The One Gift That Never Fails
How to get it right, every single time
Outside's long reads email newsletter features our strongest writing, most ambitious reporting, and award-winning storytelling about the outdoors. Sign up today.
Giving gifts to other people can be hard. You’re guessing their sizes, you’re taking a gamble on stuff they might already own, and if you’re buying a piece of gear to help someone with their hobby, you risk a gap between their knowledge and your own. In other words, you might give them something they think is lame. But I have one go-to gift that has never let me down: a knife.
I gave my fiancée her second knife for the first birthday she celebrated shortly after we got together. I actually spent that birthday away from her, visiting my family in France, so I wanted to make sure my presence was felt stateside. I had a knife shipped to her sister, so she could wrap it for me. When it was opened, her sister remarked, “I guess you’ve finally met someone as weird as you.”
The knife with the right amount of splash? A Helle fixed blade with a handle made from birch, staghorn, and leather. It’s as good to use as it is to look at, and she still uses it almost every day, two years later.
I actually got the idea for the Helle from my friend Griff. We met each other in a bar when I lived in Los Angeles and he lived in Seattle. We decided to become friends on the spot, but living so far apart, our second date had to involve an airplane ride. That was a big gamble for both of us, so unbeknownst to each other, we both got each other friendship presents. The gift each of us chose independently to communicate the sincerity of our feelings? Knives, obviously. I gave him a big ol’ DPx Gear HEFT 6, while he got me a pretty little Helle Harding. We both still have them.
My daily carry is actually another DPx Gear knife, also given as a second-date present from a friend. A few years ago, I invited one of my favorite authors, Robert Young Pelton, on a camping trip. I was nervous when I showed up at his house to pick him up, but my fear of not being cool enough disappeared when he pulled his own knife (one he designed) out of his pocket and handed it to me. I was overcome with loss when I misplaced that knife a couple months ago—and awash in relief when it finally turned up.
I was really bummed last year when I had to miss my friend Ty’s 40th birthday party. And I wanted to make sure he felt appreciated anyway. Ty’s an amazing cook and always makes amazing meals on the camping trips we take together, so I got him Spyderco’s folding chef’s knife. Now he can carry a good kitchen knife with him a little more easily.
These are just a few such stories. If you know me, odds are I’ve given you a knife at some point, too. I figure that by doing so I’m giving you something useful and also hopefully something that makes you feel a little more empowered outdoors. And you’ve probably given me a knife, too.
The good thing about giving knives as gifts is that you really can’t get it wrong. I write about knives, and like using fancy ones, but I’m as happy opening a box with a simple Swiss Army knife in it as I am getting something custom. One of the most unexpected, and most appreciated, gifts I’ve ever received was a thank-you present from a guy I’ve never met but who I’ve enjoyed an Internet friendship with for a few years. He had my name laser-engraved on a knife he picked out, after reading an article I’d written about picking out good knives. How cool is that?