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Sports & Play

Comparison Shopper: MEC vs. Europe Bound vs. Canadian Outdoor Equipment

Posted by Robyn Urback / March 8, 2012

Outdoor Adventure Stores TorontoToronto's outdoor adventure stores have all decided that King and Spadina is the best intersection from which to sell thermal underwear. Mountain Equipment Co-op domineers over the north end of King Street, while Europe Bound and Canadian Outdoor Equipment share the south side. The latter is the newest arrival to the area, having opened up in November and humbly began offering its Gränsfors Bruks axes. To the novice outdoor enthusiast, the stores may seem one in the same, but there are indeed clear distinctions that may determine where you spend your money. Here are a few factors to consider.

Canadian Outdoor EquipmentSize

The newest is also the smallest, with just one floor of products in the COE space. Europe Bound is in the middle with three (seemingly disorganized) floors of clothes and equipment, and MEC, obviously, is the most grandiose with a central staircase and ample natural light. Based on the amount of space, MEC offers the greatest variety and selection.

Canadian Outdoor EquipmentHouse brand?

The MEC label makes almost everything. I'm not sure if it has expanded to the realm of freeze-dried food yet, but I'm sure it will soon. Same goes for Europe Bound. COE, on the other hand, only designs a select few products, including wooden toboggans and folding saws.

Europe BoundWho goes there

Generally speaking, of course, MEC is the everyman's outdoor store, while COE and Europe Bound are perhaps better options for the seasoned adventurer. (Europe Bound devotees would argue that MEC falters when it comes to its selection of true quality brands.) While I've found service at all three stores to be more than exceptional, MEC might be the first stop for an overview look at equipment. COE does not offer seven different types of dry packs, for example, but rather, a honed collection of choice brands. Europe Bound does offer a little more variety, but newbies might find the store overwhelming. Of course, true backpackers know that if you can't handle a little mess, you'll be back on a plane in no time.

Europe BoundServices

Europe Bound offers pretty great rentals for everything from ice climbing gear to sleeping bags and tents. Same goes for MEC. COE doesn't really offer rentals at the time (other than the odd tent, perhaps), but co-owner Chris Scerri says it may be rolling out a program in the near future. As for bike shops, MEC wins by default, since COE is out of the running and Europe Bound's program generally operates out of its Front Street location.

Mec TorontoPrice

It's hard to say which store offers the best value, and I'm aware that that's somewhat of a cop-out answer. You really can't beat MEC's prices for, say, a plain organic cotton tee ($12-$14), and you can certainly grab some great bargains when products go on clearance. COE carries specialty items you won't necessarily find in the other two shops, such as Woolpower t-shirts, so in that way, it's sort of tough to compare. But I did notice that prices for Trangia cookware, for example, was a little steeper at COE. Europe Bound is sort of in the same boat as COE, though perhaps more in line with MEC.

Mec Green RoofEco-Impact

MEC wins again in terms of its impact (or attempted lack thereof) on the environment. Undoubtedly by virtue of the fact that it is simply a larger business, its environmental efforts, such as donating 1% of its gross annual sales to green efforts, go beyond just selling you a sleeping bag. The shop itself also houses a green roof, battery recycling program, and more. COE hasn't gone quite as far, but it has taken the small step of not heating its second floor (which is poised to host regular seminars in the spring).

Sleeping BagsOverall Impressions

MEC is my personal pick for outdoor shopping at King and Spadina. In sporting goods selection, as in life, I never quite know what I want, so I appreciate the organization, abundance of variety, and plethora of helpful salespeople MEC has to offer. And the value pretty much can't be beat. Those looking for unique products created the traditional way, such as Helle knives from Norway, might be wise to check out Canadian Outdoor Equipment, and for the veteran, informed backpacker (who can also handle a little clutter), there's Europe Bound.

MEC TorontoEurope Bound TorontoCanadian Outdoor EquipmentPhotos by Jimmy Lu, with the exception of the one depicting MEC's green roof, which is by David G. Tran

Discussion

51 Comments

Backpacking Hobo / March 8, 2012 at 02:35 pm
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The times I've been to the Front St. Europe Bound I've found the staff to be quite rude and a bit snotty, as if asking them questions is somehow inconveniencing them. I still shop there out of convenience though so *shrug*
AV replying to a comment from Backpacking Hobo / March 8, 2012 at 02:40 pm
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With all the staff standing around looking disinterested, maybe Europe Bound could find the time to clean up the upstairs portion of their store? With product strewn everywhere its a complete and total mess and put me off buying anything there.
yyz guy / March 8, 2012 at 02:53 pm
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Are you kidding me? Is there even a question about this. I can't believe Europe Bound is even still in business after all of these years. From their early blatent rip-offs of MEC designed daypacks and rad pants to their consistently rude staff and an owner who is the rudest of them all....every couple of years I'll go in to the store thinking of maybe giving them a chance and to no surprise, nothing has changed. The front street store survives probably on the rental of equipment to students visiting and the hostel at queen and spadina.

C.O.E. staff when I dropped in their recently were great, even though I didn't buy anything and was amazed by their curation of product.

MEC, like REI in the states has great staff and actually gives something back to its members and the environment.

I'm surprised this article is even written..there's no question about it. Time for Europe Bound to go the way of the McRib.
Huuk / March 8, 2012 at 03:06 pm
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There is no store in Toronto with worth service and prices than Europe Bound on King. If you want anything from that store, buy it online for a better price and at least some degree of customer service. I agree with YYZ, its amazing they can still pay the rent.
lowrez / March 8, 2012 at 03:13 pm
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What about Patagonia?
paul / March 8, 2012 at 03:22 pm
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They man working the bike shop in the Front Street location is an A B S O L U T E D I C K.

Total unprompted rudeness. Messy store, too.
Mike / March 8, 2012 at 03:38 pm
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All I can say about Europe Bound is that the one time I went in to find a product that was advertised as being there, nobody at the store had heard of it or wanted to try to help me find it. I haven't been back.
Ann / March 8, 2012 at 03:55 pm
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I completely agree with the comments about Europe Bound. I typically shop at MEC for backpacking and camping equipment but popped into Europe Bound out of curiosity one day. There were about 5 employees hanging around the front of the store chatting and when I asked for a specific item they waved their hand and said I could find it 'that way'. The store was a disaster, and I didn't end up locating the item I was interested in.
MEC is great, the staff are knowledgeable and friendly and their products last through years of abuse with minimal wear and tear.
JP / March 8, 2012 at 03:56 pm
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There are plenty of "premium" brands at MEC... Patagonia and Castelli come to mind.
Adrock / March 8, 2012 at 03:57 pm
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MEC is the best by far. I'm surprised Europe bound is still alive. The store looks like shit, and the people aren't very helpful.
JP / March 8, 2012 at 03:58 pm
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...and since MEC is a co-op, if you spend lots of money there you will, once in a while, get a surprise cheque in the mail!
Victoria Park / March 8, 2012 at 04:08 pm
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Gotta disagree with all this Europe Bound dissing. I was in the store last Friday to check children's sleeping bags. I first went to MEC but they were sold out. Granted Europe Bound looked like a pit but I found a helpful staff member who found what I wanted, explained the temp ratings and I ended up with a bag for 30% less than MEC wanted, even though they were out of stock.

You can keep the yuppie emporium on the north side of King...I am sure that rebate check will buy a nice box of granola.
Fig / March 8, 2012 at 04:11 pm
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Has anyone shopped at Sail for outdoor gear? Locations are super out of the way (Oshawa and Vaughan) but I've heard the selection and prices are good.
arn / March 8, 2012 at 04:18 pm
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"Europe Bound is sort of in the same boat as COE, though perhaps more in line with MEC."

That is sort of perhaps helpful.
SK / March 8, 2012 at 04:38 pm
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A cashier at Europe Bound told me to return the backpack I just bought at MEC and buy one from him. I told him no, and he kept telling me it was my loss, and making me feel very uncomfortable. Never going there again.
Tammy / March 8, 2012 at 05:02 pm
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Not to jump on a band wagon here but I feel compelled to agree with the dissing of Europe Bound. Universally rude and unhelpful staff, messy stores and no great bargains. I wonder if they even care how unwelcome customers feel.
jnyyz / March 8, 2012 at 05:17 pm
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I do a lot of shopping at MEC. However, if I want a favourite name brand such as Arc'Teryx, Marmot, Eagle Creek, or icebreaker, then I have to shop elsewhere, such as Europe Bound. Also, I've had mixed experiences with MEC branded gear, and the Toronto store has been snotty about repairing things. I would not put their raingear, tents, luggage, or wool at the same level of quality as the aforementioned four brands. The MEC stuff is admittedly cheaper,but I've had failures with an MEC branded bike jacket and a pack, and that puts me off buying any of their more expensive stuff.
hawc / March 8, 2012 at 06:58 pm
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Europe Bound is a total shit hole.
Caroline replying to a comment from Backpacking Hobo / March 8, 2012 at 07:40 pm
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Glad to see I'm not the only one unimpressed by Europe Bound! Went there for the first time a few weeks ago and was disgusted by the mess and horrible customer service. The man at the cash acted as if he was doing ME a favour to do a transaction.
jstroke / March 8, 2012 at 08:26 pm
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europe band undoubtedly carries some good gear, and occasionally their prices are great (they do have huge sales), but the store is a less organized than a flea market and the staff are overtly, reasonlessly rude.

coe is a nice boutique store that sells some cool stuff. wooden snowshoes and handcrafted swedish axes are rad, but i'm not going to load up on them before an expedition.

mec is hands down, not even close, no question, the best of the lot. always friendly, helpful, knowledgeable (and experienced!) staff, astounding prices, leading environmental and labour practices... i'm proud to be a co-op member and will continue to shop there even when the bigger box stores begin to encroach.
AZo / March 8, 2012 at 09:24 pm
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There's no reason Europe Bound needs to be such a shithole. They could have the greatest products...but it wouldn't matter because no one can find anything in that mess.
Antisthenes / March 8, 2012 at 09:30 pm
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Hate Europe Bound, for all the reasons stated in previous comments. Respect Canadian Outdoors, and direly want one of their axes. Recommend MEC, for their service and selection: this is incorrect, "COE and Europe Bound are perhaps better options for the seasoned adventurer. (Europe Bound devotees would argue that MEC falters when it comes to its selection of true quality brands.)" Best of all, MEC makes it very easy to return items if you are dissatisfied.
http://www.mec.ca/AST/ContentPrimary/Services/WarrantyAndReturns.jsp
Casey Palmer / March 8, 2012 at 11:31 pm
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Yeah, going into Europe Bound generally gives me the shivers :( I'll admit that I'm not much of an outdoor type myself (city boy through and through), but with a wife who used to camp every year, MEC definitely hits my comfort zone. Europe Bound seems very self-serve, but very few in this thread would disagree.

Maybe one day I'll learn more, but when MEC staff are observant enough to see that I have a list I'm working off of to climb Kilimanjaro and start walking me through what I might need... that's just a lot more comforting.
MK replying to a comment from paul / March 8, 2012 at 11:35 pm
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Agreed. He's chit chatted with his buds while I waited for service only to be told it wasn't worth his time to even attempt to fix my bike.
Camp Smarts / March 8, 2012 at 11:37 pm
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I'm a big MEC fan! First of all, they have an awesome website. Everything in the store is on the website and sometimes it's just easier to see things calmly while sitting on your couch at home. Also, orders over $50 qualify for free shipping. Best of all is their return policy. Just ask any of the staff what their return policy is and they'll tell you "if you're not happy, bring it back" and I have so many times and never had a problem. Europe Bound is disorganized from the store to the website. The staff are usually arrogant and not very helpful. They always act like they know more than you do about everything. C.O.E. is very neat and orderly and like someone said before, very boutique like. It is somewhat more expensive, but they have very specific brands and items that are hard to find elsewhere.
David / March 9, 2012 at 12:40 am
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I don't get how Euope Bound can operate in today's retail climate, rude staff, chaotic presentation of goods and yet, just minutes away from better stores. I am surprised that some of the brands they feature will allow them to sell their goods in their shops.
hellebelle / March 9, 2012 at 07:22 am
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I go to MEC because the prices are decent, there's a large selection, everything is neatly laid out, and I can look at stuff online. The messiness of the Front St Europe Bound store is a huge put-off and frustrating, plus they don't have much of a selection. That being said, I've had some luck getting cheap things at their outlet store on Queen E (super cheap climbing shoes). I've never returned anything at EB but MEC is pretty good about taking stuff back.
namehijacked / March 9, 2012 at 07:58 am
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HA,HA - overpriced goods for the chattering class who has overpaid for their condo - but, hey -there's bicycle parking out front! LMAO
The very epicenter of all that is wrong with this city.
Ratpick replying to a comment from Huuk / March 9, 2012 at 08:47 am
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"There is no store in Toronto with worth service and prices than Europe Bound on King."

Tho true! I got tho fruthtrated the latht time I wath in there that I walked thraight out the door and acroth the threet to MEC.
AV replying to a comment from Ratpick / March 9, 2012 at 08:54 am
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You know you're cool when you criticise grammar on the internet. +1 for winning at life
paul / March 9, 2012 at 09:05 am
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Is anyone from the Europe Bound head office reading this Comment Board?
Paul / March 9, 2012 at 09:09 am
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I feel it's misleading to say that MEC is larger than Europe Bound when the latter is much more tightly packed with products. If you're not looking for a kayak, Europe Bound has a much better selection in many areas. And as for environmental impact, MEC does a lot more advertising and homebound shipping, right?

I also prefer the Europe Bound shopping experience because it's more of an adventure, squeezing through the tightly packed goods to discover yet another product you didn't know existed. And no, I am in no way affiliated with Europe Bound or any other outdoor store.
Ratpick replying to a comment from AV / March 9, 2012 at 09:24 am
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I was just joking. I actually thought it was funny. Didn't mean anything by it.
N / March 9, 2012 at 11:38 am
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I’m another person who thinks Europe Bound is awful. There have been several times I’ve walked into their store on King West and walked out without buying anything because it’s so disorganized I can never find anything there. You can barely even move around the upper floor to look at the stock! I don’t even bother anymore.

I have, however, had some experiences with the MEC staff being indifferent—not outright rude, but a bit useless. Maybe they were just new. My overall experience at MEC has been pretty positive.

My problem with outdoor stores in general is that unless I happen to be there very, very shortly after they’ve received stock, it’s very difficult for me to find my size. It seems as if the only thing that’s ever left are the larger women’s sizes and all the extra-smalls and smalls are sold out. MEC’s own brand tends to be a bit big anyway, so it can be difficult for me to find things there. I pretty much have to stalk the website if I’m looking for something specific.
xm replying to a comment from Huuk / March 9, 2012 at 11:59 am
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They don't pay rent! They own all their buildings. That's how the owners get away with stores looking like that and being absolute dicks.
MrsPotato / March 9, 2012 at 01:32 pm
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id rather spend the extra few dollars, and not have to walk into Europe Bound. That place gives me an anxiety attack.

The place is an utter mess. Old half empty Tims' cups with mold floating on top, everywhere ... dust an inch thick all over inventory.

Last summer, I went to purchase a tent, but walked out, because I wasn't exactly sure how long things had been sitting for. There were a few items I pulled out of corners that were rotting -- the plastic was all stuck together, and I couldn't' separate it, from sitting so long.

The guy who owns the place is a rude prick.
I had asked him a few basic questions about necessities for camping (i'm obviously a non-camper but wanted to be prepared) and he flared his nostrils at me, and gave me a smart ass response to the serious question I had.

I walked out, and went across the street to MEC.
boo / March 9, 2012 at 01:36 pm
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Europe Bound is an utter disaster staffed by indifferent jerks, which is sad actually.
Parker replying to a comment from N / March 9, 2012 at 02:46 pm
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@N -- Agreed, this is a common problem with outdoor gear stores. I like a lot of MEC's women's clothing, but they sell out of the small sizes very quickly. I've had this happen more than once at MEC. Smalls and mediums are all gone, nothing but ginormous sizes left for the rest of the season.
John_z / March 9, 2012 at 05:55 pm
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I think front st Europe bound is having big sale this weekend
just came out from there and saw staff member was making big sale sign.

store looks much better than last summer but MEC
is cleaner.

going to check them out tomorrow for deals.
maybe owner decided to put inventory on big sale finally.
Ben S / March 10, 2012 at 04:42 pm
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I absolutely despise the staff who work at Europe Bound. Most of my experience has been with the the skids at the Front St location, but I've seen surly staff on King St as well.

Once at Europe Bound on Front, I had to return an item I paid for in cash. I had to watch three staff members argue with each other about who forgot to stock the cash till with change. They tried to convince me to leave and return the product another day since I would force them to go to the bank once they refunded me. Before that, they led me to believe they were out of cash. I just stood there until they finally gave me my money back.
Ben S / March 10, 2012 at 04:43 pm
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Europe Bound was always messy and crowded, but in recent years you've had to fight through crowds of douche bags trying on Canada Goose jackets.
OpenRoad replying to a comment from Fig / March 19, 2012 at 07:19 pm
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Sail is pretty good - they frequently have sales - No tax last weekend and much of their out of season stock is at least 10% off (some up to 70%). Sail stocks a wide range of product - from basics to high-quality items. No bikes but I did see some cycling jerseys - walking in the door you'll see kayaks, canoes, ski gear, loads of clothing, hydration devices, packs...

Some people might not like going there because of the hunting and fishing gear - but it's nicely tucked away upstairs in a loft that you can hardly see if you don't look up :)

Highly recommend it - parking is more peaceful than at MEC, the selection is varied and neatly presented...no rotting coffee cups such as those commonly found in Europe Bound.

Apparently a Sail store is opening near Sherway Gardens.
Michelle / March 21, 2012 at 06:08 pm
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My experience is a bit different with Europe Bound. In the winter, we were looking to go camping and needed gear for 4 individuals. We first went to MEC and got a better idea of what we will need and the prices.

We also asked about their rental program but were surprised to find out that all of their gear has been rented out weeks in advance. We then checked out Europe Bound. Yes, the store was cluttered but the service we received from Mike (store manager) was absolutely great! After realizing that we will need to spend over $2,000 on four 4 season tents, we decided to rent the gear.

They didn’t have the gear available for rent, but did suggest that we either try out Sail (www.Sail.ca) or Sport Rentals (www.SportRentals.ca) located in Vaughan.

Long story short, we ended up renting all of the camping gear and had an amazing experience. Now, that the summer is here, I can’t wait to go camping again!

And yes Sail is opening another location near Sherway Gardens.
Mike / March 30, 2012 at 03:38 pm
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I LOVE shopping at Europe Bound compared to MEC. Yes the store isn't as big, the store is actually organized, AND they have a much larger selection of Higher quality gear Arcteryx etc.. (not that cheap-ass MEC ripoff stuff)
I see a lot of people make ill informed comments about Europe Bound I have to say over the last 15 years I've been shopping there they have treated me great, the owner IS a nice guy contrary to comments I have seen here. LKong story short NO COMPARISON. Also Europe Bound has BETTER PRICES!!
GO EUROPE BOUND!!
john / March 30, 2012 at 03:46 pm
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Just felt I had to say Europe Bound ROCKS!
I have shopped at MEC for a long time and I just discovered Europe BOund. Granted it is a bit cluttered, but man the prices are better, the selection is better and the staff actually seem to care! I read some of the comments posted here and I just don't get it. Comparing the two stores I have to say Europe Bound is much more enjoyable to me and has better stuff/prices!
Thanks for your time
SergentPain replying to a comment from Backpacking Hobo / April 19, 2012 at 05:42 pm
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Joe, the owner, is probably the rudest person on the face of the planet. If Sail ever came to Toronto it would put Europe Bound of business. Someone should!!!
Danny / April 27, 2012 at 01:39 am
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Probably worth mentioning, but COE is closing it's downtown location at the end of April. Apparently the building owner submitted an application to develop the land so the're closing shop :(
Vu / November 7, 2012 at 10:06 pm
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Besides MEC, COE and Europe Bound, where else can I find Winter gear. I know of Coast Mountain Sports (formerly Atmosphere) and Sporting Life. I work at SportChek and trying to look up Helly Hansen Victor Insulated Jacket in-stores is hard (only select colours) and I definitely don't want to buy it directly online. I wanna try it on before I buy it. Does anybody know more stores besides the ones that were already mentioned? Somewhere I can go and find Helly Hansen.
Buy camping gear in Delhi / November 22, 2013 at 05:32 am
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I really want to see such more posts in future. Excellent post!
Chris replying to a comment from yyz guy / June 3, 2014 at 12:25 pm
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Everything you said: YES.
I was recently misquoted over the phone and when I went in to buy the items I was told "Who told you? Next time get a name." Rudely by the owner (curly haired troll). How about next time whoever answers the phone knows wtf they are talking about? I am telling everyone I know how ***** this place is.
Chris replying to a comment from Chris / June 3, 2014 at 12:27 pm
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To YYZguy regarding Europe Bound. Worst. Store. Ever. If you can't find it at MEC you probably don't need it. And if you do Need it just order it online. The owner is seriously a prick.

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