Outdoor retailers struggle to stock tents, backpacks ahead of second COVID summer

David Keay’s outdoor store anticipated campers would shop early for tents this season, so he stocked up heavily in February to prepare as best it could.

But the inventory didn’t even last the month.

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"A lot of consumers don't even need to be told, they’re fully aware that supply is limited, and there’s probably a lot of people who tried to buy a tent last year and couldn’t get it," said Keay, the general manager of Robinson’s Outdoor Store in Victoria, who said shoppers would usually start looking for tents later in the year.

Outdoor retailers say consumers are shopping much earlier than they used to to avoid being disappointed by sold out items, as demand grows for equipment and manufacturers struggle with shipping issues and shortages in materials.

As hordes of people book up simple camping sites across the country, Keay said there’s increased demand for high quality and lightweight gear that facilitates trips further into the backcountry where there is still available space.

Ultralight backpacks and tents are extremely hard to come by at Keay’s shop as a result, and he said it’s difficult to get more stock from suppliers with demand up across the country

He said hiking boots are another hot item that are hard to stock because it’s difficult to gauge how much space they can take up when purchasing size ranges for footwear.

Keay described his store as lucky, as they move quicker than big box stores to adapt to demand. He was able to secure more stock than most after making orders early, but demand still outstrips what they have.

Other big name brands are seeing dramatic increases in demand for any product that facilitates life outside the home.

L.L. Bean, an American retail company with an expanding presence in Canada, said it forecasts a 360 per cent increase in demand for adventure duffel bags, a 400 per cent increase in demand for paddleboards and a 500 per cent increase for outdoor furniture.

The company pointed out it has sold more outdoor furniture in the first four months of 2021 than in all of 2019.

In Calgary, the owner of Norseman Outdoor Specialist said premium tents and hiking boots were also "impossible" to get in stock.

"Imagine a point you would consider insane and double it," said Anthony Mauriks, when talking about the level of demand and the difficulty of getting items in stock amid material shortages and shipping container shortages.

Mauriks said he also expected demand for bear spray, which is an essential item in the Rockies, to explode in the coming months.

He said managers in the outdoor retail space have the incredibly difficult task of figuring out how long it’ll take to get items in stock from backed-up manufacturers, while also having to predict where demand will explode in the coming season.

"There are a lot of businesses and people that are just taking wild guesses because there’s just no information, we’ve never been here before," said Mauriks.

"It’s a really uncertain, challenging time."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 5, 2021.

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