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Saint Nick's HOT PICKS

The best gear to give out as Christmas presents is the stuff you'd love to have for yourself.

By TERRY TOMALIN, Times Outdoors Editor
© St. Petersburg Times
published December 14, 2001

The old man had grown accustomed to receiving gifts he did not want or need. Ugly ties, soap on a rope and the old stand-by, Old Spice aftershave. With nine kids, he had seen it all.

But unlike my brothers and sisters, when it came to buying Christmas presents for my father, I had no problem at all. That's because we shared the common philosophy that when it comes to the Great Outdoors, you can never have too many flashlights or pocket knives.

So we used to play this little game, Dad and I. I would buy him things that I wanted, and he would buy me things that he wanted.

I still remember the look on my mother's face that Christmas morning when I was 10 when I opened a box containing a new, high-powered "wrist rocket." Sure, I had dabbled with homemade slingshots before, and had broken a window or two, but the wrist rocket would elevate me to a whole new level of carnage.

"He'll put somebody's eye out with that thing," my mother said. "You better keep it in a safe place."

My father smiled, because after all, it was he who really wanted the darn thing. Twenty years, and dozens of replacement bands later, he still could be found sitting on his front porch in Maine, shooting pebbles at the squirrels and blue jays raiding his bird feeders.

"Thieves! Bandits!" he'd yell. "Go find your own food."

So keeping with that holiday spirit of a Christmas long past, I took a stroll through Bill Jackson's Shop for Adventure in Pinellas Park and picked out a few items I would buy my dad if he hadn't moved on to the Great Sporting Goods Store in the Sky:

Swiss Army knives are out, and new gadgets called multi-pliers are in. Leatherman and Gerber are two of the more popular brands, but just about every knife maker on the planet is making some version of this handy outdoor tool.

Most come with a knife, bottle opener, saw, screw driver, pliers, etc., but remember you get what you pay for. Multi-pliers can be found for as little as $19.99 but may be reduced to a hulk of rusting metal after a few trips offshore. Buy a good set (count on paying at least $40), and it will last a lifetime.

But remember the old Tomalin adage . . . a Swiss Army knife (look for the brand name Victorinox or Wenger) still is a good backup.

Anything with L.E.D., which is short for light-emitting diode. These tiny green, red and blue lights won't ruin your night vision and are light enough to be strapped to a lifejacket or key chain. L.E.D. lights start at $9.95.

Sea Life Sport Diver camera with internal flash. This waterproof camera will take great underwater pictures as deep as 100 feet. Kayakers, fishermen and canoeists also will like this gift. $100.

The 10th edition of the Divers Guide to Underwater Florida. This book lists more than 600 fresh and saltwater sites. It is a must for every scuba diver, and non-divers also might find it interesting. It might just inspire them to take up the sport. $20.

PreCip rain jacket and pants by Marmot. Waterproof, durable and remarkably breathable, this rain gear folds up into a tiny wad that can be stuffed into a daypack or tackle box. Jacket $99. Pants $69.

NASCAR Compact Binocular by Nikon. These high-quality, water resistant, quick-focus binocs have dioptercontrol for strain-free viewing. This is a good introductory system for beginning birders or any other outdoor enthusiast. $59.95.

Chaco Z/2 sandals. Heralded as "the most secure sandal" for the outdoorsman, the unique "toe loop" design will keep these puppies from pulling off when you are wading through the mud flats. $85.

Beginner Fly Tying Kit: This all-inclusive kit has everything you need to get started tying flies -- a vice, bobbin, hooks, scissors and enough materials to tie over 200 patterns. $54.95.

I could go on and on. It seems like I can't go into a sporting goods shop without seeing at least a dozen things that I want . . . er, I mean I need. After all, my father the Boy Scout leader taught me to always be prepared.

And that means you can never have too many pocket knives or flashlights, especially at Christmas time.

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