Outdoor activities became all the rage during the pandemic. Here are some that won’t break the bank – The Globe and Mail

Outdoor activities became all the rage during the pandemic. Here are some that won’t break the bank  The Globe and Mail


Louise Cabana standup paddleboards at sunrise at Shirleys Bay on the Ottawa River on Aug. 10Ashley Fraser/The Globe and Mail

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Outdoors activities were among the many things that got more expensive and difficult to enjoy when the pandemic hit.

In 2020 and 2021, campsites were booked up and spots were reselling at outrageous rates. Bike shops were looking at year-long delivery timelines. Popular beginner hikes, such as those in Banff and Vancouver, became clogged with people. And the lineups at ski resorts near major cities made you just want to give up.

Now Canadians have major inflation and the looming possibility of a recession to think about before they decide whether they want to invest in a new outdoor hobby.

With that in mind, we’ve compiled a list of a few relatively low- and medium-cost outdoor activities to pursue, whether you prefer exerting yourself or relaxing when in nature.

Whatever the activity, people who take part all say that having an outdoor hobby is a way for them to unplug, be mindful about nature, and improve their overall mental health.

Gagan Singh, a member of Van City United Disc Golf Club, throws a disc towards a basket at Eastview Park in North Vancouver on Aug. 9.Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail

Disc Golf

Some casual disc golfers – also known as Frisbee golfers, or even frolfers – describe the sport as going for a walk, but with purpose.

The premise is simple: Instead of using golf clubs to hit a ball toward a hole, players flick a disc toward a basket. The scoring is the same as in golf, too; there’s a par set for each hole, and the lowest score at the end of a game wins.

Gagan Singh, a spokesman for Van City United Disc Golf Club, says disc golf is addictive because it’s an easy sport to pick up and play, but one that takes a lifetime to master.

A major difference between disc golf and regular golf is the cost. According to an estimate by another Vancouver-area club, North Shore Disc Golf, 90 per cent of disc courses worldwide are free to play.

In terms of gear, a starter disc wouldn’t cost much more than $20, and if you get into the sport, most people can get away with just three discs: a putter, a mid-range and a driver. (The shape of the discs dictate how far they fly, or the curve path they take.) Mr. Singh even says you can use a regular Frisbee if you’re trying out the sport for the first time.

Disc golf has exploded in popularity in recent years, with interest soaring particularly since the pandemic began. Statistics from North Shore Disc Golf show the number of courses worldwide has grown to more than 13,000 in 2021, from roughly 4,000 around 2010.

With the cost of living continuing to grow, Mr. Singh thinks that will only add to the interest in disc golf.

“If you have a family of four or five, that really helps, especially with the way the economy is going right now,” he said.

Trail runner Adrian Lambert traverses the Dolomite Mountains in Italy.Matthew Setback/Handout

Trail Running

One of Adrian Lambert’s favourite things about trail running is the sense of freedom. With just a pair of relatively inexpensive shoes you can turn a grassy hill, the side of the mountain or your town’s local trail into a place to escape to for exercise.

“There’s a massive freedom that you don’t have in other sports because you can really define your own adventure,” Mr. Lambert said. “I’ve even done some trail-running in parts of northern B.C., and when you find you’re above tree line, you just run wherever you want.”

It’s also one of the cheapest high-intensity sports to get into. A pair of trail runners can range from $100 to $200. If you already have workout clothes, they’ll do the trick. And a free app can easily track your progress.

Mr. Lambert’s main piece of advice for people considering the sport is to take things slow. You don’t need to run particularly fast or for long periods; it takes a slow grind to eventually be able to run consistently.

Where you live generally won’t be a limiting factor, either – whether it’s a small town or city centre, Mr. Lambert says trail networks are generally there if you look for them.

And if it turns out that running isn’t your thing, trail runners make for good hiking shoes, too.

Kelsey Magill gets ready to head out on her standup paddleboard on the Ottawa River shortly after sunrise on Aug. 11.Ashley Fraser/The Globe and Mail

SUP boarding

A benefit of living in Canada is the amount of water we have access to. And if your budget can stretch to around $750, stand-up paddleboarding, or SUP, can be a great way to get out on the water.

Michelle McShane, executive director of Paddle Canada, says the sport has been steadily growing in popularity, and the advent of inflatable boards has opened the door for people who live in apartments and don’t have much storage space, or people who own a car but don’t want to bother with expensive racks.

An entry-level inflatable SUP board package can cost around $750, and will sometimes include a life jacket, carry bag and paddle, Ms. McShane says. The whole bundle will fit into a backpack small enough to store in a closet, take along on transit, or pop into a compact car.

“It was a whole totally different way of experiencing the water,” said Ms. McShane, who said she can still remember the first time she tried a SUP board.

“When you’re sitting in a kayak or canoe you really only get to see the surface of the water … but the perspective when you’re standing on a board and looking down, you can see the fish and the bottom, so that’s really cool.”

Ms. McShane also points out that SUP boarding can be as relaxing or as vigorous an activity as you want. For those looking for a workout, it engages your whole body for balance and for paddle strokes. And for families, a SUP board can easily double as a beach toy for the kids.

Ms. McShane says that anybody looking to get involved in SUP boarding should also consider taking a course, which can cost around $100 to $200. It will not only teach you technique, but also safety rules.

Kelly-Sue O’Connor heads out birdwatching in Erieau, Ont.Handout

Bird Watching

Kelly-Sue O’Connor was in her 20s and living in downtown Toronto when she first started birdwatching, so she wasn’t exactly part of the demographic that comes to mind when one thinks of the hobby.

She got into it years ago after spotting a bright-coloured pet bird in the city’s core, which got her interested in the avian world that lives above us. That’s what the birdwatching community calls a “spark bird” – one that piques your interest in the pastime.

Birdwatching has had something of a boom during the pandemic, leading more people, young and old, to parks in search of birds as a reason to be outside.

And as she points out, there’s another reason for its recent popularity. Birdwatching is relatively cheap, and fairly simple to get into.

It can cost nothing to get into the activity if you join a local birdwatching club, whose members can pass on knowledge and lend you a pair of binoculars. Most apps to help you identify a bird by its song or appearance are free, although their accuracy can be mixed.

Ms. O’Connor says the basics to start are a pair of comfy shoes, and perhaps a birdwatching guidebook from a thrift store.

Eventually, if you’re invested in the hobby, you can pick up a pair of decent-quality binoculars for around $200. And by then, it becomes a great reason to go on hikes, walks in the park, or even vacations to other countries.

For Ms. O’Connor, it’s her escape from day-to-day life, and it’s had a positive impact on her mental health.

“It’s very much about being mindful and being present and it really helps my mental health,” said Ms. O’Connor, who has been diagnosed with ADHD post-traumatic stress disorder.

“We all know it can be hard to access mental health care, so while I was waiting or figuring out if I had issues to work on or needed to be treated, I was treating myself by being in nature.”


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