Special correspondent Naomi Stock did some research on gifts for adventurers. Here is her report. –Scott
In Alaska gear is king, and in the winter the quality of your gear defines your experience. The right equipment can keep you warm and dry on those Alaskan adventures that get us through dark winters.
Some of my favorite winter activities are snow biking, cross-country skiing, backcountry skiing, ice climbing, and ice skating: all activities you need the proper gear for. For snow biking, one piece of gear that I will always swear by is a pair of pogies.
Pogies change the game for snow biking: no more bulky mittens, easy access to gears and brakes, and warm toasty hands from the extent of your ride. One great option is the Williwaw Pogies, which are made by an Alaskan company, Revelate Designs, and cost $120. Buy online, or find them in Anchorage at the Bicycle Shop. Another Alaskan company, Dogwood Designs, makes poagies (they added the “a”) for $135 that you can find at Chain Reaction Cycles, Paramount Cycles, and Trek Bicycle Store.
Backcountry skiing, like most winter sports, is gear heavy, and the costs of quality gear can add up quickly. The basic setup starts with skis, poles, bindings, and boots, and includes skins, a helmet, and an avalanche rescue kit. The bare minimum for an avalanche rescue kit is a beacon/transceiver, a probe, and a shovel. That’s a lot of gear! For great deals on used gear such as boots and skis, The Hoarding Marmot in Anchorage is a great place to look. If you’re looking for a small but useful gift for a skier, ski straps are a great option. Ski straps, such as those sold by Voile or Black Diamond, cost less than $10 but are infinitely useful, which makes them a great stocking stuffer.
Many companies also offer avalanche rescue kits which can be a great deal, especially because one item you should never buy used is a beacon. For example, Ortovox sells their Avalanche Rescue Kit Zoom+ for only $310, which is impressive considering that the Zoom+ transceiver sells for $260 on its own. The kit includes a collapsible shovel (the Badger 2.5) and a probe (ALU 240). One thing worth noting is that in Alaska, avalanche safety experts recommend carrying a probe that is at least 280 cm long if not 300 cm or longer, where this kit includes a probe that is only 240 cm long.
For any outdoor adventure in Alaska, where the sun is already setting before 4 p.m, it’s very important to bring a headlamp. My favorite, and the REI Co-op Editor’s Choice, is the Black Diamond Spot 350. For $39.95 this headlamp has a setting for every situation. Easy to use and adjust, even with gloves on, it has three different lighting options that can all be dimmed on strobed. On low the headlamp can last for up to 200 hours, and for 4 hours on high. Here’s a random selfie I took adjusting my BD Spot headlamp while climbing in Hatcher Pass this summer:
Another great option is the Petzl Tikkina, which only costs $19.95. Reliable and affordable, I keep this headlamp in my car for last minute adventures and emergencies. For headlamps, as well as for winter layering and all of your skiing and ice climbing gear needs, check out Alaska Mountaineering & Hiking in Anchorage.
For ice skates, The Hoarding Marmot and Play-It-Again Sports both sell used skates that will serve you well at the frozen Westchester Lagoon, on Potter’s Marsh, or for pond hockey at a local lake. My friend Emily Hearth and I both bought ours at Play-It-Again Sports, and we took them for a skate at Mirror Lake with her dog last month.
If you know someone who loves ice climbing or mountaineering, check out these Black Diamond Reactor ice tools. These tools sell for $299.95 and serve all of your ice climbing needs. The offset grip is adjustable to fit all hand sizes, it features an open pick angle for a smooth swing, making it great for technical climbing as well as for newer climbers. Here’s a friend, Jeff Caron, with his new pair of Reactors!
Of course, the ultimate winter piece of gear is the right jacket. My absolute favorite insulated jacket for winter is the Arc’teryx Proton AR. I wear it to the grocery store, for a casual ski at Kincaid on a very cold day (as pictured), on the way downhill when backcountry skiing (it’s generally a little too warm for the skin up), when ice skating, and when snow biking. It’s a great all around winter jacket that packs well and is both durable and comfortable. Though the Proton AR has been discontinued, the Proton LT and the Atom AR (both $299) are similar options for an all around, every-adventure jacket.
Another one of my favorite layers is the Patagonia R1. So well-loved that there’s a music video (Done in R1), this is a great lightweight layer for under a bigger jacket, or for high-intensity activities, like skinning up a mountain. Styles range from $129 to $179 on Patagonia.com, but they often show up on Patagonia’s used gear site, Worn Wear, for great prices. Check out local shops to support before you order online. Here’s my yellow R1 (below, left), which I’ve had for two years now, although it shows no signs of wear!
A small, thoughtful gift I love for the adventurer in your life is a Skida headband or hat. Popular among Alaskans for their low profile, fun designs, and moisture-wicking, breathable material, these hats and headbands are perfect for any adventure. I have both a lightweight nordic hat and a nordic headband and I love that they fit under a helmet, and they keep my ears warm without things getting too sweaty. Above (on the right) is a photo of my headband, and if you’ve been paying attention you may have noticed that my friend Emily is wearing a Skida hat in the photo with the very cute dog. Alaska Mountaineering & Hiking and Skinny Raven are both authorized dealers of the Vermont-based brand. Fleece-lined alpine hats run for $36, lightweight nordic hats cost $32, and lightweight nordic headbands are only $18.
Winter camping is an adventure that is not for the faint of heart, but if you’re looking for a gift for the friend who won’t be stopped by snow or subzero temperatures, let them know you accept their eccentric ways with a Luci light. As we know, winter camping is a dark affair, and headlamps can be inconvenient in the tent. The Luci, $24.95 by MPOWERD, is a solar powered inflatable lamp that is sure to brighten up a cold campsite. Here’s my friend Becca Erdman, who is crazy enough for winter camping, with her lamp (above).
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