Next time you tell that outdoorsy friend or family member to take a hike, make sure they head into the great outside equipped to enjoy it. In this guide, we have more than two dozen gift recommendations ranging from a titanium French press to a wool hat woven in Kathmandu. Our Gear team has tested everything on this list in the past few years.
Check our outdoor gear guides for more ideas, like Hiking 101, Best Bike Accessories, Best Tents, Best Barefoot Shoes, and Best Climbing Gear for Beginners.
Updated November 2023: We’ve added many new items, including bike liner shorts, a charcoal grill, a titanium French press, and more. We’ve also updated pricing and availability.
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There are a lot of umbrellas out there, and we’re always testing more. Here are a few others we like that didn’t quite make our list of top picks.
ShedRain WalkSafe Reflective Stick Umbrella for $60: This is a simple manual umbrella that opens and closes smoothly, has a circular handle that can hook onto things, and has a 41.5-inch diameter that covers a person (or two) fairly well. The reason to buy it is the reflective fabric—it’ll brighten up quickly when a car’s headlights land on it, so you can feel safe knowing you’re visible to motorists.
Blunt Metro for $89: The Metro is the more compact and slightly lighter-weight version of the Blunt Coupe up above. It automatically opens (and manually closes) and provides nearly the same amount of coverage. The canopy spins in 360 degrees to supposedly prevent damage to the core mechanism. My only issue with it is that when you fold it all down and cinch the canopy with the Velcro strap, it covers most of the handle, so you have to hold the Metro by the wet fabric or the wrist strap.
ShedRain Vortex V1 Umbrella for $25: This auto-open/close umbrella works well, though it’s nothing to write home about. It’s pretty compact, with a 38-inch diameter, and it does a solid job against heavy winds, thanks to the vented canopy design. It doesn’t look or feel particularly nice, and the handle is a bit too small for my big palms, but at least there’s a strap.
ShedRain Unbelievabrella Inverted Umbrella for $33: Frequently getting in and out of cars? You’ll love this umbrella. It’s inverted, so when you close it, you won’t get water all over your hands. Just close it and point the end to the ground to dump any excess water out. It’s a really smart design, and I like the rubber handle. My main gripe is that the umbrella is too flat when it’s open, so you’ll have to angle it the way the rain is falling to keep your clothes from getting drenched. The nearly 43-inch canopy is roomy enough for two. Just know that it doesn’t open or close automatically.
ShedRain Stratus Manual Stick Umbrella for $100: I’ve had no real problems with this umbrella, but it requires a bit of force to fully open (it’s completely manual). You don’t need to extend it all the way, just a quarter up the carbon-fiber shaft. I would have expected it to be even lighter than our stick umbrella pick from Davek, but alas, it’s a little heavier. You get a 42-inch roomy canopy and a twill weave fabric with Teflon coating that does a pretty solid job of drying quickly. It has a nice rubber handle too.
Repel Windproof Double Vented Travel Umbrella for $30: This one is sturdy, handles high winds, and provides good coverage when open, collapsing down to just a foot in length. It comes in tons of gorgeous colors, and a single button opens and collapses the fiberglass ribs. But “It’s. So. Dang. Hard. To. Close,” according to my fellow umbrella reviewer, Louryn Strampe. Fully closing this umbrella is a two-handed operation, and she got so fed up with it during testing that she often just used the ground as leverage to push the handle all the way down. It’s a problem across the lineup.
LifeTek New Yorker Umbrella for $40: This is a beast of an umbrella. The 54-inch canopy is more than large enough to keep you and someone else dry, and its fiberglass shaft and wind-resistant frame withstand gusts big and small. The handle has a rubbery grip and a single red button to open and expand the canopy. A Teflon coating ensures it dries quickly after the storm has passed. But between its awkward handle, the 1.5-lb weight, and the 3-foot length, my coworker Louryn Strampe felt the umbrella was too top-heavy for her 5’1″ frame.
Senz Original Umbrella for $88: The first time I took this umbrella out, I overheard someone say, “That’s such a cool-looking umbrella.” It is! It looks like a kite shield, and the aerodynamic design can withstand winds of more than 60 mph. On a windy day in New York, the Senz merely bobbed up and down. Unfortunately, the canopy is hard to collapse unless you use both hands, which are not always free. The narrow shape also provides less coverage, although it does make it possible to stick the opened umbrella in your backpack and walk around covered and hands-free.
There are a ton of other multi-tools out there, and brands like Leatherman and Victorinox have models upon models that make it confusing to figure out exactly what to get. Here are some others I like.
Leatherman Skeletool CX for $90: This one is slightly smaller than the Wave Plus, but it’s still a standard-sized multi-tool. If you don’t need all the bells and whistles our top pick offers, you can probably make do with a less bulky gizmo that still has the basic, most-used tools, such as a knife, bottle opener, can opener, bit drivers, and pliers.
Victorinox Swiss Tool for $153: Yes, I did a double-take when I first saw the price tag too. At 10 ounces, it’s on the heavier side as well. But it’s beautifully made, and I dig the boxy, straight-edged handles. Sometimes it’s just nice to have a tool that doesn’t try to look modern. It’s beautiful.
Leatherman Style PS for $62: Try flying with any of the tools in this guide. It’s a good way to make it onto the no-fly list. For those who plan to step onto a plane and don’t want to go tool-less, you need a multi-tool without a knife. The Style PS packs pliers, scissors, a combination flat/Phillips screwdriver, and more into a tiny, pocketable 1.5-ounce size. Leatherman hasn’t officially discontinued the Style PS, but it’s nearly impossible to find. It pains me to recommend it at $62 when it’s retail price is $35, but among tiny, airport-compliant multi-tools, it’s far and away the best option. The Victorinox Jetsetter for $24 is light on useful tools, and Gerber discontinued its so-so Dime Travel, so the Style PS is pretty much the only game in town—for as long as you can find it.
SOG Parashears for $61: Joining the fray that Leatherman set off in multi-tool rescue shears, the SOG has a few more small, fold-away tools the Leatherman Raptors don’t have, including flathead and Philips screwdriver bit, tweezers, an awl, and a bottle opener. The blade is about a centimeter shorter than both Raptors’ blades, which is a slight bummer, but it weighs 0.7 to 1 ounce less, due to its more skeletal build, especially in the handles. They retail for $80 at Cabela’s and SOG’s own website, but you can easily find them on sale for less at Amazon and Walmart.
Leatherman Charge TTi for $190: This is a weak recommendation. It’s packed with 19 useful tools and comes with that stellar Leatherman build quality and warranty. I’ve been using one happily for years. That price, though. Even though it’s made of titanium, it’s no lighter than the Wave Plus that costs far less and comes with 18 mini-tools, many of them the same as the Charge TTi’s. Buy the Wave Plus, unless you really like the look of the dark titanium.
Leatherman Free P4 for $150: I was on the fence about this one. Like most of Leatherman’s lineup, the Free P4 is a quality, well-built tool, but is it worth a $40 increase over our top pick, Leatherman’s own $110 Wave Plus? The big differentiators are that the Free P4, with its 21 tools, uses magnets to open and lock the tool, and a new mechanism to unlock and close the mini-tools that doesn’t rely on putting your finger in the way of the blade. The magnets don’t take any less force to initially open the tool than other Leathermans, but once you get it started, the opening mechanism is very smooth and effortless.
Smallrig Universal Multi-Tool for Videographers for $30: If you find yourself lugging around a lot of videography equipment, like our product reviewer Eric Ravenscraft, you might want a multi-tool made for adjusting and maintaining cameras without knives and pliers. The Smallrig consists of nine tools, including hex keys in multiple sizes common to cameras, a Phillips-head screwdriver, and a pair of flat-head screwdrivers. Eric likes the wider flat head for screwing down and removing tripod heads, which he says typically get scraped and chewed up by smaller screwdrivers.
Leatherman Micra for $57: Instead of pliers, the Micra opens up into a pair of scissors. It feels like it’s made of cheaper materials and has thinner tool blades than the Victorinox Mini Champ, which is of a similar size, purpose, and price. The spring-loaded mechanism is tough to open and close without poking yourself. But it has character, and I like the little thing. It’s a good alternative to the Mini Champ, especially if you want a tiny multi-tool that revolves around scissors.
Leatherman Wingman for $70: The Wingman just feels great to use. No wildly textured surfaces, and no plastic anywhere. The smooth scales feel old-school, in a good, “remember back when” way, similar to the Victorinox Swiss Tool. It has 14 tools in its handles, all of which slide open and close as smoothly as if they were buttered. The whole package folds down to only 4 inches long and weighs 7 ounces. At this price, it’s a great bargain.
SOG Key Knife for $12: The best knife is the one you’ve got handy. That Leatherman Wave Plus won’t do you any good if it’s at home and you’re not. Micro-tools such as the Mini Champ and Micra are easy to stuff into a pocket, but you still have to remember them. The Key Knife goes right on your key ring, so it’s always with you. The blade flips out and measures 1.5 inches, which is enough for most minor cutting tasks. It’s a one-trick pony, though, and only has a blade. You’re not getting a premium product, but the stainless steel blade is reasonably sharp enough.
Kershaw Select Fire Multifunction Pocketknife for $31: This cheap Kershaw does a great job of opening packages and doing other knife-y things, but it has a special trick up its sleeve that most similarly sized utility knives do not: a surprisingly decent screwdriver. Flip down a built-in section in the body and flip out either a flat-head or Phillips-head tip. It’s even got a beer bottle opener, for the drink-and-Ikea types.
Merino wool is a super fiber. Merino T-shirts somehow manage to be comfortable in 95-degree-Fahrenheit heat, and merino hoodies keep you warm well below freezing. Unlike synthetic fibers derived from petroleum, merino wool is natural and renewable.
One sheep can produce 4 to 5 pounds of wool per year. That’s because the sheep that make merino wool drink only the purest alpine waters and study the art of comfort under the tutelage of those stuck-up Pashmina goats, who, let’s face it, might know a thing or two about wonderfully, pillowy softness. Just kidding. Merino sheep do have thinner, softer wool, which has evolved to keep them comfortable across a wide range of temperatures and is comfortable to wear next to your skin. It’s unclear whether the the sheep learned to do this from Pashmina goats, but I do know that merino wool is a remarkable fabric that’s become the cornerstone of my wardrobe.
Yes, even in summer. I’ve worn merino T-shirts on 100-degree days and felt fine, though this is less true if you throw high humidity into the mix—merino sheep do not vacation in the tropics, apparently. Whatever the case, the wool’s versatility means there’s a bewildering array of blends and options to choose from. Here are our favorite merino wool products that we’ve tested.
Updated August 2023: We’ve added a few new T-shirt options, as well as a merino tank top for summer. We’ve also added several jackets we love, a sweatshirt, and updated links and prices throughout.
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Start With a Hoodie
Merino wool is versatile, but I’d still argue that the best use case for it is as a lightweight mid layer, like a hoodie. It’s warm enough for cool days on its own, surprisingly wind-resistant, and can pair with an outer shell to form a great lightweight day-hiking layering system. It’s also a good go-to for the gym or around town.
An Icebreaker hoodie was my introduction to merino wool, and it remains my favorite jacket I’ve ever owned. Alas, after about 10 years, mine had a run-in with moths (see our care guide below) and had to be retired. Mine was not the exact style pictured, but very close to it. This jacket is 100 percent merino and incredibly warm, despite not being all that thick. That makes it a great option for days when the weather may vary considerably–it’s warm enough for a cold morning but won’t be a burden in your pack the rest of the day. This is on the tight-fitting side, so if that’s not your thing (and it’s not mine), get the next size up.
If you don’t want to go 100 percent merino on your first purchase, that’s OK. There is now a ton of blended apparel on the market that gets much of the benefit of merino, with enough cotton or polyester to retain the softness many of us are used to. This hoodie from Ten Thousand is a good example. It’s 76 percent polyester, 18 percent merino, and 6 percent elastane, which gives it a soft, stretchy feel that makes it ideal for working out, rock climbing, or any other outdoor activity where you need your jacket to flex and stretch with you.
Replace Fleece With a Mid Layer
I have nothing against synthetic fleece. It has its place, but I rarely wear it these days. I prefer a hoodie like the one above or the mid layers below. Merino is better at helping your body regulate its temperature, rather than just keeping you warm like fleece and other synthetics do.
Kora’s Yardang Jersey is designed as a midweight mid layer. It is probably the most versatile thing I have in my wardrobe. It’s plenty by itself on a cool spring day but then thin enough to put another layer on top of it when you need more. It’s pleasantly breathable and very soft. The Yardang is a blend of 70 percent merino, complemented by 30 percent Himalayan yak wool. It’s the softest bit of merino in my collection. If you like this blend, there’s also a hat and neck gaiter in the Yardang line.
If you have concerns about using goose down as an insulation layer, merino wool is also a decent substitute for synthetic insulation. Vests are like the cheat code of layering if you like to keep your core warm but your arms mobile or you want to get an extra soupçon of warmth without adding too much bulk. I (Adrienne) like to layer Ibex’s Wool Aire vest under my regular wool coat if I’m going out for the night or on a long run.
I am old enough to remember when a “base layer” was whatever cotton T-shirt you put on. If you got cold in that, you put on a jacket. If you got hot in it, you sweated. Do you need a special shirt to go hiking? No. Just go hiking. That said, outdoor gear marketing or not, base layers are a thing. I have come to love some merino T-shirts, especially in spring and fall. They really don’t feel hugely different from cotton, but they don’t smell after you’ve been sweating in them all day, which is a huge bonus on multiday hiking trips, or just trips to the gym.
We love these long-sleeve Smartwool shirts for how soft they are. An 87 percent merino wool blend with nylon means they’re incredibly comfortable. In our base layer guide, we say this shirt is an “ideal weight,” with heavy seams (read: sturdier, longer lasting) but not so heavy that they cause any discomfort—the shirts lie flat and sit off the shoulder, as any half-decent base layer should.
Don’t forget your legs! It never fails to surprise me (Adrienne) how many people put multiple layers of insulation on their top half and leave their legs completely bare. Depending on the weather, I have several different weights of leggings that I can swap in. My favorites are the classic Icebreaker leggings, which have lasted me almost a decade. However, the rest of my family (my spouse and two children) use REI’s in-house merino wool base layers and leggings, which are a reasonably priced option and don’t irritate my son’s sensitive skin.
A Few Women-Specific Options
And now, a word on fit. Women are not the only people whose bodies can differ from standard sizing. But I (Adrienne) am 5′ 2″ and struggle to find clothing options that will fit—especially ones that are meant to fit next to the skin. As high-quality as the base layer is, it won’t keep you warm if it rucks up around your waist or sags below your hips.
Most major brands offer a women’s version of their base layers. However, if you’re having a lot of difficulty finding a pair that works, Kari Traa’s leggings have a very high waist that helps keep them up. The patterns are also pretty, for those of you who object to parading around the lodge in what looks like pajamas.
Wool might not seem like a good choice for summer T-shirt, but merino is surprisingly comfortable even when its warm. To a point anyway. On humid days over about 90 degrees, I usually go with cotton or linen, but anything under 90 and I am wearing merino. There are far more merino T-shirt options out there than we can cover, but here are some of our favorites.
These are my absolute favorite T-shirts. They are the softest, best made, best fitting T-shirts I’ve ever worn, merino or otherwise. Yes, they are that good. They’re incredibly versatile. I’ve worn them doing everything from backpacking in the summer heat, to rolling jiujitsu, to sitting around the fire on cool autumn evenings. They’re never anything but comfy. I also like that it has no logo. Unbound’s Active Merino T-shirt (men’s $95, women’s $85), aimed specifically at working out, is also quite nice, but it’s a tighter cut than the regular T-shirt.
Artilect’s blend of merino wool and Tencel (a lightweight fiber made from eucalyptus) is shockingly lightweight and versatile. This summer, the Utili-Tee became my (Adrienne’s) favorite shirt for climbing and backpacking. It was soft and comfortable when I was in the shaded trees, and then magically stayed light and breathable when I broke through the treeline and the temperature suddenly rose by 15 degrees in direct sunlight. The flat seams didn’t cause chafing on my shoulders or waist through backpack straps or a harness, and even though it’s a flattering slim fit, it didn’t constrict the movement of my shoulders or arms in any way.
These Icebreaker T-shirts were one of my gateways to merino wool. They’re warm, yet somehow cool, and surprisingly good at stopping the wind. These shirts aren’t great in humidity; for that, I’d probably go with a blend. Note that some of Icebreaker’s T-shirts are blends, so check the details on your favorite design before you invest.
Minus33 knows a thing or two about keeping you warm. The company is in New Hampshire, after all. This 170-gsm T-shirt is comfortable, with a loose cut that works well over a base layer on cool mornings or as a T-shirt during warmer parts of the day. It’s a great all-around choice for all but warmest of summer days.
Socks and Underwear
While merino wool is very soft, most products in this category are blends, usually with some form of nylon. Darn Tough socks are a WIRED favorite. They’re great for skiing, hiking, climbing, and just about anything else you want to do. These blends vary by weight, but most of them are around 50 percent nylon and 50 percent merino, which makes them dry a bit faster than pure merino while remaining plenty warm and comfortable.
The weird thing about socks is that, as a warm-weather lover, well, I hate socks. Every day with socks is a kind of failure. That said, these Carhartts (gifted to me by a friend who was worried that I wandered about in sockless sandals in the snow) are really nice. They’re incredibly warm and soft, and they never smell. They’re possibly my favorite socks—if I were to have favorite socks.
When you think merino, you probably think about warmth. That’s exactly what these midlayer and heavier items are.
Minus33 calls this an expedition-weight base layer, but for those of us not climbing Mt. Washington at dawn in a windstorm, it’s really more of a pullover sweatshirt—an insanely warm, comfy pullover sweatshirt. My testing time was limited. After a month, my wife stole it and now refers to it as a security blanket and has said it’s the one item of clothing she cannot live without. I did manage to try it everywhere from the beach on cool mornings to around the campfire on winter nights, and even as base layer under a merino jacket when the temps dropped below freezing last winter. In all those situations I stayed plenty warm. The looser fit means it can go over a base layer, but isn’t so bulky you can’t but a jacket over it.
A growing number of studies have shown that there are PFAS—hormone-disrupting chemicals that are commonly used in a number of plastics—in ordinary sportswear, like leggings and sports bras. If you, like me (Adrienne), are on a quest to replace your polyester clothing with natural fibers, then Ibex’s 100 percent merino wool Shak jacket is the natural candidate to replace your (my) worn-out Patagonia Better Sweater ($149). I took this jacket on a trip this spring to Ireland. It’s surprisingly dense and soft to the touch. It kept me warm on blustery 30-degree days, layered easily under my rain jacket and over my tank top, and looked sleek enough to go out to dinner. In western Ireland, at least (“I like your jumper!” said many an Irishman). It doesn’t pack down quite as compactly as a synthetic layer might, nor is it as light, but it looks much nicer and it won’t feel like slime on your skin when it gets wet.
Merino for Kids
Merino isn’t cheap, which can mean it gets expensive to clothe your fast-growing kids. However, if you have more than one kid, merino lasts, which means you can hand it down. Unfortunately there is not an abundance of merino for kids. We’re in the process of testing some XS adult options, but in the meantime we have tested these base layers.
These 100 percent merino base layers are warm, tight, but not too tight, and fit true to size. My eight-year-old loves them, and they’ve held up well to the kinds of abuse that only an eight-year-old boy can dish out. Despite frequent washing, there’s next to no pilling. There’s also no tag to rub on the neck, which my kids hate.
What Do the Numbers Mean
Merino wool comes in different weights, which you will frequently see listed as “200 gsm” or something similar. (The gsm refers to grams per square meter.) What’s important is the scale and where your garment falls on it. At the low end, you have T-shirts and underwear, which are typically 150 gsm, though we have seen some as low as 120 gsm. Generally, anything below 200 gsm will be a good base layer. From 200 to 300 gsm are your mid layers, and anything above 300 is a heavier garment.
How to Care for Merino Wool
Most merino products will have care instructions. Most likely it will be to wash cold and lay flat to dry. The latter is important, as hanging wool to dry will stretch it out (because of the water weight). While most merino labels will say the garment can be machine-washed, my experience has been that hand-washing merino will extend its life. This is particularly true of very lightweight (150 gsm) merino base layers and T-shirts.
I’ve never had a problem storing merino in my closet between wears, but for long-term storage, I recommend you take precautions against moths, which are notorious for eating holes in wool. I have lost merino garments to moths.
If you’re a pellet smoker devotee who prides yourself on your devotion to your craft, then this workaround might make you barf in your mouth a little bit. But the Ninja oven had been in our house for all of three minutes before my husband ran to the store to get a rack of ribs.
My husband loves ribs, and he never gets to make them, because he has a full-time job, two little kids, an elderly dog, a house that’s constantly a mess, and a bespectacled gadget writer wife who is constantly wandering around mumbling, “Did you see where I put the … .” With the Ninja, he seasoned the meat, ran outside and toggled the oven to Smoker, filled the hopper with pellets, pressed Ignite, and set it to smoke for four hours at 250 degrees.
Then he went and mowed the lawn and jumped with his kids on the trampoline. By the time our friends came over, the ribs were ready. The ends were perfectly burnt and crispy, and the meat was falling off the bones.
We used Ninja’s proprietary Robust pellets, which are a mix of hickory, smoke, and cherry. Our backyard smelled awesome, but the meat tasted noticeably less smoky than restaurant ribs; it’s not the same as putting meat over a real fire all day. Since we’ve gotten the oven, however, my husband has made ribs many more times. No matter how you slice it (ha!), more ribs is better than zero ribs. Four hours is ideal, but even when we’re crunched for time, two hours with a wet sauce gave us a delicious, if a little less crispy, result.
I’ve been using it to bake. I don’t like baking indoors when the air-conditioner is running (it’s a waste of energy), but with an outdoor electric oven, it’s fine. Preheating to a relatively low 350 degrees takes less than 10 minutes, or just as long as it takes to whip up batter. I can plug in a temperature and time, slide a pan in, walk into my blessedly cool house, and grab it when it’s done. My husband and I have both found the temperatures to be accurate; we haven’t had to recalibrate or adjust cook times to accommodate for inaccuracies. Thanks to the Ninja, my kids have been enjoying way more blueberry muffins, peach crisps, and plum tortes than they might otherwise have gotten this late in the summer.
I have my doubts about long-term durability of this oven. Ninja says you can store it outside and sent along a proprietary cover to endure all types of weather; nevertheless, the materials just feel cheaper and thinner than many other ovens I’ve tested. Also, this oven works, but it’s not a joyful experience to cook anything that requires high heat and a lot of vigilance.
But for cooking anything that’s set-it-and-forget-it, it’s amazing. On a recent beautiful summer evening, our next-door neighbor had a backyard party with several bands. With a rack of ribs in the Ninja, we were able to walk over, drink a beer, and keep an eye on dinner. When my 6-year-old went back to the party, he brought a chunky rib in his fist to gnaw on while listening to music.
“Did you bring enough of those for all of us?” a guest asked him. No, but just wait another week and we’ll see.