Shopping for Hiking Gear in Canada: 2019

Shopping for Hiking Gear in Canada: 2019

Here’s the problem: Canada is not the USA.

Hear me out. That’s important when it comes to hiking gear, especially in this brave new world of lightweight and ultralight backpacking and hiking.

Like overseas hikers, the selection of gear available locally is not that light. It might be tough, it might be useful, but it is not light.

I have pored over Atmosphere, I have visited multiple Valhalla Pures, I have scanned Canadian Tire and Camper’s Village, I have scrolled through Cabela’s and Bass Pro Shop, and I have dug through the REI of Canada, MEC‘s catalog. The selection just isn’t there compared to the USA.

And ordering online from American outfitters, while technically possible, is expensive especially with the Canadian Dollar in the toilet.

I was in one shop, a specialty outdoors store, where I had previously had very good conversations with the owner about gear. But this time, looking to specifically cut my base weight, he had nothing to offer me except to point me towards insanely expensive gear that wasn’t even what I was looking for.

In general, all of the above stores, if they carry quality hiking gear at all, only carry the big names: Osprey, Deuter, Gregory if you’re lucky. The odd Kelty, Mountain Hardware, or North Face sprinkled here and there, occasionally MSR makes an appearance. Basically, if it’s made in a factory somewhere in the 3rd world, you can buy it in Canada.

But compared to what I already own, next to nothing would make serious cuts to my base weight.

However, I have good news: there is some reasonable gear available for sale in Canada for a decent price. I’ll tell you what I found.

My big four (which are the biggest problem for most trying to go UL) are:

  • Osprey Atmos 65 (about 5 years old now) pack – 2.1kg
  • Eureka Spitfire Duo tent (also about 5 years old) – 2.1kg
  • Therm-a-Rest Trail Lite pad (grabbed on sale at Atmosphere last fall) – 1.1kg
  • Eureka Silver City synthetic sleeping bag rated to -6 C, which I got at an outdoor show 9 or 10 years ago – 1kg

Total baseweight for the big four (no clothes, no food, no water, no cook system) – 6.3kg – that’s 14 pounds right there! Backpacking North suggests your core equipment should be running around 3kg if you want to approach ultralight, and I’ve got double that. Some work is ahead.

I decided to make an upgrade list for my big 4, sourcing recommended gear from The Trek‘s many blog entries on big four equipment. That gave me a lot of ideas, but not much on those lists were available in Canada. The only notable exception was Big Agnes for tents – both MEC and Atmosphere stock them, at least online. But Big Agnes are expensive! And I don’t have that kind of coin. So, here’s my list of tents:

  • REI Quarter Dome – a pound lighter than my Eureka, and on the low end of prices for shelters, though I’d have to deal with USD conversion.
  • Gossamer Gear The One – 1/4 of the weight of my current shelter but again, and in the same price range as the Quarter Dome. I’d have to order straight from the manufacturer though.
  • Nemo Hornet 1 – The most expensive of the American options – it is available in Canada, but after exchange it’s still $20 cheaper from REI. (UPDATE: Valhalla Pure has this bad boy on sale for $359 CAD right now!) Lightest of the freestanding tents.
  • MEC Spark 1 – $299 (Jan 2018) Finally a Canadian option! 650 grams lighter than the REI tent, and the same price ballpark, but in CAD! Not a Gossamer Gear or Nemo, but definitely a great compromise and available locally.

I did a savings calculation, and found that while the Gossamer Gear was the clear winner at 4 grams per dollar, with the MEC Spark coming second at 3.29 (if you can get the Nemo on sale, it is actually 3.40). The others weren’t close. I’ll be buying the Spark as soon as possible, saving myself more than 2 pounds of baseweight.

My new Baby – Nemo Spark 1P

UPDATE: After writing the above, I investigated the footprint of each tent and discovered the Spark is a little tight, while the Nemo Hornet featured 3 square feet more space. Additionally I found a sale at Valhalla Pure for $359 CAD, which vaulted it into second place past the MEC Spark, though still behind the GG The One. Side win – it’s lighter than the Spark by half a pound, so very happy with the find.

Backpacks: this list was longer.

  • ULA Circuit 60 – fully half the weight of my current Osprey. I like the design and the colour availability.
  • ZPacks Arc Haul 50 – it would be a size downgrade, but I need to tighten up the overall size of the pack anyway. Super lightweight option, almost a quarter of the weight of my current.
  • Hyperlight Windrider 3400 – Second lightest option on the list, another considerable size downgrade losing 10l of space. Also I have no idea the difference between the Windrider and the Southwest.
  • Granite Gear Crown 2 60 – cheapest on the list so far, considering an REI sale at $199 USD. At that price, it’s worth considering closely with Canadian options.
  • Gossamer Gear Mariposa – surprisingly, not the lightest choice on the list, but still a reasonable choice and one of the lightest.
  • Osprey Volt 60 – Cheapest Canadian option at $200 but not quite a pound of weight savings, which isn’t that significant.
  • Thule Capstone 50 – I have never seen a Thule backpack before, and this one intrigued me with both the price and the weight. Just about 2 pounds lighter than the Atmos. Camper’s Village!
  • Gregory Stout 65 – a pound and a half lighter than the Atmos, and in the price range especially in CAD.

Doing my weight versus price analysis, this category was much more competitive. The top 2 were the Granite Gear and the Gossamer Gear, at 4.3 and 4.2 respectively. If I grab the Granite Gear on sale from REI and have it shipped to a post office across the border, I’ll be dropping 1150 grams of packweight – almost 2.5 pounds!

2lbs 4 oz – I think that’s worth it. Thanks REI!

UPDATE: Once again, doing your due diligence pays off. I rooted around through REI’s Clearance sale list and discovered a little older model: the Granite Gear Crown VC60. It was on clearance for $149 USD, and weighed in at a paltry 1020g. I grabbed the Tall which is actually 65l. The weight and cost savings I think is worth the tradeoff of losing the hipbelt pockets. At $149 it was well worth the conversion rate, and best of all, REI ships free to Canada!

Sleeping Mats: After considering my sleeping mat, (I actually have 2 options: the Therm-a-Rest Trail Lite and a Therm-a-Rest Z Lite Sol), I realized there was actually very little to gain from analyzing an upgrade. In this category, the most popular options are also available in Canada, so it wouldn’t be hard to watch for a sale and make a move if needed, but these two options are both decent and hard to improve on without spending a lot of money.

Sleeping Bags: This was challenging for a couple of reasons. The first being my current bag may need an upgrade simply from the fact that I have stored it a lot over the years in a compression sack, so it may have lost significant loft and not be warm enough anymore. Secondly, the weight savings really only becomes significant if I go to a quilt, which I have no experience in using and am not sure if it would work for me. I only found one store that had even a demo quilt to consider, so it’s hard to get this question answered. I know I am not a fan of mummy bags, but I have gotten used to them somewhat. Thirdly, since I am not at this stage planning a thru-hike that would start me in a cold shoulder season, I don’t know that I need to focus on the 20 degree bags recommended, and and probably get away with a 30 (rated barely sub zero in Celsius). 20 degree bags even in down were practically the same as my current bag. So, this is my list.

  • Enlightened Equipment Revelation 30 quilt – half the weight of my current bag(!) but BIG money – close to $500 CAD after conversion.
  • Katabatic Flex 30 quilt – same weight savings, same expensive price tag as the above.
  • MEC Talon -3C rated – Canadian option, saves me 200 grams of weight, and $150 cheaper than the above two options. So, maybe?
  • Kelty Cosmic Down 20 – another US option but quite affordable, cheaper than the above in fact. But actually HEAVIER??? If I have to upgrade because of the loss of loft this might be a consideration.
  • Honourable Mention: Nemo makes some cool bags that are available up here, adapted specifically for side sleepers (of which I am one). But really too expensive and no weight savings.

Verdict: both quilts would save me about a gram per dollar, but the investment is too dang high to make at this time. If I have to get a replacement, it will be the MEC probably – a little weight savings and not a scandalous amount of cash.

Mmm… affordable quilt…

UPDATE: MEC sent me an email (yay marketing spam!) announcing some new items had jumped on clearance, so I took a quick boo. Lo and behold I saw something I had never seen before: a quilt! Sierra Designs +2 Backcountry Quilt. At $239 CAD that’s less than half the price of the big two quilts from the US, and with the weight coming in at 679g – a few ounces heavier than the big two but still a significant weight savings on my current bag, This deserves examination. By my calculations, it offers 1.34g per dollar spent which when compared to the above tent and pack upgrades, isn’t much but much better than anything else I looked at. I won’t rush out to buy it today, but I’m keeping an eye on it and if my current bag doesn’t cut it, this will be my first move. Even if it goes back to regular price, the wieght to dollar ratio is better than either the Katabatic or the EE.

All told, when I factored in my base weight with everything else if I just got the Granite Gear pack and the MEC Spark tent, I’d drop from 22 pounds to 17 – almost to the magic 15! And that’s close enough for this season. I’ll post again soon about the big hike I plan to take this year. It won’t be a thru-hike but it should give me a good idea about what it will take to do one if I ever get the chance.

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