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  • Writer's pictureEmily Duane

money hack: get outdoor gear and apparel cheap (or free)

Something I've struggled with in the outdoor recreation industry is the shopping experience. It often goes one of two ways:

  1. The sales associate is practically salivating at the amount of shit they can sell you that you likely don't need, so they're super intimidating and overwhelming and you leave the store with insane buyer's remorse.

  2. The sales associate doesn't give a shit about you and recommends absolutely nothing beyond the single thing you asked about. Cool, thanks bro.

As tempting as it is to run out and buy brand new stuff to go with your new outdoor activity, truthfully, you don't probably don't need it. Bottom line is, to get started, all you need is the bare minimum. Here are a few examples of what what that looks like:

  • Running: A decent pair of running shoes and a water bottle*.

  • Hiking: A decent pair of hiking shoes and a water bottle*.

  • Camping: A decent tent, sleeping bag, and mat to sleep on. And a water bottle*.

*While I support making sustainable choices, your water bottle doesn't have to be fancy. Something lightweight that can be reused a couple times before you recycle it is a-okay.


All jokes aside, the other gear I mentioned is pretty important, even when you're starting out. Without the right gear, you might find yourself miserable and unwilling to try it again.


Here are four ways to keep money in your pocket.


borrow

Now, you might not want to borrow your friend's running shoes, but you might want to borrow their camping set up for a night to see if you like it!


You don't even have to spend a ton of money on a campsite. If you have a backyard, pitch your tent right there. The best part of backyard camping? Easy access to snacks and flushing toilets.


If you're looking to venture out a little bit, all you have to do is Google free campsites near me for a list of websites that have curated a collection of campgrounds, national forests, BLM, and other outdoor spaces where you can sleep under the stars for free.


Just know, access to bathrooms might NOT be an option, so you gotta be okay with doing your business outside. Don't forget to research Leave No Trace principles before you go this route. And please, for the love of everything that is good, never leave toilet paper behind. Don't be a garbage human. That should be a hashtag.


If you're borrowing a friend's gear, I suggest asking them to show you how to pitch the tent so you're not left with a pile of fabric and some poles wondering what the hell to do. And, don't forget to be a good friend and return their gear in the same shape you received it (if not better).


rent

Renting gear is totally possible, and it's the perfect way to test the waters before fully committing to your new outdoor activity. Even shoes. Think about it... if you can borrow a pair of bowling shoes that were sprayed into oblivion between questionable pairs of feet, you can probably survive borrowing a pair of boots for a hike.


Important note: At some point, renting boots is going to cost more than buying them new, so I recommend really only doing this once, maybe twice. (You can totally wear sneakers, but just know that the grip isn't going to be the greatest, and this is a safety issue out on the trails.)


You can also rent gear such as bikes, standup paddle boards, backpacks, trekking poles, tents, sleeping bags, and mats. Big stores like REI and Jax have programs for this, but I'm a big fan of supporting small, local businesses. As always, this information is a quick Google search away. Copy and paste this into your search bar: outdoor gear rentals near me.


buy used

The best part about used? It's sustainable... so it's great for the planet. Plus, you could be paying anywhere from 20-80% less than the original price, so buying used is great for your wallet, too!


You're not limited to buying someone's stanky, janky old stuff. Used could simply mean the owner purchased the item, tested it at home and decided it wasn't going to work but didn't return to the store it in time. You can buy NEW stuff at used prices.


Or, if you're savvy, you can go for something that is gently used. Used footwear can be a tough sell for some, but checking things like the condition of the soles and inside of the shoe (ever noticed how the size tag on the tongue of a pair of sneakers wears out pretty quickly?) could lead you to a pair of shoes that were only worn a couple times and are probably safe to wear.


Where can you buy used gear? Well... if you wanna buy directly from people, search for outdoor gear buy/sell groups on Facebook or check Facebook Marketplace.


You can also check social commerce marketplaces such as Poshmark for apparel and footwear, and Rerouted.co for apparel, footwear, gear, and accessories.


There might even be a used gear and apparel store near you. In my area, that includes Boulder Sports Recycler in Boulder, CO, and The Extra Mile, an outdoor-focused consignment shop in Loveland, CO.


buy off season

This concept of buying off season means two things:

  1. Avoid buying gear during the season you're in. It's always going to be full price. Instead, buy at the end of the season when it's marked down and retailers are trying to make space for new stuff. This might mean you're limited in size and color options.

  2. Buy new from previous seasons. Sierra, part of the TJX family of brands, sells a bunch of great outdoor gear and apparel at awesome prices. REI Garage sells unused gear and apparel from end-of-season closeouts and styles from the previous year at deeply discounted prices. If you live near an outdoor brand's headquarters, sometimes they have sample sales. Follow their social pages and sign up for emails to get notified when these happen.

  3. New runners might head to their local specialty running store to get a gait analysis and get fitted for shoes, but then take the recommendations and search sites like Running Warehouse or Amazon for the prior season's model. This can get tricky if the shoes don't fit the way you'd like them to (shoe companies are notorious for making big changes to fit between model years), so be sure to know the return/exchange policy before making your purchase!


Remember, all you need to get started is the bare minimum. As you build love for your chosen outdoor activity, you'll probably notice a need for more stuff to keep the adventures going. The cost to get started doesn't have to be outrageous. I'm all about lowering the barriers to entry to outdoor recreation, and I think managing costs is a big one!


Where have you shopped for used and discounted gear? Tell me in the comments!

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