One bright summer morning four years ago, two park rangers set off hiking up a dormant Alaskan volcano.
But like a light switch, the weather changed.
Vicious winds brought frigid, sideways rain. It didn’t relent. Usually dry ditches transformed into swiftly flowing creeks, and the rivers grew higher.
The rangers found rocky shelter to wait out the storm, but one foolish ranger — ill-equipped with cotton socks that day — experienced both an immeasurably miserable and nearly-harmful journey back to safety: Wet cotton socks don’t insulate.
The lesson: In the outdoors, simple gear matters — a lot.
From a former park ranger, here are eight gifts for the adventurers in your life — some simple, and others essential.
Going hiking without wool socks — in warm or cold weather — can be an unfortunate proposition.
When inspected up close, wool is composed of uneven, rough fibers, allowing the material to hold more warm air, whereas cotton materials are smooth and more tightly-wound. Additionally, in cooler conditions, wool dries much quicker than cotton — which is notorious for holding in moisture, and staying damp.
These days, wool socks of various persuasions can get pretty expensive, but they needn’t break the bank — like REI’s merino wool socks.
Price: $12.93 – $17.95
As any medical professional will confirm, the greatest two vectors of disease are your hands.
And these vectors are amplified in the backcountry, where people often can’t or don’t wash their hands all day.
Do yourself — and others around you — a hygienic kindness with the gift of hand sanitizer.
The MPOWERD Luci is truly superb for all sorts of outdoor activity, from backpacking to glamping.
It crushes down when not in use, making it space efficient. And seven hours of sunlight gives it around 24 hours of luminescence for those dark nights in the backcountry.
Simply put, the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) first aid kit, or “Med Kit,” is legit.
NOLS doesn’t just train wilderness emergency first responders, it offers useful Med Kits — and the 4.0 is brimming with supplies that both the untrained and trained wilderness explorer can use: It includes the requisite supplies for fractures, bleeding, CPR, and gnarly wounds.
I have watched this gadget save the lives of two people who flipped their canoe in the deep backcountry — a place with no cell reception, no roads, and in their case, nearly no hope.
The SPOT personal locator beacon (PLB) sends satellite SOS calls to emergency responders from your location.
It also allows you to “check-in” so folks know you’re alright — perhaps when you’re on an extended, arduous journey, where chaos can strike.
There’s a saying, out in wilderness outposts: “Bears always lose.”
When it comes to bears interacting with people — or more specifically, being drawn to our camping food — it’s true. Bears who learn that the food we carry into the woods is an easy source of snacks, sandwiches, and chocolate, become problem bears. And problem bears that consistently seek out people are typically managed by being killed.
But most every bear can’t open bear canisters, like the BearVault canister. In some places, like areas in California, Yellowstone National Park, and Alaska, they’re mandatory.
Keep bears wild — they have other ways to get fat.
Price: $63.67 – $79.95
Filtering water in the backcountry is essential. You never know what might be pooping upstream.
Pumping water from a stream, however, isn’t the most pleasant pastime — though the pumps can certainly come in handy. But when you stop at camp, filling a handy filtration bag with water, like the Katadyn gravity filter, can efficiently appease the whole group. Hang it from a tree, and the water simply filters through the bottom.
Everyone knows that the best trail mix is chocolate.
Especially when 10 percent of Endangered Species Chocolate profits are given to endangered species conservation organizations around the world.
Price: $31.98 (12-pack)