Gear Shopping on a Budget


Finding gear can be one of the more stressful parts of getting ready for camp.  It had been our hope to offer a second gear swap this year, but feedback indicates that we have more buyers than sellers in our community at the moment.  Not wanting to let you down, we’ve put together some of our advice on outfitting your camper without breaking the bank.

Establish “need” versus “nice to have”

This is my number one piece of advice.  We put every effort into indicating on our packing lists what is “required” and what is “suggested”.  We don’t expect you to buy brand new, high end gear for your child every year – in fact we don’t want you to!  Kids grow quickly, they sometimes lose things and they can be hard on their clothes.  Review the packing list for your child’s session thoroughly and decide what items need to be high-quality vs. where you can bargain shop.  This is especially true for younger campers.  You don’t need to buy $300 rain suits for Junior and Temagami campers.

Thrift Stores      

I cannot stress the value of thrift stores enough.  Stores like Value Village and the Salvation Army are full of clothing items great for trip, especially fleece and wool items, for under $10.  This time of year is great, because so many people are cleaning out their closets from the winter.  Also look here for hats, rain gear, quick dry items (polyester and nylon are great materials for shorts, pants and shirts for warm days).  If you’re willing to dig, you may find some great high-quality technical fabrics too.  We’ve had V2 campers outfit themselves almost entirely from Value Village.

If it’s Broke – Fix It!

Companies like Mountain Equipment Coop and Gore-tex offer EXCELLENT warranty policies on their products.  If your gear has been damaged from reasonable use (broken zipper, tear at a seam), many outdoor companies will often repair (or replace!) the item at little to no charge.  Our staff have taken advantage of this service frequently and with great success.

MEC Gear Swaps

Mountain Equipment Coop has a free online gear swap on their website.  This is a great place to find higher quality clothing items (Gore-tex, for example) and gear (packs, sleeping mats, sleeping bags).  MEC also hosts PaddleFest events in May and June through many of their stores that often include Gear Swaps.  Check their Events page for details:

Shop Online

Many reputable businesses have online stores as well as their brick and mortar incarnations.  Online is great, because it is where the clearance items live.  Excellent quality gear from the big names (Arc’teryx, Mountain Hardware, North Face…  I can go on… but I just started drooling) can go for 50-70% off simply because it is last season’s colour.,,, are all great sites AND they’re all Canadian.  I recommend browsing through the sales page, as sometimes searches won’t return all the sale items.  A word of warning on online shopping: beware of the too-good-to-be-true.  If a website seems sketchy, it probably is.  Search for reviews on the business if you are unsure… and if they are offering you an Arc’teryx rain coat for $45, it’s a scam!


Another great resource, especially if you live in a larger city like Ottawa or Toronto.  Many posters will often be open to negotiating price, especially if the item has been posted for more than a week.  We recommend you meet any sellers in a public place.

Local Department Stores             

You do not need to outfit your camper exclusively from outdoor stores like MEC or Trailhead.  Many stores like Walmart, Target and Old Navy will be able to supply basic clothing items like fleece and quick-dry clothing.  Save money on these items (especially for younger campers who will be growing out of most things before next summer) and save the gear stores for the more technical items.  For things like PFDs, Canadian Tire offers ones that are completely suitable for flat water paddling.  We do not start recommending paddling vest-style PFDs until campers begin paddling white water.

Room to Grow

With the exception of footwear and PFDs, it is okay to size up on an item to extend its life for another summer.  A baggy fleece is still a warm fleece!

What to invest in

This is a tricky answer to generalize, as what we consider to be a good investment for campers on longer trips may not be the same for one doing, say, a two-week flat water trip.  Our packing lists offer better insight into what we recommend for each age group.  Feel free to get in touch with us to talk specifics for your child.  Overall, here are suggestions for what is worth spending some extra money on.  With the exception of the footwear, most of these items pop up frequently at gear swaps and on Kijiji.

–          Footwear. Good shoes can make or break a portage.  Camper must have well-fitting shoes with good ankle support.  This doesn’t necessarily mean an ankle-height shoe – a good, sturdy runner will work fine.  Make sure they are broken in!

–          Base layers. Being cold can make even the greatest adventure miserable (and possibly dangerous).  Investing in long johns made from polypropelene (ex. Capilene by Patagonia) or merino wool is worth the extra money to ensure body warmth, even in wet conditions.  Check the tables at Costco!  I have often found 100% merino wool shirts on the tables for under $20. Wool socks are also essential.

–          Sleeping bags. Even in the summer, nights can get cold.  A bag rated -7 or lower will work for all trips.  Good sleeping bags can be found at gear swaps, but this may also be an item to consider buying new as it should last for years (and your camper won’t outgrow it!).  There are advantages to both synthetic and down.  Choose what works best for you.

–          Sleeping mats.  Another item that will last (when taken care of) for at least a few years.  Ensolite (foam) is inexpensive, but can be bulky and not very comfortable.  If you think your child will likely return to camp for a few summers, we recommend investing in a Thermarest.

–          Packs. Campers carry their own packs, so one that fits well is important.  We recommend between 40-70L for our younger campers, moving toward the 60-70L range for our eldest campers.  A durable pack can last your camper for multiple seasons.

Finally, treat it right.

Outdoor clothing and equipment is designed to take a beating, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take care of it.  Follow proper washing and storage instructions and please, PLEASE label everything before it comes to camp.  A good-quality pair of rain pants are no good when they are sitting unclaimed in our lost and found.  Mabel’s Labels offers durable clothing and gear labels AND will donate a portion of sales to Wanapitei when you shop from this link.  I also recommend re-waterproofing your outerwear.  I have had my current rain coat from North Face for a few years now, and it is as waterproof (and breathable) as the day I bought it because, each season, I take the time to re-waterproof it.  Nikwax makes several spray on or wash-in waterproofing solutions for breathable waterproof gear for about $15 a bottle.  This can add years to the life of outerwear.