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Gift ideas from the Trailspace Gear Guide

by Tom Mangan
November 27, 2009

In honor of Black Friday, I thew together a list of goodies that have caught my eye as I combed through the Trailspace Gear Guide. This year's theme: Seven Things the Outdoor Gear Industry Taught Me: 

1) They always get around to inventing what we've waited years for

Hydrating with bladder and hose is like driving a car with no gas gauge: you never know the tank's dry till it's too late. This year Camelbak introduced its Flow Meter, which calculates your water supply based on how much fluid passes through the meter.

The meter doesn't automatically know how much water is in your bladder; you have to tell it how much you plan to use. It's battery powered, with programmable features to measure how much water you're consuming and estimate how long your water supply should last. 

Of course the big prize will go to the company whose meter fits all the bladders on the market, but this could be a good option for Camelbak bladder owners.

More hydration accessories in the Gear Guide.

2) Good inventions can always get better

A few years back, Sea to Summit introduced a compression dry sack with breathable eVent fabric; Backpacker magazine rained praise on the idea, but the folks at Sea to Summit seemed to understand that strap-based compression sacks can be a confusing tangle and often more trouble than they're worth. 

Within a year or so Sea to Summit came out with the eVAC Dry Sack, which loses the straps and lets users squeeze the air out of the sack via an eVent bottom panel.  Cheaper, lighter and easier to use -- hard to complain with all that.

More compression sacks.

3) Old inventions can always be upgraded

A company called UCO sells the Candlelier Lantern, which uses good old burning candles.

It's easy to forget in our world of batteries and gas burners that the technology of the ancients still gets the job done. I can't imagine these lanterns put out nearly as much light as their gas- and battery-powered brethren, but the costs (25 cent an hour compared to $2 for standard lanterns, UCO says) and environmental consequences (no batteries to recycle) might be a worthy compromise.

UCO isn't totally retro, however: some of its candle-powered lanterns include LED lights for additional illumination.

More lanterns.

4) There's always something nifty for under $5

Case in point: the Nite Ize Figure 9 rope tightener.

This little gizmo solves the age-old question of how to secure ropes and cords for tents, tarps and other uses. The larger version includes a carabiner clip for added versatility.

It also has uses far beyond the campsite, such as securing young trees or lashing cargo covers in the bed of your pick-up truck.

More tent accessories.

5) Pocket knives have become works of art

I never gave much thought to knives till we added them to our database in September.  I was amazed to see the abundance of creativity devoted to basic cutting implements.

Knife designers are celebrities in their industry, and their creations are uncanny combinations of form and function. It's not just the spring-loaded blades or the O-rings that enable one-handed opening. It's the elegant lines that aspire to aesthetic beauty. 

Granted, none of this is news to people who've been buying these knives over the past several years. Still, it rated as an amazing discovery to me.

More folding knives.

6) Cams are way cool 

Few outside the small world of rock climbers know what cams are, much less what they do. I didn't either till I started adding them to our Climbing Gear collection. 

A cam speaks to my Inner Guy, which instinctively admires anything mechanical, but what I really like about cams is that their use is so self-evident: you just know that if you stick one of these things into a crack in the rock, the force of pulling back on it will turn the cam's half-moon-shaped gears outward toward the rock and lock it in place -- a lifesaver for climbers when gravity's laws are enforced. 

 Most cams are such interesting-looking contraptions that it'd be fun to have one mounted on my office wall even if I never used it. Another cool cam tidbit: Lightweight backpacking pioneer Ray Jardine invented the spring-loaded camming device, triggering a rock-climbing revolution.

More camming devices.

7) It's fun to do stuff you see in the movies

This hand-cranked Etón FR-300 radio reminds me of those scenes in the old war movies where John Wayne ducks a rifle shot, gives a half-dozen hard cranks on a field telephone and hollers "where the hell is my air support?" to some poor slob behind the lines.

The FR-300 is built for less lethal settings, but it could be a life-saver in an emergency. The hand crank works with rechargeable NiMH batteries (it can also recharge some cell phones), and the tuner picks up both radio and TV signals.

One more handy bonus: a built-in LED flashlight.

More radios.