That all changed this summer, when we’ve had to look at how we can still have fun with the kids when so many things are closed and the COVID-19 situation seems to change on a weekly basis. Suddenly, camping in your own self-contained tent where everything you need is touched only by us has become quite appealing, not only to us, but to many Canadians.
Parks Canada opened their bookings system on June 23, 2020—months later than in previous years—received more than 4,650 reservations on that first day. Provincial parks across the country are seeing a surge of interest as things start to open up locally too. “Campers are eager to get out to the parks this season,” says Robin Campese, executive director of visitor experiences for Saskatchewan Provincial Parks. “We had another busy reservation launch this year.”
As soon as Nova Scotia’s provincial parks opened up, my husband booked two camping trips with our kids, camping on the beach along Nova Scotia’s South Shore over the first weekend in July. I, meanwhile, got a much needed break and stayed home all by myself, which was sheer bliss. I’ll join them on the second trip, though, and try to become a tenting convert so we can have fun family breaks throughout the Maritimes, with no fear of COVID ruining our plans by shutting hotels.
Thanks to pandemic-related precautions, summer holiday options are limited, especially for those of us without a cottage in the family. Camping can be an economical way to travel— especially for families. You can pitch a tent at a serviced campground in Banff National Park for less than $30 a night. If you tried to book a hotel room in Banff in August, you’d be lucky to find one at $400 a night. Plus, you can save a lot of money eating by the campfire instead of eating at restaurants all through your vacation.
Here’s a breakdown of exactly what a camping trip costs (including the outlay for gear, if you don’t already have it), and how and where you can save yourself money in the planning and execution of your trip.
What are the supplies you need?
For a couple looking to camp this summer, Kim Worbeck, senior merchant at Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC), says you could get everything you need from MEC for less than $500. “You can likely buy cheaper from department stores, but better quality gear is going to give you a much more pleasant camping experience, and that gear is going to last for many more trips,” Worbeck says. (To give you an idea, two-person tents at MEC start at $239.99, whereas you can buy a very basic tent at Walmart Canada for around $40.)
In addition to a tent, you’ll need sleeping bags (you can spend from $40 up to $1,000 on these), and sleeping mats (such as a Therm-a-rest) or an inflatable mattress, depending on your desired comfort level. “You can get a basic sleeping pad for $50, or you could go for something super deluxe that’s five inches thick that’ll cost a couple of hundred bucks,” says Worbeck. There’s a huge array of camping gear to choose from, and if you get really into it there are lots of ways to blow plenty of cash creating your dream camping experience. There are often great sales on camping gear throughout the summer, so it’s well worth checking the weekly flyers for deals. Dollar stores often carry camping accessories too—sometimes from the same brands as you’ll find at bigger outfitting stores.
Used camping gear is another option, though of course we all need to be careful about purchasing used goods and interacting safely with sellers right now. Even if the used gear you buy isn’t perfect, you may well be able to fix any issues. “Inspect your tent before you go camping, though, so you can fix and rips or tears before you get to your campsite,” says Worbeck, adding that there are technical products that you can buy to waterproof tent seams, and it is pretty easy to wash out the inside of a used tent. “There are also special washes you can buy for sleeping bags, so you can clean them properly too,” she advises.