Each Christmas season Oregon Outdoors does its best to keep readers from living the real holiday outdoor horror: The realization on Christmas Day that no outdoor gear this year would have been better than crappy outdoor gear.
That's because you're stuck with the bad ski goggles the spouse bought or that cheesy hat that might as well come with a neon sign that says, "I'm wearing this because my boy bought it."
So here's Oregon Outdoors' annual holiday gift guide, with a nod toward thriftiness. All gifts are under $50 and available by shopping locally at outdoor stores in the Rogue Valley.
Waterman Ukulele: Perhaps the most unusual yet distinctly outdoor gift idea of the season comes from Hawaii to Oregon for outdoors enthusiasts ranging from Pacific Crest Trail backpackers to Wild Rogue River Canyon whitewater runners.
It's a outdoor ukulele that you can drag behind your boat all day yet carry a tune in camp. Seriously.
Petaluma-based Kala Brand sells its Waterman ukulele for as low as $40. It's totally waterproof, so you can make music around the campfire while keeping your camp unplugged.
"You can take them down the river on a float trip or strap them to the outside of your pack," says Scott Keith, owner of the Northwest Outdoor Store in Medford. "You get to have music in your camp. I can't take my piano down the river."
The ukes come in all sorts of colors, and musicians at Cripple Creek Music Store in Ashland swear they hold their tune fairly well, especially when you consider you can fill them up with water, dump it out and pluck away.
Mini Lantern: Goal Zero has a mini lantern-flashlight combination that might be the best $25 to $30 you can spend to add light to your camping gear. The Lighthouse Micro Flash is less than 3 inches long and weighs less than 2.5 ounces, but the lantern kicks out up to 150 lumens, and its built-in dimming flashlight can shine up to 120 lumens.
"If you hang it from the top of your tent, two people can easily read from it," says Steve Rice, owner of the Ashland Outdoor Store. That's a lot of light from something 2½ inches long. It fits between your fingers."
The light is recharged via a USB port, so it can plug into wall outlets, laptops and even the portable solar panels Goal Zero sells.
Acecamp LED Light with Carabiner: This compact and surprisingly rugged LED light runs on three AAA batteries and is a less expensive alternative to a Goal Zero light. The attached carabiner allows you to hang it off anything from the inside of tents and canopies to truck beds and branches. As low as $9.97.
LifeStraw Water Filter: These portable water filters have been on the gift guide annually for a reason.
"That's an absolute no-brainer," says Mike McMullen, a buyer for The Black Bird Shopping Center in Medford.
These marker-like pens can filter up to 1,000 liters of water and remove 99.9 percent of all waterborne protozoa, as well as E. coli, salmonella, Giardia and cryptosporidium. The size of a tampon, they have become a backpack staple, and sell for as little as $14.97.
McMullen says he was recently at a trade show, and a booth where they were being sold had a bucket "full of some of the scuzziest water you've ever seen." A guy put the pen in the water, started sucking it up "and by the time it got to his mouth it was crystal-clear," he says.
Custom Northwest Hat: Ashland-based Flow Factory NW produces a series of trucker-style ballcaps featuring special designs of the Northwest, such as Crater Lake, the Rogue River and even Mount Ashland. It's shopping local with a little outdoor elan. About $30.
Filet Knife/Fire Starter: A company called Light My Fire sells a combination filet knife and magnesium fire starter called the Swedish FireKnife. Both facets of this combo work quite well. As low as $34.95.
LoopRope: Medford inventor Jeffery Dahl invented a new type of fastening system as few years back that is safer and easier to use than a bungee cord or cargo net. LoopRope is highly versatile for fastening all kinds of outdoors gear to truck beds, trailers, boats, backpacks, roof racks and more. They come in various sizes and cost about $15 to $20, depending on the size you buy.
Headlamp: Every Rogue steelheader who has to load a driftboat in the dark after an evening float either has a headlamp or wishes they did. There are myriad headlamps on the market, but one of the better values is the Tikka 100 from Petzl.
For under $30, it sports two modes — one favoring brightness and the other burn time. It's weather-resistant, meaning it's good enough to survive heavy rains, but not necessarily getting dropped in the drink. It comes with three AAA batteries, which gets you 100 lumens of light.
Junior Bow Set: Two Bros Bows makes an interesting bow-and-arrow set for youngsters to test-drive indoors what dear old dad does outdoors. The kit includes a bow, two arrows and a target. The beanbag tips make them safe for shooting indoors, so they won't lead to injuries when the kids invariably start shooting at each other when you're not looking. Cost in the neighborhood of $34.95.
Rotary Drum Magazine: It's not often that the shooting sports get much focus in holiday gift guides, but watching how Black Bird customers are responding to German Sports Guns 110-round Rotary Drum Magazine earned a mention.
It fits a Ruger 10/22 semiautomatic rifle and carries 110 rounds of .22 Long Rifle cartridges. The cost starts at $49.97.
"I ran them out on Black Friday and sold 100 of them," Black Bird's McMullen says. "I had to limit them to two per customer."