If you’re looking for ideas for the outdoors lover on your gift list this year, look beyond the REI gift card (although that’s always great, too).
Don’t know where to start? Try a Wisconsin company. From Wigwam to Trek, a handful of local brands offer top-of-the-line outdoor apparel and gear that's perfect for the hiker, cyclist or camper on your list — including some made right here in America’s Dairyland. Here are some ideas to get you started.
Wigwam's socks have been made in Sheboygan since 1905, when the company first opened as the Hand Knit Hosiery Company. Today Wigwam sources most of its yarn from American spinners who in turn source most of their wool from American growers. Wigwam also is the official sock of U.S. Ski and Snowboarding.
There are a variety of offerings for every outdoor pursuit, from running and hiking to skiing and snowshoeing. The Ultimax line promises dry feet through a moisture-wicking technology, while the Ingenius line combines that with a liner sock that promises to keep feet dry and blister-free. Wool and merino wool options are great for Wisconsin winters.
Find them: On the Wigwam website (www.wigwam.com), at the Factory Outlet Store in Sheboygan (5300 Highway 42), and a handful of shoe and outdoor stores in the area, including Dunham’s, Sherper’s and Farm & Fleet.
Snowshoes from Redfeather or Northern Lites
Two snowshoe companies are not only based in Wisconsin, but also make their products in the U.S.
Redfeather Outdoors, based in La Crosse, is owned by ORC Industries, a nonprofit that seeks to provide job opportunities for people with disabilities. Members of the U.S. Special Olympics team have worn Redfeathers at past winter games. The company offers a variety of snowshoes for both hiking and running; the most popular are the Women’s Hike and Men’s Hike models, starting at $149.95. There are also youth models starting at $29.95. Find them on the Redfeather website (redfeather.com).
Northern Lites Snowshoes, based in Medford, touts its snowshoes as the world’s lightest. Their Elite series (starting at $245) are some of their most popular, weighing in at less than 2.5 pounds — almost a pound less than popular models from brands like MSR and Atlas. There’s a saying that one pound on your feet is like carrying an extra five pounds on your back, so that pound makes a big difference. It did for Mike Summers, who wore Northern Lites as he completed the first documented winter thru-hike of the Ice Age Trail in 2017. Find them on the Northern Lites website (northernlites.com) and at MKE Outdoor Indoor Exchange, 3044 S. Delaware Ave.
Loon Paddle Co. stand up paddle board
SUP took on a new meaning when stand up paddle boarding exploded in popularity about a decade ago. Now the sport with Hawaiian origins is up there with kayaking and canoeing as a silent sports favorite in lake- and river-rich Wisconsin.
Appleton-based Loon Paddle Co. makes a variety of boards for cruising on flat water, plus paddles and dry bags. Some of the hard board models are finished with two-tone bamboo, while inflatable models come with a backpack for transporting the roughly 20-pound boards.
Find it: Inflatable models start at $649 and hard boards start at $1,099 at loonpaddlecompany.com. Paddles are sold separately (or as part of packages) and start at $119. The SUPs are also available for sale or rent at the Loon Paddle Shop, 1249 County Road Q, Waupaca.
What’s better than a big red bow on a brand new car? For a cyclist, a big red bow on a brand new Trek bicycle.
One of the biggest names in bikes, Trek manufactured its first steel touring frame in Waterloo in 1976. Today the company produces a range of bicycles, from road and mountain bikes to hybrids and commuters.
But the hottest bikes on the block lately are electric models, which have small motors that provide a boost while pedaling. Harley-Davidson even got in on the trend a couple years ago, with two Madison cyclists completing the 235-mile Ride Across Wisconsin in August on the company’s Serial 1 electric bikes (produced by HD spinoff Serial 1, which is based in Utah).
Trek has dozens of electric models to choose from, including many with the motor hidden in the frame. All are pedal-assisted, with three or four levels of assist, depending on the model. The Domane+ AL5, a road bike, earned a spot on Bicycling magazine’s November list of the best electric bikes you can buy right now. But if you’re a more casual cyclist, the Go! models — from sub-brand Electra — offer more affordable options.
Find them: On trekbikes.com or at area retailers including Wheel & Sprocket in Fox Point, Emery’s in Milwaukee and Menomonee Falls, and the Bicycle Doctor in Dousman.
Wisconsin state parks stickers provide access to more than 60,000 acres of nature across more than 50 parks and forests. The 2023 annual vehicle admission stickers grant entry from the time of purchase through the end of 2023. Stickers for vehicles with Wisconsin license plates cost $28, or $13 for residents age 65 and older. They’re available online at yourpassnow.com/ParkPass/wi, at state properties via drive-up windows (during office hours), at self-registration stations and electronic kiosks at properties, and by calling properties directly during office hours.
Two local county park systems also require vehicle admission passes. Waukesha County’s annual permits provide access to nine fee-based parks. They cost $35 per vehicle, or $17 for those age 60 and older and disabled veterans. Passes are available online at waukeshacounty.gov/parkentry, and in person at Retzer Nature Center or the Park System's main office at the Waukesha County Courthouse. The parks will have a new "invisible" permit system next year, using license plate scanners at each park instead of issuing physical stickers, so save your receipt to wrap up for under the tree.
Washington County also requires a permit for access to six fee-based county parks. The annual permit, which is good through the end of 2023, costs $30 for residents, $40 for non-residents or $20 for seniors (age 60 and older) and veterans at washcoparks.com/parks/passes.
State parks map from Gitchi Adventure Goods
This Eau Claire-based company donates 10% of the proceeds from every purchase to support national parks, state parks and other outdoor spaces — including local state park friends groups, the biggest benefactor to date.
The company’s state parks print features a map of Wisconsin with 48 state parks (the newest, Lizard Mound, hasn’t made it on yet), plus a checklist at the bottom for marking after you visit. The 11” by 17” print costs $25. State parks maps for Minnesota, Michigan and Indiana are also available, along with other outdoor décor and apparel including a Lake Superior T-shirt.
Wisconsin outdoor books
None of these books are new this year, but they're classics for any outdoor adventurer who wants to explore Wisconsin more. They're all available on Amazon, but check your local bookstore first to support a hometown business. Stores like Milwaukee's Boswell have many in stock (along with other great finds in the local section), and those books they don't have can be ordered through their website (boswellbooks.com).
For the camper on your list, “Best Tent Camping: Wisconsin” by Kevin Revolinski and Johnny Molloy, now in its fourth edition, is a must-have. The book first published by Menasha Ridge Press in 2013 outlines some of the state’s best campgrounds, including the best sites within those campgrounds, rated for beauty, privacy, spaciousness, quiet, security and cleanliness.
There aren’t as many hidden gems outside anymore thanks to social media, but David Hedquist found more than a few for his book “Waterfalling in Wisconsin: The Complete Guide to Waterfalls in the Badger State.” First published in 2014, an updated 2022 version includes new waterfalls and updated directions and other information. Copies of this one are tougher to find, but those bought new on Amazon (amazon.com/dp/1618501089) come directly from the author.
While the Internet can be a great resource for trying to discover what bird that was you saw while kayaking or the flower you spotted along the trail, nothing beats a good old-fashioned field guide that’s specific to Wisconsin — especially when you’re, well, out in the field. Publisher AdventureKEEN has a handful of guides for every interest, from birds and mammals to trees and wildflowers, and even a pocket-sized animal tracks guide. The Wisconsin Historical Society Press sells a variety at shop.wisconsinhistory.org/field-guides.
Our subscribers make this reporting possible. Please consider supporting local journalism by subscribing to the Journal Sentinel at jsonline.com/deal.
DOWNLOAD THE APP: Get the latest news, sports and more
This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Gift ideas from Wisconsin companies for the outdoors lover on your list