Our rugged crew at the Albany Democrat-Herald and Corvallis Gazette-Times have created a holiday gift guide for outdoors enthusiasts.

These are some of the items we swear by and take or wear on almost every hiking or backpacking trip — and even on car-camping jaunts in certain instances.

As a bonus to you, cost-conscious shopper, these products won’t break the bank, and a few are perfect stocking stuffers for the wild ones in your family.

Darn Tough socks are made out of Merino wool and are relatively expensive — often retailing for $20 to $25 — but they’re worth every penny for many outdoor enthusiasts. And gourmet socks aren’t exactly the sort of thing that many people will splurge on for themselves, so they make a perfect gift.

To prevent blisters on long day hikes and backpacking trips, many people wear a pair of liner socks and wool socks. With Darn Tough, you might only need need one pair for foot protection (and a backup pair for nighttime to keep your sleeping bag clean).

Part of the secret to Darn Tough socks is that they come in more sizes than other brands, so you can get a better fit for your foot. And that equals comfort for your trek.

The brand also has a lifetime guarantee, but our hiking crew hasn’t found the need to test that warranty out quite yet.

We like Smartwool and other fancy socks, as well, but Darn Tough is our go-to brand.

The CNOC Outdoors water container has a wide mouth with a closure similar to a Ziploc sandwich bag, so it’s very easy to fill, even in shallow water. And when your legs are tired and the weather is poor, that ease of use can matter a great deal. The bladder also is durable. The water bags that come with many filters only last a season, if that.

While you can squeeze water through a filter using this bag, if you have more time — perhaps while you’re relaxing at camp — you can let gravity do the work for you.

Unfortunately, this is one of the harder items to find on our list, and many stores don’t stock this product. Our hiking crew has unfortunately had to go through Amazon for this water bladder.

The Sawyer Mini Water Filter is a personal water filter that can be used in conjunction with the CNOC water bladder. Both products together cost roughly $40 to $45. That’s a small price to pay to stay healthy miles from the trailhead. Beaver Fever is only a good thing at Oregon State University sporting events.

The system is versatile, so you could use it on a water bottle or with a straw. And it’s rated for a ridiculous amount of gallons.

In years past, we used heavier pump filter systems in our hiking crew, but those were cumbersome to carry and use. Plus, they have moving parts, so things could go wrong mechanically.

The Sawyer filter is light and everyone in a group could conceivably carry one. Almost everyone in our group does nowadays, so if there’s a medical issue, someone gets lost or there are any complications to a hike, there’s still clean water available at the nearest stream.

Mountain House freeze-dried meals are a welcome gift for any outdoors enthusiast. There are several brands out there, but we prefer Mountain House to support the local workers at Oregon Freeze Dry in Albany.

A familiar refrain from this list is going lighter, and freeze-dried food, including desserts, is an easy way to do that while getting plenty of nutrients on backpacking trips.

The meals are easy to make — just add hot water, mix them up and wait a few minutes — and that’s certainly part of the attraction, as well.

As a gift, it’s not like you can reasonably over-give freeze-dried food. If someone builds up a stockpile, that’s fine, since the expiration date on the packets is likely 2048 or later. And if you don’t take the Mountain House meals camping, they’re always good for disaster preparation, or to stuff in your suitcase and keep costs down on vacation.

long-handled spoon is pretty useful if you’re using freeze-dried food packets. With a normal sized spoon, your paws can get messy while mixing up the food or serving it up.

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A mosquito net for your head costs less than $5 but feels priceless on certain hiking and backpacking trips. If you’ve ever spit and snorted out skeeters or caught them in your eyelids when blinking, you know what we mean. Plus, it’s not like it weighs much and it crumples up into the size of a golf ball. A must-have for any excursion in the summer in Oregon.

You also can use the net as a sort of stuff sack for other items in your pack. Want to keep your water bladder and filter together, or your gloves and stocking cap? Stuff them in the mosquito net.

Bandanna — A versatile bit of square fabric. Neck warmer, head covering, washcloth, dust mask, bandage, pot holder, snot rag, dish rag, or even something to wipe condensation from the inside of your tent. You could probably think of something else to use a bandanna for. Regardless, bring one of these on every trip.

Altra Lone Peak trail running shoes are perfect for long treks. Over the years, our hiking crew has become a bunch of “gram weenies.” We’re old dogs, but lighter packs allow us to go the same number of miles as when we were younger pups. And with lighter packs, we don’t need heavy, bulky boots except in the most extreme conditions. In general, most of us have switched to trail runners.

The Lone Peak shoes have zero drop, which means that the heel is essentially flat. This helps prevent your ankles from turning. A wide toe box and a grippy sole means you can feel the trail better, even with a stone guard shank in the sole.

These are the most expensive item on our list, but they can be found for less than $100 on sale.

Bonus item alert

Cheap trekking poles, or at least one cheap trekking pole, is something that most members of our crew bring on every hiking trip, and certainly on every backpacking trip. Sure, there are people who will smirk at you for using them, like you’re going overkill. But a hiking pole can be a lifesaver on steep trails, creek crossings and more. Plus, you can use a tarp, a trekking pole and some cord to create an improvised shelter.

We’d recommend cheap trekking poles, because even with expensive walking sticks, there’s a certain probability you’re going to fall and bend the metal, or leave it behind at the outhouse near the trailhead. No, we’ve never done that before.


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