For me, gifts that contribute to an adventure are the best there are, because the thing actually ends up becoming a cherished memory. So this year, as I thought about holiday gifts, I decided to look back on a few of my favorite trips, and the goods that made them happen.
For someone you love, I hope something exciting on this list can bring a small smile soon, and a really big one later, long after the wrapping paper has been recycled.
Smack dab in the middle of the Kickstarter project for our Meridian shirt, I needed a breather. So we headed to Florida for a few days of family time. When I’m around water, if I can’t access it I feel caged in. So we brought our own gear, including an inflatable paddle board so I could set off at any time.
After a few nights of watching the fish jump at sunset — literally one every 10 seconds — we decided to get out there. I visited a tackle shop and picked up a simple rod — along with some local advice — and we set off, fishing off the back of our paddle board.
“Daddy, am I going to feel the fish on the line?” Patience, my son…
And then BAM. Laughter. Pandemonium as my son struggled with the rod — completely bent over like an upside down U, all while trying not to fall off the paddle board as he reeled in the fish.
“Daddy, we should do this more at home.”
One of this year’s top moments, for sure. Hudson River, here we come.
Left to right: paddleboard, spin/fly combo, and paraframe knife
Paddleboard — Inflatable paddle boards have gotten very good. The thickness and silhouette will affect how stable it is. I use a board built for waves by NRS. You can trust everything they make. I suggest you go for one with lashing on the deck for trying things down. Try the NRS Thrive Inflatable SUP Board — it has lashing points, but you have to add your own straps.
Paddle — Get a three piece one for travel. Either the Werner Vibe Paddle or NRS Quest 3-Piece Paddle are good choices.
Packable fishing rods — I would love to bring my own rod on the road. Orvis makes a spin / fly combo. How exciting is that? Makes me feel like I have a shot at catching anything, no matter where I’m travelling. (Except maybe a big salmon or striper!)
Knife — Knives can be expensive, and they have a nasty habit of disappearing. On this trip I had a basic Gerber Mini Paraframe that got the job done, and it wouldn’t set me back if it fell overboard.
Bike lights — My dad is overly passionate about certain aspects of safety, so even with no traffic on the water, we had lights. In this case I used the Blackburn Click Light Set from my bike. They are small, powerful, durable, and rechargeable. Better than entry level, they’ll last — and won’t fail when you need them.
- Wave skipping ball — I can never have too many balls around and these water skipping balls are incredibly fun, even if they’re a little intense. If I throw one at you full power from 100 feet away, it will be hard to catch. Good times.
West Coast Meridian Dress Shirt Shoot
It took me years to finally create a dress shirt I thought was Bluffworks worthy. So, to make our Kickstarter video, I knew I had to drag it through a full summer’s worth of adventure.
One of my goals in packing for travel is to find ways that items can do double duty — like using my blazer as an extra layer in the outdoors or as a sweater on an airplane. The same is true for our shirt. Once a garment joins my kit, I wear it for whatever the day has in store. It was lots of fun to have a mission tied to this year’s summer mountain adventure.
A few of my favorite destinations:
Black Butte Ranch in Central Oregon — This is a worthwhile family destination. You can rent a house on a large resort property that has 20 miles of kid-friendly bike trails to tennis courts, swimming pools, and other fun things. Standing in the meadow, you can see snow capped volcanoes. Hiking, mountain biking, and rock climbing are all nearby. But it’s sometimes hard to leave the bliss of the ranch. A special place. You can rent from the ranch itself, or Airbnb and VRBO.
A Favorite Overnight Train Trip — It’s not easy to find a proper overnight train trip in the U.S., that has the right timing, and not too many stops that wake you up. A favorite of ours is from Portland to Whitefish, Montana. Down the Columbia River Gorge, across the Eastern drylands, overnight to Glacier National Park…or even better, the Isaak Walton Inn.
There are very few remaining “whistle stops” left in the US… places where the train stops only upon request. The Isaak Walton Inn is one of them. The station is officially Essex, Montana. And you can sleep in old rail cars like this caboose:
Here’s the gear I used to shoot the Kickstarter video:
Left to right: Tortuga backpack, DJI Osmo gyro, and Meridian shirt.
Tortuga bag — Amazing for a single carry-on trip that has pockets for everything, well loved by highly organized travelers.
iPhone 7 Plus — I shot our Kickstarter video with an iPhone after a conversation with my videographer went like this “Do you have the time and skill to learn how to use a sophisticated camera?” The answer was no, so I went with the 4K iPhone and I have always been thrilled with the results.
DJI Osmo — To keep imagery smooth, I used this powered gyro device. It works very well.
Small power bank — My go-to power bank is the Asus ZenPower Bank, which is with me everyday at home or abroad.
Gear ties — For special selfie shots, I used a collection of stiff gear ties to mount the phone. My favorites are the Nite Ize gear ties, as they’re reusable for lots of other things.
Handy iPhone cable. I love carrying this short phone cable, either as my primary cable when going super lightweight, or as a backup. It’s a small, satisfying addition to any kit.
Shirt — I’m pretty sure our Meridian shirt will end up being the best dress shirt you own.
Chino Pants — With me always, I love that I can put them on for a few hours a day, 10 days in a row to tackle cool mountain evenings without washing them.
- Down Vest — Once I started wearing vests, I never looked back, I can add serious warmth, with little weight, small packability, and quick on / off. I find they are more comfortable and I can more easily regulate my temperature. Over our blazer, I am ready to go in lots of climates. My favorite is the Alpine Light Down Vest from Montbell.
New York City Adventurous Play Date
At home in NYC, my son and I operate as if we live in Portland, or Boulder, or Boise. That is to say, we adventure hard.
The city has lots to offer if you look at it in a different way.
My trademarked secret route begins in Manhattan with a big scooter ride, over a bridge and then down to the Brooklyn waterfront, brakes burning. Tarzan swings and 25 foot slides, before taking the ferry to Governor’s Island.
On the island we burn energy playing attack games in the dry moat of the fort. We test our balance on an incredible matchstick obstacle course, and go over to the Hills for many, many laps on the longest and tallest slide in NYC (57 feet long!).
When I’m tired, I beg for a few minutes in a hammock. Or a thoughtful moment reading a book, looking at the harbor from the top of The Hills. But even when a book is really good, tacos and ice cream from a food truck compel us to get back on the move.
And then, as evening approaches, it’s an absolute requirement that we wait until the very last minute to book it to the ferry.
While we’re flying down the bike path, the sun is going down to the west, right behind our million dollar Statue Of Liberty view.
Back in Manhattan, quiet time sets in, as I read a book out loud on the train ride home.
Although a common trip for us, this route is always magical. Maybe it has something to do with the company. If you’re ever in town and up for the journey, send me an email we’ll invite you along. (You can borrow a scooter.)
Adventure gear for the city:
Left to right: Xtracycle, Blaze light, and xootr.
xtracycle bike — The best-of-both-worlds for me is a folding cargo bike. The cargo part lets me carry heavy loads or tired family members, and plan unique trips. And then fold it up to store, or take on a train for out-of-town travel. Mine is a partnership between xtracycle and tern. I love it.
Blaze lights — My Cargo Node bike includes built-in lights, but for our other bikes, a Blaze is the way to go. Why? Because it throws a laser light image on the road in front of us to alert drivers of our presence before they turn. There’s no price tag for safety.
Nutcase Helmets — Hands down, the ones that fit. And their magnetic clasp opens and closes smoothly without pinching anyone’s skin. Go all the way back to our first Kickstarter video, and you’ll see one on my head.
- Scooter — Straight up, I put a couple hundred miles a year on a scooter, and they make great gifts for new dads; for one, because they enable adventures from ferries or trains, like the one I described above. My options for an adult size scooter are a xootr — both the most pleasant to ride, and the most expensive. The wooden deck option dampens vibration, and is wide enough to easily switch pushing legs when smaller family members begin to smoke you. Not to mention that the hand break is worth it. Razor also makes a number of economic big wheel scooters. They work fine, but not as capable as the xootr and have more narrow decks. Email me if you have more detailed questions.
Now, for the best stuff; rightfully so, the holidays should include toys. They’re good for kids, and good for us adults. A few typically found in my pack include:
Left to right: Nerf football, stomp rockets, and superballs.
Flare copters — Super fun at night, they light up as they go high in the air. Try to catch them before they hit the ground. Note: we wear safety glasses when using them.
Stomp rockets — Similar fun to flare copters, but better for younger families. A good introduction to the concept of trajectory.
Parachute men — In the city, yes. In the canyons of Utah… even more fun.
Nerf football that whistles — You have to buy two, because throwing them at each other is a blast.
Superballs — My pack always has a collection on-board. There is no toy that has provided me with more fun than superballs have. Wherever you are, it’s usually possible to make up some sort of game, and then drive yourself nuts trying to achieve it; whether it’s the right bounce or a quick catch of a rebound. Buy a bunch so you can plan to lose some… And never be tempted to follow them into the street.
Soft Archery Set — Our latest game, a 90 minute capture the flag battle with these soft-tipped arrows. They are not too strong, but we wear safety glasses anyway. Really fun.
You may have noticed all of the above trips were focused on family. This feels like a good fit during the holiday season.
Receiving a cool gift brings a lot of joy. But, racing someone you love to catch a parachute guy out of the sky? So much more…
I always enjoy hearing from you, so don’t hesitate to email us if you want more advice on the above.
Lastly, I should come clean that sometimes things do go wrong…
Last weekend, I got suckered into a race on a borrowed small wheel scooter, and literally drove it into a pond. It turns out that as an adult, you must have a large wheel scooter. Beware of the peril of small wheels!