Escape the Urban: Holiday Gift Guide

16 Dec

Need a gift idea for your granola nephew? Sick of getting socks from your Mom, and want something you’ll really use for your outdoor adventures? Here are some things I love that I’ll recommend, or am asking for myself this Christmas.

Winter was the season I missed most when living down south. Great Lakes winters are most tolerable when made enjoyable by keeping active, but that doesn’t mean you need to make regular trips to downhill skiing meccas. Instead, redo your favorite hikes in the snow with Tubbs Venture snowshoes. To tackle our mixed woodlands, rolling hills, and escarpments, you don’t need alpine snowshoes with a monster spikes for traction – you need a good hybrid, able to handle an occasional icy climb, packed wet snow and dusty new powder. These shoes can handle all that and more, if you want to pack them and take on more challenging terrain in the Adirondacks.

The other trick to enjoying winter is staying warm while working and sweating up a hillside. I’ve found many WNYers think a big coat and t-shirt will see them through, and wonder why they get chilled too soon into a hike. A good mid-layer can be expensive, but once you switch, you’ll never go back. Added bonus: you can ditch the water absorbing fleece forever, and wear the midlayer as a solo pullover on chilly fall and spring days. I wear an OR Specter, but try EMS’s Techwick Thermo for a less expensive option.

Winter is also the time for dreaming and preparing for the next season. If biting wind and driving snow on a cliffside doesn’t entice you, spend the next couple months making plans for the soon-to-come spring. To brainstorm and get yourself in a summer mood, curl up in front of the fire with Take a Paddle: Western New York, a guide to our local rivers and streams, familiar and obscure. Rochester-based Footprint Press also has hiking and paddling guides to the Finger Lakes, Central New York, and the 1000 Islands Region.

If your summer plans include a marathon or triathlon, you are probably already forecasting out your training schedule. I am looking at both, and have a couple upgrades in mind. I have a fat tire Gary Fisher Capitola hybrid bike – it goes everywhere . . . poorly. To increase my efficiency, and bring a little road comfort, I’m asking for Profile Design Aero Bars, sometimes called tri-bars. These accessory bars clip on the standard straight handle bars of your bike, and allow you to lean into a more aerodynamic stance, easing the strain on your back, and reducing a bit of your workload. Like many bike accessories, you can spend a pittance or a fortune, and a number of companies sell similar products. If you don’t like Profile, try Vision Tech’s offering.

My second summer initiative is to make the big switch to barefoot running. The scientific, evolutionary, and physiological case for running barefoot – letting the balls of your feet absorb the shock of your footfall, as opposed to your well-padded but woefully inadequate heel – is gaining traction, and I see more and more runners taking the plunge to minimalist footwear. I’m asking for a pair of Vibram FiveFinger KSO’s, the slightly more encapsulated version of the popular footglove. Remember, before you ask for a set under the tree, go to the store and get measured – FiveFingers don’t come in traditional sizes. Also, be prepared for a long break in period, as your foot muscles get used to the new body mechanics. I can’t guarantee your run times will go down, but the science says you should get fewer injuries, and your running life may be significantly extended.

No matter which Holiday you are celebrating, make it merry, and Escape the Urban will see you next year.

6 Responses to “Escape the Urban: Holiday Gift Guide”

  1. Jordan December 12, 2010 at 7:25 pm #

    Sometimes, when I read your posts I think you’re living in my head. All things I want (except the vibrams, which I bought 2 summers ago, great investment by the way)

    Best of luck to you on the tris/barefoot running.

  2. BobbyCat December 13, 2010 at 4:26 pm #

    You link to the Tubbs site which sells that shoe for $190. Ebay has them (buy it now) for $129 and less ($109) for ladies shoes.

  3. Brian Castner December 14, 2010 at 11:05 am #

    @ Jordan – That’s a pretty neat trick, me in your head, considering I don’t think we’ve ever met! I’ll take it as a compliment. I’ve always prefered running barefoot on the beach, so I’m hoping the transition isn’t too bad.

  4. Tuco December 14, 2010 at 10:36 pm #

    I really enjoy these articles, Brian. I’ll definitely checkout Footprint Press. Are there any WNY hiking books you would reccomend?

  5. Brian Castner December 15, 2010 at 11:06 am #

    @ Tuco – Thanks – I get few comments on this series, so its nice to know I have folks enjoying them. Rich and Sue Freeman don’t write great lit, but they have the market cornered on hiking guides. They do a waterfall version, hiking versions for each part of NY, etc. I own most of them, and find they are most useful as a consolidated list of places to go I may not be aware of. Since most hiking in WNY is Allegeny based, most of their info is for that area. I am to the point where I no longer want an everyman’s guide to everywhere, and I look for specific maps of specific places I want to go. The Adirondack Mountain Club is my best friend here: They have detailed trail descriptions and topo maps included. But if you are just starting out, Footprint Press is a good place to go first. Hope that helps.


  1. World Spinner - December 13, 2010

    Escape the Urban: Holiday Gift Guide «…

    Here at World Spinner we are debating the same thing……

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