There might not be a lot of things more unpleasant than being unprepared for an outdoor adventure.
Take for instance my first Alpine skiing experience. I had never been on skis, and so I did not realize when some friends invited me that snow pants were a must. I showed up in a hat, jeans, my winter coat and cotton mittens. Did I mention that I grew up in Anchorage, Alaska?
Needless to say, I wasn't anxious to return to the great outdoors â€” especially during cold temperatures â€” for quite a while. That experience came to mind because of something I heard at a Columbia Sportswear event at Canyons Resort last week.
"Really the biggest obstacle to enjoying the outdoors is the weather," said Wood Blackford, vice president of innovation at Columbia Sportswear. He pointed out that a lot of us are more comfortable than ever inside our homes.
"We've really been trying to make the outdoors a place that isn't uncomfortable to go," he said before explaining how the company is expanding use of its Omni-head technology, which has become a huge hit with consumers.
To test his theory, I asked some of my friends who stay indoors most of the winter â€” including those playing indoor sports and those who log a lot of hours in gym. While many said they hated to be cold, a lot of them said they didn't really know how to get started when it came to taking up a new winter hobby.
For the last several years, I have compiled a gift guide for outdoor enthusiasts. This year I did something a little different in that I asked a friend, David Blackburn, to help me compile the list. He is the die-hard outdoor lover who embraces outdoor activities of all kinds in every season.
So together, along with the help of Wasatch Running Center, REI, Columbia Sportswear, Black Diamond and a few other companies, we came up with this wish list. I list retailers where I found these items, but you may find them in other stores as well. Most of this gear he's tried and loves, and a few he's hoping Santa brings.
1. Vapor Flash Jacket. It retails for $350, but could save your life. The entire thing is reflective, and it's wind-proof and waterproof. Even with no lights on it, it glows. Available at Wasatch Running Center. (There is a completely reflective and water-resistant hat, as well, and that sells for $30.)
2. Gore Light AS jacket. This may be the mother of all windbreakers. Extremely water-resistant and completely wind-chill proof, this jacket also folds up into one of its own pockets to make it usable on just about any outdoor adventure one could dream up. Retails for $160 at Wasatch Running Center.
3. Omni-Heat Menâ€™s Bugaglove Max Electric (electric heated leather winter sport glove). This unisex glove has a heater in it (with rechargeable battery) and it puts heat where you need it, on the top of your fingers. Retails for $399.
4. Columbia Baselayer Midweight Half Zip. It's Omni-Heat thermal reflective, Omni-wick advanced evaporation, form fitting and four-way stretch. As far as base layers go, it doesn't get much more comfortable. Retails for $60 at REI.
5. Assimilate Soft Shell Jacket, which retails for $170 at REI.
Why is Columbia Sportswear hot (or should we say cool) this Christmas? Omni-Heat. The technology has made a number of Columbia products must-have the last couple of years. The company claims it keeps wearers 15 to 20 percent warmer, and Blackburn backs them up. He adds that for the price, it can't be beat.
"It seems spacey and out there, but I have been very impressed," he said. The plain black beanie he bought two years ago is his constant companion in cold weather.
"I'm never hot. I'm never cold. It's like the perfect porridge," he laughed. "I wore it every day that I worked (as a mountain host) at Snowbird."
6. Sensor Gloves from O.R. (Outdoor Research). There are a few gloves that allow users to interact with a touch screen, and this glove is one of them. Blackburn likes it because they look cool, not odd, while serving their scientific purpose. Retails for $65 at REI.
7. Better than Naked Jacket by Northface. Windproof and water-resistant, it really is like running in nothing. The best feature is that it's technical enough to allow runners to wear it inside or outside â€” and even both if necessary. It retails at Wasatch Running Center for $129.
8. Apollo LED Lantern has the ability to hang from a tent ceiling or light up a camp site and is energy efficient, as well as highly effective. It retails for $49.95 at REI.
9. Black Diamond Storm Headlamp. There is a lot to love about this little light. It has a battery-life indicator so you never have to lose your light unexpectedly. The light bulbs warm the batteries, which extend the life of the batteries. It's also got a tool on the headband that allows users to open it up quickly and easily in any conditions, and it's waterproof. It retails at REI for $49.95.
"There is nothing else with a dimmer, so it's a pretty unique item," Blackburn said. "That's really beneficial for many reasons."
10. Exped MultiMat Sleeping Mat. This is a mat of many uses.
"This is one of my favorite little extras that I didn't know I needed," Blackburn said after rattling off the many ways he's used the waterproof, very compact mat: winter picnics, breaking down a tent and packing gear in rain or mud, sleeping on it, wrapping up in it, and as a tent footprint. It retails at REI for $45.
11. DoubleNest Hammock. This little gadget helps you find quality sleep, or just a place to take a break, any time, any where. He's used it for napping, resting on a long drive, camping and just a place to sit and read a book.
"This isn't just for camping," he said. "I set this up in my sister's back yard and her kids loved it."
It retails at REI for $65.95.
12. REI's Half Dome Tent. Comes in two- or four-person sizes and there are reasons why it wins awards from campers: It's very fast to pitch, very roomy, lots of pockets, and extremely light and durable.
"It's my favorite tent I've ever had," said Blackburn. "There is nothing like it."
It retails at REI for $179.
13. JetBoil Sol Stove. No more looking for tinder to boil water. Everything you need to boil water contained in one small, compact cup. East to use, easy to pack and Blackburn said there is no substitute for ease when playing in the snow.
"I've scooped snow into the cup, boiled it, added hot chocolate and stood there, in the snow, and drank it," he said, noting that sometimes tables and chairs are hard to find on a mountainside or ski slope. It retails for $119.95 at REI.
14. Goal Zero Guide 10 Plus Adventure Kit Solar Charger. Goal Zero has made using solar power easy and affordable. This kit will charge everything from iPods to iPads even while you continue moving. Retails at REI for $120.
15. Tracker2 Avalanche Transceiver by Backcountry Access. Better sensitivity range and will work on the same frequency as other brands. Necessary and easy to use. Retails at REI for $335.
16. K2's Rescue Shovel Plus. It slices, dices and really will save a life. It has two handle options that allow the user to dig, hoe and even use as a climbing anchor. And it looks cool. Retails at REI for $74.95.
17. Backcountry Access Float 18 Avalanche Airbag Pack. Should a recreator find himself in an avalanche, he would only need to pull a rip cord and the airbag would inflate and push him on top of the snow. It's a technology system that's already saved lives in Europe and has been on sale in the U.S. for two years. It retails at REI for $685.
18. CamelBak Podium Ice Bike Bottle. Because there is nothing worse than warm water on a hot day, this little number is back on the market. Trouble in finding a manufacturer for the insulation material led to its disappearance. It returns, and so does the possibility of keeping water cold. Holds 21 ounces and retails for $20 at REI.
19. Brooks Pure Project Minimal Footwear. Doing more with less â€” on your feet â€” is all the rage. But moving from hiking boots or regular running shoes to nothing can cause more injuries than it cures.
If you're wanting to move away from traditional running shoes into the less is more craze, it's wise to choose a minimalist shoe that will forgive a few extra miles.
The Brooks Pure Project shoes come in a number of options, depending on what the wearer needs. Dark green accents for men and aqua for women, and they retail at $90 to $120.
"It's a good transition shoe to get into minimalist shoes," said WRC manager Darrell Phippen, who shows the difference in height with two stacks of nickels. The Pure Project shoe lifts the heel two nickels high, while traditional shoes life it six nickels high. "We recommend a small adjustment period. It's a great shoe to rotate with your regular running shoe."
20. Honey Stingers Waffles. With the help of Lance Armstrong, Honey Stingers has come up with the single best way to get quick carbs. Both delicious and effective, these treats come in vanilla (the author's favorite), honey and strawberry. They sell for $1.50 at Wasatch Running Center.
21. Soleus GPS Watch. For beginners or young runners, this watch calculates speed, distance, pace and calories. It won't download or keep track of workouts, but it is the least expensive GPS watch on the market and perfect for high school or new runners. It retails for $99 at Wasatch Running Center.
22. PRO-3 Thin Sport Incredisocks. Finding the right socks can be challenging. This new product promises help with pain and swelling, as well as better temperature regulation and increased recovery times. Available online at buyincrediwear.com for $14.
23. Pearl Izumi Pro Softshell Lobster Bike Glove. Oh, how I wish I'd had these on my 62-mile ride to Ogden in the snow. Blackburn did and his hands were useful, while mine were not. Retails at REI for $75.
24. MSR (Mountain Safety Research) Lightning Axis 25-inch Snowshoe. Awesome for many reasons, but most importantly because they now allow you to adjust the shoe to deal with different gaits. It's the cheapest way to customize a snowshoe. Retails at REI for $239.95.
25. Superflash Rear Bike Light. It's a must-have if you ride a bike outside in any kind of weather. The irregular pattern could save your life and the lightweight design will make it easy to use for running or biking. Retails at REI for $29.