Well, if you did it again — waited until the last minute to buy Christmas presents for your favorite hiker or camper — you’re not in so much trouble as you may think. Some of the most practical and appreciated gifts for outdoorsmen can be purchased at a CVS, Walgreens or hardware store through Christmas Eve. Furthermore, they’re inexpensive, so you can buy several items, making it certain the recipient will truly love at least one. Buy a low-cost stocking, fill it to the brim, and it will even look like you planned ahead.
In that all-night drugstore, a good place to start shopping is the children’s toy section. A whistle can be a lifesaver in an emergency, and the plastic kind you’ll find here won’t freeze to the lip. In this neighborhood, you’ll also find playing cards, dice, Bananagrams, and other games that travel light but amuse all ages when there’s down time in camp or waiting for a visitor center to open.
Every Christmas stocking should contain some edible treats, and you’ll find a whole aisle of them in a drugstore. Look for organic energy treats such as Clif Bars or granola bars. Look for dried fruit in handy packages. And most people really like chocolate bars. If you see envelopes of powdered sports drinks, buy a few.
Since we’re in a drug store, remember that active outdoor folks need to replenish medical supplies pretty often. A look in that first aid kit, so carefully assembled two or three years ago, tends to reveal expired dates on the antihistamines and antibiotic cream. And in the Southwest, the adhesive tape and bandages are likely dried out, and the sterility packaging on the gauze has crumbled. Replacements are in order.
Nothing is more important to a hiker’s happiness than moleskin, used to treat the blisters that appear especially when hiking uphill or down on mountain trails. If you provide it and the hiker eventually needs it, he will bless the day you were born.
Hand warmers, available at many drugstores, activate when you open the wrapper. I stick them in my boots as well as my jacket pockets. A couple of cold packs come in handy if the hiker wrenches an ankle. And so does an extra Ace bandage.
Most drugstores devote part of one aisle to trial-size or sample items — marketing synonyms for the right size to have in a knapsack, just enough toothpaste, suntan lotion, eyedrops or mouthwash to get through the few days of a trip, without toting a month’s supply. Look nearby for those handy toothbrushes that store in their own handles.
One container of dental floss and one sewing needle constitutes an emergency sewing kit. A tiny eyeglass repair kit, far from town, is worth many times the minimal cost and weight.
In the clothing section, look for backup gloves, especially the one-size-fits-all variety that cost about a buck a pair.
From the household goods section, grab a couple of small picture frames for photos from their favorite trips. The quality of the frame is not too important if it displays an important memory.
And don’t forget the gift of the gods — fire. Every outdoor person should carry one of those plastic butane cigarette lighters. They’re better than matches because they will still light even after full immersion in water. Choose a brightly colored one, for it’s less easily lost.
Add a candle about the same size as the lighter, small enough to fit in a pocket, and the recipient could survive a blizzard. (The candle goes inside a teepee-shaped pile of wet wood; it burns long enough to dry the wood and ignite it, and the fire dries its own fuel as long as firewood is added to the outside.)
Not so compact, but handier for lighting barbecues and regular campfires, is a trigger lighter with a long neck to keep your hands away from the flame.
Probably the best of all practical stocking-stuffers is duct tape. It can patch a leaking tent or poncho, or tape a parka closed if the zipper breaks. I could write an entire column on the outdoor uses of duct tape. It comes now in assorted colors and smaller rolls suitable for a car trunk or pack.
Because most of these items are oddly shaped for wrapping, grab some red or green cotton bandanas, which are always useful in the outdoors, stick all the items in that stocking, a small ice chest, or a backpack, and you’ll have Christmas handled as if your daddy was Kris Kringle. And if you’re lucky, somebody left milk and cookies for you.
Deborah Wall is the author of “Great Hikes, A Cerca Country Guide” and “Base Camp Las Vegas: Hiking the Southwestern States,” published by Stephens Press. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.