy Griff had given me a Helle knife a couple years ago, and I remember being impressed with what a nice gift it made, so I got Virginia one, too. Inset with reindeer antler, the wood and leather handle of the Odel is just beautiful, and the knife uses a triple-laminated blade design that sandwiches sharp, easy-to-sharpen carbon steel between layers of easy-to-maintain stainless steel, so it’s as practical as it is pretty.
Virginia says: My sister opened this gift by accident when it arrived. Her first comment was, “I think you finally found someone even stranger than you.” Since then, I’ve been gifted more knives by Wes, but this is by far the most beautiful and will likely outlast the rest.
A Warm Down Jacket
Retailing for just $169, the Sierra Designs Whitney jacket is very affordable, but filled with almost six ounces of 800-fill power DriDown, it’s also incredibly warm, and maintains its loft when wet.
Fill power is how many cubic inches one ounce of down will loft into, so with 5.64 ounces, this jacket has 4,512 cubic inches of insulation. The more air your insulation traps, the warmer that item will be. Down’s big advantage over synthetic alternatives is that it also compresses small and light. The Whitney weighs just 19 ounces overall, and packs down into one of its pockets.
The jacket is also full of clever features like glove pockets on the inside, elastic cuffs, and features the best-fitting hood I’ve ever seen. To top it all off, Sierra Designs also nailed the fit. The jacket is long enough to keep Virginia’s butt warm, and is tapered to provide a flattering fit—no Michelin man here.
Virginia says: While my con is that Sierra Designs isn’t currently offering enough color choices in this jacket, the rest is all pro. The cuffs, tapering and hood feel like I ordered a custom.
Comfy Base Layers
Base layers work to keep you dry by pulling moisture away from your skin, and provide a little bit of insulation. The best material for them is merino wool, which works to regulate temperature, keeping you warm when it’s cool, and cool when it’s warm. Factor in its natural anti-odor properties, and merino is just perfect for being active in cold weather.
Smartwool has a range of merino products for both men and women, but my favorite thing they make is the 1/4-zip 250-weight women’s base layer. It looks good enough on its own that it’s perfect for wearing inside a cabin or chalet, and the zip opening allows her to shed heat when we’re hiking or skiing on warmer days. I just wish Smartwool’s bottoms fit as well as their tops. While they’re functional, they’re hard for Virginia to layer under pants that fit right, and are too saggy to look good on their own.
Virginia says: I'm in this thing basically full time from October to April.
A Soft Shell Jacket
After the Spyderco, by far the most-used item here is the Stio Vescent soft shell jacket. Made from a fleece-backed, stretchy polyester, it’s wind and water resistant rather then proof, which makes it far more breathable than any hardshell. Perfect for any outdoor conditions this side of heavy rain, Virginia wears the Vescent for virtually every ski day, and it’s her go-to for chilly hikes too. With a down jacket and merino base layers underneath, it’s also part of her layering system for very cold weather camping trips.
Virginia says: It stays dry, holds in warmth, feels fantastic and matches any performance standard your body requests in terms of movement.
It’s not incredibly hard for a pair of gloves to provide good warmth. It is hard for them to combine warmth with dexterity and feel. Made from merino wool, and faced with leather palms, the Smartwool Ridgeway gloves provide warmth without the bulk. Rubbing the palms with leather oil makes them waterproof enough to use on the slopes, but these come with us everywhere else, too.
Virginia says: My hands get cold in weather under 70 degrees. It’s just a fact. So, when Wes gifted me the Smartwool Ridgeways I knew it was love. They’re soft, easy to pull on and off and I’ve used them for everything from standing around to carrying fire wood to staining a deck.
An Insulated Camp Mug
It doesn’t sound like it, but being able to sip a hot drink on a cold day, without it cooling down, can make all the difference. Virginia also uses her Miir Camp Cup to keep rosé chilly on summer evenings. It’s just a major quality of life improvement in the outdoors.
Virginia says: I love the Miir cup, not only for the distinct design, but the practical aspects. Unlike a Yeti Rambler, this cup is extremely easy to hold, with a slender mug handle, and the lid manages a perfect balance of suction to secure tightly for drinking without the fear of spilling all over yourself as you re-up your beverage.
A Bright Headlamp
Whether it’s setting up camp, making dinner, or following a tricky trail, a good headlamp is simply essential. There’s no better flashlight out there than the Foursevens Mini Mk2. You won’t need its 1,020-lumen output on high while it’s mounted on your head, but because the brand’s headlamp kit allows it to pull double duty, carrying this just makes even more sense.
Virginia says: I’ll be honest, I feel as if I have something resembling R2D2's antenna on my head when using the Mini Mk2, but Wes ain’t wrong, this sucker shines bright.
A Two-Person Sleep System
This is as much a gift for me, as it is for her, because it means I get to sleep next to my beautiful girlfriend, with no crack between two 1P pads keeping us apart. For car camping, we use the incredibly comfortable Exped Megamat Duo, paired with a flannel fitted sheet with however many fleece blankets and down quilts the weather dictates. It continues to be the most comfortable mattress I’ve ever slept on.
Virginia says: The Exped Megamat Duo is truly a large component of what makes our car camping trips feel so luxurious. Its sturdy enough, as Wes has written about at length, to keep our intimacy alive and well while in the outdoors, yet also comfortable enough to get a full night’s rest. Holds up to our two half-wild dogs, too.
Virginia says: The weight-to-warmth sold me. We backpacked into the Alps while visiting Wes’ family in France this past Spring, and I carried the entire sleep system in my pack alone without any complaints, leaving him to haul the wine and baguettes.
A Better Backpack
I’m not embarrassed to admit that Virginia kicks my ass on backpacking trips. And a big part of that is enabling her to carry all her camping gear comfortably. Osprey’s new Aerial AG uses the brand’s excellent mesh suspension system, that provides both padding and ventilation across her entire back. The pack itself provides tons of conveniency features, while still coming in at a very light 4.8 pounds.
Virginia says: This it is the most supportive pack I’ve owned yet—and the top mini compartments are absolutely key for go-to grabs such as chapstick, sunscreen and toiletries.
A Slinky Snow Suit
For Christmas this year, Virginia’s getting one of Cordova’s Aspen ski suits. The form-fitting one-pieces are made from a Schoeller four-way stretch, fleece-backed soft-shell material, which provides a decent level of insulation, and is water and wind resistant, while remaining very breathable. But obviously the point is, well, look at it.
Virginia says: I found Cordova’s collection only last season and realized this was finally my chance to look like a badass babe out of the ‘70s on the slopes. It fits extremely well, is available in bright and unique colors for lady’s gear, and while it could keep me a tad warmer on those colder ski days, Cordova definitely checks off the sexy ski jumpsuit box for women who shred.