Gadling’s cold weather gift guide

Christmas is less than two weeks away (and Hanukkah wishes are now being expressed belatedly), and that’s still plenty of time to shop for all of your favorite people. We’ve already covered the best gifts for outdoor travelers and the top luxury travel gifts, so this time around we’re focusing on people who embrace winter.

You know the type: the adventurers who see snow and can’t wait to get outside to enjoy the season. OK, these gifts are also for people who barely tolerate a cool breeze and just need some gear to help them survive the next three months.

However, don’t have to simply survive winter. You can enjoy it – and look good – with the right gear. So, bundle up, pour some hot cocoa into your favorite travel mug (we’ll get to that shortly) and head outside. We rallied the Gadling troops and put together a list of our favorite winter gear. This is Gadling’s cold weather gift guide.

Mike Barish

I love the Patagonia Wanaka down jacket (pictured above). There’s nothing I hate more than someone in a fashionable pea coat complaining about the cold. Maybe if they dressed properly, they’d be comfortable. On the flip side, so many warm coats are just plain ugly. Unlike all the bubble jackets you’ll see everyone wearing every winter, the Wanaka is a down jacket that actually looks good. It manages to combine fashion and function by looking sleek while packing 600-fill down inside. ($349 at Patagonia)

I also never leave the house without my Dale of Norway knit cap. Dale of Norway gear is beyond warm and I could probably wear nothing but their knit cap and still be comfortable outside. I haven’t been able to find my exact hat online (my girlfriend picked it up while she was in Norway) but you can shop for their gear at high-end sporting goods stores and sites such as Amazon and Zappos. ($49 on Amazon)

If you like to take coffee (or, if you’re like me, hot chocolate) with you, then you’re going to want to carry it in Klean Kanteen’s insulated bottle. It will keep your beverages hot for an astonishingly long time. (Starting at $22.95 at Klean Kanteen)

Grant Martin

Our well-traveled editor is a big fan of the Icebreaker 320 RealFleece Aspiring Hood. He’s sung its praises previously and continues to enjoy Icebreaker equipment. The merino wool keeps you warm and doesn’t absorb odor. Great for when you’re breaking a sweat on the slopes, chopping wood or just building a snowman. ($200 at Icebreaker)

Darren Murph

Leave it to our favorite Engadget Associate Editor to recommend the Recon-Zeal Transcend goggles with built-in GPS. As he noted on Engadget, these goggles are “equipped with a Zeal Optics’ frame design with a micro LCD display, which appears to hang approximately six feet in front of the user. That head-mounted display provides real-time feedback to the wearer, including speed, latitude / longitude, altitude, vertical distance traveled, total distance traveled, a chrono / stopwatch mode, a run-counter, temperature and time.” Wow. ($399 or $499 depending on model at Zeal Optics)

Scott Carmichael

For someone who lives in Chicago, Scott sure does hate winter. Maybe that’s why he recommended Zippo’s new hand warmer. It might look like a classic Zippo lighter, but you won’t see any flame coming out of this hand warmer. It uses Zippo lighter fluid to provide hunters, skiiers and Chicago commuters with portable warmth when their fingers start to go numb. ($19.95 at Zippo)

Kent Wien

Gadling’s resident pilot loves Arc’teryx gear (so much so that he let us use a picture of his lovely wife, Linda, modeling some of her favorite pieces). Linda highly recommended her Beta AR jacket and Strato fleece. According to Kent, “You’ll be drawn in by the colors and schemes, and hooked when you see the functionality (pockets everywhere). And then you’ll likely take a step back when you see the price. But if you take the plunge, you’ll probably be hooked on their products for life.” ($450 and $175, respectively, at Arc’teryx or much cheaper on Amazon)

Alex Robertson Textor

Alex loves Fox River Socks’ Red Heel Monkey Socks. According to Alex, “Fox River Socks manufactures the original Rockford Red Heel monkey sock, and apparently every pack of socks from Fox River comes with monkey sock instructions. I love these socks for their warmth and feel during winter.” ($12 at Fox River Socks)

Laurel Miller

Laurel gushed about her Western Mountaineering Hooded Flash Jacket. “It’s microlight (9 oz.), compresses to the size of a softball, 850 plus fill power goosedown, and it’s gotten me through a winter in Telluride (including skiing, which I usually won’t do in down), and mountaineering in a blizzard on the world’s highest active volcano in Ecuador. I wore a waterproof shell over it in that instance. I’ve slept in it on camping trips, and have generally abused the hell out of it and it’s still maintaining it’s loft, and is in perfect condition (albeit a bit grubby). I got caught in a Seattle rainstorm yesterday wearing it, and it still didn’t soak through. It’s the ultimate traveler’s/backpackers jacket, and great for women like me who are perpetually cold, but don’t want to wear a bulky jacket or loads of layers.” ($260 on Amazon)

Kraig Becker

Perhaps no one at Gadling knows more about outdoor gear than Kraig. When he recommends products, we all listen. He’s a big fan of the Outdoor Research Alti Gloves. “A good layering system is only part of the answer for staying warm. You’ll also want something to keep your hands and head warm too. For the hands, I recommend a pair of Alti Gloves from Outdoor Research, which are designed for technical climbing in extreme conditions, which means they’ll also keep you warm on the slopes, during a winter hike, or any other winter outdoor activity.” ($150 at Outdoor Research)

Kraig also recommends layering in the winter, including starting with PolarMax Base Layers. “These base layers come in three varieties; warm, warmer, and warmest. Most Gadling readers will probably be very happy with the “Travel Weight” option, which is light weight, but still very warm. For colder weather outdoor adventures, such as backcountry skiing or snowshoeing, jump up to the “Mountain Skins,” which are high performance gear for the active cold weather traveler.” (Starting at $19.99 at Sport Chalet and other sporting goods retailers)

Lastly, Kraig loves the Eddie Bauer First Ascent Hangfire Hoodie. “Their Hangfire Hoodie is an amazing piece of gear that works great as an outer layer jacket in cool weather and an insulating layer in under a shell in cold weather. It is form fitting, but designed to move, making it easy to be very active while not limiting motion. It also looks great and is just as comfortable for use around town as it is in the backcountry. I highly recommend this one!” ($99 at Eddie Bauer)

Annie Scott

Annie loves the feel of cashmere and recommends White + Warren for all of your cashmere needs. That said, when it’s time to be practical with a pair of gloves that keep you warm and let you use your iPhone, she has other ideas. “Tec Touch gloves let you use your iPhone and other devices with your gloves on.” (Starting at $20 at 180s)

McLean Roberts

I recently invested in a pair of Pajar Davos boots. They’re the perfect winter weather wear – not so much gear as they are a fashion statement that actually keeps you both warm and comfortable … Think more apres ski in Telluride or Aspen than anything else. Made of real fur and lined with sheep, these sturdy and comfortable boots are both waterproof and durable, boasting a sturdy rubber liner at the bottom that prevents slipping. Oh, and they aren’t Uggs, so people won’t make fun of you. Okay, they might…I look like I’m wearing a small animal on my foot, but at least I’m warm.” ($350 at Jildor Shoes)

Melanie Nayer

We’ll wrap things up with the wise words of one of our editors:

I love winter. The idea of bundling up in warm sweaters, cozy scarfs and mittens and cuddling by the fire after snowshoeing through the mountains is a perfect way to celebrate the season, in my opinion. But when it comes to the best winter gear, I simply have no idea. I take whatever is warmest from my closet and layer it on, but when Mike asked us to submit our favorites I couldn’t ignore his request.

A good flask and a little whiskey go a long way. I couldn’t tell you what brand my snow boots are or what layer of warmth my ski pants are tagged, but I can assure you a little Johnny Walker Black can warm you up nicely on a cold winter’s day.

So very true. Melanie didn’t recommend a specific flask, but we’ve long had our eyes on this handsome model from Stanley. It holds eight ounces of your favorite warming liquid and you’ll never lose the cap. ($20 at Stanley)

Gadling gear review- Western Mountaineering Caribou MF sleeping bag

In case you haven’t heard, it’s National Sleep Awareness Week. Yeah, I hadn’t heard of it, either. But since we’re being made aware of slumber, you should know about Western Mountaineering’s Caribou MF microfiber sleeping bag.

Because I backpack when traveling for work, it was time to upgrade to something lighter and more compressible than my old-school down bag. I had several key criterion in my search for a new one: price (as in, as low as possible without sacrificing quality), size (I’m practically a midget, and why pay more for a bag that’s designed for someone tall?), weight (I have a bad back, so shaving off even a few ounces is helpful), and three-season capability.

%Gallery-87787%A lot of my travel assignments require for me to go from one climatic extreme to another, and that calls for a pretty specific sleeping bag. I’m always cold, so temperature rating is important to me, but so is water-resistance/water-repellency (Anyone who’s ever backpacked in the tropics can appreciate the special kind of stench that can only come from filthy gear and clothing moldering away in the depths of your back). Down isn’t waterproof, but it’s very lightweight, so I had a dilemma on my hands.

A trusted sales rep acquaintance told me about the Caribou MF, a full-zip mummy bag made from microfiber-a synthetic fabric known for its softness, water repellent / wicking abilities, and durability. He thought it would be the ideal bag for my upcoming, month-long assignment in Ecuador, which would include mountaineering at up to 19,000-plus feet, as well as camping in the Amazon Basin. I decided to give it a try, and purchased an Outdoor Research stuff sack as added protection against moisture (All of Western’s bags do come with their own stuff sacks).

If you’re not familiar with Western Mountaineering, they’re a small, independently-owned company out of San Jose, known for exceedingly high-quality, made-in-the-U.S. of A. products such as sleeping bags and down jackets.

The basics

Caribou’s Microfiber bags are constructed from their patented, 20-denier Microlite XP™ microfiber, which possesses over 400 threads per square inch. Their ExtremeLite bags weigh a little less, are made from a different outer fabric, and are thus slightly less water-resistant and -breathable than the Microlite series. I decided to go with the Microfiber. The other deciding factor for me was the Caribou’s “sewn-thru box” stitching, which is designed to keep the down from shifting (some 3-season bags are designed to shift, so you can regulate the temperature). Look at the spacing of the baffles before you purchase a bag.


The Caribou comes in three lengths: 5’6,” 6’0,” and 6’6.” Obviously, I chose the shortest bag, which had the following specs: 35-degree F. rating, 3.5″ goose down loft, and a fill weight of just nine ounces. The inside girth (shoulder/hip/foot) is 63″/56″/39.” Western is known for making bags that run broad in the shoulders, for maximum comfort.

The total bag weight is one pound, three ounces, which compresses to 6″ x 10.” Pretty impressive, especially for $275.00.

Road testing: The Pros

Because I knew I had a midnight arrival at Lima airport for a hellish, 12-hour layover, I clipped my Caribou’s stuff sack to my day pack carry-on. After deplaning, I unfurled my bag onto a bank of seats, and had a really great sleep (FYI, the Lima airport totally rocks- the seats don’t have armrests so you can lie down on them, it’s spotlessly clean and safe, the duty-free is open 24-hours, and the suspiro at Manacaru Restaurant is delicious.).

The Caribou kept me toasty at a snowy mountain refuge situated at 15,750-feet on the flanks of Cotopaxi, but what blew me away was my night camping on the Hollin River in the Amazon Basin. Our take-out was a gorgeous little beach the size of a postage stamp. There was no natural shelter, so we rigged a couple of tarps off of a huge boulder for rain shelter, and lay down a ground tarp for our bags. I was awakened at 3am by the sound of rain pounding the tarp. The water was also falling between the gap in the tarps, and the top right side of my bag was soaked. I was sure it was ruined.

The next morning, I shook out my bag, and beads of water flew off. After about ten minutes in the sun, it was completely dry. I couldn’t believe it. The Caribou went on to survive being crammed back into its sack (which I then sealed in the stuff sack) in tropical humidity, where it stayed the remaining three days of my trip. Upon arriving home, I unpacked it, steeling myself for an onslaught of jungle funk and new and exciting strains of mildew. Nada. The bag was as good as new. Didn’t even have to wash it.

I also used it in a badly leaking tent during a horrendous summer thunder storm in Aspen, and what little dampness it had acquired dried quickly once i spread it out the next morning.

The Cons

After a year of ownership, I can’t find anything to complain about with regard to the bag itself. My only nitpicking- and because Western doesn’t do mail order, this isn’t a huge consumer issue- is that every single employee I’ve dealt with at Western appears to be terminally cranky (perhaps they’re sleep-deprived?). They also forgot my stuff sack when they sent my bag, but since it was a special order for a gear review, I’ll forgive them. The main thing is that I ended up buying it, and I’m a Western convert for life. I just hope they’re allowed to catch up on their zzz’s this week.

The Caribou MF is $275; for additional product prices and to find a dealer in your area, click here.