The case for spending more to buy quality outdoor gear is strong.
Yes, compared with the generic brands you’ll find on Amazon or at your local big-box retail store, you’ll pay more upfront for outerwear from Patagonia or Marmot and camping gear from Big Agnes or Helinox. But even with gentle use, that no-name stuff is almost certain to wear out faster than the name-brand alternatives.
Also, many higher-end outdoor apparel and gear manufacturers offer expansive 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.
Not all outdoor enthusiasts can afford to pay top dollar for brand-new premium outerwear and gear, though. I would know; for most of my hiking and camping career, I’ve gotten by on hand-me-down packs, tents, and accessories, quelling out of financial necessity the urge to invest in new, top-of-the-line equipment.
When I do need to buy warm-weather camping and hiking gear of my own, I rely on some of the following tips and tricks. If you’d prefer to keep your limited recreation budget from interfering with a quality outdoor experience, you too can ward off sticker shock with these strategies for buying the best summer camping and hiking brands for well under full price.
1. Consider Buying Used or Discontinued
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 items may perform below expectations or wear out faster than new products. Think twice about buying high-performance items, 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 supplement it with – or rely entirely on – used gear. Here’s where to look:
- Outdoor Gear Exchanges. Brick-and-mortar and Web-based gear exchanges may be 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 great place to start.
- Social Media Groups. Search Facebook for social media groups by and for outdoor recreation enthusiasts. Broad search terms such as “camping gear exchange” and “used camping gear” 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 great 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’ll already know about its member-only Garage Sales, which promise savings north of 50%.
- Thrift and Consignment Shops. What can’t you find at the consignment shop? Stop by your local Goodwill or Salvation Army to browse serviceable general-purpose equipment such as backpacks. Gear doesn’t have to be fancy to get you up the hill.
- Online Resale Marketplaces. Deals on gently used warm-weather apparel abound on online resale marketplaces such as eBay and Amazon. Compare the deals you find in these clearinghouses to discounts at smaller brands and retailers, such as REI and Patagonia; eBay and Amazon 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 of time, and inspect items before finalizing the deal.
2. Utilize Hand-Me-Downs Whenever Possible
Obtaining hand-me-down apparel and equipment is cheaper than buying items new or secondhand, so you should always seek out free stuff from friends, family members, and neighbors before shopping online or in person.
It’s not as difficult as it sounds. Without really trying, my wife and I have amassed for free an ample 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 gift 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 & 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.
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 such as Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and Amazon Prime Day, though whether you’re able to locate bargain-basement pricing on the exact piece of equipment you’ve been seeking for months is another story.
And if you’ve procrastinated well into the warm season? Worry not. 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. My fairly low-tech deal-hunting strategy is simply to check my outdoor gear and apparel bookmarks whenever I’m in the market for a new piece of gear or clothing; it makes for an effective, if not lightning-quick, price comparison.
Vendor newsletters (more on those below) typically tout store- or category-wide sales, though merchants don’t always advertise the best deals. If you have time and don’t have to go too far out of your way, consider visiting major retailers – or retail clusters, such as the closest mall or downtown shopping district – in person to browse deeply discounted items that might not jump out online. My wife and I would never drive 50 miles out of our way to visit Cabela’s in person, but we do happen to pass one whenever we visit her hometown. So if we need something and we’re not in a big rush, we’ll stop in and see whether it’s worth grabbing.
Don’t forget to visit online vendors that specialize in clearance sales. The Clymb, for instance, retails soon-to-be discontinued gear and equipment at deep discounts to retail price. Steep & Cheap is another broad-based clearance retailer; on a recent warm-season visit, I found discounts of 70% on 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 your email suite’s promotions folder, so there’s little downside to taking this step with every merchant that piques your interest.
Newsletter discounts are nothing to sneeze at, either. 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. That’s more than enough reason to take a minute to enter your email address.
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 – other than occasional emails you can almost certainly control through your email suite or member dashboard – not to join. Depending on the program, members may 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, or plug-in, that pays you back for purchases you make with participating merchants. When you complete a purchase on a participating merchant’s website, you’ll receive a slice of your plug-in’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 with plug-in affiliates. I’m particularly partial to BeFrugal, whose outdoor gear affiliates include Marmot (5% cash back) and Sierra (up to 8% cash back). When you sign up for BeFrugal you will receive a $10 bonus.
Browser extension cash back isn’t instantaneous. It can take anywhere from a few business days to several months to receive the cash back to which you’re entitled, though your extension account should show it as pending within a day or two of the qualifying purchase. Be sure to 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
Complement your cash back plug-in with coupon or discount codes that slash prices even further. Unlike plug-in 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. On the bright side, they tend to be far more generous than plug-in rewards; code discounts of 40% or more are common. I have Wikibuy installed on my browser because it automatically scans to see if I can get a better price on an item and automatically applies available coupons.
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 or travel rewards credit card, of course. It may not even crack your top 10; in a typical year, you’re likely to spend more on everyday purchases such as groceries, gas and transportation, and clothing.
Still, trimming your recreation spend by 1% to 2% – or perhaps more, with the right card – is nothing to sneeze at. If you’re more likely to redeem rewards for hard cash, consider a 2% cash back card such as the Citi Double Cash Card or Fidelity Rewards Visa Signature Card. Frequent travelers may be better served by 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 ahead of time by checking your credit score and, if it’s not where you’d like it to be, taking steps to build credit without a credit card.
It’s always summer somewhere. In the northern United States, where I live, “summer” generally lasts from May or June through August or September, depending on latitude, elevation, and proximity to large bodies of water.
My warm-weather camping and hiking gear stays out until around the autumnal equinox. Then, it’s back in the attic for eight months, swapped out for my cold-weather outdoor apparel and gear. Don’t get me started on the cost of adding and replacing items to and from my winter gear collection; I joke that said cost is the tax outdoorsy people must pay to live and play in a four-season climate.
Head far enough south, though, and “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 unless they head north – or farther south still – during the cold season. 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 your mileage may vary.
What’s your trick to save more on summer camping and hiking brands?