Backpacking gear can be pricey and we all dream of finding the secret place with super cheap outdoor gear. Somewhere that sells top of the line, solid equipment for a 40% discount. I’m right there with you.
But it’s not that easy because there is huge demand and a limited supply of the good stuff. Even when you’re shopping in second-hand marketplaces don’t expect more than a 20% discount for good quality equipment.
While that deep discount may remain elusive, you can find affordable equipment if you know where to look and aren’t picky about older models or colors.
So let’s dive in to some options for getting decent gear at a discount.
1. Borrow or Trade with Friends and Family
This is a great option for those new to the outdoor life, or those looking to upgrade equipment.
I should probably split this into Borrow and Trade because there are some pros and cons for each.
If you are new to backpacking or other outdoor sports, friends and family may have some lower-end gear they don’t use anymore and are willing to let you borrow.
These may be their “backup” items or just stuff that collected over time and they haven’t put the energy into selling it yet.
In general, don’t expect someone to loan you their favorite, high-end gear. No one is letting you take their $500 Dyneema tent out for a test run, especially if you’re less experienced.
Items people are more likely to let you borrow: extra stove, older pot, dry bags.
Items a really good friend may loan you: backup or older tent, old sleeping bag they don’t use anymore, older sleeping pad.
Always take good care of borrowed items on your trip, and return them in the same shape you got them.
As people upgrade equipment or try new things, they inevitably collect items they don’t use or want. Sure, you can sell them, but that takes time and effort. Usually, they just pile up.
If your buddy is lamenting over the weight of their JetBoil, but you love the fact it boils water in 30 seconds and despise your PocketRocket and titanium pot, they may be willing to trade. It’s a win for everyone.
It’s also possible to trade items that aren’t similar as long as the value is similar. For example, you may be willing to trade your $100 sleeping pad for the JetBoil.
Keep an ear out on trips and also spread the word if there’s an item you’re looking for or one you want to get rid of.
2. Rent Equipment
Taking a lesson from the ski industry where renting equipment is the norm, many outdoor sporting equipment stores now offer rental gear.
When you rent equipment, it likely won’t be top of the line, and it may be heavier than you prefer, but it should be solid gear in decent condition which is perfect for anyone just getting started.
Assess what you have and what you need, then determine if a kit or individual items are the more reasonable way to proceed.
Always verify the items included if it’s a “kit”, and be sure you understand the fees and timelines.
Many places say “$X per night”, but assume for a weekend trip you’ll pick up Thursday and return Monday. Since most stores don’t open until 10 am, you likely won’t be able to secure the items the day of the trip, and you’ll need time to unpack and clean the gear before returning.
Check for return expectations. What needs to be cleaned and any specific instructions.
When you pick up the items, check them out and verify they’re functional with no obvious defects. You don’t want a tent with holes in the mesh.
REI Rental Gear
REI offers rental gear at some of its locations. You’ll need to check online to see if a location near you participates.
They offer both “kits” and “a la carte” options. Their prices are a little steep, but the kits are designed for 2 people. Note that non-members will need to put down a deposit.
REI doesn’t provide specific information on the items, such as what tent they rent. My guess is it’s the REI half dome. But, you count on it being decent gear and perfect for a beginner.
They do offer a “lightweight” backpacking kit but I’d want to get some specifics on that. REI doesn’t really carry what most people would call “ultralight” gear, especially with regards to tents.
Also, the lightweight kit comes with 2 chairs which somewhat defeats the concept.
OutdoorsGeek is brick and mortar store in Denver, Colorado but they also have a website. They offer rental gear and you can even purchase the item after you rent. The company will ship the rental gear anywhere in the US.
It’s a great way to try out equipment before you buy.
Some local outfitters may also rent equipment. Check with other backpackers, scour websites, and make a few phone calls. You’d be surprised.
If you’re part of a local outdoor group, you can see if they provide either loaner or rental equipment. It may be a little worn, but it should be affordable.
3. Outdoor Gear Consignment Stores
Yep, these exist and they’re awesome. You would be surprised where some are located.
Sales are usually final so make sure the item meets your needs, is in good shape, and fits.
Don’t rely on a consignment store for last-minute, must-have items. Their stock is based on what people are trying to sell so they’re more of a “wander around and look” than an, “I must have a sleeping pad for tomorrow’s trip”.
If you find a location willing to ship an item, verify the cost of shipping before handing over your credit card. Shipping can be a lot more expensive than you think.
We’ve all become accustomed to larger retailers like Amazon, but smaller stores don’t have the same deals in place with shippers due to lower volume.
For those near Utah, check out The Gear Room in Salt Lake City. They’re hoping to have an online shop for their used gear soon.
Live in North or South Carolina? The Gear Goat Xchng in Charlotte may have what you’re looking for.
4. Facebook Buy/Sell Groups
There are tons of outdoor buy/sell groups on Facebook. Just search for Outdoor Gear swap and see what comes up. Join a few and keep an eye out.
When you join a group, read through their guidelines and always follow them. Also, look for groups with active moderators. It’s a thankless job so someone staying on top of things really cares about the page.
When purchasing anything from an online group there’s always a caveat emptor concern. Most sellers are honest, but the sites can have their scammers.
Look for sellers with solid reputations. Of course, someone could be new, so you may not want to rule them out.
Responsiveness, willingness to work with you and provide additional details or photos, and offering to pay the 3% Paypal goods and services fee are all good signs.
Make sure the seller is posting their own photos of items rather than stock photos. Pictures of tags are also helpful.
If you do opt to purchase, I recommend using Paypal Goods and Services as you’ll have more protection through the service.
Check Out These Great Places to Explore With All Your New Gear.
It’s generally safer to respond to an item for sale rather than post “in search of” or ISO posts. This is where you post, “I’m looking for a Tarptent Notch in good condition”. If someone does reply, be extra careful in assessing whether or not to proceed.
Most sellers will note the buyer pays for shipping. Keep in mind that this can be costly.
Shipping a 3-pound package with tracking across the country can be $30. From NC to VA, the same package is around $14.
There is also a Facebook marketplace for local buyers and sellers. This is more of a hodgepodge, but it’s good to keep an eye on it.
5. Outdoor Gear “For Sale by Owner” Sites
There are outdoor sites, similar to fashion sites like ThredUp, where they basically provide an interface for individuals to sell their used equipment direct to consumers.
If you choose to purchase through these sites, read through the terms and conditions and know your rights. Sites that provide oversight on transactions and have a dispute resolution process will offer some protection.
Ultimately, use your judgement and do your research.
Geartrade.com requires both sellers and buyers to register on the site. Buyers have 72 hours to inspect the item upon receipt and confirm it matches the description.
GearTrade holds the payment until delivery is confirmed. They deduct a 13% commission from the sales price.
6. REI Used Gear
Not to be confused with REI or REI Outlet, REI Used Gear is exactly what it says.
Outdoor enthusiasts trade-in their gear for REI gift certificates and the co-op then sells the items online.
The return policy for Used Gear is different than that of the main REI site. While there is a satisfaction guarantee, it’s only 30 days and you have to ship the item back, they cannot be returned to a store. Buyers pay for return shipping.
It’s still a good option to try out a piece of gear at a decent cost and, if you know your size and/or have been researching items, it’s not likely you’ll need to return anything.
7. Online Websites that Sell Gear at Discounted Prices
There are several websites that offer good deals on outdoor gear. Often, they carry older models or discontinued colors, but who cares? Honestly, most older models are the ones we want anyway.
The caveat here is that stock is limited and you need to act quickly. If you want those Prana pants in a size 8 short, you’re stuck with blue and you need to order them today. Still, if they’re $36, is blue really a problem?
These sites tend to mix the discounted gear with a few regularly priced items for a more rounded shopping experience.
Great options include:
REI Outlet (keep in mind you do not earn money towards your dividend with sale items).
Most outdoor folks are familiar with REI and the REI Outlet online. The outlet is basically the section of the website with sale items. The return policy is the same as for regularly priced items.
Moosejaw is an outdoor recreation retailer that is known for its out there, funny, and satirical advertisements and marketing. They were bought by Walmart in 2017 but, from a buyer’s perspective, there were no noticeable changes in their operations.
Backcountry was started in 1996 and is one of the largest online retailers in the outdoor space.
Steep and Cheap was started by backcountry (see above) and operates as their “outlet” store.
Started in 2003, campsaver is an online retailer of fine outdoor merchandise.
Evo is an outdoor retailer based in Seattle, WA. They have a few brick and mortar stores, but also a great website. With a 366-day return policy, you really can’t go wrong.
There is a small shipping fee for returns, but if you’re near a store, you can also bring it back in person.
Outdoor Gear Exchange is a store based in Vermont that has a great website. They work hard to find great deals and also offer some consignment items. Check out their closeouts if you’re looking for steep discounts.
The company now goes by Sierra. They were purchased by the TJX Companies (TJ Maxx, Home Goods, Marshalls) in 2012.
Beginners can find good, solid equipment at a decent price here.
Outdoor play was founded in 1995. They offer a price match guarantee.
Returns on new/unused items are accepted within 60 days of purchase.
8. Manufacturer Websites
This one may seem odd, but sometimes the manufacturer website has a sale and items are less expensive than other options above.
I’ve scored great prices on Icebreaker gear because a color wasn’t selling well and they reduced the item by over 50%.
Make sure if you’re clicking different color options to check that the price doesn’t change. Sometimes purple is on sale, but blue isn’t.
Also, many companies will offer free shipping if your total purchase is a certain amount, or they may be offering a free shipping coupon code. It’s common for free shipping codes to be promoted around most holidays.
Surprised? I always tell people to never underestimate the camping and hiking section of Walmart. They have a great selection of items at, dare I say it, pretty cheap prices.
I purchased a Sawyer Nano water filter at Walmart for $10 less than I saw it anywhere else.
They also have inexpensive pop-up bowls and cups, sporks for $1, inexpensive rain gear, backpacking meals, et cetera. Heck, I even bought my camping knife from Walmart and it was less than $10.
I make a point to get my waterproof matches at Walmart because the exact same item is $2 more at outfitters.
Spend a little time wandering the aisles and see what peaks your interest.
You can get good, affordable backpacking gear, especially intro gear, on Amazon but you do need to know what you’re doing.
It takes a bit of knowledge to navigate the plethora of items they have and determine what you need.
When shopping on Amazon, I recommend seeking out items that have free shipping and free returns.
Discounted Backpacking and Outdoor Gear – Wrapping it Up
There are tons of places to look for good outdoor gear at an affordable price.
As always, be careful, read through any return policies thoroughly, and make sure you’re comfortable with the terms for the item you’re purchasing.
When purchasing from an individual seller, don’t be afraid to ask questions and always go with your gut.
Paypal Goods and Services is an extra 3% but it does offer some protection and it’s worth looking into.
Definitely shop around and do your research. You’ll probably find a few things you weren’t even looking for.