NO GROUP among us scorns traditional gifts more than weekend jocks. It doesn't matter if they are cyclists, snowboarders or golfers. If the items under their trees don't include some measure of titanium or polar fleece, you can rest assured they're going to be about as well-received as Ricky Martin at a Rage Against the Machine concert.
The most direct approach to buying a nice gift for your resident gear head is to simply ask what he/she wants. But, in addition to spoiling the surprise, this strategy also leaves you open to a possible 20-minute lecture on the benefits of step-in snowboard bindings versus conventional straps.
The easier and less time-consuming approach to finding a cool gift is to consult the following gift guide, conveniently broken into sections for fans of various sports and outdoor activities.
Skiers and Snowboarders
Few things look better when propped up beside a Frasier Fir than a pair of skis or a snowboard. As for the type of skis, shaped planks continue to win raves among skiers. At Ski Center in Northwest Washington, the super-light Atomic Beta 9.18 ($529.95) and Beta 9.26 ($579.95) have been early season favorites with customers.
Meanwhile, snowboarders have leaned toward the K2 Valhalla ($359). Many riders are outfitting the board with step-in bindings, as opposed to straps. Nevertheless, Santa says never choose bindings for someone else. Bring home the naked board (or skis) and let the recipient go back to the shop later to make that choice.
Granted, skis and boards are big-ticket items. But there's still room within a modest budget for some useful stuff. One such item is a safety helmet ($59.95-$199.95). According to Ski Center's Boyd McHugh, skull buckets are becoming an ever more popular item among customers.
"Over half the kids that shop here are buying a helmet and about 20 percent of the adults," he says. "A few years ago, hardly any adults wore helmets."
Clothing-wise, buy loose-fitting garments as opposed to body-hugging pants and jackets. As for colors, earth tones are in, and bright hues are out. A favorite and refreshing accessory is a CamelBak water pack ($44-$140).
Finally, as a stocking stuffer, be sure to pick up a Warren Miller ski movie on videocassette ($14.95-$29.95). There's no better in-house escape during those long holiday visits with family.
Trail-running shoes are the hot kicks this season among fashion-conscious runners. They're like SUVs for the feet, but without that annoying habit of blocking a person's view when they're trying to back out of a parking space. The New Balance 802 ($85), a fat-tread, black/gray model, is selling particularly well at Fleet Feet in Northwest D.C.
"Probably the cosmetics and durability of the shoe are what's selling it," says Fleet Feet owner Phil Fenty. "It's designed as a trail shoe but can be used on the road as well. The cushioning is very good, and it's nice and stable."
Fenty has also heard a positive clamor over Nike's new Inner Actives sports bras ($40-$47). They come in six styles that offer different support options. In addition to providing a better fit, the bras are made of a material that wicks moisture away from the skin and minimizes chafing.
A sport watch is another good choice for runners. The sleek design of Nike's Triax watches is even attracting buyers who've never considered running a 10K. Of course, style won't help a runner improve her split times. So pay attention to features. The best training watches will store and recall loads of information, acting as strap-on training logs. Prices from a variety of manufacturers range from $40 to $200.
Considering the cost of bikes and the general pickiness of cyclists, it's probably not a good idea to purchase a bicycle as a gift. A gift certificate from a local bike store is a better choice. For $200-$300, cyclists can begin to upgrade components such as wheels, pedals, brakes and derailleurs.
If you insist on buying something that's wrappable, a safe bet is a new saddle. "That's a very common upgrade," says Shawn Smith of City Bikes. "The saddle is the one stock thing that most people don't usually like."
Smith recommends Selle Italia saddles ($100 and up). As for gifts to keep your favorite rider safe, he points to helmets ($25 and up) and lighting systems ($20-$250).
"The most inexpensive lighting systems are so that people can see you," he says. "But we also have 20-watt rechargeable systems that you can use as a headlight."
What do you buy for the true outdoors lover, the person who does a little bit of everything? Well, you can't go wrong with a sleeping bag. Even if they already own one, rest assured it will wear out soon enough. According to Sam Leslie, a camping and outdoor buyer for Galyans, a 20- to 25-degree Fahrenheit mummy bag ($100-$200) is a nice compromise of warmth and weight.
Leslie says that many campers also long for a better backpacking stove. Smaller, lightweight titanium stoves start at around $100. Never glamorous but always a staple, the water-filtration system ($50-$100) is another piece of equipment that any camper can use. Other possibilities include GPS units ($100 and up) and wrist computers (about $200) outfitted with an altimeter, barometer and digital compass.
Anyone who divides their free time among activities such as kayaking, mountain biking, skiing and snowboarding would appreciate a roof rack ($160-$200) for their car. When outfitted with the right accessory mounts, racks can haul everything from kayaks to surfboards. All you need to know when purchasing this gift is what kind of car the person owns.
Every golfer wants to drive farther and straighter. Most think a really expensive driver will help them achieve this goal. Sometimes they're right. At Angelo's Golf in Washington, the latest must-have driver from Callaway is the titanium Hawk Eye ($400 with graphite shaft). Another popular titanium driver is the Adams SC Series ($330 with graphite shaft). And lest you forget your loved one's fairway troubles, you can always pick up a set of Ping i3 irons ($800 with steel shafts).
Bags are another popular gift item, according to Angelo's manager Domenic Provenzano. He suggests the Odyssey Stand Bag ($160) and the Callaway Daytripper (around $200), which has backpack-style straps and a separate putter port. As for travel covers, he recommends the Straight Jacket from Ogio Sport ($130). This travel cover comes in a cool black-and-yellow finish and is outfitted with in-line skate wheels to make those mad dashes across the airport curb a lot easier.
On the cheap, there's always balls and towels and gloves. And if your favorite player is still wearing those plaid slacks a la Nicklaus at the '74 Masters, you can do everybody on the course a favor and buy him a couple of pairs of khakis.
Like golfers, tennis players worship before the god of titanium. The new Prince Triple Threat series of rackets ($260-$290) combines titanium, copper and graphite with an elongated, teardrop-shaped head. The supposed result is more power, more stability and a larger sweet spot.
"Both advanced players and beginners are buying the rackets," says Darrell Haines, owner of Drilling Tennis & Golf in Northwest. "They're good rackets for someone who wants a little extra power on their serves and groundstrokes."
For a less expensive but still useful gift, Haines recommends Bolle's Competivision sunglasses (about $120). These are not your average shades. They come with interchangeable lenses, including a teal tint that dampens all colors but yellow. If nothing else, this feature should help conveniently nearsighted players make better line calls.
Finally, for less than $100 you can still pick up a nice equipment bag and a couple of Wimbledon and U.S. Open highlight videos to stuff inside the pockets.