Gear of the Year
By Gibbs Milliken
For your own wish list or for the outdoors lovers on your gift list, Gibbs selects a variety of gear from the modest to grand.
If you attended this year’s Texas Wildlife Expo, the S.H.O.T. show, the ICAST show or numerous other outdoor shows across Texas, you may have spotted a khaki-clad, bespectacled gentleman in a wide-brimmed field hat jotting down notes as he examined outdoor equipment of all kinds.
He’s our very own “Gibbs the Gear Guy,” and in between teaching art at the University of Texas, painting in his studio and leading expeditions in the Amazon, Gibbs sleuths about for the best offerings of outdoor gear.
For the hunters, fishers, campers and birders in your life (or if you just want to drop a hint on your own behalf!), here are Gibbs’ choices for “Gear of the Year.”
The naturalist or hunter looking for a close view will want to consider the 20-60X Zoom 80-HD Swarovski SpottingScope mounted on a lightweight Gitzo Carbon Fiber Tripod. This fully waterproof and fogproof telescope is equipped with an 80mm objective lens that provides bright, clear, color-corrected viewing even in low-light conditions. ($2,131, Swarovski Scope STS-80 HD with 20-60x Zoom Eyepiece, Swarovski Optik, (800) 426-3089, www.swarovskioptik.com) The Gitzo tripod is amazingly light, compact and sturdy, with a quick-release magnesium ball head for fast handling in locating wildlife. ($542, Gitzo Tripod, #G1228 MK2 with $176, Gitzo Head, #1276M, Bogen Photo Corp., (201) 818-9500, www.bogenphoto.com)
The .17 Caliber CZ Magnum Rifle is designed for target and varmint shooting. Made in the Czech Republic, it uses HMR ultra-high velocity (2,550 fps) rim-fire ammunition in a five- or 10-round semi-automatic clip and shoots flat to ranges of 100 yards. Safety is increased because the low-ricochet bullet usually disintegrates on impact. This rifle is fitted with a precision-milled receiver and solid walnut, hand-checkered stock. ($449, CZ Zbrojovka Brno Rifle, Model #ZKM-617) The optional telescopic sight is a Leupold Vari-X 3-9 X33 EFR Compact with parallax correction. ($454.99 Leupold Scope, Model #46402, McBride’s, Inc., (512) 472-3532)
The Snipe Pod is a quick-release bipod rifle support that adapts to both flat and mountainous terrain. Unlike some of the older bipods, which offer a fixed-crotch design, the top of each leg of this bipod has a ball socket, allowing the shooter to cant the firearm and pan vertically or horizontally at the same time. ($99.99, Model: STX-30, Kramer Designs, (406) 933-8658, www.snipepod.com)
The small, folding Swivel Tripod Stool provides a comfortable perch in the field. The seat, which is a light 2 pounds in weight, silently swivels 360 degrees. Each aluminum leg adjusts for proper height and leveling on uneven ground. ($14.99, Folding Tripod Stool, #829, with nylon carry-bag. Ameristep, (810) 686-4035, www.ameristep.com)
Take up a new archery challenge with the Buckmaster MaxPoint Hunting Crossbow. In our field tests, this model out-performed all others in its class for ease of operation, speed and accuracy. ($699, MaxPoint Crossbow, 175# bow kit with BSA red-dot scope, North American Archery Group, (352) 376-2327, www.fulldraw.net) For travel and storage of this bow, the padded SKB Crossbow Transport Case will also hold a quiver and arrows, camo clothing, and other accessories. ($179, SKB Case, Model: #4130BN, SKB Corporation, (800) 783-0087, www.skbcases.com)
The CamelBak TransFormer Pack, a modular system designed for military and rescue services, is also useful for civilian hikers. The base unit consists of a sleek hydration pack that holds 102 ounces of water in an insulated reservoir. With the addition of full-length compartments, side pockets and accessory clips, the pack expands to carry the essentials of almost any outdoor trek. ($142, Transformer Pack, Color: Woodland Camo or black, Elite Tactical Sources, (828) 891-1823, www.elitetacticalsources.com) The attached carabineer holds a tiny magnesium/flint Yukon Firestarter Kit that will light a campfire even in the rain. Other safety items on the clip are a whistle and military P-38 can opener, CMG-Mini Light, and small knife. ($14.95, Yukon Firestarter, optional knife and light are accessories, Knifeplace.Com, (888) 817-0895, www.knifeplace.com)
The 11-foot-long Zodiac Fastroller 340FR inflatable boat weighs 88 pounds, runs shallow, handles easily, and is deflatable for storage or transport. The air floor forms a stable platform and makes the boat rigid for good performance with an outboard or electric trolling motor. ($2,500, Zodiac North America/Triad Marine, (800) 895-5060, www.triadmarine.com)
For field and travel, the Tilley Airflo Hat offers wide-brim sun protection. Ultra-light, ultra-cool, and ultra-durable, the “Mesh Tilley” has set a high standard for packable travel hats with its classic bush styling, water-resistant non-shrinking materials and quality workmanship. The “Vest of Many Pockets,” VOMP Vest, has a plethora of them — 16 in all. It's a backpack you wear like a shirt. Built never to wear out, but if it does Tilley will replace it at no charge. A matching Tilley Bush Shirt is also available. ($62.98, Hat, Style: LTM3. $280 VOMP Vest. $95, Khaki Bush Shirt. Tilley Endurables, (800) 363-8737, www.tilley.com)
The waterproof Garmin Rino 120 Global Positioning System, with 8 megabytes of memory and base maps of North and South America, is integrated with a two-way radio. More detailed maps for each region are available as accessory software. With this navigation unit, partners can locate and transmit coordinates and talk to each other up to two miles in the field via FRS radio signal. ($250 per unit plus software. Garmin International, (913) 397-8200), www.garmin.com)
Mighty Mite Anchor features aluminum spikes that can be reshaped if bent while being pulled loose from underwater moorings. The rustproof design comes in 8-pound and 12-pound sizes for boats up to 22 feet. ($69.95, Kenrick Manufacturing, (800) 290-9293. www.mightymiteanchors.com)
The sealed, maintenance-free, marine deep-cycle MinnKota Orbital Battery is a significant improvement over conventional liquid units. It is lighter in weight, spill-proof, and free of dangerous gases. This battery is suitable for powering trolling motors or 12-volt accessories in the field. To replenish, the MinnKota Portable Charger is recommended for long battery life and full power. ($165.99, Battery, $ 69.99, MKC-10 Charger, Minn Kota, (800) 493-6686, www.minnkotamotors.com)
The Oxford-style Woo Shoes are designed for fishing comfort and safety from boat decks. They also work as all-purpose footwear for most outdoor activities. The soft mesh uppers flush quickly and the spongy foot-beds force air through the insoles. The thick and flexible textured soles provide good traction on a wide range of surfaces. ($72.95, Georgia Boot, (888) 824-3613, www.georgiabootstore.com)
The Cocoon Lightweight Sleeping Bag is suited for warm-weather camping or as the washable liner for a winter bag. It can also be used in combination with the Cocoon Travel Sheet of pure silk. ($60, Medium Fleece Bag, Color: Tuareg. $67, Silk Travel Sheet, Color: Olive. Design Salt, (800) 254-7258, www.designsalt.com)
Cumings Telescoping Hook-Free Net is designed for freshwater or saltwater fishing from piers and jetties. The 2-foot net hoop has an octagonal 4-feet, 6-inch-long, self-aligning anodized aluminum handle that telescopes out to reach almost 10 feet and, with arm extended, the angler has a considerable radius to capture that prize fish. ($37.88, Ed Cumings Inc., (810) 736-0130, http://cumingsnets.com)
The Mustang PFD Vest is a professional-quality compact design that is cooler, less bulky and less restrictive than many others. It inflates manually or automatically and is so comfortable that it encourages boaters to wear water safety flotation. ($159.99, Model: MD3031, Mustang Survival, (360) 676-1782, www.mustangsurvival.com)