We all know how tough it can be to find the right gifts during the Holiday season. The following items are unique, hand-made, and examples of the finest craftsmanship. Even that person who seems to have everything probably doesn’t have these.
Wetterlings Les Stroud Bushman Axe
When famous survival and bushcraft expert Les “Survivorman” Stroud spent a year living off the grid with his wife in the Canadian wilderness, he and his wife Sue built a log cabin using traditional Scandinavian woodworking techniques, and a Wetterlings axe. Almost twenty years later, Wetterlings invited him to help them design a new bushcraft-oriented axe, and as of 12/11/2012, these axes are now available in the USA! Now your friend can go off into the woods with just an axe and a video camera and photograph their thirst, hunger, and extended suffering, just like Les! Ok, it’s Type II Fun, but still!
Hand-forged on 100-year dies, made out of a high carbon Swedish steel from Ovako, the 1.7 pound axehead is differentially hardened. The back of the axehead is soft (around 45 HRC), but the blade is hardened by hand-quenching the knives to around 57-58 HRC, as hard as many high-end kitchen knives. The handle is made from 22 inches of American Hickory, and is straighter than traditional Swedish axes and rounded so it can be used as a hammer more comfortably. It’s notched as well, for fine carpentry and bushcraft work where your hand needs to be next to the blade. You can sharpen it to the point where you can shave with it, but I don’t suggest this. Retails around $150.
Helle Nying Knife
Helle is a third-generation family-owned company that makes hand-crafted Norwegian style knives, and they’ve been around for over 80 years. The one gentleman who makes all the sheaths for them has been with the company for over 50 years. Now that’s dedication! The story of this scrappy little knife is pretty cool. In 1975, industrial designer and school teacher Tor Indergaard approached the Helle brothers with the design for this knife. At the time, everyone hated the design, as it was a radical departure from traditional designs with longer handles and blades, but the Helle brothers saw the simple utility of the knife and knew it had to be made, although it wasn’t officially the Nying until 1977. The knife turned out to be a wild success, with amazing utility from skinning reindeer to whittling wood. It was so much of a success that almost 1 in 4 Norwegians owns one of these, it’s featured in the National Museum of Norway, and was given to Norwegian UN troops.
The handle is made out of local birch, and the blade is made from proprietary “Hellesteel”, a laminated steel with rugged, flexible stainless on the outside and a core of high-carbon stainless hardened to 59 HRC. It is mirror polished and razor-sharp from the factory, and will stay sharp for a long time due to the traditional scandi-grind edge bevel. That’s all fancy talk for it cuts like a laserbeam. Each knife has a hand-made sheath. Since every handle looks different, every one is unique. Retails for $94.
Feathered Friends Down Booties
Based in Seattle, Washington, just a stone’s throw from the flagship REI store lies the headquarters of Feathered Friends. Those among the cognoscenti of outdoor enthusiasts already know that they have been the finest manufacturer of down-insulated products in the world for the past 40 years. I would literally fight off a pack of meth-addled crocodiles with lasers strapped to them to save my 11-year old Feathered Friends parka, but that’s mostly because it would make a really great story.
Whether you want a comforter or luxury pillow for your home, a sleeping bag for your trip to Denali in the winter, a full body suit insulated for -40 degree weather, or simply these awesome little booties for lounging around, Feathered Friends has a product for you. Since everything is hand-crafted by them in the US, you can even get custom options on their products–just ask, and they can do it. These booties are made with weather-resistant, durable outer fabric, have a removable foam liner, and are filled with the best quality 850 fill down out there. Just imagine hanging out Christmas morning with the warmest feet in the room! Retail for $89
If you’re a backpacker in New England, or if you’ve been around long enough, you’ve heard of Limmer boots. Another third-generation family run company, the Limmer family has been making boots for over 90 years, first in Bavaria, then in Massachusetts, and for over 30 years in Intervale, New Hampshire. People have called them the best bootmakers in the world. People have walked 14,000 miles in these boots. People have been buried in them. If you own a pair of custom Limmers and the subject comes up, people look at you in awe, buy you drinks, and grovel at your feet. (Well, maybe not grovel, but you FEEL like they’re groveling.) You can buy the boots right off the shelf in many variations, Standard, Mid-Weight, Lightweight–they even make Oxfords. But the real pleasure, the real reason to add your friend to their multi-year-long waiting list, is their custom option. For those seeking the ultimate in all their backpacking or mountaineering needs, Peter Limmer the 3rd will hand-craft a last based on the shape of your foot, match it with the Vibram sole of your choosing, and construct it out of a single piece of the world’s finest top grain, chrome-tanned leather. These are the backpacking equivalent of a bespoke Rolls Royce, and the prices match. Off the shelf models can be had for a few hundred dollars, but custom ones start at $625. If you happen to have size 22EEE feet, you may have to spend quite a bit more, but then, you’d probably be used to that.
After the last entry we figured we’d give your wallet a bit of a break, because not all of us can shell out much more than a sawbuck between our dozens and dozens of relatives (that Catholic side of my family breeds like rabbits) and friends. However, we all still want to give them something special, something that is handmade, and something that we think is the BEST.
I discovered these bars two years ago before a trademark conflict changed the then Gorilla Bars to the new Garuka Bars. Named after one of the last surviving mountain gorillas living in the Verunga Massif in Rwanda, Garuka means “return well”, and with that in mind Garuka Bars gives a portion of their profits to the International Gorilla Conservation Program. Now, I love gorillas, and I’m sure that Garuka is probably a very nice example of his species, and I’m all for conserving endangered species, but I wouldn’t be recommending this bar if it wasn’t FREAKING DELICIOUS. The company founder Mike “Rosie” Rosenberg made these bars at first for himself to fuel his extreme backcountry skiing endeavors.
They are made with all natural Vermont raw wildflower honey, peanut butter, 7 whole-grain flakes, dried Cape Cod cranberries, brown rice puffs, light brown sugar, whole peanuts, and Cabot Creamery butter. Having been in the outdoor industry for almost 20 years, I’ve tried hundreds of different flavors and brands of energy bars, and I unreservedly consider these my favorite. While they only have one main flavor, each month they announce a special Endangered Flavor on their Facebook page. Previous flavors have been Lemon Chai, Coconut Lime, and Pumpkin Pie, but Mike has hinted that a coffee flavor may be coming up soon. If you don’t believe my hyperbole about how good they are, go to their website and request a free sample. If you’re not hooked for life I’ll eat a metaphorical shoe. (Not a real shoe, there’s no accounting for taste.) Retails for $3.