A content middle-of-the pack ultrarunner and writer who strives to be a front-of-the-pack father and husband, Steven “Leon” Lutz is the head buyer for Backcountry Edge, a small, family-owned online retailer based in Manheim, Penn., that is dedicated to an “Awesome Gear, Amazing Service” philosophy. He also happens to be a great tent-mate and has completed the TransRockies Run with GearJunkie managing editor Sean McCoy for the past two years. These are some of Lutz’s favorite items for the holiday season.
By Steven “Leon” Lutz
Marmot Zion Jacket ($384.95)
Immediately upon its release a few seasons ago, we fell in love with this jacket’s stellar Polartec NeoShell construction, making it fit and move like a softshell while delivering the all-weather performance of a hardshell. Fabric updates for 2013 improved the comfort and flexibility of the jacket without diminishing protection.
Leon’s Take — “If I’m going to shell out hard-earned dollars on a ‘winter’ jacket, I like it to be something I pull out of the closet on more than one or two occasions each year. I practically lived in a Zion Jacket last winter.”
Vargo Titanium Flint Lighter ($19.95)
There are a number of fire-starting options for cook stoves and camp fires, but it’s hard to argue with simplicity. This straightforward flint lighter is as reliable as can be with Vargo promising thousands of sparks in any and all conditions.
Leon’s Take — “I was enamored of it from the moment I saw it…it weighs next to nothing (0.3 oz.), works every time and, frankly, it’s just plain cool.”
Therm-a-Rest NeoAir X-Lite System ($297.95)
This all-in-one sleep system, a Backcountry Edge exclusive, includes an innovative NeoAir XLite sleeping pad, an Alpine 35 Degree Down Blanket, an ultra-lightweight pillow case, and a snap kit to connect the blanket to the pad. Buying the system shaves more than $100 off of buying the components separately.
Leon’s Take — “I love this as an ‘I got you everything you need’ gift idea and even if the recipient doesn’t use all the pieces together, the pad and the blanket are great stand-alone pieces.”
LEKI TourStick Carbon Vario trekking poles ($199.95)
Brand-new for Fall/Winter 2014, these lightweight and compact poles are as adept on powder as they are on dirt. While many poles tout all-conditions features, these may be the first poles we’ve seen that are truly do-it-all ski or hike options that don’t compromise at either activity.
Leon’s Take — “So many hybrid offerings end up being not very good at any of the tasks they’re built for, but this really is a pole I would confidently turn to in any season.”
Kelty Salida 2 tent ($136.97)
Last year, this little blue collar tent pulled down a major award for its simple balance of price and performance. Rather than taking the bells-and-whistles approach, the Salida gives backpackers what they need (space, durability, manageable packed weight) at a price they can afford. That combination continues to make this one of our best-selling backpacking tents.
Leon’s Take — “There are certainly ‘higher end’ options out there, but this is that rare tent that is everything it claims to be at an unbelievable price.”
Adventure Medical Kits SOL Escape Bivvy ($49.95)
Giving a gift that helps ensure the safety of the outdoor adventurer on your list is a great way to go. This bivvy weighs just 8.5 ounces, packs down small and unlike most emergency blankets or bivvies that are designed to keep in warmth, this one is breathable and durable, so it’s a surprisingly comfortable shelter (all things being relative) and can be reused.
Leon’s Take — “I’ve had the pleasure/misfortune of having to call on an emergency blanket in the backcountry and I wish, truly, that I’d had this bivvy then.”
Optimus Titanium Long Spoon ($9.95)
At first glance, the length of this spoon may look excessive. But if you have ever eaten a dehydrated meal directly from the bag you’ll understand the value of a spoon that reaches all the way to the bottom of that bag.
Leon’s Take — “Having ended up with cheese and sauce on my hairy knuckles one too many times, I appreciate being able to get at every last bite of my backcountry meal while keeping my hands clean.”
Darn Tough Hike-Trek Merino Wool Light Cushion Sock ($20)
There are tons of great sock options on the market, but I love this one from Darn Tough, a family owned company that manufactures here in the States (Northfield, Vermont). The sock provides excellent underfoot cushioning and has seamless construction to prevent blisters.
Leon’s Take — “My feet tend to get warm even in the coldest weather, so I’m not a huge fan of bulky socks. These provide cushion without bulk and they’re backed by Darn Tough’s ridiculous lifetime guarantee!”
—Steven “Leon” Lutz is the head buyer for Backcountry Edge.