Some of the most frequent kinds of questions ManMade receives are inquiries like, "I just graduated college and finally have a real income and I'd like to start investing in some long-lasting goods..." or "my fiancée's birthday is coming up, and I'd like to buy him something every guy should have..." In 2013, I've been giving my take on those essential items, offering a new collection of ten each season: winter, spring, summer, and fall. Some of these you might already own, some of these you might need to upgrade to a quality version, and most of these apply to women and households too. Please let me know what you think, and what you'd add or take away in the comments below.
1. Grill [pictured at top] - This one is a no-brainer. Why? Not because the grill is a man's domain or such goofiness, but because every home - from urban apartment to sprawling rural retreat - should have a grill. They produce flavors and dishes that you simply can't create with other means of cooking. And, while I'm at it, lemme put in a plug for the charcoal grill. I have and regularly use a gas grill, but when it comes to serious summer evening dinners, charcoal is the way to go. The food speaks for itself, but working with a live fire and active coals elevates the grill session from dinner to an event. You can't just turn the burners on high and go back inside. You have to monitor it...you get to sit outside, pay attention to the fire and the food, and make an evening of it. Which, at least to me, is the point of cooking outdoors in the first place. Plus, you can smoke foods on basic kettle grills, which are inexpensive and lightweight, and the small portable grills can be easily stored in a closet or on a balcony for the apartment dwellers. Recommended: Weber 741001 Silver 22-1/2-Inch Kettle Grill or for portability, the Weber Smokey Joe (The best grill of its kind, for only $35!) For more: The ManMade Grilling Section!
2. Baseball glove - Or...rather, any sort of one-piece-of-equipment outdoor game option. A soccer ball, a kickball, maybe even a jump rope. But for me, it's an American made leather baseball glove. Not cause I'm good at baseball (I'm not) but because there's an ease to a game of catch: a lilt, a conversation. It's not much exercise, and that's the point. You're not gearing up for a aggressive, sweat-soaked run, or an organized team competition. It's just you and a friend or two, doing something next to each other that allows you to do more than just sit and look into each other's eyes. Plus, it's a baseball glove - it's a handmade piece of craftsmanship, it'll never go bad or need replaced if you care for it, and it's just something every guy should have. [Photo: Sean Winters (CC)]
3. A non-staining sunscreen - There's nothing manly about sunburn, or worse, problematic sun spots or moles that can go malignant on you. A summer tan might look nice, but constant and intense unprotected exposure to the sun will age your skin, making for premature wrinkles at best, and you-know-what at worst. Look for an oil free option for your face, neck, and back to prevent breakouts, and one with titanium or zinc oxide as the active ingredient, as it won't stain your clothing like Avobenzone-based sunscreen. And though it's much more expensive and produces some more waste, I use the spray sunscreens in SPF50 for general use. I'm regularly in the sun for many hours on long bike rides, and using the spray and not having to deal with the cream in my arm and leg hairs means that I'll actually wear it every time I head out.
4. A pocket square - Wanna give that year-round investment gray or navy suit a summer burst? Wear a pocket square. Wanna not look exactly like all the other dudes at all those summer weddings? Wear a pocket square. Wanna convert what you wore to work into what your gonna wear for a night out? Wear a pocket square. Get a few, experiment, look sharp. Done and done. For more: How to: Buy a One Suit and Make It Work for Multiple Occasions [Pictured: Handcrafted, 100% natural fiber pocket square from Fox & Brie on Etsy]
5. Tent - Just get one. If you have one that you don't like or can't use or isn't designed for your style of camping, get one that will. There's something that happens when we sleep outside. I don't know if I can explain it...it's just what we do in the summer. If you're a dad, you owe your kids backyard sleepovers. You did them with your buddies, let your kids do it too. That's the stuff memories are made of. Whatever you do, step up and buy a quality tent that'll last as long as you do and store it properly, so it'll be ready when the time is right. I have two: a big guy that can sleep 6-8 adults comfortably for car camping, and a super lightweight backpacking tent for two.
6. Nightstand - A dresser will work. A bedside table. A milk crate if you're still rocking the collegiate look. You just need a stash spot to keep your daily use items - your wallet, watch, glasses, and the like - plus your bedroom necessities: a lamp, your current book, alarm clock. None of that belongs on the floor, and nothing else belongs on your nightstand. It's like your tool kit for unwinding. Keep it clean. See more: Wake Up Your Bedroom: 7 Tips to Create a Modern Masculine Retreat
7. Large ice cube tray or sphere mold - Because: summer. You need your drinks to be cold, but not water-y. Wanna turn a glass with some whiskey, bitters, and a bit of sugar into a true Old Fashioned? Put a big chunk of ice in it. The larger size slows the dilution rate, allowing your drink - whether a homemade lemonade or high ball - to change over time. Plus, the ice will freeze slower, making for a dense, hard, cold, and non-cloudy cube that your drink deserves. I use both the Tovolo silicon large cube molds, and the Tovolo two-part ice sphere makers, both of which work amazingly.
8. Travel wallet or money clip - Your everyday wallet should hold your loyalty card memberships, family photos, business cards, or whatever you need on you when you need it. But, there are lots of occasions when just the basics will do: your I.D., a credit card, and a bit of cash. Like, when you're vacation, or anytime you're wearing a suit. Get the one that works for usual carry, then seek out a slim option for the essentials: travel bi-fold, a card case, a money clip, your pick. Just get one that you can easily carry and remember to use. No bulges on vacation...or a date. Weekend Getaway 101: A Man's Guide to the Perfect Summer Trip
9. Heavy duty 8" chefs knife - It's not the only knife you need in the kitchen, but it's the one you'll use for 90% of tasks. So, step it up and buy one that'll get the job done. Hint: it doesn't come in a block kit, it's not serrated, and you can't buy it at the discount store. Look for a German, Swiss, or Japanese brand that's comfortable in your hand, full tang, and made of quality steel that will hold its edge and stand up to resharpening. If you are saving up for the Wustof or Shun, head to the restaurant supply store and buy one of their high quality molded handle chefs knives. They're made to stand up to constant use and regular sharpening. For more: The Essential Kitchen: The 15 Tools Every Man Needs to Cook Like a Pro
10. Serious flashlight - Like, a serious one. One you can find when those summer storms take the electricity down. That can illuminate the entirety of your attic when you're looking for that one thing that you're pretty sure you put up there, cause you can't find it anywhere else. One that'll go from the tent to the bathroom down the lane... or to that grassy patch because that bathroom is too far away, and is just a hole in the ground anyway. LED models are best here: the use the same amount of batteries, and run at least four times as long as an incandescent bulb. And they're all kinds of bright.
For more, see the first two installments of our 10 Things Every Man Should Own series: The Winter Edition and Spring Edition