Opti Hiking Bench by McLaughlin Optimist

This lightweight, adjustable apparatus lets kids build their hiking muscles all year round. "Gear Up" from our December 17, 2008, /SW eNewsletter/



Families have strange holiday traditions. Or at least my family does-the sadistically practical gift. Here's an example: Christmas morning, 1989, eight-years-old, I sneak downstairs to discover beneath the tree, topped with a red bow and a tag bearing my name, a shiny new snow shovel. "Merry Christmas. Now go shovel the driveway."

For those with young sailors on their list, McLaughlin Optimist offers an even better way to torture a child on Christmas morning and all throughout the year-the Opti Hiking Bench. Made of the same anodized aluminum tubing used to construct the popular Optiparts dolly, the bench allows kids to develop their hiking muscles from the comfort (or discomfort, as the case may be) of their own homes. The eight-pound apparatus snaps together by means of spring-loaded buttons and screw knobs and disassembles just as easily. You can adjust the length of the hiking strap and the height of the padded rail to attain just the right degree of misery. McLaughlin touts the Opti Hiking Bench as "the perfect accessory for Wii," but I suspect the strain of straightlegging would make it difficult to accurately swing a virtual golf club. Then again, I'm sure plenty of ambitious Opti sailors will be up for the challenge-those kids are real go getters.

While a child might not greet the gift of an Opti Hiking Bench with the same enthusiasm they would show an iPod, an Xbox 360, or even a lifetime supply of sandpaper, they'll surely thank you the first windy day next summer, when they arrive at the windward mark ahead of all those flabby wimps who spent their winters playing video games from actual couches.