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TUAW's Holiday Gift Guide: Taking to the great outdoors


Welcome to the TUAW Holiday Gift Guide! We've sorted the treasure from the junk and are serving up suggestions to make your holiday gift-giving a little easier.

When you live in a state of amazing natural beauty like Colorado, it's not just a given that you'll be spending lots of time outdoors using Apple products, it's the law. State troopers will regularly stop by and knock on your door to remind you that it's a beautiful day out there -- and don't you want to get away from your Mac and go enjoy it? Or maybe I meant your mom instead of state troopers. Whatever.

If someone you love is an outdoor enthusiast, there are many ways that you can find just the right gift to enhance their enjoyment for getting out of the house, without having to leave their Apple products at home. Here is our TUAW holiday gift guide for the great outdoors.

Phone Gloves. With capacitive screens, iPhone devices aren't particularly receptive to gloves. As the weather grows cold, users might find it harder and harder to keep taking off their gloves to manipulate their screens. That's where touchscreen-capable gloves come in. You can buy gloves that work with the iPhone anywhere, from Walmart to high-end fashion retailers. Prices start at around US$15 and go on up.

These gloves work by providing a contact that allows the electrical charge from your body to transmit through to the iPhone. That means the gloves are going to have touch points that won't feel uniformly soft and flexible at their tips. So, caveat emptor. But anyone who has tried to make a phone call while waiting in the winter wind for their child's school to dismiss will appreciate the convenience.

And don't forget, always limit your iDevice use to a 32 degrees F (0 degrees C) to 95 degrees F (35 degrees C) operating range. And, if your loved one is not into gloves, you can always buy them a frozen sausage.

Bike Mounts and Tracking Apps. The iPhone, with its onboard GPS and built-in internet connectivity is basically the solution for bicyclists. So why not accessorize your favorite someone's bike with an iPhone mount? This way, they can monitor their stats as they ride without having to use a far less equipped traditional bike computer. Expect to pay about $40 and up.

There are tons of App Store applications out there that will help you track, monitor and share your rides. I personally use Runmeter (our review). Not only does it let me take breaks in the middle of my trips without destroying my stats, but it also provides live maps to my family as I'm out on the road. They always know where I am and how I'm doing at any time. I also get to monitor my trip progress, my current, max and average speed, and more.

If you do use a bike mount for your bike, be aware that leaving your phone in an always-on screen display mode will kill your batteries in a couple of hours. So be prepared for a trade-off. If you want to know your instantaneous speed and keep your phone charged, you may want to use both the mount and a traditional computer, which can be used for months without changing the battery.

Solar Charger. It may be winter now, but spring is right around the corner. And that's when you'll be wanting to take more overnight hikes and rides, away from modern conveniences. A portable solar charger provides a great way to keep your iDevices charged on the road.

I've been testing out Voltaic's Fuse system (pictured here to the right), and I've found that its multi-tip USB support means I can charge pretty much anything I bring along. The unit was designed with robust road-worthy construction and easy-to-manipulate straps, so you can attach the solar panel, which in the picture is facing away from you on the top, to any flat surface.

I personally think it works best for hiking, where you connect it to your backpack, but I was able to attach it to the top of a rear trunk on my bike without difficulty. Just be aware that no matter where you attach it, you'll need to allow it direct access to sunlight, and you may have to unstrap/restrap to get into whatever equipment it's strapped to.

At $129, the charger is not cheap, but it's really rugged and high quality, with well thought out zippers, straps and storage space.

Astronomy Apps. Star Walk is one of the best applications out there forshowcasing Astronomy on the iPad. It's a virtual window application that you look through to the sky. Star Walk detects what you are looking at and provides an augmented reality presentation that identifies what constellations appear in the part of the sky you're looking at.

It's a beautifully designed application that is meant to be used outdoors and is particularly suitable for family use. If you have a child or you want to give a gift to a friend who has children, at just $4.99 ($2.99 for the iPhone version), Star Walk is a great way to introduce astronomy in a family-friendly way.

iPad-friendly Day Bags. You don't have to take to the far-off wilderness to enjoy the outdoors. A fashionable iPad-sized day bag makes a great gift, especially for women looking to expand beyond the traditional purse. I personally own the REI Nikole (shown here) and can enthusiastically recommend it as an iPad-friendly solution.

Technology supporting fashion doesn't have to be ugly, black or leather. Consider shopping "out of the box" for something a little more eye-catching, like this $60 pack.

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