It's no secret that enjoying Southern Oregon's great outdoors requires a hands-on — or, more accurately, feet-to-the-ground — approach.
A pair of good sturdy shoes or boots can take you far. But a few foot-wise accessories enhance enjoyment of the region's natural features and numerous recreation opportunities.
While shopping for your favorite outdoors enthusiast, consider some of the following items favored by the gang at Oregon Outdoors.
If the fisherman in your life wades the Rogue River, there's one sure-fire gift to get him — assuming you want him to return.
Metal-studded stream cleats allow wearers to traverse the slimiest rocks without taking a dunk. They fit over conventional wading boots so they can be worn when needed in rocky rivers but not on sandy beaches or inside a boat.
The best stream cleats come with the Korkers brand, which were invented in Grants Pass. Consider the X-Stream Cleat K5000 Wading Sandal, which retails for $89.95. The snap straps are better than the laces, but either works wonders for waders.
Like snow chains for your shoes, Yaktrax spikeless coils conform to the shape of your boot or shoe, secured by heavy-duty rubber cords. Yaktrax reduces the risk of slipping and injury while you run, work or take a light hike on packed snow and ice. Yaktrax original Walker model ($19.99 at Blackbird Shopping Center in Medford) provides greater winter stability in a casual shoe. Yaktrax Pro ($24.99 at Blackbird) adds a strap that secures the device over the top of a shoe and increases stability on snow. Online: www.yaktrax.com.
For fans of studded tires, Korkers replicates the concept in its Korkeez ice cleat ($19.99 at Blackbird). Steel studs positioned under the toes, heel and ball of the foot attach to a shoe or boot with rubberized bands similar to Yaktrax's.
There's nothing more irritating than getting pebbles, burrs or clumps of ice inside your boots while hiking. A good boot gaiter can take care of that.
OK, so they look a bit dorky. But they were good enough for the Doughboys in World War I, so they'll be good enough for you.
Get a gaiter that extends at least half-way to the knee, and a zipper for easy on and off helps. Outdoor Designs makes a good all-around gaiter called the Tundra Gaiter for about $30.
The age-old solution to slogging through deep snow is just as useful in modern times and more popular than ever, experts say.
Free guided snowshoe hikes at Crater Lake National Park were in higher demand last winter, says park ranger Eric Andersen. Park staff led 1,747 people on the interpretive excursions last winter, a 32-percent increase in program participation over the previous year, Andersen says. The park's hikes are held weekends at 1 p.m. through April.
Although the park provides snowshoes for hike participants, investing in your own ensures the best performance and encourages further exploration of Southern Oregon's winter landscape. Modern snowshoes combine metal, plastic and other synthetic materials in basic to high-end models. Prices start at $59.99 at Blackbird for Red Feather's Conquest to $179.99 for Tubbs' Wilderness. The Medford store this week advertised 20 percent off on all snowshoes.
Prices range from $69.99 to $199 for the same brands at Medford's Sportsman's Warehouse.
Socks can be viewed as the kind of boring gift that grandmas give, but to people who spend a lot of time hiking, skiing, biking, fishing, hunting or working outdoors in the winter, good socks are always appreciated. Roughly 20 outlets in the Rogue Valley sell SmartWool socks, which come highly recommended from members of our staff and other outdoor publications. They're very soft, made mostly of merino wool and are extremely durable. Runner's World chose SmartWool's PhD Running Ultralight Mini socks ($15) for its 2009 list of "Best Off Road Gear." Women's Health magazine had kudos last year for the StandUp compression sock (to $25). We like the padded Expedition Trekking Sock ($19.99) and the PhD Snowboarding Sock ($19.99).
It's winter, so it's natural to focus on cold-weather foot gear these days. But if you have a friend who cycles, think about getting them a pair of cycling sandals. They're the best when it comes to hot-weather cycling or riding in a summer rain, and they're especially good for long-distance touring, because they're a lot more comfortable to walk in than clunky cycling cleats when you need to hop off your bike and walk into a restaurant or coffeehouse. One member of our staff pedaled across the U.S. a few years ago wearing Nashbar sandals and swears by them, but a bunch of companies make good ones. Prices range from $65 to $85.
If your outdoor enthusiasts can't leave off running until spring, make sure they get on the right foot. A gift card to Rogue Valley Runners in Ashland comes with a personalized gait analysis that helps customers select the best shoe for any running style or weather condition.
Store employees observe customers' walk or run on a treadmill with the assistance of a rear-mounted camera. More than just a measurement of a runner's stride, the system also reveals peculiarities like pronation — the inward roll of a foot during normal motion — or supination, the foot's outward roll.
Staff also take into account customers' orthotic inserts, medical issues and the gamut of fitness goals. No appointment is necessary for the process, which takes about 20 to 30 minutes. Gait analyses are free, and store gift certificates are available in any denomination. Online: www.roguevalleyrunners.com.
Any western Oregon angler will attest that there is one certain truth about waders: they all leak, almost right out of the box.
The feet in waders easily get small holes in them from rocks and sand grinding on the neoprene, causing cold toes (but usually not cold enough to warrant a new pair of waders, which, too, will leak).
The best solution is a pair of neoprene socks to wear inside the waders. They keep those toes warm enough to extend the life of your waders an extra season or two.
The company IRS sells a lightweight neoprene sock for $12.95 that's a perfect wader-liner.
When wet winter weather leaves footwear washed up, the Peet Dryer readies them for the next day's adventure.
Peet's simple, low-tech design of plastic pipes attached to an electric base is simple to use and safe for any kind of material, including leather, canvas, rubber, vinyl, cloth, plastic and all modern fabrics. Unlike propping boots near the fire, Peet won't pose a safety hazard with its gentle thermal convection, which doesn't get hot or blow air.
The original dryer is $39.99 at Sportsman's Warehouse, which also stocks Wader Peet, priced at $49.99 for the original system's extensions for hip boots and chest waders. Propane Peet ($59.99 at Sportsman's) attaches to a propane bottle for use where electricity is not an option. Fred Meyer and Bi-Mart stores also stock the brand, according to Peet's Web site (www.peetshoedryer.com). Shop online for Multi Peet, outfitted with two pairs of tubing, Advantage Peet, which makes shorter work of drying and Go! Peet that includes adapters for use in vehicles.
If you know somebody whose hiking boots, running shoes or golf shoes keep on crawling after they take them off, or their footwear is so stinky even the new puppy won't chew them up, get them some boot deodorizer. You can go green and give them some baking soda to sprinkle inside, but this is Christmas. Splurge a little. A number of antimicrobial sprays and powders are available in the neighborhood of $7.50, but for a stocking stuffer (no pun intended), nothing's cuter than Sneaker Balls made by New Balance ($5.99). The colorful little balls can also be tossed lockers, hampers or gym bags where human stench becomes a problem.