Missed Out on Outdoor Gear Last Spring? It’s Back in Stock—But Not for Long Leave a comment

Chirping birds titter outside your window. A warm breeze brushes your cheeks when you step outside. The sun shines just a bit brighter and, with each passing day, sets later. It’s official: Spring has rescued you from winter’s icy clutches.

Last year, pandemic-related stock shortages made it difficult to get ahold of the outdoor gear you might have been seeking to properly celebrate the season. Tents and sleeping bags, gardening necessities, bicycles—all were hard to find in stock as supply chains struggled to keep up. But companies have since adapted, and this time around, most of what you may want (or need) to make the most of a socially distanced but still fun spring is back on shelves. Whether you want to retreat to the mountains for a weekend of solitude or build the backyard oasis of your dreams, be sure to pick up what you need now before stock begins to dwindle again.

Go camping

Interest in camping spiked in 2020, and gear such as tents and sleeping bags flew off the shelves. But campground closures and the reduced number of campsites available upon reopening made it hard for many people to secure a spot, which further complicated plans.

It’s a little easier these days to find the equipment you need to go camping this spring and summer. Though some Wirecutter picks are still facing stock shortages, most previously hard-to-find essentials, such as tents and lanterns, are back. Whether you’re a seasoned camper or a newbie looking to go off-grid this year, here’s everything we think you should have on hand before your trip:

If you’re still having trouble finding what you need, Christine suggests renting your gear from an outdoor retailer such as REI or a store local to your area. Though renting is not ideal for folks who plan to camp often, this could be a cost-effective option for occasional campers. It’s also a great way for first-time campers to learn their preferences before dropping a ton of cash on gear of their own.

Local shelter-in-place orders and travel restrictions have mostly lifted, as well, but we suggest keeping camping trips local by traveling only within your own state (or an adjacent no-quarantine state). You might still run into problems in finding open campsites; though spring has just barely begun, popular campgrounds around the country are already booked solid through the summer. Secure your campsites now if you can—but don’t panic if you can’t find an open site. Both Airbnb and Hipcamp might have affordable campsite options available in your area that you can easily book online. Some campgrounds offer first-come, first-served spots for last-minute outings, but be sure to check your park’s website before heading over, as many campgrounds have suspended this system during the pandemic. And if all else fails, there’s always the backyard—no one ever said you had to trek far to sleep under the stars.

Hit the gym

A selection of resistance bands for exercise.
Photo: Michael Hession

As the days get longer and warmer, you might want to throw yourself into a new workout routine that shakes off the drowsiness from your winter hibernation. Though most gyms around the country have reopened their doors, you may not be comfortable with the idea of working up a sweat near other people just yet. Building out your home gym is a good alternative—not only can you avoid crowds, but you don’t have to suffer through a workout while wearing a mask, either.

This time last year, almost all home-fitness gear was especially hard to find in stock (and, as a result, folks started to use what they had on hand to make it through their workouts). The Washington Post reported that health and fitness equipment revenue more than doubled in 2020 as Americans looked to buy whatever they could get their hands on, be it as cumbersome as a treadmill or as lightweight as a set of resistance bands.

The demand for workout equipment is still quite high, but most of the Wirecutter-recommended gear you might need for your home gym is back in supply, including the following:

Once you have your gym in place, it’s time to start using it. Structured classes can provide the inspiration you may need to get started, and a ton of free services are still available. If working with a trainer one-on-one makes more sense for you, the personal-training app Future might be a good option, though it costs $150 a month. More expensive still is the Peloton bike, but its classes, which you can choose based on your own schedule, offer the fast-paced, regimented workouts you might be looking for. It’s a pricey purchase—$2,500 for the first year, including the cost of the bike and the yearly subscription, and around $500 each year thereafter—but it can be well worth the money if you commit to using it often. The same can be said of the Mirror, a device that streams live and on-demand fitness classes from a companion app via a two-way video feed. The first year runs you about $2,200 (including the cost of the Mirror itself and the monthly subscription), but, again, if you use it in place of a boutique gym membership, it’ll pay for itself over time.

Tend your garden

What’s more symbolic of spring than a garden teeming with fresh flowers, herbs, and veggies? (And before you say it, we know: Florals for spring? Groundbreaking.) Last spring, more people took to their gardens than ever before, with fruit and vegetable seed sales spiking worldwide. As demand went up, though, seed distributors had a difficult time keeping certain seeds in stock.

If you were forced to abandon your gardening plans last year, you’re in luck this spring: Though seed shortages persist in some areas, it’ll be a lot easier to find what you need. Check your local nurseries first; if they don’t have the specific variety of seeds you’re after, many online distributors are fully stocked. Burpee, one of the country’s oldest seed companies, offers a huge variety of vegetables, flowers, herbs, and fruits—most of which are currently available—and you can opt for already-bloomed plants or flowers if growing from seed isn’t your speed. Johnny’s Selected Seeds, a company that vows to never buy or profit from genetically engineered seeds or plants, gives gardeners the ability to buy as little as a single packet of seeds and as much as 25,000 seeds of some veggie varieties. And though Native Seeds doesn’t offer as much variety as other online distributors, this nonprofit organization’s seed bank includes crop variety from more than 50 Southwestern indigenous communities, and all proceeds go toward the preservation of native agricultural varieties in the Southwest.

Once you have your seeds, you need the right tools to plant them. Almost everything else you need to tend your garden is in stock, including the following:

  • Garden hoses and hose nozzles: Of our garden hose recommendations, the Dramm ColorStorm Premium Rubber Hose (our top pick) is the only option currently out of stock, but Amazon expects to have more inventory on April 1; Walmart also sells the Dramm, in orange, red, and yellow. Our nozzle pick, the Gilmour Full Size Zinc Pistol Grip Nozzle, is available from Amazon.
  • Garden pruners: All of our picks in this category are in stock and available now.
  • Gardening gloves: Likewise, all the picks in our guide to the best gardening gloves are also available.
  • Outdoor watering cans: Our upgrade pick, the Bosmere Haws V115, is currently out of stock, but you should be able to find our top pick easily.

Anyone interested in building their own raised garden beds out back shouldn’t have a hard time finding what they need, either: Almost all the required supplies, including Oldcastle’s planter wall blocks, can be found at your local hardware store.

Take a soak

A backyard stock tank pool.
Photo: Alejandra Matos

Lounging by the pool doesn’t necessarily scream “springtime,” but there’s nothing wrong with planning ahead for warmer summer days. If you’d toyed with the idea of building a backyard oasis last year, the short supply of aboveground pools and DIY stock tank pool supplies probably stopped you in your tracks. Luckily, you can put away the kiddie pool you may have bought as a stopgap measure last summer, as almost everything you need to pull together your own pool this year is available and in stock.

Last year, Wirecutter senior audience development manager Alejandra Matos took matters into her own hands and built a stock tank pool in her backyard. At first, she had difficulty finding a tank of any size; eventually, she found one at a family-owned feed store local to her area. Scarcity likely won’t be an issue this year: Tractor Supply Company, a national farm supplier, has 8-foot tanks in stock. Alejandra also suggests visiting manufacturers’ websites to find local sellers so you can support small businesses in your area (Tarter, Behlen Country, and Hastings list distributors on their websites).

The rest of the supplies you need to complete your stock tank pool (such as epoxy putty, leveling sand, waterproof silicone, and box levels) should be easy enough to find at your local hardware store or on Amazon. The only bit of equipment that might be difficult to nab right now, unfortunately, is an important one: Pool pumps are essential, as they filter out debris and keep the water in your pool circulating. The pump Alejandra used, the Intex 28635EG Krystal Clear Cartridge Pump, is currently unavailable from Amazon, Walmart, Target, and Intex itself. In The Swim, a Chicago-based pool-supply business, is the only retailer we’ve been able to find with the same pump in stock.

Hop into the saddle

Are you ready to feel the wind against your face as you whiz down hills on your bike this spring? Lots of folks hopped into the saddle last year to pass all their newfound free time (bike sales jumped 63% from 2019 to 2020), and retailers had a difficult time keeping up with the demand. Bikes themselves are still pretty hard to find right now, but the gear you need to ride safely (such as helmets and pumps) is mostly back in stock.

Unfortunately, two of the picks in our hybrid bike guide are available at present only through dealers, senior editor Christine Ryan says. “People should be able to find the closest dealer for our top pick via the Marin Bikes site, but there’s no guarantee the dealer will have any,” she explains. “Our also-great pick has been redesigned, and we haven’t been able to get one to test yet; it’s also available only through dealers.” You can order our upgrade pick online, but you’ll have to wait a few months, as the Priority Continuum Onyx is backordered on the company’s site.

We recommend buying used if you’re itching to get your hands on a bike now. In her guide to the best hybrid bikes, Christine suggests using sites such as Bicycle Blue Book and The Pro’s Closet, both of which require sellers to provide bikes’ serial numbers. “One point that we’d like to underline: No matter who or where you’re buying a used bike from, ask the seller for the bike’s serial number so that you can see if the bike has been reported stolen,” she writes. You can check the serial number against Bike Index, a nationwide nonprofit registry that maintains a list of stolen bikes.

If you already own a bike and just need new gear, almost every single pick in our guides to the best bike pumps, bike helmets, commuter bike headlights, and bike-repair stands are available after months of stock shortages.

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