Every holiday season includes an Oregon Outdoors intervention of sorts that aims to separate outdoor enthusiasts from crappy gear, because bad gear is actually worse than no gear at all.
In a perfect world, trying to find the right stuff to buy that outdoor gearhead in your life shouldn't be difficult and stressful, but it is because the stakes are too high to let the unenlightened take a stab during holiday gifting.
Get him a bad set of waders and he's stuck for years with a wet crotch. Get her the wrong base layer and she's strapped with a sweat-collection system that reminds her of you for all the wrong reasons.
Here's a suite of holiday gifts, broken down by outdoor discipline, that might make 2015 the first year your outdoor gear gift doesn't have to come with a return receipt.
Technological advances are helping hikers keep hydrated as safely as possible to a point where there's really no reason not to have help in your pack.
Pure Sip makes a water-filter straw for $20 that allows you to drink safely right out of a stream or lake without the cumbersome chore of pumping water through filters of old.
"It weighs nothing and it's something you can easily carry in your pack," says Scott Keith, owner of the Northwest Outdoor Store.
More and more hikers are looking now to branch into winter walks, and for that they are turning to snowshoes, Keith says.
"They say it's more popular than skiing," Keith says. "If you can walk, you can snowshoe."
The store carries the Atlas line of men- and women-specific snowshoes that start at $139, Keith says. If you're the least bit hesitant, you can rent a pair for $10 a day to do some trial-trekking, he says.
When you're talking holiday gear for the mountain biker on your list, you don't want them to have to wait until summer to use your gift. That narrows things down.
"Winter-specific is going to be clothes and less about bikes," says Vern Niehaus, manager of Cycle Analysis in Jacksonville.
Endura and several other companies make waterproof and windproof booties that fit over cyclists' regular shoes, and they typically run about $50, Niehaus says.
But if you want to go ahead with something for the bike, clip-on fenders for rainy and muddy riding are a perfect ticket at $40 to $50 a set. Portland Design Works makes a set of clip-ons "that will mount on almost any kind of bicycle" without permanent mounts on the frame, Niehaus says.
It's about time his landing net catches up to his catch-and-release ethic.
The old nylon landing nets make it difficult to properly land, unhook and release a wild steelhead quickly and with as little handling as possible, but most driftboats are still carrying the ancient net. Rubber-mesh nets are the way to go because they are less likely to slip into gills, remove less of a steelhead's protective slime and keep the fish from twisting in the net during release.
A good upgrade is the EGO S2 Slider net with the rubber mesh. It's got a nice sliding handle system that easily extends to 36 inches. While the net opening isn't as big as you might want for really big steelhead, it's wide enough and deep enough to handle wild steelhead in the Rogue River, especially wild summer steelhead that all must be released unharmed.
Sportsman's Warehouse sells this net for $95 and EGO also sells extra nets that can swap out for the conventional one.
Here's treading into waters most non-steelheaders rarely are allowed to go — steelhead plugs.
Generally non-steelheaders are banned from buying plugs for steelheaders because no one wants a driftboat-load of lures that don't catch fish.
The hottest new steelhead plugs on the market are the Mag Lip series from Yakima Bait, in sizes 3.0 and 3.5. The best colors for the Rogue are pink with a blue tip, chartreuse tiger-stripe, chartreuse and silver and green with a pink tail. At $6 apiece, one of each size is your best bet because the 3.0 swim best in shallower water and the 3.5s not only dive deeper but also handle faster water better.
One of the best indicators of what's hot among the hunting community is what's flying off the shelves at Black Bird Shopping Center in west Medford.
This year's hottest commodities are LED light bars that can be fitted to ATVs and other vehicles so hunters don't get stuck in the dark when packing out their animals, says Black Bird's Mike McMullen.
The Kaper II bars are for off-road use only and range from 8 inches for $59 to 48 inches for $399.
Another big holiday seller is the new razor knife by Outdoor Edge, McMullen says. It comes with a sharp blade plus six replacement blades so hunters are never caught in the field with a dull edge, he says. At $39, it even comes with an orange handle so it doesn't get lost in the duff at dusk like a camo-handled knife can.
"They've thought of everything," McMullen says. "It's definitely the new rave."
This year's holiday gifts are all for what's above the shoulders.
Smith makes an awesome pair of goggles that comes complete with a battery-operated electric fan that helps keep them from fogging up. They sell for $130 at Rogue Ski Shop in Medford.
And while you're at it, give the gift of tunes on the mountain with the Giro wired headphones for ski and snowboard helmets. The newer helmets sport indentations around the ears for these headphones to fit neatly inside to play music on the slopes. They're $40 at the Rogue Ski Shop as well.