Giving gifts is the best, but, let’s be honest, picking them out is kind of the worst. So take a shortcut. These five items recently earned accolades like Editors’ Choice and Gear of the Year from the likes of GearJunkie, Backpacker and Outside. Plus, we got the inside scoop on what features made each item award-worthy.
Here’s your outdoor gifting short list. Go ahead, give with confidence—this gear has been put through its paces by backcountry pros and gimlet-eyed editors who have seen it all. (We don’t know the exact definition of “gimlet-eyed,” but we’re pretty sure it has something to do with Humphrey Bogart.) Pro tip: No one will judge you if you decide to treat yourself, too.
Backpacker magazine tested The North Face Ventrix Insulated Hoodie in Rocky Mountain National Park and in the Weminuche Wilderness, Colorado. “The photographer we took to the Weminuche wore it for the entire trip without taking it off,” said Eli Bernstein, gear editor at Backpacker. “Impressive given that he would sprint uphill ahead of the group to get shots, then wait for everyone to catch up. The whole time, he never overheated or got chilly.”
The Ventrix won Backpacker Editors’ Choice for Snow 2017. The innovation that makes its performance possible? Holes. Bernstein explained the killer feature on the Ventrix is a series of tiny, laser-pierced holes in the insulation under the arms. When you’re not moving, the holes stay closed, sealing in warmth for maximum toastiness while standing around. “But once you’re on the move and working hard, they open to let airflow in and body heat out.”
Perfect for: Anyone who runs hot and cold when they play outside in cool weather. In other words, literally anybody who plays outside in cool weather.
“The harder you work, the better it works.” —Casey Lyons, Deputy Editor, Backpacker magazine
Normally, getting socks as a gift is a punchline. But Smartwool PhD Outdoor Mountaineer socks are no joke. Named Editors’ Choice in this year’s snow category by Backpacker magazine, the Outdoor Mountaineer provides “excellent comfort” and distinguishes itself with its genius use of high-density cushioning, according to Eli Bernstein, gear editor at Backpacker. “Thicker material around the toes and heel helps relieve the stress put on feet while skinning or hiking in narrow ski or mountaineering boots, while a thinner weave on the top and around the ankle make fitting into those boots easier.”
Après-adventure bonus: “Graduated compression up through the calf helps with blood flow and recovery after long days.”
Perfect for: Skiers, snowboarders, alpinists and other cold-weather adventurers. Wrap an extra pair or two to keep on hand in case of a gifting emergency. (“See, Kevin? I definitely didn’t forget about you.”)
Details here: Men’s
If socks are at one end of the gifting extravagance spectrum, skis might be at the other. For the much-loved backcountry connoisseur in your life, look no further than the Volkl 100Eight skis. Testers from Backcountry magazine (with whom Outside partnered for this test) strapped on the Volkl 100Eights at Powder Mountain in Utah—and proceeded to gush. “Gives a fast, aggressive feel but is still forgiving,” one tester said. “Transitions from every condition, task and speed with ease and confidence,” said another.
Adam Howard, editorial director for Backcountry magazine, elaborated on why the Volkl 100Eight earned its accolades: “For a full-rockered ski, the 100Eight skied with nearly all the attributes of a cambered ski: plenty of spunk and pop, the perfect blend of purchase on hard snow, and float on corn and powder. … The bottom line here is how powerful, capable at speed, and damp this ski was while still being quite light, considering its girth. Testers raved about its ability to charge in bounds, yet be light enough for moderate to big tours.”
Perfect for: Backcountry skier spouse or offspring. Or yourself, because you’re good enough, you’re smart enough, and doggone it, you deserve it.
“Transitions from every condition, task and speed with ease and confidence.” —Tester, Backcountry magazine
Crescent Moon EVA Snowshoes ($159)
When it comes to products, incremental improvements can only take you so far. Sometimes you have to throw out the book and start over. Take the Crescent Moon EVA Snowshoes, which are built on a base of lightweight, flexible dual-density foam. Whaaaa?
GearJunkie named the EVA snowshoes one of its Top Gear Picks 2017 because “they are a different take on a category that is perceived as stale,” explained Stephen Regenold, editor-in-chief at GearJunkie. Testing took place in the Wasatch Mountains in Utah—and in the “Arctic-like” environment outside GearJunkie’s headquarters in Minneapolis, Minnesota. “The Crescent Moon EVA snowshoes proved fun, fast and stable … they performed at spec and provided a rockered motion that made them akin to running shoes built for the snow.” Bonus: Foam insulates, so your feet stay warmer than they would in traditional snowshoes.
Perfect for: Outdoor beginners, hikers, dog walkers, Minnesota residents (represent!) and anyone who loves to play in the snow but is prone to cold feet.
Details here: Crescent Moon EVA Snowshoes (Update: Inventory of this product is running low.)
“In our testing … the Crescent Moon EVA snowshoes proved fun, fast and stable.” —Stephen Regenold, editor-in-chief, GearJunkie
REI Co-op Quarter Dome Tent Series ($279-$399)
How can you delight multiple people with a single gift? How can you give someone years of adventures? A tent, that’s how. Specifically, an REI-Co-op Quarter Dome tent, which comes in 1-, 2- and 3-person varieties and was among GearJunkie’s Top Gear Picks for 2017. “The REI Quarter Dome is a very popular tent,” said Adam Ruggiero, news editor at GearJunkie. “And REI made it better. It now has more space, is easier to use and gives a better overall experience.” Aw, we’re blushing.
The Quarter Dome makes a great gift for a person, couple or family, even if they’re not super outdoorsy, because it was designed for easy setup. As part of the design process for the most recent version of the Quarter Dome, REI Co-op’s in-house design team found people who had never set up a tent in their life and videotaped their first time. The team then reviewed those videos like a football coach studying a rival team. Wherever the newbies fumbled, the team intervened—a buckle here, a color there—striving for intuitive, frustration-free design.
Ultimately, according to Ruggiero, a symmetrical design, color-coded poles and a buckle-on rainfly make the Quarter Dome easier than ever to set up.
Among the other features cited as award-worthy: a significant increase in headroom, increased vestibule area for stashing gear, and a fix for a small but potentially irksome flaw in past models: “the brand reversed the direction the doors open to prevent water from creeping in when you enter or exit.”
Perfect for: Outdoorsy couples, small families, tall people who love to camp and anyone who has ever fought with a rainfly.
“The REI Quarter Dome is a very popular tent, and REI made it better. It now has more space, is easier use and gives a better overall experience.” —Adam Ruggiero, news editor, GearJunkie