Every avid traveler and outdoors(wo)man needs gear to do the things they love. But even though a big chain like Dick’s Sporting Goods can be a handy one-stop-shop, buying gear from small companies is a conscious choice with many benefits.
Buying from small businesses not only supports local economies in the towns where they’re based, it also bolsters entrepreneurship, which is a great thing for people like us. Small outdoors and travel gear companies are putting out some really innovative equipment to cater to niche markets that might get ignored by larger corporations.
So, support the little guys this holiday season (and always!) with awesome products like these:
Outdoor Herbivore – Sacramento, California
A bag of dried food might sound like a cringe-worthy gift to open on Christmas Day, but not when it comes from the health-conscious gourmet cooks at Outdoor Herbivore. They take backpacking foods to the next level, providing nutritious meals and snacks that will suit anyone’s tastes. All the products are vegetarian (and lots are vegan or gluten-free), most of their ingredients are organic, and all of them are all-natural and sourced from within the U.S.
2. Gear Storage Case
GearPods – Polson, Montana
*Unfortunately, GearPods went out of business in September 2019. We’re sorry to see them go, but we’re looking forward to the new and innovative Montana companies that will undoubtedly pop up in the future.
When it comes to packing your gear, plastic bags and stuff sacks might get the job done, but they certainly don’t do it well. Enter the GearPod: a plastic cylinder that’s made to hold gear and keep it safe. GearPods are waterproof and rigid, so they’re great for storing electronics and anything breakable or sensitive to moisture.
Empty pods start at $5.95, so they’re already a good deal compared to small stuff sacks. But what makes GearPods a great gift is their customizability. You can purchase the Survival or Backcountry kits that contain items like folding saws, knives, fire starters, and water purification tablets, or you can create your own kit out of the company’s long list of camping and outdoors tools.
3. Wool Beanie
Minus33 – Ashland, New Hampshire
Yes, you can get a wool hat anywhere. But wouldn’t you rather get a stocking stuffer from a small company in northern New Hampshire that really knows what cold is? The people at Minus33 make some great Merino wool clothing, and it even runs a little cheaper than some of the big companies, like Icebreaker.
4. Wool Socks
Darn Tough Vermont – Northfield, Vermont
There are a few relatively small companies making wool socks in the U.S., including the popular Smartwool from Steamboat Springs, Colorado, and even Minus33 (see above). But, I’m going to promote Darn Tough because all they produce is socks, and they are darn serious about those socks – so serious they have a lifetime guarantee (How is that even possible? Don’t all socks eventually wear out?).
Bedrock Sandals – Richmond, California
Wondering what adventure sandals are? Imagine a minimalist cross between traditional Chacos and a pair of flip flops, complete with a Vibram sole. People love them for hiking, water activities, minimalist running, and just strolling around town. Figuring out which shoes you’ll need for a trip can be frustrating – but these can replace almost all of them.
6. Travel Pants
Bluff Works – NYC, New York
These are my favorite travel pants. Really, they’re my favorite anytime pants. They dry quickly, rarely stain, don’t wrinkle, and feel great even if you don’t wash them that often. They’re 100% polyester, so they’re super light to pack and don’t weigh you down, even if you’re sweating it out in the humidity of Bangkok.
But what makes them great anytime pants is that they also look professional if you want to throw them on for work or a night out. They’re also incredibly tough, so you can easily bike commute to the office or go for a hike at the end of the day. They come in six colors, including khaki, gray, and black. Are they a little pricey? Yes, but you’ll only need one pair for your trip (or life).
7. Travel Backpack
Mystery Ranch – Bozeman, Montana
Edit: Mystery Ranch no longer makes the Rush Pack, but you can see their similar packs here.
Most hiking backpacks have a single top-loading compartment, which is notoriously frustrating when traveling, as you have to remove everything from the pack to get to that one item at the bottom.
The 36-liter Rush Pack from Mystery Ranch has a Y-shaped zipper that lets you unzip the entire bag and gives you easier access to everything inside. The frame is also ridiculously comfortable, without that mesh back panel that gets caught on everything, and the waist belt is easily removable for flights and bus rides.
Hyperlite Mountain Gear – Biddeford, Maine
Hyperlight makes backpacks out of Cuben fiber, a material previously used to manufacture yacht sails. Their packs don’t look like much, but they’re super tough. For ultralight backpackers, even the 70-liter Windrider comes in at just 2.19 lbs. It doesn’t come cheap, but it’s a splurge your body may thank you for at the end of the day.
Do you have any gear from small businesses on your wishlist?