The case for spending more to buy quality outdoor gear is strong.
Compared with the generic brands on Amazon or at your local big-box retail store, outerwear from Patagonia or Marmot and camping gear from Big Agnes or Helinox costs more upfront. But even with gentle use, the no-name stuff is almost sure to wear out faster than these name-brand alternatives.
Also, many higher-end outdoor apparel and gear manufacturers offer comprehensive warranties that cover repairs and replacements for years. Patagonia’s Ironclad Guarantee is virtually limitless, though there’s a small fee for repairs, and Duluth Trading Company offers dissatisfied customers no-questions-asked refunds.
Tips to Find the Best Camping and Hiking Gear Deals
Only the luckiest outdoor enthusiasts can afford to pay top dollar for brand-new premium outerwear and gear. For most of my backpacking and camping career, I’ve gotten by on hand-me-down packs, tents, and accessories, overcoming the urge to invest in new high-end equipment out of financial necessity. But sometimes, I have to buy warm-weather camping and hiking gear of my own, which is when I need some money-saving strategies.
If you’d prefer to keep your limited recreation budget from interfering with a quality outdoor experience, you can ward off sticker shock with these tips and tricks for buying the best summer camping and hiking brands for well under full price.
1. Buy Used or Discontinued
High-quality warm-weather camping and hiking gear and apparel isn’t necessarily something you should always buy secondhand. Used gear rarely remains under warranty, and even gently used goods may perform below campers’ expectations or wear out faster than new products. Think twice about buying high-performance gear, such as rain flaps, sight unseen. Nothing ruins a camping trip faster than a persistent roof leak.
That said, secondhand gear invariably costs less than its new equivalents. When you’re building a warm-weather camping and hiking inventory on a tight budget, you may have no choice but to rely on used gear. And there are plenty of tried-and-true places to look.
- Outdoor Gear Exchanges. Brick-and-mortar and Web-based gear exchanges are often your best bet for reasonable pricing on gently used, top-of-the-line outdoor recreation equipment. The Outdoor Gear Exchange, a Vermont-based company that sells coast to coast through its website, is a reliable place to start.
- Facebook Groups. Search Facebook for groups by and for outdoor recreation enthusiasts. Broad search terms like “camping gear exchange” and “used camping gear” or even more specific terms like “camping tents” and “sleeping pads” should get you started. Just be mindful of the potential for fraud. Always meet sellers in public, and don’t give out your credit card information via Facebook message.
- Retail- and Brand-Run Used Gear Outlets. Most major outdoor equipment merchants sell gently used gear. Patagonia’s Worn Wear program is the gold standard for outdoor apparel and equipment recycling. It’s also a suitable place to offload your own gently used Patagonia stuff. If you’re an REI member — and for a $20 one-time fee, you should be — you already know about its member-only Garage Sales, which promise savings north of 50%.
- Thrift and Consignment Shops. You can find just about anything at the consignment shop, including outdoor gear. Stop by your local Goodwill or Salvation Army to browse serviceable general-purpose equipment like backpacks. Equipment doesn’t have to be fancy to get you up the hill.
- Online Resale Marketplaces. Deals on gently used warm-weather apparel and equipment, including more expensive items like camping tents and sleeping bags, abound on online resale marketplaces like eBay, Amazon, and Facebook Marketplace. Compare the deals you find in these clearinghouses to discounts at smaller sporting goods retailers, such as REI and Patagonia. Amazon and eBay don’t have a monopoly on low prices, and they don’t always offer the best value.
- Local Sellers. If you don’t want to wait for your gear to arrive in the mail, check out Craigslist and Nextdoor for local sellers. Standard buyer safety warnings apply here: Always meet in public, don’t send money ahead, and inspect potential purchases before finalizing the deal.
2. Utilize Hand-Me-Downs Whenever Possible
Obtaining hand-me-down apparel and equipment is cheaper than buying new or secondhand, so always seek out free stuff from fellow campers and backpackers among your friends, family members, and neighbors before shopping.
It’s not as difficult as it sounds. Without really trying, my wife and I have amassed an ample free inventory of used camping equipment, from sleeping bags and tents to a handful of tarps, plus a heavily used outdoor backpack that somehow continues to hold up. On basic car camping trips and day hikes that don’t involve extreme weather or terrain, this gear more than suffices.
If all you need is a basic warm-weather camping or day hiking setup, see if any good friends or extended family members are willing to lend or give you gear. In an outdoorsy personal network, there’s a good chance someone has surplus brand-name gear they’re willing to pay forward. My favorite free day hike backpack is from The North Face, not exactly a no-name hand-me-down.
3. Buy During the Offseason and Around Popular Retail Holidays
All else being equal, the best time to buy warm-weather outdoor gear is toward and just after the end of the warm season, when manufacturers and retailers slash prices to offload current-year inventory. In the Northern Hemisphere, that means autumn, the beginning of the low season for backpacking trips.
That’s not to say October is always the best month to buy any piece of warm-weather recreation equipment. You’re also guaranteed to find enviable deals on popular retail holidays like Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and Amazon Prime Day. That said, you may not be able to locate bargain-basement pricing on the exact piece of equipment you need.
And if you’ve procrastinated well into the warm season, don’t worry. Outdoor retailers commonly offer sales around spring and summer holidays, such as Memorial Day and Father’s Day.
4. Hunt for Clearance Sales
Retailer- or manufacturer-specific clearance sales can happen at any time of year, including the warm season. Check the outdoor gear and apparel sites when you’re in the market for a new piece of gear or clothing. It makes for an effective, if not lightning-quick, price comparison.
If you have time and don’t have to go too far out of your way, visit major retailers — or retail clusters, such as the closest mall or downtown shopping district — in person to browse deeply discounted products.
And always take advantage of the situation if you’re going to be in the area for another reason. For example, my wife and I would never drive 50 miles out of our way to visit Cabela’s in person, but we pass one on the highway when we visit her hometown.
Don’t forget to visit online vendors that specialize in clearance sales. For instance, The Clymb retails soon-to-be discontinued gear and equipment at deep discounts to the retail price. Steep & Cheap is another broad-based clearance retailer. On a recent warm-season visit, I found discounts of 70% on The North Face apparel and gear.
5. Sign Up for Retailers’ Newsletters
Most outdoor apparel and gear retailers that sell directly to consumers have email newsletters. Many offer first-order discounts for new customers who sign up for these newsletters before making a purchase. Signing up takes only a few seconds, and you can always unsubscribe after making your first purchase or relegate newsletters to a special folder, such as Gmail’s promotions folder, or even an alternative email address. So there’s little downside to taking this step with every merchant that piques your interest.
Typical discounts range from 10% to 20%. Some opportunities are even more enticing. New “insiders” automatically enter to win a $100 gift card when they sign up for Z Supply‘s email newsletter.
6. Join a Store Rewards Program
Many outdoor gear and apparel retailers and manufacturers offer customer rewards programs. Most are free, so there’s no reason not to join. Depending on the program, members earn immediate point-of-sale discounts, points to redeem against the cost of future purchases, or access to exclusive sales and promotions. Some programs may require credit approval. Bass Pro Shops Club members earn points via store credit card, for instance.
Among the relative handful of recreation brands that charge for membership, REI’s lifetime membership stands out as well worth the cost. In addition to member-only Garage Sales, REI members earn annual dividends based on their spending for the year, get special member pricing on REI Adventures outings, and enjoy discounts on REI-exclusive travel insurance packages.
7. Use a Cash-Back Browser Extension
Complement retailer-specific rewards with a cash-back browser extension that pays you back for purchases you make with participating merchants. When you complete a purchase on a participating merchant’s website, you receive a slice of the extension’s affiliate commission — the cut of the sale they receive for directing traffic to the merchant.
Affiliate commissions and user cuts vary widely by merchants. Bigger, better-known merchants, such as Walmart and Target, usually pay lower commissions than lesser-known niche brands, so you’ll probably make out better by purchasing directly from merchants. I’m particularly partial to BeFrugal, whose outdoor gear affiliates include Marmot (5% cash back) and Sierra (up to 8% cash back), and new sign-ups earn a $10 bonus.
Browser extension cash back isn’t instantaneous. It can take anywhere from a few business days to several months to receive it, though your extension account should show it as pending within a day or two of the qualifying purchase.
Turn on your extension before you begin shopping and make each purchase without navigating away from the merchant’s website. Interrupting the transaction at any point could jeopardize your cash-back earnings.
8. Look for Coupon Codes
Unlike extension cash back, which typically applies to most or all website products offered by the participating merchant, coupon codes tend to be category- or product-specific. But they tend to be more generous than extension rewards. Code discounts of 40% or more are common. I have Capital One Shopping installed on my browser because it automatically scans to see if I can get a better price on a product and automatically applies available coupons.
Capital One Shopping compensates us when you get the browser extension using the links provided.
9. Use a Rewards Credit Card
Reducing your out-of-pocket outdoor apparel and gear expenditures isn’t the only reason to apply for a cash-back credit card or travel rewards credit card. You’re likely to spend more on everyday purchases like groceries, gas and transportation, and clothing.
But trimming your recreation spend by 1% to 2% — perhaps more, with the right card — is helpful. If you’re more likely to redeem rewards for hard cash, look into a 2% cash-back card such as the Citi Double Cash card or Fidelity Rewards Visa Signature card. Frequent travelers need cards that favor travel redemptions and point transfers to travel partners, such as the Chase Sapphire Reserve card.
The standard rewards credit card caveats apply here. Outdoor enthusiasts with limited or impaired credit are unlikely to qualify for premium cash-back and travel rewards credit cards. Set your expectations by checking your credit score, and if it’s not where you’d like it to be, take steps to build credit without a credit card.
It’s always summer somewhere. In the northern United States, warm weather lasts from May or June through August or September. My warm-weather camping and backpacking gear stays out until around the autumnal equinox. Then, it’s back in the attic for eight months, swapped out for my equally expensive cold-weather outdoor apparel and gear. Paying more for equipment is the tax outdoorsy people must pay to live and play in a four-season climate.
But if you head far enough south, “summer” loses its meaning. Those fortunate enough to live where it’s warm year-round don’t have to pay the four-season tax. They can get by with one set of outdoor apparel and equipment.
Perhaps they’re onto something. Maybe the only sure way to control your outdoor recreation budget is to forgo winter altogether. That’s not a sacrifice I’m willing to make, but for those serious about saving, that may be the best outdoor gear money-saving tip of all.