In the holiday spirit, I hope you’ll forgive the over-used cliche and allow me to talk for a moment about intentional giving.
A few times a month, my two toddler sons and I go to the store to buy flowers for their mom. When we are getting the flowers, I always ask them this question: “What does it mean when you give flowers to someone?”
They say in unified toddler-speak: “It means ‘I love you!’”
They’re right. Giving a gift is a chance to tell someone you love them. To show your appreciation and thankfulness of who they are and your friendship.
And that’s what intentional giving is all about: Giving from the heart.
A gift is more than just an item to fill a box so it can be wrapped up in red and green paper and placed under a tree. When you buy a gift this year, don’t give out of obligation, but rather give out of thankfulness and gratitude.
There is another side to this idea of intentional giving as well. It’s the idea that intentional giving means getting something awesome. Which, is actually easier than it may seem. With just a little bit of forethought and inspirational assistance, you too can move past the black hole of terrible gift giving that is filled with fruit cakes and generic gift certificates.
Instead, give a gift that will be well received. A gift that shows how savvy and clever you are.
The best gifts are useful, fun, and memorable. Perhaps they empower the receiver to kickstart a new hobby. Or perhaps they’re just enough outside of the box to be unexpectedly delightful and interesting.
And that is the very motivation we have behind Tools & Toys. We spend our days and nights thinking, dreaming, and writing about awesome gear. But we don’t do this simply because we like cool and new things (even though we do). We also have an affinity for the best of the best. What is the point of buying something only to use it a few times and then set it on the shelf (or repair it)?
With that in mind, dear reader, we present to you our 2015 Christmas Catalog. Welcome!
Without knowing the unique dynamics of your family or financial situation, we’ve done our best to put together a short list of awesome gift ideas. We’ve tried not to suggest anything too wild or crazy. So if you didn’t know what to get, you could probably just pick anything on here and chances are it would be well received.
Furthermore, we are continuing the tradition of highlighting three of our favorite non-profits. Here at Tools & Toys we have always given away 11-percent of our gross income to charity. And during the months of November and December, we’ll be donating 11% of our gross specifically to these three non-profits: App Camp for Girls, Operation Christmas Child, and St. Jude.
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And, as we’ve said before, thank you, dear reader, for your attention and your patronage. Tools & Toys is more than four years old, and continues to be predominately supported by readers like you who purchase something on Amazon through one of our links.
If the items we’ve curated below don’t fit your needs or wants, ping us on Twitter and we will try to help.
Also, click this link before you do your shopping on Amazon, as it’s a way to support our work.
Thank you, and happy holidays!
— Shawn, and the Tools & Toys Staff: Chris, Bradley, Josh, Jeff, and Stephen
Table of Contents
Just in time for the holidays, Bang & Olufsen unveiled their new BeoPlay H7 headphones. These are a wireless version of B&O’s popular over-ear H6 headphones (which we love) coupled with the aluminum touch pad controls of their wireless on-ear sibling, the BeoPlay H8.
Whereas the H8 boasts Active Noise Cancelling, the new H7 headphones have made the tradeoff of having better battery life — 20 hours versus the H8’s 14 hours. A perfectly acceptable tradeoff in our opinion, since noise cancellation isn’t so critical a feature for comfy over-ear headphones like these. And, the H7 headphones still come with a 3.5mm headphone jack, and a detachable audio cable, so you can still plug them in and used them like regular headphones if you need.
The newest model of Amazon’s popular Kindle Paperwhite is fantastic. It now sports a 300 ppi display (just like its more expensive sibling, the Kindle Voyage) and Amazon’s own Bookerly font, which is just lovely to read. At $120, the new Paperwhite is actually a better value than the more-expensive Voyager.
Our favorite camera bag of all time. It’s small, incredibly handsome, versatile, and has a ton of personality. You can fit an iPad mini in the back sleeve pocket perfectly, and it’ll hold your mirrorless camera plus a few extra accessories. Heck, it’s versatile enough you can use it for carrying just about any of your small daily essentials.
What’s more, it works as either a standalone camera bag or as a bag insert/organizer, wherein the entire thing (sans detachable strap) can be placed inside a larger bag for organizational and protective purposes.
Looking for something a little bigger? Check out ONA’s Prince Street messenger bag.
If you’re looking for an iPhone 6/6s case that won’t bulk up your device, look no further than The Veil from Caudabe. This case is super sleek and minimal, to the point people won’t realize you’re even using one without looking closely. It’s just 0.35mm thin, with the exception of a 0.7mm ridge protecting the iPhone’s camera — a carefully-considered detail we appreciate.
They make a version for the iPhone 6 Plus and 6s Plus as well.
And, speaking of iPhone gear, the ten-foot K-ble X is about as premium as Lightning cables get. This MFi-certified cable is made with tangle-resistant woven nylon fabric and sports extended rubber strain protectors on both connectors. This is a cable designed to last. Not to mention, it’s 10 feet long. If you’re used to the standard 3-foot cables that come with your iPhone or iPad, you’ll be surprised how handy it is to have a longer Lightning cable.
If the mere idea of shopping for official Apple Watch bands hurts your wallet, these 3rd-party bands by MoKo are an awesome and affordable alternative. They have a wide variety of band types, from silicone sport to genuine leather to milanese loop to stainless steel, and each comes in a variety of colors.
This medium-sized ruck is all about versatility. It’s the first backpack made by GORUCK, and it continues to be their most popular piece of gear to this day. In short, the GR1 will last you a lifetime. Like all GORUCK bags, it’s made from military-grade, highly water-resistant materials. You can take it hiking or traveling if you’re a light packer, or carry it as your everyday bag.
The GR1 comes in two sizes: a smaller 21L (formerly dubbed “GR0”) which is ideal for anyone under 6 feet tall, and the larger 26L for anyone over 6 feet tall.
A good Dopp kit is an essential item for the traveling gentleman. It certainly beats throwing your grooming materials into a big plastic bag, anyway. If you or someone you know has been suffering with the default Dopp Kit that came with their luggage, or you’re tired of getting a gallon zip-lock every time you have to hit the road, then it’s time to level up.
The Will Leather dopp kit is a handsome choice.
The leather version, shown above, is extremely well made and looks fantastic. The less-expensive, canvas-and-twill version is equally awesome. Both feature a brass-studded leather base, with a fabric lined interior with plenty roomy enough to carry most grooming tools. Also an exterior zipper pocket and small interior pocket.
- If you also want to keep your gadget accessories organized while traveling, what you’re looking for is the Tech Dopp Kit by This is Ground.
The compact, stainless steel Bonavita BV1900TS is The Sweethome’s favorite coffee maker, so you know it’s a quality machine. While it doesn’t keep water preheated like the BUNN Velocity Brew, it still brews relatively quickly — less than six minutes for eight cups of coffee, which isn’t bad at all. And, the coffee that comes out is nearly pour-over quality, which is more than tasty enough for most.
One nice feature is the insulated thermal carafe, which can keep the coffee above 150°F for nearly four hours after brewing. This removes the need for a heating plate.
Note: Even with simple brewers like these, we still prefer grinding our own coffee for maximum freshess over buying the pre-ground stuff. For that, we recommend the Baratza Encore burr grinder.
No kitchen is complete without at least one cast iron skillet around — they just cook food so perfectly and only get better with age. If you haven’t been fortunate enough to receive the gift of a decades-old skillet, you can’t go wrong with a pre-seasoned skillet made by Lodge instead. These guys have cast iron down to a science, and their products are always highly recommended by other cast iron enthusiasts.
These skillets come in all sorts of sizes – from 3.5″ to 15″ – but we’d say the best one for most purposes is the 12″ model. Although it comes pre-seasoned, you’ll still need to know how to maintain it throughout the years, so be sure to read our guide to cast iron care, which also includes recipes and useful accessories for cast iron cookware.
It’s a bit more work than just using an everyday nonstick pan, but there’s something very Zen-like about the maintenance process, and it’s quite rewarding when done properly. Also, you don’t have to worry about those nonstick chemicals getting into your food.
P.S. Don’t forget a skillet handle mitt. Burning your hand is no way to celebrate a new Christmas present.
This thing makes 6 ice cubes, each measuring 2 cubic inches. Why is this helpful? Well, the bigger the ice cubes the slower they melt. Thus, these are perfect for drinks where you want to keep the liquid cold without diluting it with melted water before you’re finished drinking — for example, iced coffee, soda, or your favorite on-the-rocks drink (just a single King Cube in a double old-fashioned glass is all you need (besides, only one will fit anyway)).
And did we mention that enormous ice cubs are significantly more fun than plain ice cubes? Because they are.
This one’s is for any lovers of fine paper products and analog writing tools in your life.
The Hobonichi is a beautiful planner — known as a techo in Japanese — that goes beyond schedule-planning by also acting as a journal, notebook, sketch(note)book, scribble pad, and generally a place to capture thoughts and moments.
Each page (one per day) shows the current moon phase, and every two-page spread contains a unique quote, from the heartfelt to the humorous to the whimsical. There are also informational pages sprinkled in, covering topics such as herbs and spices around the world, international size charts, random-selection games around the world, national holidays, and more.
The thin, light Tomoe River paper is resistant to ink bleeding, and is part of what keeps the 450-page book so compact. The cover is a textured matte-black material that feels good in the hand, while the stitch-binding allows the book to open flat for easy writing.
Our reviews editor, Josh Ginter, made note of the minor differences between the 2016 edition and previous ones:
The 2016 Hobonichi Techo looks to be largely the same as prior years, save for a few extra days (the book now begins on December 16, 2015 and ends on January 8, 2017) and a unique serial number stamped on the inside back cover. I’m glad to see they didn’t mess with a good thing.
Coloring books aren’t just for kids anymore. Adult coloring books are a trend that’s becoming more popular all the time, and a great one to start with is Fantastic Cities: A Coloring Book of Amazing Places Real and Imagined by Steve McDonald.
This 60-page book contains highly intricate, aerial-view illustrations of various cities around the world — both real and imagined. One Amazon reviewer summed it up nicely: “The list is simply too long but includes cities in Germany, Canada, Greenland, France, Yemen, New York, Italy, Japan, Singapore, the Netherlands, Rio de Janerio, Turkey, India, Mexico, England, Australia, and Greece.” What’s harder to convey in words is just how complex the illustrations are.
Lunenburg (left) & Lunenburg mandala (right):
Singapore (left) & Amsterdam (right):
Needless to say, you’ll have plenty of time to sit and relax as you fill in all the minute architectural details.
If you’re just getting started with adult coloring books, pick up Sargent’s 50-count pack of colored pencils ($17), and if you really want to up your coloring game, check out Prismacolor’s 132-count pack ($96). (Don’t go with markers or gel pens on this one because the book’s pages have illustrations on both sides and they will bleed.)
This past summer I stumbled across a cool art project called Playing Arts, which has 55 designers and illustrators from around the world each designing the artwork of a particular card in their own distinct style. At the time they were unveiling one card every day until there were enough to compile the whole deck, which was then printed with Bicycle’s high-quality air-cushion card finish.
There are two editions so far, the second of which is the set I just described above:
If you want to get someone an awesome board game this year, we happen to have a whole guide dedicated to our favorite board games.
Yes, we’re featuring this bike again in our gift catalog, because it really is that awesome.
At first glance, you might think a pedal-less bike is a weird purchase to make. But believe us when we say this is one of the best (and funnest) ways to improve a toddler’s sense of balance, motor skills, and self-confidence.
Without the distraction of figuring out how to pedal, kids can use a propulsion system they’re familiar with — walking — and instead focus on learning how to balance and turn. By the time they’ve outgrown the Strider, they should be able to bypass training wheels entirely and graduate to a regular bicycle.
Last Christmas our editor-in-chief Shawn Blanc received the gift of a little quadcopter, the Hubsan X4. He quickly discovered that it was not only inexpensive but super, super fun. In fact, it made all three of his brothers-in-law jealous.
The Hubsan x4 is smaller than it looks. You can hold it in the palm of your hand, and it’s small enough that you can easily fly it indoors. But it’s also stable and sturdy enough you can fly it outdoors even at pretty decent altitude.
The Hubsan has a vibrant community of users, so if you want to nerd out there are a lot of YouTube videos and forum conversations and mods and whatnot. Also, there are a lot of extra parts available for the Hubsan — which, as you’ll quickly discover after your first few crashes, you’re probably going to want.
So in addition to the drone itself, these are the three accessories I’d pick up right away so you can get the most fun out of your drone from day one:
Micro SD card with adapter ($7): If you want to record video with your drone (and trust me you do) you need a Micro SD card. The Hubsan x4 records in AVI format, and a 3-minute video is about 200mb. So a 1 or 2GB card is plenty. Except, it’s hard to find a Micro SD Card in any denomination under 8 GB that’s not more expensive than the more common cards. I think Sandisk makes the best cards, and this one is a pretty great deal.
Crash Kit ($10): It took me just 2 days to deplete my supply of props. I lost one and broke a few others. The x4 can definitely take a beating (I lost control of it it on a windy Christmas day and it fell from over 100 feet right onto pavement). Also, the battery lasts 5-7 minutes at best. So having a spare is quite nice (they are super easy to swap out).
Another set of cheap replacement props ($3): Though the above crash kit comes with a lot of great spare parts, I’d go ahead an order more cheap props. These are what get lost / broken the easiest.
At Tools & Toys we have always donated 11% of our gross income to charity. If you click this link before you do your shopping on Amazon, we’ll be donating 11% of our affiliate earnings for the months of November and December specifically to the three charities listed below.
We also encourage you to consider making some charitable donations this year, and invite you to give alongside us to these three organizations:
St. Jude Children’s Hospital: St. Jude is unlike any other pediatric treatment and research facility. Discoveries made at St. Jude have completely changed how the world treats children with cancer and other catastrophic diseases. Moreover, their hospital has been described as “a hospital without walls” where children in need are treated at no cost to their family.
Operation Christmas Child: Samaritan’s purse is a Christian ministry, and every year they work with volunteers and donors from around the nation to pack and ship shoe boxes full of gifts to children in need around the globe.
App Camp for Girls: App Camp For Girls is a place where girls can put their creative powers to work, designing and building apps, while learning more about the business of software and being inspired by women mentors in the field. This is an organization we proudly support as they spread the message that women play a vital role in the technology field and offer a significant contribution.
If you’re looking for more gift ideas…
Our 2014 Stocking Stuffer’s guide is still just as awesome this year as it was last. It has 15 gift ideas under $30.
If all you want (or need) for Christmas is caffeine, then start here.
And if you’re on the hunt for the best everyday pocket knife, we cut right to the chase.