Outdoor Life Editors’ Holiday Gift Guide

The best products from our annual gear tests, plus some top picks from our editor-in-chief

The best part of having an outdoorsman on your holiday shopping list? There’s almost an infinite number of gear items you can get for them. We’ve got all kinds of gift ideas for duck hunters, deer hunters, and bass anglers. But if you want to get the hunter on your list something special, a product that’s top of the line, a product has been tested and vetted and objectively chosen as the best, well, look no further. Below is our list of gear-test winning guns, bows, crossbows, riflescopes, binoculars, spotting scopes, fishing rods, and reels. Each product is either the best in its category or chosen as the greatest value buy in its category. At the end you’ll find a list of products that I’ve personally been using hard this year (and absolutely love). Sure these items might be spendy, but they’re all field proven.

Gun Test Rifle Winner: SIG Cross Rifle

SIG Cross Rifle SIG

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This rifle won our annual gun test with its smart design and excellent performance. Here’s what shooting editor John B. Snow had to say about it: “It’s not just a bolt-action thrown into a chassis with AR-15 dimensions. The Cross has attained the elusive goal of being a portable mountain rifle (8.5 pounds scoped), with a hefty dose of battlefield DNA thrown into the mix. The stock adjusts every which way for a custom fit, and it folds down so the rifle can be carried in a pack. The three-lug action is snappy and quick. It runs great from the shoulder and is crazy accurate. With few exceptions, this 6.5 Creedmoor was a one-hole gun, shooting nearly all types of ammo in tiny clusters to the same point of impact. The tight tolerances on the mag well helped it feed flawlessly from the 5-round P-Mag it came with, and were in keeping with the rifle’s feel of rugged reliability.” SigSauer.com; $1,780

Gun Test Rifle Great Buy: Tikka T3x Lite Roughtech

Tikka T3x Lite Roughtech Tikka

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Of the rifles tested this year, this is the one I’d most like to see under the tree this Christmas. Here’s what shooting editor John B. Snow liked about it: “It is a smooth-running bolt gun with great balance, so it’s lively and fast-handling. The single-stack 3-round magazine loads easily and feeds ammo into the action perfectly every time. You can also throw a single round into the action and it will never fail to chamber, something a shocking number of rifles struggle with. In addition to its fine ergonomics, the rifle is accurate. Ours, chambered in 6.5 Creed, shot sub-MOA groups.” Tikka.fi; $1,100

Gun Test Shotgun Winner: Beretta 694 Sporting

Beretta 694 Sporting (left), CZ Ultralight All-Terrain (right) Beretta

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This is an awfully expensive shotgun, but it’s packed with features and it looks gorgeous on the gun rack. According to shooting editor John B. Snow: “There are too many refinements in the 694 to detail here, but the abbreviated list includes: an improved stock geometry, with a lengthened pistol grip and a more pronounced palm swell; a lower-profile opening latch and receiver design, giving the shooter a better field of view; an adjustable trigger; and an adjustable fore-end iron opening system. The 694 Sporting, however, is greater than the sum of these parts. It is a beautifully balanced shotgun that swings with authority and handled the recoil of 1 1⁄8-ounce sporting clays loads with ease. The understated metalwork has just the right amount of flash, the wood is lovely, and the overall attention to detail makes this an heirloom-quality firearm. Beretta.com; $4,500

Gun Test Shotgun Great Buy: CZ Upland Ultralight All-Terrain

This shotgun is a little more my style. Here’s what shooting editor John B. Snow liked about this rugged gun: “Over the years, CZ has earned a number of awards in our annual gun test, so it was not surprising that the company came away with another Great Buy trophy for this interesting bird gun. The OD green Cerakote on the metal makes it visually distinctive and augments the shotgun’s go-anywhere, do-anything vibe. At just 5 pounds 14 ounces, this 20-gauge hits the mark for a shotgun meant to be carried all day across the uplands. What really impressed us, however, was how the gun swung and shot. It wasn’t whippy or difficult to control, which can happen with lightweight guns. For a bird hunter on a budget, this All-Terrain is a solid choice.” CZ-USA.com; $890

Bow Test Compound Winner: Mathews VXR 28

Mathews VXR 28 Mathews

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Our bow test captain Will Brantley and his hunting buddies shot the whole field of new compounds at his property in Kentucky this summer. When the dust settled, this bow was the hands-down winner. Here’s Brantley on why: “We like to see innovation­—but sometimes things just work and you shouldn’t mess with them. When it comes to the VXR 28, Mathews only messed with a few things, and those adjustments were improvements. This bow scored at the top of the pack in six of our eight test categories: draw cycle, noise, vibration, fit and finish, handling, and value. After it placed so near the top in both speed and accuracy/forgiveness, there was no catching it. How does this compare to last year’s Vertix? It’s slower, but that was the trend this year. It’s a tad lighter, thanks to a slightly redesigned, more skeletonized six-bridge riser. The VXR 28 is quieter and vibrated less. We shot it a bit better too. The bow has other improvements, including a new module system that lets you make the usual draw length changes, but also peak-weight changes in 5-pound increments, while keeping the limbs bottomed out. (Some bowhunters think bottomed-out limbs shoot better, and I’m one of them.) Additional features include an improved grip, the new ­Silent Connect System for a bow sling and pull rope, and repositioned 3D dampeners. The draw cycle was flawless: smooth to the end, with a solid back wall. The bow had an 82.5 percent efficiency rating, the second highest of the test. All those considerations left us with a rig that wasn’t ­altogether surprising, but a ­winner nonetheless. Mathews.com; $1,099

Bow Test Crossbow Winner: Ravin R29X

Ravin R29X Ravin

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Ravin has won our crossbow test three of the last four years. Here’s our bow test captain Will Brantley on why: “All the Ravin crossbows use the same HeliCoil system, which allows the cams to rotate 340 degrees for crushing power in a compact package. Ravin does not publish draw weight figures, and instead publishes the required cocking effort (more on that system in a bit). That makes sense because, like many high-performance crossbows, it’s impossible to cock a Ravin by hand. The bolt is supported in the bow via a traditional nock and a rest at the front of the bow; there is no contact with a barrel in between, and that’s a recipe for excellent accuracy. The bows have all used the same 400-grain finished arrow, and the R29X is the fastest of them yet—and also the most accurate that I’ve tested. I averaged .7-inch groups at 50 yards with this bow, destroying a couple of bolts in the process. Nothing else we tested this year came close to that accuracy, and it was the fastest bow to boot. The biggest improvement to the platform is the R29X’s new cocking system, which eliminates the previous models’ signature boat-trailer-ratchet sound that could be heard plainly on a still morning from 100 yards away. It’s a safe system that’s easy to use, earning this bow maximum points in both the cocking effort and safety ­categories. It also has a great trigger, with an average pull weight of 2.03 pounds. ­Combine that with Ravin’s signature compact dimensions, and you’re left with a crossbow that, ­performance-wise, is tough to beat. We did dock it some value points because $2,625 is a whole lot of money—but gave extra credit for outstanding accessories, which it indeed has. $2,625

Bow Test Great Buy Crossbow: Barnett TS380

Barnett TS380 Barnett

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Maybe you don’t need a fancy crossbow. Maybe you just want to shoot deer at 30 or 40 yards and not have to spend a few thousand bucks? Here’s bow test captain Will Brantley on the best value crossbow buy of the year: “For the money, the Barnett TS380 is as good as you can get in the 2020 lineup, and was a shoo-in for this year’s Great Buy. It was easy to cock with a traditional rope, plus it was safe, and the fit and finish were remarkable for the price. It has plenty of speed and power. It sports a crisp, 3-pound 6-ounce TriggerTech trigger and an adjustable stock. I averaged 2.45-inch 50-yard groups with it, and I can’t think of many hunting scenarios where that won’t do the trick.” $550

Versatile Riflescope Test Winner: Vortex Razor HD LHT 3-15×42

Vortex Razor HD LHT 3-15×42 Vortex

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Optics test editor Andrew McKean evaluated scopes on 10 attributes ranging from the utility of the reticle to the precision of the turrets. Of all the versatile scopes (which could be used for hunting or target shooting) this Vortex was the winner. Here’s McKean on why: “This might be the ultimate hunting scope, with an MOA-based hash reticle in the second focal plane that has excellent holdover and windage references. For those shooters who prefer to dial turrets to place bullets on distant targets, the exposed pull-to-turn elevation knob has excellent indexing and adequate positivity and features Vortex’s RevStop zero stop. But this is a case where the complete package elevated the scope to the top finish. It weighs only 19 ounces, which makes the Razor HD LHT a good choice for a lightweight mountain rifle. It has a tasty push-button illumination system that makes it a good choice for low-light whitetail hunting. Its modest 42mm objective lens allows for low-profile mounting, and the ample dimensions of its 30mm tube give it the versatility to mount on a wide variety of rifles, including bolt guns with magnum actions.

Binocular Test Winner: Zeiss Victory SF 10×32

Zeiss Victory SF 10×32 Zeiss

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What does a $2,300 binocular get you? The best glass on the market. Here’s optics test editor Andrew McKean on why it’s worth the money: “With its remarkable Victory SF, Zeiss has managed to upend the staid world of binoculars and offer a product with three noticeable advantages. The first is its absurdly wide field of view, achieved by increasing the sizes of lenses and redesigning the optical prescription, or how all lenses and prisms work together. Most of its 10×32 peers, including the excellent Swarovski EL and Leica Trinovid, have fields of view between 110 and 120 meters wide when measured at 1,000 meters. The Victory SF brings a whopping 130 meters of view. It’s hard to measure that increased field of view without downrange yardage markers, but that amounts to a 15 percent increase in apparent field of view, which you’ll notice by the amount of landscape delivered by its bright, crisp lenses. One tester said that viewing through the Zeiss was “like looking through a picture window.” Another said the field of view was closer to an 8-power binocular instead of the 10X Victory Zeiss submitted for our test. Another remarkable attribute of the new Zeiss, which will be available in 8×42, 10×42, and 8×32 configurations along with the 10×32, is its balance. The binocular weighs a trim 20.8 ounces, but it feels even lighter, largely because of its wonderful equilibrium. Ergonomically, my fingertips fall naturally right on the oversized center focus wheel, which means I don’t have to feel about for the controls as I do with many binoculars, and the rearward weight of the binocular tips slightly into my face. Finally, SF in its name stands for “SmartFocus,” but it might stand for “SpeedFocus” given the rapidity of zooming from close focus to infinity in just 1.6 turns of the wheel. Optically, the Victory SF brings the same best-in-class attributes as earlier Victory models. The guts are SCHOTT fluoride glass protected by Zeiss’s proprietary high-contrast and weatherproof coatings. The SF tied for tops in our resolution test and finished in the middle of the low-light test, a disappointing performance that owes to its relatively small 32mm objective lenses (most binos in the test have big, light-gathering 42mm and 50mm lenses). We also liked the very positive four-position eyecups and the locking diopter control, located conveniently on the center hinge. $2,299

Spotting Scope Test Winner: SIG Sauer Oscar8 27-55×80

SIG Sauer Oscar8 27-55×80 SIG Sauer

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Tight, bright, and stout as a beer keg, SIG’s new full-sized spotter features excellent optics in a hard-wearing package that does almost everything very well. The Oscar8 was runner-up in our low-light test and turned in a good resolution score, thanks to its combination of high-transmission and extra-low dispersion glass and excellent coatings. We loved the tight, responsive controls, from the removable angled eyepiece to the rubberized center-barrel focus, and the sunshade seemed to glide as though mounted on ball-bearing tracks. The durable rubber armor over the aluminum body is grippy without being tacky, and the coyote-tan finish looks “torch,” as the kids would say, especially with the classy black accents. We also liked the graceful bend of the 45-degree angled body, as well as the clever rotating collet that locks in the removable eyepiece. Our guess is that additional eyepieces, including one with a mil-based reticle for use as a shooting-range spotter, isn’t far in the future for Sig’s flagship spotting scope platform. The tripod mount is graceful and very strong, and the band that allows users to rotate the barrel is more robust than many other full-size spotters. The magnification range, from 27X to 55X, is curious, but by keeping the power below 60X, the image stays relatively bright compared with peers that have higher magnification.

Tackle Test Spinning Reel Winner: Daiwa Kage LT

Daiwa Kage LT Daiwa

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This is a light, powerful reel that wowed our tackle test team. Here’s team captain Pete Robbins on why it won our test: The 2500 size weighs a mere 6.2 ounces, and everything about it is light and feathery. The premium cork knob provides a distinctive look and maximum comfort. The drag is buttery-smooth, with no hesitation at startup and no unevenness anywhere in the process. Kennedy liked the fact that it still has an anti-reverse feature, which is commonly left off these days to reduce weight and keep a reel sealed. Daiwa.com; $200

Tackle Test Spinning Rod Winner: Falcon Expert

Falcon Expert Falcon Rods

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Tackle test team captain Peter Robbins on why this is the best bass rod of the year: “We were impressed by the rod’s lightness—not just in terms of absolute weight, but also in how it balanced easily with a variety of reels. While fishing darter head worms and small swimbaits for bass suspended over 40-foot depths, we were able to feel them hitting on the fall and on the semi-slack line of a secondary drop. The tangle-free guides made braid-to-fluoro combinations eminently manageable, and I particularly liked the extended foregrip of premium cork in front of a blank-through reel seat.” $200

Tackle Test Baitcasting Reel Winner: Abu Garcia Revo EXD

Abu Garcia Revo EXD Abu Garcia

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If you don’t mind a purple reel, this is the best one money can buy. Here’s tackle test team captain on why: “It excelled at casting small baits accurately, and as you might expect from a 6.7-ounce model, it crushed our distance casting test. It also brought a remarkable amount of brute strength to the field. We were surprised to see an oversize handle combined with the smaller frame, but that initial incongruence hints at 11 bearings under the hood and 20 pounds of tractor-proof drag.”

Tackle Test Baitcasting Rod Winner: G.Loomis IMX Pro

G.Loomis IMX-Pro Blue IMX-PRO G.Loomis

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G. Loomis has been making killer bass reels for years. Here’s tackle test team captain Pete Robbins on why this one took home our editor’s choice award: “G.Loomis was one of the first companies to consistently build bass rods with specific techniques in mind, and it has continued to advance the long-standing IMX series in the Pro lineup. Everything about them is refined, from the high-quality cork to the Fuji rod seats and K Frame Alconite guides. The blank loaded crisply and responded well to both reaction lures and those requiring sensitivity. And while a $300-plus stick can hardly be called a bargain, a handful of these rods in medium-heavy actions would cover a wide range of bases for any bass angler.”

5 Editor Favorites

Stone Glacier 2P Skyscraper Tent

Stone Glacier 2P Skyscraper Tent Stone Glacier

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I hunted out of this tent during a mountain hunt in southeast Alaska this fall. We had plenty of cold winds and driving rain and the Skyscraper held up like a champ, keeping out the rain and holding tight against the wind. It has a smart pole system that Stone Glacier calls WebTruss technology. Basically the poles slide into trusses that the tent clips on to. It’s relatively quick and easy to set up and gives the tent an excellent weight-to-strength ratio. It weighs 4 pounds, 3 ounces. On the inside, it’s plenty roomy (as far as backcountry tents go) and it has plenty of pockets and extra features, like a through-vent in end wall that keeps condensation from building up. I was sharing this tent with a diehard Alaska mountain hunter and the only bad thing he could think to say about the Skyscraper is that “it knows it’s being smart.” I was fine with that.

Tethrd Mantis

Tethrd Mantis Tethrd

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I’m not a saddle hunting convert, at least not fully. But I do love this hunting system from Tethrd. Before I got started, I watched a few Youtube videos and got the hang of it (get it?) right away. It’s way easier to use this system than it may seem. Once I started hunting, the Mantis was plenty comfortable (though I still prefer a treestand for long sits). Because I still hunt out of treestands, I’ve been using the Mantis as a safety system while hanging new stand sets. A lineman’s rope combined with Ropeman 1 makes hanging stands infinitely easier and safer. The cool thing about any Tethrd system is that you can make little adaptations for your personal taste and hunting style. $200

KUIU Kutana Storm Shell Jacket and Pant

KUIU Kutana Storm Shell Jacket KUIU

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I wore this rain gear on the same Alaska hunt I mentioned in the tent write up. Southeast Alaska was breaking rainfall records (it rained every day of our hunt except for the last one). This system kept me dry and comfortable through it all. The jacket is made from a durable ripstop stretch nylon and is backed with a new Entrant® waterproof breathable membrane. All the seams are taped. I didn’t have any leaking in the pockets. I cinched down the cuffs and didn’t have water creep up from my wrists. Of all the expensive rain gear I’ve tried over the years (and I’ve tried a bunch) this suit has been the best. It’s available in 5 colors, including the new Valo pattern you see here. It turns out this pattern works pretty well in the duck marsh too. KUIU.com; $349 for the jacket; $299 for the pant

Voormi Hoodie

Voormi Hoodie Voormi

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This is the best, most comfortable, and most expensive hoodie you’ll ever own. It’s made from thermal, water-resistant wool. It also has a full-cover, balaclava-style hood to keep the wind and cold off your face. It’s got pockets on the inside and on the outside, plus thumb holes if you’re into that kind of thing. I wear mine for cold turkey hunts or warm bowhunts. It comes in six different color patterns, go with the Fishpond Oil Green. $229

MEAT! 1.5 HP Grinder

MEAT! 1.5 HP Grinder MEAT!

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This is a relatively new company that is turning out commercial-grade processing and preserving equipment and selling them direct-to-consumer. They offer slicers, saws, scales, mixers, stuffers, vacuum sealers, dehydrators, and yes, grinders. I’ve been using the 1.5 HP grinder that burns through 14 to 18 pounds of meat per minute. That means I ground up the chunk meat of an early-season whitetail in about two minutes. Features include: course and fine stainless steel grinding plates and a stainless stuffing plate with three stuffing tubes for sausage, and a safety filter over-loading chute. Meatyourmaker.com; $600