How to Save on Outdoor Equipment

by Lisa Maloney

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Quality gear can make the difference between a pleasant outdoor experience or stewing in damp socks and a wet tent. It also costs a lot of money. These simple tricks can help you save on outdoor equipment:

Give yourself time: Try to identify your equipment needs ahead of time. Try to plan at least a year in advance, if possible, so that you can buy out of season or during big sales. This also helps to clarify the difference between things you want because they're neat, and things you truly need.

Buy it used: You can almost always find high quality outdoor gear that will last for years by checking garage sales, thrift stores, sport/gear swaps, and the returns section of your favorite retailer. Some stores stock used gear regularly, and places that rent gear (like outdoor retailers and universities) usually sell the rentals off at some point. Find out when that happens and be there.

Do your research: Whether you're buying new or used equipment, you need to know exactly what you're looking for. Do your research, whether it means renting, begging, or borrowing gear to try before you buy, reading reviews, browsing online, or taking a knowledgeable friend with you. Know about the features of the gear you're looking for and, if you're shopping through used gear, have a good idea of what it's worth so that you can negotiate a fair price.

Be honest with yourself: If you're not going to use it enough to justify the cost, don't buy it. When you do purchase, be as realistic as possible about what you really need. If you're serious about becoming a mountaineer, maybe you should go ahead and opt for the top-of-the-line, four-season, bomb-proof, storm-proof tent. But if you're not going anywhere near the Himalayas, you can buy a considerably less expensive tent without shirking on comfort.

Look online: You can nab extra-low prices when you buy online, but the tradeoff is that you can't see and feel what you're getting in advance. Try to check out the same product in a local store, if possible, before you buy online. All of the usual suspects (Craigslist, eBay, and retail websites like have outdoor gear for sale at great prices, but don't stop there. Deal-a-day sites like and offer a rotating selection of act-now-or-they're-gone-forever great deals. You can often find outdoor gear through Freecycle, and websites geared specifically to your sport of choice usually have a gear swap/for sale section to browse through.

Think about sharing or renting: If you're not going to use a piece of gear very often, or if you're part of a close-knit group that participates in the same sport, consider sharing the cost on expensive pieces of gear like porta-ledges and tents. If your buddy has an extra piece of gear he's not using, you could offer to rent it from him. It's a win-win situation. He gets some extra money, and you pay less for the rental than you would pay at a retail store. Just remember that you're ultimately responsible for the condition of any gear you trust your life to, so check out shared gear carefully each time you use it.

Make it: If you're savvy with your hands or know someone that is, you might be able to make what you need for considerably less than purchasing it new. The really crafty can start from scratch, but there are also kits and directions for making anything from down coats to sleeping bags to backpacks available in stores and online.

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