Practical Gift Guide: A Few Of My Favorite Things

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Not done shopping yet? December 16th (today) is Free Shipping Day for many merchants who are offering free delivery by Christmas Eve. Also, the last day for things bought with Amazon’s Free Super Saver Shipping to arrive before Christmas is Monday the 19th. I’ve noticed they spring for 2-day air more often this time of year.

In that spirit, I’ve seen a lot of silly gift guides floating around, so here’s a few things in different price ranges that I actually own and found to be good value:

Quality Jackets With Lifetime Warranty ($50-$200)
Given how long good outerwear can last, I don’t see why you wouldn’t spend a little more for the good stuff. I have a mix of different jackets that have all lasted over 10 years and also have lifetime warranties in case they don’t last another 10. First, I had a soft fleece jacket from REI that went 10 years before the zipper broke. I took it into the store and they fixed it for me free of charge. I have an outer jacket from L.L. Bean that is now 15 years old and hasn’t given me any cause to return it. (I’m actually more proud that it still fits since it’s a graduation present from high school, but still.) Finally, I have a Gore-Tex jacket from North Face that has gone 10 years and still repels snow and water. Even their own fabric instructions say you can just wash them like anything else.

Sales are everywhere, but I noticed that REI currently has 30% off any REI-branded item with promo code REISAVE. Also don’t forget your favorite cashback shopping portal.

Enamel Dutch Oven ($45)
We got a Le Creuset dutch oven as a gift, and we think it’s a great product even though they retail for $200+. You get all the benefits of cast-iron (great heat retention, works on stove, works in oven) but with a nice, durable enamel coating (easier cooking, easier cleanup, looks nice). Did I mention it lasts forever? However, you should know that the respected magazine Cook’s Illustrated did careful testing of various competing products and found the $45 Tramontina dutch oven to be of comparable quality at a fraction of the price. Seems like a great value. If anything, replace the plastic knob with a metal one for high-temperature baking.

Travel Underwear & Socks ($10-$20)
Didn’t see that one coming, did ya? Frequent travelers always talk about packing light. When packing for a longer trip, I found it hard to fit everything in a carry-on if you’re packing 7 pairs of socks and 7 pairs of boxers. The trick is to buy quick-drying underwear and socks, so you really just need a minimum of two pairs – one to wear while the other is trying. (Or theoretically even just one pair if you like sleeping commando…) I like the ExOfficio Men’s Give-N-Go Boxer Brief and these J.B. Expedition Adventure Travel Quick Dry Socks. (Ladies’ versions available as well.) I actually pack 3 pairs as they are also lighter and thinner than my regular clothes.

Drying tip: Wash them in the sink with your soap of choice. Wring dry by hand. Now place a dry towel flat on a bed, and then place the damp clothing onto the towel. Roll the towel up with the clothes inside, and then wring the towel again tightly. You should have removed enough of the water to finish hang-drying overnight.

What practical gifts do you recommend?

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  1. I’ll be the first to say it – What woman wouldn’t love a Dutch Oven for Christmas. My wife loves getting them all the time.

  2. I once traveled Europe with wife and 3 year old kid with just 1 carry on for all of us for 14 days. I packed older underwear that I was ready to throw after each use. Worked really well.

    The reason for 1 carry on was so that we could walk around a lot and not be constrained by luggage. (or pay for cabs from airport to hotel etc)

  3. I dunno, I’d rather check a bag than hand wash my underwear each night.

  4. When my siblings and I used to do a Secret Santa exchange, I asked for practical gifts every year: a paper shredder, printer, hand mixer/colanders, pillows, wine glasses. I still have/use all except the printer. For one birthday, I asked for a gift card, which I used to subsidize a pair of new eyeglasses. I’ve also returned unneeded PJs and sweaters and gotten underwear and socks instead.

  5. I think traveling light is so much easier than brining a lot of luggage. Especially when you are in an unfamiliar country, hauling around bags is inconvenient and bothersome. I purchased a microfiber towel from Gander Mountain and it has come in so handy. I use it as a towel (duh), pillow, sun shield, shall, and it was good for wrapping up gifts on the way home. Because it’s small it takes up very little space and because it’s microfiber, it dries very quickly. I think quick-dry undies are a great idea!

  6. @Jay – Not sure if you’re being sarcastic or not. 🙂 I read in one gift guide that anything kitchen-related is bad, because it’s sexist and assumes the woman will cook for you. I, as a man, would be perfectly happy to receive a dutch oven as a gift.

    For a business trip with business-class hotels and taxis and reimbursed expense accounts, yeah I’ll check a bag and pack everything. For my own travel, where I may be riding trains or buses across Peru or Italy and carrying all my own stuff the entire time, while staying in moderately-priced local hotels, I love having everything fit in a carry-on.

  7. Good post Jon! I just bought a REI jacket as a Christmas present. Perfect timing with the coupon, shipping, and everything. 🙂

  8. Don’t you live in so cal? When do we need quality jackets? I’ve lived in SoCal for 20 years and in that time I’ve probably put on a thick coat here maybe…10 times. Sure if you’re in minnesota or chicago in winter you need a high quality coat but in socal a windbreaker is gonna get you by just fine for the few times you need to be shielded. You know the maybe 15 nights a year we’re under 50 degrees and of those you’re walking around in it 2-3 times.

    Travel – pack small and use dry cleaning when you start to run out (or if you’re in southeast asia…just have clothes made). Never get why my sister’s family packs 6 suitcases for a 6-7 day cruise. That’s a lot of gear for an environment that’s all about relaxing.

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