15 Ways to Get Cheap (and Free) Outdoor Gear
Over in the Facebook Group, we’ve had a few questions about how beginners can gear up for backpacking and mountaineering without going broke. So I thought I’d do a round up of all my favorite workarounds, cheats, and discount outdoor gear websites.
If you want to watch me being a spaz, definitely check out the video above. Or if you’re more of a textbook kind of person, dive into the transcript below.
Don’t forget to add your own tips and favorite discount gear sites in the comments! I love hearing from you and learning something new.
Find gear lists and suggestions for every trip on my Pinterest Gear Board:
15 Ways to Get Cheap (and Free) Outdoor Gear
Hey! How y’all doing? As promised, I am here to talk to you about how and where to buy cheap hiking gear. Who doesn’t want that?
Before you go on a massive shopping spree …
Actually, before we even get into cheap, for those of you who are just starting, like maybe getting into sports like backpacking and mountaineering, one thing I really try to encourage people to do is not to try to buy everything all at once.
The stuff’s potentially expensive, it gets very overwhelming. You don’t need to go out to REI and put a second mortgage on your house to outfit yourself to do a backpacking trip.
I have a free training for backpackers that actually goes through what should you buy first. What can you kind of hold off on? And what can you borrow from friends, things like that. So definitely check that out, if this is something that you really want to dive deeper into. (It’s written for women, but many of the tips work for everyone. So don’t be afraid of it!)
So that being said, here are some ways to get free and cheap gear:
1. Share gear with others on your trip
For your first few trips, try to borrow all the gear that you can, other than maybe your clothes and your boots.
If you’re going backpacking with a friend, obviously they’re gonna have things. You can share a tent. You can share a bear canister. Maybe you can share a sleeping bag, if they’re a really good friend.
There are many other things that can be used by a group like water filters and stoves. If you have friends that are into backpacking who are going with you, they are usually pretty happy to bring them along and share. In return, you can offer to carry some of the group gear.
2. Borrow from friends and neighbors
Use your social networks to see if anyone has what you need gathering dust on a shelf.
One I’ve found that works really well is a neighborhood one called NextDoor. You can go on there and ask things like, “Hey, I need a bear canister just for this weekend. Does someone have one I can borrow?” A lot of times people will loan you things, no cost involved.
Actually, I put that exact message out on Nextdoor a few years ago. And someone messaged back and said, “I have a bear canister that I never use. I’m going to give it to you. Keep it, for free.”
I still have it. I’m actually taking it backpacking this weekend. So it really does pay to borrow.
3. Rent some gear
If you’re not quite ready to commit to buying expensive gear, think about renting. REI and many local outfitters and gear shops have rental programs.
The great thing about renting is that it gives you an opportunity to try different kinds of equipment. I rented a bunch of different kinds of cross-country skis before I finally bought some. And I actually bought the same model that I rented.
4. Buy old rental gear
Most places that rent gear sell it at the end of the season or at the end of every two seasons. So you ask them, “Hey, can you tell me when the rental sale is?” And then go, get you some gear.
It’s usually very inexpensive, because it’s used, right?
5. Buy used (and sometimes new) gear from your friends and neighbors
I have a friend whose goal is never to pay more than 50 percent of retail for gear. And I think that’s actually not super unrealistic. There are just tons of places to get good, inexpensive gear, so I will share a few with you.
But before you head to a discount gear site, try buying from people you know. You can put something out on Facebook: “Hey, I’m looking for a new backpack. Does anyone have one they’re selling?”
6. Buy from Craigslist
Craigslist is also a good place to look. A lot of times people think they’re going to like backpacking, and they go out, and especially if they got money, they buy all this really nice gear. And then they go out once, and they’re like, “Aw, man! I was just cold and afraid of bears the whole time. I’m getting rid of my gear.”
So you can buy their gear. It’s awesome.
7. Buy from resale stores
Another place to look for discount outdoor gear is in resale stores. In some places, you’ll find actual outdoor-specific resale shops. We definitely have them in Colorado. (Wilderness Exchange, for example.)
8. Buy from thrift shops (especially in outdoorsy areas)
Here in Colorado, and I suspect in other outdoor destinations, a lot of tourists dump outdoor gear that they don’t want to take home. So you can just go to like Goodwill and pick up really nice fleeces and tech jackets. And even skis sometimes. It’s crazy sometimes what you find at Goodwill.
Sometimes you don’t find anything, but definitely check it out.
Bonus tip: If you’re going on vacation to an outdoorsy place, definitely swing by the thrift shop and pop some tags. No, don’t steal stuff, but definitely check it out.
9. Buy returns from the REI Garage Sale
If you live near an REI, definitely get on the email list for the garage sale.
Because you know how you can return everything to REI within a year? It’s actually a really nice policy, right?
When people return gear, REI can’t really put it back on the shelf and sell it new. So they have what’s called a garage sale where they sell all their returns that are often very lightly used. You can get amazing deals, like an Osprey backpack for half price.
Again, it’s kind of a crapshoot. Sometimes it’s awesome, and sometimes you really don’t find anything. But you’ll never know if you don’t go.
10. Get group deals at The Clymb
There’s a website I think is worth checking out called theclymb.com.
Basically, it’s like Groupons for gear deals. They go out and buy gear in big lots, then sell it to you for really good prices, like 30, 40 [up to 70] percent off, which is awesome.
Again, you have to sign up for the site, and then you get the offers through the email. Maybe you’ll get something that you need.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t have a ton of selection. You kind of have to wait for what you want to come along. You’ll probably get lots of emails like, “Hey, do you want a climbing helmet? We have a great deal.” And you’ll be like, “Nah, I don’t want that, I want a backpack.”
But if you wait around, hopefully you’ll get a backpack.
11. Buy from retailers who specialize in closeouts and seconds
A lot of my mountaineering students really love Sierra Trading Post. It’s a retailer (stores and online) that sells a lot of closeouts (older products that didn’t sell) and “seconds,” which are products with slight cosmetic flaws.
Their deals kind of range. Some of their stuff’s almost full price, and some of it’s super, super cheap.
A couple more not mentioned on the video …
12. Buy gear with cosmetic defects
Some local gear stores also sell “seconds” for a discount. For example, at Wilderness Exchange mentioned above, you can buy brand new carabiners with practically invisible color defects for a few bucks off. (The defect doesn’t impact the function or safety of the biner.)
Not ever outfitter or gear store does this, but it doesn’t hurt to ask.
13. Take (or teach) a class
Some outdoor clubs and outfitters will partner with retailers to provide discounts to members and students. For example, when I was a mountaineering student through Colorado Mountain Club, I got a 10 percent discount at Bent Gate Outfitters in Golden. And when I went on to become an assistant instructor for that class, I got a slightly better deal.
It’s not the deepest discount on earth, but it helps!
Bonus tips for gearheads
Eventually, some of you are going to come to a point where you’re going to want to buy a lot of gear. You’ll get into multiple outdoor sports. Or you’ll get into mountaineering, which, holy balls, there’s so much gear to buy.
You obviously want to spend the money on trips, not on the overpriced gear. So what do you do?
Here are two bonus tips:
14. Get an REI credit card
REI actually has a credit card that gives you dollars back in your dividend.
You only get it once a year, and the refund percentage isn’t huge, so you have to use your credit card for lots and lots of stuff. (Paying your rent, paying your car payment, etc.)
But if you do, I’ve had friends who got back $700–1,000. And I’m sure some people get a lot more than that. So that’s a thousand dollars of gear just for paying your bills and buying stuff you would anyway.
By the way, you know you’re in Colorado when you’re at a restaurant, and everybody pulls out their credit card to pay the bill — and they’re all REI credit cards. Happens all the time.
15. Join Colorado Mountain Club (or a similar organization with a pro deal)
I’m hopefully going to move to Mexico part-time in the next couple of years, but I will still be a Colorado Mountain Club member.
Why? Because for my $75 membership fee, I get pro deals (40–60 percent off) on a ton of brands. Some of them even have free shipping.
Pro deals do have some restrictions on what you can do. You can’t buy for friends or family. All sales are final, so you really do have to know what you’re going to get.
But once you’re in their pro deal program, you basically go to a website called ExpertVoice. And then you look at all the brands available and buy what you want.
It’s amazing. You can buy bicycles. You can buy a giant rack for the roof of your car. I just got a big shipment of Mountain House dinners. It’s like my supply for the year. And that’s all through my pro deal at Colorado Mountain Club.
So even if I never did anything else at Colorado Mountain Club, I’d probably make my $75 membership fee back in a month just on gear savings alone.
So there you have ’em. 15 places to get free, cheap, and discount outdoor gear.
Do you guys have any tips that I haven’t covered? I know you all are outdoors people. You buy some GEAR.
If you’ve got another good place for your fellow dirtbags to shop, go ahead and drop it in the comments.
And if you have gear questions, definitely hop in the Facebook Group and ask away!
Originally published August 6, 2018.