Canada has a lot to celebrate on its 150th birthday. Not the least being companies that design and manufacture innovative and quality products in Canada for hikers.
I’m a big fan of “Made in Canada”, and I recognize the quality of the Canadian product is equal and often superior to its American competitors. In fact, for many Canadian companies, that is the secret to success. If you can’t beat the competition on price, produce items of exceptional quality.
Here are some of my favourite Canadian outdoor suppliers.
If you trace Stanfield’s history back to when Charles E. Stanfield established his first woollen mill in Tryon, PEI, in 1856, you have a company that is older than Canada. It moved to Truro, Nova Scotia, 14 years later and has been operating there ever since, taking on the name Stanfield’s Limited in 1906.
As throughout its long history, Stanfield’s is still about “base layer”, and not just the double-layer long johns I bought when I came to the Canadian Rockies to work as a ski patrolman. Despite its red-brick, historic manufacturing centre in Truro, the company has kept up with the times and now lists a wide variety of Merino, microfibre and fleece undergarments plus beanie-style toques for both men and women.
And you won’t have to search for an Eaton’s department store to purchase these very affordable, quality products, just check out the Stanfields.com website and order online.
Another Canadian company that’s been around a long time is J.B. Fields, purveyors of fine socks. Started in 1877 in Tavistock, Ontario, to provide socks for loggers, Fields was absorbed into the Great Canadian Sox company in 1934. Today, the company produces a wide variety of sport socks for outdoor adventures.
I’ve been a fan of J.B. Fields socks for a long time, both for comfort and price. Available at a wide variety of outdoor retailers in Canada or check out their product at greatsox.com.
Taiga down parkas and sleeping bags, breathable rain gear, fleece jackets and vests, base layers, and a selection of accessories have been designed and manufactured in Vancouver since the mid-1980s. The company operates a retail store on Broadway.
A lot of “coasties” think it politically incorrect to shop Taiga Works because it uses home-based labour. But I like the fact that the company’s product is manufactured in Vancouver rather than some unknown factory in Asia. And I’ve always liked Taiga products and never found better design, quality or price anywhere else in Canada.
Go online at TaigaWorks.ca to check out the variety of company-produced wares plus gear sourced from other manufacturers, like tents, backpacks, camp stoves, sleeping pads, folding and inflatable kayaks, etc. But be advised that dealing with Taiga can be a bit quirky, and you’re often best visiting the store or placing your order by phone.
At the other end of the Canadian-made spectrum is Arc’teryx. Established in North Vancouver in 1989, the company released its landmark Bora backpack in the mid-1990s (I bought my Bora soon after). From these humble beginnings, Arc’teryx moved into outdoor apparel utilizing Gore-Tex fabric, and the rest is history. Today, Arc’teryx is at the top end of quality (and price) in the world of outdoor attire.
Though most Arc’teryx parkas and other attire are now manufactured off shore, packs and other gear are still made in Vancouver. If you want what many enthusiasts consider some of the best outdoor clothing available, check out Arcteryx.com.
When Alex Tilley started marketing his hats in Ontario back in the early 1980s, I rolled my eyes. These were expensive hats for Muskoka cottage canoeists. But after a few uncomfortable surgeries to remove sun-damage lesions, I started looking at hats, and specifically Tilley hats.
Unlike its first decade, today’s Tilley makes a wide variety of hat styles, and with different materials that are suited for a wide range of outdoor activities, including hiking. The hats are still on the pricey side when compared to other brands, but then, they are made in Canada by hand.
Because of the variety of styles, critical sizing (one-size does not fit all), and the price, you won’t find many retailers where you can shop in person. That leaves you with the Tilley website (and make sure you pay close attention to the sizing guide).
Insect repellent—one outdoor enterprise where Canada should lead the world. And my favourite after two summers of testing is PiActive, the most widely marketed repellent containing a 20% solution of icaridin.
PiActive is made by Kuus Inc., a Canadian company that started producing insect repellents and insecticides in 2003. Though primarily promoting DEET based repellents in its early years, the company quickly recognized the benefits of icaridin when it was approved for sale in Canada in 2012.
Icaridin has many advantages over DEET. As noted by the company, PiActive is non-scented, not oily or sticky, and won’t damage plastics or synthetics (I confirm all of the above). And it’s safe for children over 6 months of age. PiActive is already vying for shelf space with DEET products in many retail outlets (MEC, Home Hardware, Cabela’s), but you can check out the Kuus website for the full story.
But if you are determined to go old-school with DEET, you can always check out a Canadian original—Muskol. The website is worth a visit for the product’s proud Canadian history.
One of my favourite discoveries in recent years is Harvest Foodworks—a family run business based in southeastern Ontario that specializes in dried camping foods. As described by company spokesperson Amy: “We are a family of three who are avid outdoors explorers and adventurers, who understand and appreciate real hearty foods….all of our products are created and packaged right here in Ontario.” I have tried Stroganoff, one of the popular Harvest Foodworks entrees, and it equals the quality of the best American brands. The 17x28cm bag weighs in at 212 gm and is generously portioned to feed two (752 total calories).
You can check out the complete line of product at harvestfoodworks.com, but you can also find a selection of their camping meals at MEC and other outdoor retailers.
I always have Taste of Nature Apple bars in my pack for an on-trail snack. Don’t call them granola bars. They are far too wholesome and nutritious for that and have nothing in common with the multinational snack bars that fill supermarket shelves. Created in Ontario in 1994, Taste of Nature produces a wide variety of fruit, seed and nut snack bars that are 100% organic, non-GMO certified, low Glycemic, vegan and kosher. Though the Apple is my favourite, you can check out Almond, Peanut, Cranberry, Blueberry, Cherry, and more exotic flavours on the tasteofnature.com website. I purchase mine in the 16-bar box from well.ca.