The ultimate grad gift guide
Commencement is a time of celebration, whether your grad is going on to middle school, high school, college, or the world. Mark this rite of passage with a gift that stays with them for the years ahead.
A great, long ride
It will be a long summer, so give your grad a longboard that will carry them forward, down the street, or across the quad. The RazorX Longboard Electric Skateboard ($199.99, ages 9 and up) features a 37.5-long, 5-ply bamboo deck and custom, reverse kingpin trucks for smooth traveling at speeds up to 10 mph, powered by 125-watt, geared, rear-wheel-drive motor, and operated by a handheld digital remote control. Way cooler than walking, and less hassle than locking up a bike, your board can be picked up and carried with you when you’re done riding. It makes getting to college algebra fun! Be sure to observe all regulations regarding use of skateboards on campus.
Sound at your command
Whether your grad is a Wi-Fi aficionado, binge watcher, movie buff or a gaming fan, the Polk Command Bar ($249.95) will give their AV system a resoundingly smart make over. The Alexa-compatible sound bar can play and control music across multiple Amazon devices and be integrated into a television speaker set up and works with 4K and HD TVs, with built-in dual HDMI 2.0b inputs to ensure 4K HDR content looks great; or the bar can stand alone to deliver outstanding sound, activated by voice or remote control. The smart speaker features Bluetooth capability, modes for ideal music and movie listening, and the ability to adjust voice levels so that the user can customize their superior sound experience. A sub-woofer component adds even more depth for a full surround sound experience.
Big good wolf
Your grad is growing up, but you never outgrow your favorite blankie. Give them the comfort of a cuddly cover to snuggle up with on the couch, in their college dorm, or keep them warm in their first apartment. The Thermarest Argo ($89.95) throw blanket is filled with lightweight eraLoft insulation that is water-resistant and luxuriously soft, to keep them cozy and warm wherever they go. Its cinch cord at the bottom edge cinches around feet to keep out drafts, and stuffed into its own pillow pouch, it’s perfect for taking along on road trips. Comes in a Tomato red or Wolf Print.
Grads will hear a lot of platitudes as they head onto the next leg of life’s journey, like, “May the wind always be at your back,” and, “May the sun shine warm upon your face…” But for those times when the glare is a bit too bright, they can look cool, and truly be cool, wearing Sunski sunglasses, the eyewear brand that is not just great for its winning styles and excellent fit but also because they are fairly priced and made from recycled materials and are 100-percent sustainable. Sunskis shield peepers from harsh rays with looks for the beach, sporting, outdoors adventure and everyday life, and even mini frames for kids. ($58-$98, kids $38).
Can you noise cancel me now?
Your grad can block out annoying college roommate, or they’re annoying squabbling brother and sister, or simply indulge in an immersive stereo experience with the MIxCder E9 ($69.99) noise canceling headphones. These premium-yet-affordable over-the-ear Hi-Fi stereo headphones won’t break the bank but will give your grad rich tones for their tunes to enjoy privately. They feature Bluetooth connectivity for wireless use, Active Noise Canceling technology, 30-hour battery life, foldable design, built-in microphone and an included airplane adapter for listening on the fly.
Every grad knows that the school of hard knocks teaches life’s best lessons, but that doesn’t mean your phone needs to suffer slings and arrows, or scratches and dents, which is guaranteed not to happen if you keep it in a Pelican GO case ($39.95). This tank-of-a-phone-case seals out water, dirt, snow, and dust and is constructed so heavy-duty that it’s the preferred protector for divers, firefighters, police and military. It can also hold credit cards, keys and other personal items and can tag along on a backpack by a carabiner or hang from a tent hook by its handle.
Head to the hills in fashion, equipped with attire and gear that will outfit you for the outdoors.
A little ditty
Basic economy air travel can save you a few bucks if you pack right, or it will cost you an arm and a leg if you exceed the stringent airline requirements for a “personal item.” Sling the Eagle Creek 15L National Geographic Adventure Series ($24) backpack over your shoulder, and tote along all the essentials you need while you’re in the air and on the ground. It features a 15-inch laptop sleeve, a top zip pocket for quick access items, internal zip and slip pockets, and a padded moisture-wicking back panel, and durable and wipeable bottom. Plus, this handy bag gives back, as a portion of each purchase funds the work of scientists, explorers, and educators around the world.
Thin is in
Less is more when it comes to packing for an outing in the outback, which is why though Cotopaxi Fuego Hoodless Down Jacket ($230) fits perfectly in your to-go wardrobe. This lightweight fitted jacket is big on warmth but can be compacted into its tiny drawcord ditty bag to fit in your backpack, or even a purse. It’s 800 fill RDS – certified down insulation, baffled in a ripstop nylon shell, is built to last and is versatile enough to go from a hike in the hills to your next night out.
Under the hoodie
For the man who likes to live life large and outdoors, the Black Diamond Forge Down Hoody (sale priced $149.25) jacket, featuring the super insulation power of ALLIED Feather & Down, the most premium quality down fill on the planet, is the perfect packable, versatile outerwear for alpine missions of any discipline. The adjustable hood can accommodate a climbing helmet, and the underarm gussets allow for added arrange of motion when you need it. When the weather warms up, the jacket compresses into its own chest pocket and can be hooked on your belt with an integrated carbineer clip loop.
Warm kid, happy kid
Kids love the outdoors, but when they’re cold, the fun is over for them and everyone who’s along on the adventure, so keep young outdoor enthusiasts warm and keep the adventure going with the Helly Hansen Jr Barrier Down Insulator ($120). It features ALLIED down in a super lightweight poly rip stop shell that’s reversible for two different looks. It has two handy pockets and Lycra bands on the hem and cuffs to keep the jacket snug. When the adventure’s over, it packs up into its own pocket.
Catch a case
In the backcountry or back at the lodge, your smartphone can be essential equipment, loaded with trail maps, navigation apps, and of course a camera to capture those selfies at the peak, so protect your device with an Otterbox case that’s made to withstand bumps and drops. The shimmering Stardust case from the Symmetry Series Clear Case ($42.46) features fortified drip protection yet has a slim profile so it can easily slip into your pocket. For extra protection cover your screen with the Alpha Glass Screen Protector ($39.95) to shield against scratches and smears.
Dressing down doesn’t mean you can’t be stylish. Unwind after your alpine adventures in Mountain Khakis, the casual but fashionable clothing line built for comfort and function. The designers thought of everything when it comes to active apparel, with strategic pockets, articulated knees, and packability, such as the Classic Fit Cruiser Pant II ($94.95) in flattering styles for men and women, made of stretchy, quick-drying, wicking fabric, perfect for hiking and trout fishing or power lunching and jet-setting.
Top off your classic casual look with a the go-anywhere gauzy plaid Women’s Jenny Tunic Shirt ($74.95) or the Men’s Passport EC Long Sleeve Shirt, ($89.95), made with a silk-weight, easy-care fabric, and featuring a hidden right chest security pocket with zipper closure perfect for passport, phone, cash and cards.
If you want to really get down to nature, try Mountain Khaki’s newest collection made with soft, warm, and quick-drying SeaWool, a blend made of crushed oyster shells and blended with recycled Polyfill and PET bottles.
Sustainability means using natural resources in a balanced way in which the resources can be replenished, now and in the future. When it comes to clothing, Toad & Co., knows something about sustainability, as spring 2019 marked the brand’s crossover to 100 percent sustainability. The company also sustains its community with a social program that donates funds and helps people with disabilities. The eco-clothing line features garments made with a minimum of 80 percent sustainable fibers, such as hemp and bamboo, in fashionable, versatile styles suitable for outdoor adventure, or suiting up for casual day at work, such as the breathable, feminine jersey shirt, the Tamaya Tres Tunic ($65) and the comfy form-fitting Flextime Skinny Pant ($85). To find out more about Toad & Co. and their social program, check out this video.
No one will know what you’re wearing underneath, but you will know, by the comfort and performance, that in Runderwear you’re wearing power underwear. Runderwear’s Women’s Support Running Bra ($60) is designed specifically for runners looking for reduced bounce, maximum support and comfort. A soft fabric layer against the skin prevents chaffing, along with non-slip, adjustable straps, vs. a one-size-fits-all racer back. Sizing runs small, so larger busted women need to order up one or two sizes. Men can enjoy comfortable, chafe-free running adventures with maximum support in Runderwear Men’s Long Boxer Briefs ($35).
You’ve heard of slow cooking, now there’s slow fashion, which means buying items that last. Step out in style and sustainability in ethically produced Mohinders’ slippers and flats for men and women ($145-$185). These classic woven sandals are made using a 37-step process in Athani, India, by a multi-generational cooperative of master shoemakers. Made with water buffalo leather, each shoe is hand-tanned using a vegetable-based solution of water, acacia tree bark, myrobalan nuts and no chemicals. These raw-looking sandals soften with time and wear to become your favorite footwear, for years and years.
The indoor water park resort brand that brings together families to play and make memories is helping to support those with autism, through a fundraising campaign and efforts to make their activities more autism-aware. Great Wolf Lodge’s 16 locations across the US and Canada will donate $5 to Autism Speaks for every pair of Blue Wolf Ears sold throughout the month of April. The resort is also partnering with experts at Autism Speaks to explore ways to make the resorts more welcoming for people with sensory differences and other autism-related challenges.
The limited-edition version of the resort’s signature wolf ear headbands are part of a “go blue” campaign to raise awareness of autism spectrum disorder. All proceeds from the Blue Wolf Ears campaign go directly to Autism Speaks, with a goal of raising $50,000 to support its mission of enhancing lives across the spectrum at every stage of life. Last year alone, the non-profit aided more than 1 million people through Autism Speaks-funded programs and resources.
The Blue Wolf ears effort includes a social media campaign in which Great Wolf Lodge guests to post a photo on social media of themselves or a family member wearing their blue wolf ears, using #GreatWolfCares. For each post using this special hashtag, Great Wolf Lodge will make an additional $5 donation to Autism Speaks, up to $20,000.
Most outdoors adventures know that the best defense against frigid cold is down-filled outerwear and sleeping bags, but many don’t know the basic facts about down – how it works, and how to care for it to keep it doing its job.
Getting the down low on down
For starters, there is a wide variety of what is called “down” in the industry, so a consumer must understand what true down is. Down is not an actual two-dimension feather. It is the fluffy three-dimensional filament cluster that lies underneath a bird’s feathers, like what covers the proverbial fuzzy duckling before it gets its feathers. In case you wondered why down products are primarily made out of duck or goose down, it’s because these big birds yield more down. Duck happens to be used in down products more commonly because it is a more common food source, and down is a byproduct of the meat industry.
Fill made of those spheres of soft and lofty fluff are what constitute true down, and this material is what traps heat and provides insulation from cold. For this reason, it pays to be an educated consumer in order to choose products with high quality and pure down, not a mix of feathers and down, or down that has not been processed properly in order to maintain its loft and heat-holding qualities.
Fill power to the people
Like with diamonds, down has many grades that may not be visible to the eye, especially once the down is under the cover of a jacket shell, but the categories of down make a difference in its performance. Fill power, which relates to the size of the down cluster, is one of the terms used to describe down quality. All things being equal, higher fill power down is warmer because it can trap more air. However, heavier weight fabrics will compress a higher fill power down, removing the loft and, thereby, its ability to insulate. In these cases, a 700-fill power down works better and costs less than a 900-fill power down.
Being baffled is good
Besides the superiority of the down material, the quality of a down-filled product depends on the way the product is constructed. It sounds rather simple to stuff coats and sleeping bags with down, but there is a lot more to it. The way that down is contained in baffles or channels in the shell of these items has an impact how effective the down is in keeping in warmth. Using a higher fill power down in small baffles can be a waste of money. If the down cluster is too big, it will be compressed and not be able to do its job as it is put into the jacket. Again, a lower fill power will work better with smaller baffles and be more economical.
The how is why
The reason some down fills are better than others has to do with how it is sourced and cared for before it is put into your coat or sleeping bag. Processing has a lot to do with the quality of the finished product. It’s easiest and most cost effective to wash down with harsh detergents and dry it quickly with high heat. This processing method, however, will remove most of the natural oils found in down that keep it pliable and resilient. If the down loses too much of its natural oil, it becomes brittle and will break down quickly, reducing performance and useful lifespan.
Feel good about your down
While it may be imperceptible to the user, where and how down is sourced and processed makes a difference, as harvesting down can impact the animals involved and our planet. Some down is sourced from birds that are plucked live, force-fed, or otherwise inhumanely treated. Industry leaders in ethically sourced down, like ALLIED Feather & Down, which supplies down for brands like the North Face, Helly Hansen, Outdoor Research and Slumberjack, carry the Responsible Down Standard (RDS) certification which ensures that the down used to make their products is ethically sourced. They also use sustainable practices, like using recycled water for their washing process. For conscious consumers, Track My Down details the origins of the down a brand uses.
Down forever – caring for your down-filled products
Once you have chosen the best down product for your needs, keep it in great shape with these wear and care tips from ALLIED Down & Feather.
What do you do if your down jacket gets soaked from rain or a fall into the water?
The primary element in the destruction of down products lies in improper drying. Drying too fast and too hot will make the down brittle, but not drying thoroughly will cause the potential buildup of mold and bacteria which will destroy the loft. Tumble dry low until completely dry. This make take several cycles. Add three clean tennis or dryer balls to the dryer to help re-fluff the down as it dries
How do you clean a down jacket?
Machine wash on normal cycle with a mild detergent, preferably using down product specific, in cold water, followed by an extra rinse cycle without detergent.
How do you store down jackets and sleeping bags off-season?
Your down products should be stored in an area away from high humidity. The product should also be allowed to breath and stored uncompressed to retain the down’s resiliency and high loft.
How do you repair a tear?
Many outdoor stores will sell adhesive patches, like NoSo, that do a great job sealing up holes.
How long should a good down jacket last?
If properly taken care of, a down jacket will last for years. Typically, the shell material will wear out before the down loses its loft, so the durability of the shell will generally determine the lifespan.
Glide through summer
Cruise through the neighborhood, head to the pool, or coast over to your BFF’s house, and arrive like a rock star on the Razor Hovertrax DLX 2.0. This ultimate Nirvana-on-wheels hoverboard features a self-balancing deck that makes it easy to mount and maneuver, and the anti-slip rubber traction platform lets you stay in control for a smooth and easy ride. The exotic finishes and multi-color LED lights will make your entrance memorable, and the 60-minute extended-life battery will keep you going for the long haul. The powerful but silent motor can move you at up to 9 miles per hour, and the shatter-resistant polymer frame and fender bumper keeps your board looking sweet ride after ride.
The bike paths beckon over summer break, and the serious cycling kid will…
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Get out and enjoy the great outdoors with these proven products that will keep you going – climbing, camping, fishing, hiking, mountain biking and doing whatever you do in the wild, in style, comfort and with gusto.
Get down tonight
When the weather outside is frightful, it’s time to get down. Really good down. Every outdoors aficionado knows that not all down-filled puffy jackets or sleeping bags offer the same warm, wearability and durability.
The difference is the quality of the down. ALLIED Feather & Down insulation is the industry gold standard, with superior loft, proprietary multi-wash cleaning and drying process for freshness allergen-free comfort and certified as sourced ethically and responsibly. Look for ALLIED Feather & Down in top-rated outerwear and sleeping bag brands like Slumberjack, Helly Hansen, and The North Face.
Cuddling up by the campfire or huddled in a camp chair for a chilly soccer game, the Rumpl Original Puffy Blanket ($159) provides a comfortable layer of warmth that goes anywhere. This all-purpose throw blanket, made with the same technical materials found in premium sleeping bags, comes in bright colors and patterns, including the latest design, a collaboration between artist and outdoor adventurer Stickfort and camping gear companies Rumpl and Yakima, is a beautifully printed blanket inspired by the Pacific Northwest sunset. A portion of the proceeds will directly benefit the environmental preservation non-profit group Friends of the Columbia River Gorge.
Lock and ride
Most cyclists love their bikes, but they don’t love lugging around a heavy, bulky bike lock for securing their wheels when they park. The lightweight but sturdy Otto DesignWorks Ottolock ($55 and up) is a tough, smash-proof cinch lock that is compact enough to tuck one into a pocket or seat bag. They unlock using a resettable, three-number combination, so there’s no key to keep track of—perfect for a stop by the brewery at the end of a ride.
Remember the boom boxes of yester-yore, balanced on a shoulder and pumping out tunes people could hear a block away? The go-anywhere compact bottle-sized BoomBottle MM ($129.99) has captured that grand, satisfying surround-sound acoustics of the famed traveling stereo with its two 12W speakers and two 45mm passive radiators, providing a full-range of crisp highs and deep bass tones, all situated in an IP67 rated dust and waterproof enclosure. This rugged, waterproof wireless speaker can travel anywhere, and it even has a MagicMount magnetic base to keep it stuck to metal surfaces. Available at Costco and other retailers.
Soft hands, warm hearth
Out in the wilderness, catching dinner, chopping wood, and building a bonfire, your hands can get dry, rough and sore. Take along Lansinoh’s HPA® Lanolin Minis and apply soothing salve to hands, lips, heels and any exposed skin that needs protection from the elements. Originally developed as a nipple cream for nursing moms, this ointment is 100 percent natural, containing just a single ingredient, HPA Lanolin, providing a barrier layer that hydrates skin without perfumes or other harmful additives. A three-pack of .25-ounce minis is $10.99, available at CVS and Walmart.
Eyewear for life
Good eye wear is more than a fashion statement, but who says you can’t look stylish while shielding your peepers from glare? Sunski sunglasses, the recycled plastic eyewear that supports the environment with every pair sold, are ideal for the beach, the mountain, or anywhere the sun shines. Sunski’s polarized lenses protect her eyes from harmful rays, and they stay put thanks to a fit for active lifestyles. Designed by San Francisco surfer dudes and tree huggers, Sunski frames, are quality crafted from industrial scraps and guaranteed forever. Available at sunski.com. $55-$68, kids frames ($38) also available.
Best foot forward
As Del Griffith expressed so eloquently, nothing’s worse than when your dogs barking. Whether you’re pounding the pavement, hiking through the woods, or standing in a stream in waders all day, your feet will thank you if slip Sof Sole insoles into your footwear. Freshen up the insoles of an old favorite pair of boots or give new life to your worn-out trail running shoes with the Sof Sole Airr Insoles ($27.99), for all-day comfort of a COOLMAX moisture-wicking top-cover and the and shock-absorbing relief of Polymer Gel that your puppies will love.
Patch it up
A great down jacket will last for a decade or more, but accidents happen, and that’s why there’s NOSO Puffy Patches. Fix up those tears and snags in your favorite outerwear with this permanent rip-stop nylon fixer that will seal up holes in your coat, backpack, sleeping bag, tent or other gear with just the sun or a clothes dryer to activate the adhesive. They come in six colors and 13 shapes that are so fun and stylish, you might just want to stick them on for fashion. $14.95 for a pack of 3.
Eat, love, tell
Pack a picnic basket that will tantalize your taste buds, with True Story Foods, purveyors of ethically sourced meats that are wholesome and delicious. Every meat-loving and health-conscious foodie will find something tasty to chew on, like organic apple & wildflower honey chicken sausages, organic grass-fed beef hot dogs, or organic bacon and tenderloin from Non-GMO fresh pork. The culinary carnivore on your list can enjoy premium flavor every day in a brown-bag lunch, with sliced deli cuts like black forest ham, oven roasted turkey breast or uncured Italian dry salame.
Never again have that empty feeling when you run out of your favorite snack, with Weplenish ($39.99, Amazon). This amazing smart endless snack dispenser takes count of your snacks and automatically re-orders them when the container is running low. Weplenish also holds your favorite k-cup brands like Starbucks, Green Mountain, Nespresso, Dunkin Donut etc., and is compatible with a variety of snacks like KIND Bars, RXBARs, GoMacro Bars, Quaker Chewy Granola Bars, and Keebler’s Cookie Variety Pack.
Smells like millennial spirit
Add some atmosphere to your living or work space with Moodo, the first smart aroma diffuser. This room-freshening device sends scents into air with the touch of a button, using an app on your phone, or on the device itself. You can even link it to Alexa or Google Home and control the fragrance with voice commands. Starter packs ($189, with special sale pricing up to 40 percent off) include one aroma diffuser and three scent families. Refill capsule collections are priced at $17.94 to $29.90.
If you love to be plugged in, but you hate the tangle of cables on your desk or nightstand, you will love the Cable Wrangler ($19.99). Created by Austin-cool Silk, makers of a variety of unique smartphone cases, wallets and accessories, this upholstered magnetic mound will hold her cables with a satisfying “click.” For non-metal cables, the holder features tiny metal collars to place around the necks of those pesky errant cables.
Get your headset in the game
Get into the game with the Audio Technica ATH-PG1 ($129), a headset for serious gamers with immersive audio that makes you feel inside the action. The 44 mm drivers provide powerful, lively sound specially tuned to accentuate all the sonic detail of the gaming environment. The closed-back, lightweight headset stays on snuggly with complete comfort, allowing extended play. The ATH-PG1 also comes equipped with a flexible, 6″ boom microphone for live-sounding in-game voice communication with other gamers, or you can use the headset for everyday media listening, and even for calls and controlling audio and video on smartphones and other portable devices. Compatible with PS4, iPad, iPhone, laptops, PCs, and other gaming devices with standard 3.5mm TRRS connector.
If the new era of tech has got you thinking, then The Fourth Age (Atria Books, $23.25 in hardcover, Amazon), Byron Reese’s thoughtful new book about smart robots, conscious computers and the future of humanity will give you some virtually real intelligence to ponder. Reese, the CEO and publisher of the technology research company Gigaom, offers this essential reading for anyone who enjoys probing the deeper questions about how tech has revolutionized our society and our very selves. The Fourth Age will make you wonder, and it will make you smarter for your next dinner party convo, or online chat.
Hit the Hi-Fi Bottle
Remember the boom boxes of yesteryore, balanced on a shoulder and pumping out tunes people could hear a block away? The go-anywhere compact bottle-sized BoomBottle MM ($129.99) has captured that grand, satisfying surround-sound acoustics of the famed traveling stereo with its two 12W speakers and two 45mm passive radiators, providing a full-range of crisp highs and deep bass tones, all situated in an IP67 rated dust and waterproof enclosure. This rugged, waterproof wireless speaker can travel anywhere, and it even has a MagicMount magnetic base to keep it stuck to metal surfaces. Available at Costco and other retailers.
What’s old is new again
Kids of all ages will enjoy a trip in the way-back machine via Bandai Namco Flashback Blast ($18.88, Walmart). This collection of old-school classics, such as Pac-Man, Dig Dug, Galaga, Galaxian, Mappy, Sky Kid The Tower of Druaga and Xevious, will take you back to when video games were simple and pixelated. The game set includes a wireless controller and HDMI dongle that easily connects wirelessly to your HD TV, for hours of timeless fun.