Christmas and winter go hand and hand. Did you ever imagine Christmas without the snow, lights glistening in the still, frigid air and inescapable smells of evergreen and wood smoke? Or imagine Santa in a Hawaiian shirt, pasty legs exposed for all to see? No, of course not. Because Christmas is winter and winter is Christmas.
Or at least the beginning of winter is. Fact is, winter has barely gotten started at Christmas and is only going to get colder, damper and bleeker. So instead of giving a tent, surfboard, biking gear or something else that teases of long, warm days and flourishing weather, give them what they need to survive the season at hand.
You don't have to be an avid winter hiker to know the value of a vacuum-sealed thermos--just walking to your car is often enough to render coffee into cold, bitter stew. So whether your listee is a hearty snowshoer or just a frazzled commuter, this gift will always come in handy. REI's Bullet Vacuum Bottle is sleek, rated at 4.5 stars (11 reviews) and under $20.
Down, Down and More Down
Average Joes like down because of its furnace-interior warmth. Outdoorsy folks like down because of both its furnace-interior warmth and light weight. Both groups don't like down because it's among the most expensive types of clothing that you can own. But if you're receiving it as a gift, all you have to do is give the old "Oh you shouldn't have spent so much! (But I'm glad you did)," and you walk away with the down you love and no guilt. Now that's a gift.
A down vest like the sub-10 oz., $130 Montbell Alpine Light is one of the most versatile pieces of clothing you can buy--perfect as an outer layer on moderate winter and early-spring days, excellent insulation for colder days.
Heat in the Chimney
I won't get into any played out statistics about head heat, but the bottom line: You want a good hat throughout the winter. I've been using a Salomon Link beanie for several years and can't imagine a better beanie. Unlike lesser beanies that give you a fleece ear-ring (or no fleece at all), the Link gives you a full fleece interior with a wool-acrylic shell. It's warm, roomy and comfortable.
Just taking a step onto the patio in the winter can be treacherous. Ice, slush, snow, refrozen ice, frost, etc. etc. can all turn even the grippiest outsoles into greased up Teflon. The one thing that gives you a fighting chance: metal. Metal traction systems range from simple around-the-house systems to full-blown mountaineering crampons. You'll probably want something in between. Yak Trax Walkers are cheap and good for basic walking. Consider the $60 Hillsound Trail Crampons for the trail runner.
As I sit here late at night jotting down this list, I could literally kick through the window to my right and not feel a thing. My feet are frozen solid. Friggin' ice chunks. And that's because I'm not wearing my alpaca socks. Truth be told, I'm not wearing any socks and wishing someone would buy me a nice, new pair of alpaca socks.
I used the Dahlgren Sno Comp socks all winter last year and they were the most comfortable things I've ever had on my feet, save perhaps for shearling slippers. Thin but warm and nearly as smooth as silk, the socks are made from a merino wool/alpaca blend. They're so comfortable I'm hoping the alpaca industry expands to all types of clothing. Socks aren't an exciting gift to open...but these will be exciting to wear. If not, tell 'em to send 'em to me.
Just because you don't get as thirsty in the winter, doesn't mean you shouldn't drink. The CamelBak SnoBlast ensures you carry water on all skiing, snowboarding, hiking and miscellaneous winter adventures. Big enough for water and a few essentials but not big enough to be uncomfortable and hefty, the SnoBlast uses a Therminator harness with hand-warming pocket to keep water in its thirst-quenching liquid state.
A defining elements of winter, that's often lost amidst complaints of cold, wet, windy, overcast conditions, is darkness. You don't have to live in Alaska to know that there's really a limited amount of daylight throughout most of winter. If you leave a little late in the afternoon for your outdoor excursion, you may not make it back until the sun has vanished. A small flashlight that he can throw in his pocket and have whenever he needs is a true gift. The Fenix PD20 offers up to 180 lumens via six individual settings. It measures just three inches long, weighs less than two ounces (w/o batteries) and includes a clip. A great tool to survive the darkness of winter.