Little is known about the fuel stores that arctic-breeding waders put on before departure from the breeding grounds. During a ship-based expedition to arctic Canada, we caught waders at seven, mainly coastal sites, within 68degrees-76degreesN and 139degrees-67degreesW, from 28 July to 31 August 1999. More than two hundred waders of twelve species were trapped, mainly White-rumped Calidris fuscicollis, Semipalmated C. pusilla, Baird's C. bairdii and Buff-breasted Sandpipers Tryngites subruficollis. The vast majority of the birds were juveniles. Body masses and visual fat stores were low, close to the lowest values found anywhere during the non-breeding season for the different species. The relatively fattest birds were Buff-breasted Sandpipers, but they were still far from their maximum body mass on spring migration. We conclude that juvenile arctic waders depart from their natal areas with only small fuel stores, which is in concordance with a time-minimising migration strategy.