It’s the most wonderful time for the gear

Snowboarding Santa

Sure, we can all go on about how materialistic the American holiday season has become, how it should be about family and counting our blessings and other Norman Rockwell conceits, and “No thanks, save the money you’d spend on those 800-thread-count sheets you were planning on buying me and use it to airlift the people of the flooded island nation of Velcronesia to safety.” We live in fear of becoming like those boors who beat one another up — or, worse, shoot one another — in order to get their clammy fingers on a PlayStation 3.

Admit it, though: At the end of the proverbial day, most of us would probably be a little crestfallen if our stockings came up limp and empty.

Outdoors enthusiasts may feel this ethical tug of war a little more keenly than the rest of the world. After all, we have a responsibility to the places we love and play in, and filling the world with “stuff” doesn’t necessarily serve those places well.

Still, some of it is cool — and, after all, does wanting a little of it from time to time really make us bad people? In that spirit, some contributors to the Xpress Outdoors section weigh in with a few of their own covetous feelings — material and otherwise — during this holiday season.

Under the sea

Melissa Cain Smith

This Christmas, I’m thinking fins! Perhaps some sleek black, rubbery ones with split tips. Gimmicks like “optimum forward motion” and “minimal effort” snare the secret consumer in me. And I’ll definitely need some goggles: preferably ones that don’t leak. Might as well throw in a snorkel while you’re at it.

I’ve had too many bad experiences using rental diving equipment. Like the time my feet lost all feeling while I was in the Great Barrier Reef. Or the countless times I’ve been 60 feet under fiddling with leaky goggles. No more! I want my own. (Maybe next Christmas I’ll plan a tropical vacation where I can actually put my extravagant gear to use.)

— Melissa Cain Smith

X marks the spot

Danny Bernstein

Less than two months after I shelled out major bucks for a Garmin 60CS global positioning system unit ($539.99 list), the lovely folks at Garmin came out with a 60CSX ($535.99 list). What a difference an X makes.

A GPS unit picks up orbiting satellites, which pinpoint your location and record the route you’ve taken by saving electronic breadcrumbs. The difference between what I have and what I want lies in the number of satellites the GPS picks up. In the woods, a canopy of leaves can obscure the signal, so with my GPS, I need to connect an antenna located in my hat to the unit on my belt; I am truly wired. That was cool a couple of years ago, but now the big boys in the hiking club with their X’s have shed their antennas.

— Danny Bernstein

Footwear issues

Kent Priestley

Every year on a January weekend, I join a handful of man-friends on the slopes of Mount Rogers, in Virginia, for a three-day event we call “Weekend in the Wild.” Granted, at 5,729 feet, Mount Rogers is hardly Himalayan in its demands, but it still gets a little wintry at the top. Past weekends have been lost in such pleasurable activities as listening to ravens’ carrion-hungry croaks, drinking prodigious amounts of bourbon and wishing we were all somewhere warmer.

This year, however, my usual excitement is tempered with a frisson of dread. It’s my boots, you see. They’re old. They’re dry-rotted. The tread is separating. I bought them secondhand a decade ago (they retained barely a whiff of their former owner’s feet), and at this point they’re long overdue for a new career as fern planters. But forking over a bill-and-a-half to replace them is not among my priorities, at least as long as the world has ample supplies of duct tape and silicone. And yet, Santa — if you’re out there — would you care to deposit a pair of Vasque Sundowner GTX boots ($169.99) down the chimney? Thanks, oh Great Red One.

— Kent Priestley

Shelling out

Molly Malone

Trail runners thrive in Asheville because they can train on incredible terrain year-round. Come December, however, it gets harder to work up the motivation to tackle Bent Creek, Dupont and Pisgah when the forecast calls for cold, wet and windy. So what piece of gear occupies every runner’s winter dreams? The perfect jacket, of course — one that keeps the body warm and dry but doesn’t turn your torso into a steam room.

The Evolution Jacket by Marmot ($150) comes pretty close to filling this description. At just 13 ounces, this ultralight, soft shell won’t add extra weight or bulk to hinder movement. Runners get complete Gore-Tex protection from wind and water, but the highly breathable fabric also keeps the body comfortable, no matter how intense the uphills. If you buy one for the favorite runner in your life, they’ll be singing, “Let it snow!” along the trails all winter long.

— Molly Malone

Seeing double

Cecil Bothwell

Christmas has gotten altogether too consumerist for my taste, beginning about five years before I was born. But if there truly were a Santa Claus — wholly beyond the evils of corporate retaildom and abetted by hordes of tiny, tireless slaves who felt no pain, either physical or psychic, concerning their thankless plight — I would ask the man in red for a pair of Swarovski EL 8.5x, 42 mm binoculars. Generally deemed the world’s best birding lenses, these $1,800 beauties would let me keep tabs on warblers, kites, herons, raptors and hummers — not to mention the peeping creepers from the N.S.A.

— Cecil Bothwell

Mo’ H20, Kris

Shelton Steele

Dear Santa,
In a world of material possessions, I come to you this Christmas not to ask for a new Liquid Logic creek boat ($1,099), or a Werner bent-shaft paddle ($389.95), or even a new IR dry-top ($259.99) to keep me warm on those winter days.

No, Santa: All I want for Christmas is rain. I mean rain, rain and more rain. Bring it by the barrel, bring by the bucketful, bring it in sheets; just bring it on in volume. You can’t bring it all at once, because we’re going to need a little this winter, a lot this spring and even more in the dog days of summer. Oh yeah, save a little for the fall, too, so there’s plenty of water for our dam-released whitewater runs at places like our backyard beauty, the Green River. Whatever you do Santa, please make it a wet 2007.

Shelton Steele (on behalf of the Asheville boating community)

Yuletide dreams

Bettina Freese

My Christmas wish would begin with me leaving my house in a frenzy of snow, on my mountain bike, to ride a greenway from town to the Pisgah National Forest. Of course, my favorite riding buddies would be with me, and we would have access to forbidden trails like the Art Loeb and the Mountains-to-Sea. We would end up at home with a huge meal, a raging fire and hot toddies to warm us from the inside, and then we would wake up Christmas morning to do it all again — only this time in the Shining Rock Wilderness Area.

— Bettina Freese


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