Backpacking & Outside

on gear: how to buy it on the cheap

It’s August, which means for most people, camping season has been well underway for a couple months.

Like many outdoor professionals, we spend a lot of time looking at different gear options, weighing (often literally) what would be the best equipment for us, and then we try to find it on the cheap.

We’ve been blessed to have what we need and what works well for us, but hey, gear is still expensive.

Today I just wanted to let you in on some of the places that Jared and I scrounge for gear.  While you may not consider yourself a wilderness aficionado, that’s alright.  All of these sources also offer great “regular camping” (also referred to as “car camping” among backpackers) equipment as well.  No matter what you’re favorite outdoor activity is, these resources will have the gear you need.  If this totally isn’t your thing, you can just come back another day.  For reals (I’ll forgive you).

Our favorite sources:

TheClymb.  TheClymb is a “member only” (meaning you just have to create an account to sign in–totally free) website that offers several outdoor brands and their products at a time.  Right now, they’re running apparel for men and women from Merrell, men’s apparel from Mountain Khaki, camping equipment from Kelty and packs from High Sierra, and several other brands.  One of the great things about TheClymb is that as you invite your friends, and as they make purchases, you earn credit which you can spend at TheClymb.  Jared and I have purchased several items on the cheap because of their great sales combined with credit.  Win.  Downside: shipping usually takes a few weeks, unless you expedite it, so it’s not a great resource if you’re shopping for next weekend’s trip.

Steep and Cheap.  This website ones run item at a time, for a short period of time (usually twenty minutes, but sometimes products sell out faster).  Usually, discounts are anywhere from 30-80% off.  Steep and Cheap is great to watch at the end of season for deals (for example, you could score a down coat in the middle of the summer for 70% off).  Because each deal is only up for just a few minutes, it helps to know what you’re looking for so you can decide quickly (like remembering that you need a down coat in the middle of July, or that you need a fresh pair of chacos in December).  Bonus: you can combine shipping on your purchase–once you make a purchase you have a seven day window to make another purchase and shipping will only be .99 cents for each additional purchase (perfect for that $5 pair of socks).  Downside: shipping also takes a couple weeks, though again, you can expedite it.

REI Garage sales:  Recreational Equipment Incorporated or REI has both a website online and stores scattered across the country.  They’ve been an outdoor retailer for many years and have excellent customer service.  REI also offers a membership (last time I checked it was $15 for a lifetime membership).  One of the perks of membership is being able to attend “garage sales” or “parking lot sales”.  REI has an incredible return policy (basically, if you purchase something from rei, and at any time in the life of the product are displeased with it, you can return it.  no questions asked.) which results in each REI store accumulating a lot of returned merchandise (not surprisingly, as some people are not exactly ethical with how they purchase/return gear.  please don’t be like them).  REI resells the returned merchandise at these garage sales with serious discounts (it’s cheaper/faster  for them than repairing the item).  Some of the products actually are defective or broken, but some products were the wrong size or fit for a person, or they found something else they didn’t like it about the product and there’s nothing with the product at all (Jared got a coat recently that was returned because it was “too brown”.  I also saw a sleeping bag that the customer reported “smells like bacon”.  How is that a bad thing???).  Basically, it’s like a day-after-thanksgiving-sale for gear (it’ll be that busy too).  To find a garage sale, find the store nearest you on rei’s website and then keep an eye out on their upcoming classes/events.  You don’t have to be a member to get into a sale, but you do have to be a member to purchase gear (you can purchase a membership at the same time you buy the stuff).  Only downside: garage sale items cannot be returned.

Sierra Trading Post.  While Sierra Trading Post offers a lot of merchandise that’s not outdoor geared (fancy suit, anyone?) they do offer good gear at a discount.  Most often, the discount comes because they’re selling last years colors or an older model.  But the gear is still good.  Like them on facebook, and they’ll keep you in the loop about new specials and awesome coupons codes (like periodically offering an additional 30%-40% off your purchase.  woot woot!).

Backcountry.com is great for everyday purchases and some sales (great for when you need a product but can’t find it on sale anywhere).  Right before Christmas last year, they offered free, 2-day, no minimum purchase shipping.  Gotta love it.

Thrifting: you never know what you’ll find when you’re hitting up your local secondhand store.  This can vary on location.  For example, I’ve not found any great gear in the thrift shops down here in Southern Illinois, but while we were in living in an outdoorsy part of California, it was common.  The next time you’re in Denver or Salt Lake City, it may be worth a couple hours to collect some local flavor and some secondhand goods.  Keep your eyes peeled–you never know what you might find!

And… last but not least… Patagonia makes great gear.  They’re definitely a get-what-you-pay-for-brand, meaning they are expensive.  However, their stuff is high quality, and they work hard to make their products ethically, from start to finish.  I can’t say enough good things about Patagonia.  I just put a fleece on my “grubby” pile that I bought in 2007, and I’m not gentle with my stuff.  For sales, they always offer web specials, but they also run a 60% off sale periodically (they just finished one–but they often run another in the late winter).  I’ll put a shout out here the next time they’re running the sale–save your Christmas cash!

Final thoughts:
Brand names aren’t always everything.  But sometimes they are.  It all depends on what the item is, how heavily you’ll use it, how you’ll use it, etc (clear as mud, right?).   Sometimes something from the Target camping section will totally work.  But sometimes something from Eddie Bauer is the same price as a more technical, durable piece of gear (not to bash ole Eddie Bauer, they recently started a line of products called the First Ascent that has gotten good reviews).
However, from my experience it’s usually worthwhile to go ahead and spend a little more money and get a product that will hold up for a lot longer and that will work better for you.  Sometimes this means a brand name, sometimes it means making it yourself!  It all depends on you (keep in mind this is the opinion of someone that uses their gear as part of their profession, not just on weekends in the summer).
Remember that it’s better to purchase out of season.  When you need to a new pair of socks, buy a new pair of socks.  But when you’re standing in the middle of an REI parking lot sale holding a patagonia down jacket for your husband that you know he could use because his is old one is literally getting crusty make him try it on even if it early May and it’s almost 100 degrees on the blacktop.  Come November, you’ll be glad you did.

There.  Now you know all our gear secrets.  You don’t have to sell your soul to get the gear you need.  Huzzah!

ps: do you have favorite outdoor gear sources? Spill!

pps: I’ve not been compensated in any way for this post (unless you sign up for TheClymb with my invite and make a purchase–I will receive credit, the same way you will if you invite your friends).  These organizations don’t even know I exist, I just thought I’d share some of our fav sources.

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3 thoughts on “on gear: how to buy it on the cheap

  1. I really like geartrade.com. It has a lot of great brands that are way cheaper because they have either been returned to stores without tags or were used a couple of times and are being resold. They give really detailed descriptions of the products so you get what you bought.

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