Brand-new hiking gear can cost an arm and a leg, but sometimes it's worth it for the warranty, or just the piece of mind of knowing that you're getting high-end gear in pristine condition. That said, why pay retail when you can get steep discounts? The following list covers retail stores or websites (sometimes both) where you stand a decent chance of getting good prices on great gear. Don't see your favorite place for deals? Drop me a line and I'll add it.
I'm also including sources for used gear. Buying used takes a lot more savvy than shopping for new -- you have to be able to inspect whatever you're getting and determine whether it's truly thrashed or still has some life in it. But if you're reasonably familiar with what you're looking at, the inspection process is pretty common sense. A smart buy on used gear can save you hundreds of dollars.
Launched in October 2012, this relative newcomer lets you bid, Priceline-style, on outdoor gear. The retail price for each item is clearly listed; you say how much of that you're willing to pay, then Buystand hunts for a retailer that wants to sell at that price. The retailers behind the deal remain anonymous until the deal is complete, at which point they handle any necessary returns.
As of February 2013 Buystand only ships domestically. That does include Alaska and Hawaii, and no shipping charges are assessed; they're automatically included in your bid.
So far, I'm seeing that the discounts available from Buystand vary widely. Case in point: I scored a sweet, 50-percent-off deal on some blister/burn dressings for my first aid kit, but a similar offer on a larger item was turned down. Your offer is valid for just 8 hours, so you get a pretty quickly reply one way or the other (and up to two chances to rebid within 48 hours).
2. Cabela's Bargain Cave
Cabela's big sales seem to be on par with every other retailer's; you can do better if you're willing to wait for something you want to turn up in the Bargain Cave. There's no telling what you'll find or whether they'll have it in your size, but if it's there, you'll get a great deal on it with discounts of up to 70 percent.
The Bargain Cave is also a physical location in brick-and-mortar Cabela's stores, so be sure to check every time you're in the store.
Campmor might not be the most glamorous of retailers -- the last time I saw one of their catalogs, it was printed in black and white on what felt like newsprint -- but they sometimes have pretty good deals on outdoor gear and clothing. Do take the time to compare prices, because their discounts vary.
GearTrade is a marketplace for retailers, sales reps -- and apparently, individuals -- to sell gear online. You can get some screaming deals here, but make sure you read item descriptions carefully to see whether what you're buying is used or new.
5. NOLS Sales
National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) goes through a lot of gear, and they tend to sell off anything they don't need in the spring and fall. You'll have to check with your local chapters to see when they're holding the next sale. The gear has often seen a lot of use, but if you buy carefully, you can still find usable items at a great place. Sometimes you'll find a smattering of brand-new sample gear; in my experience that usually sells at about 50 percent off.
Heads up: The good stuff goes fast at these sales, and people line up early. I recommend that you do the same -- showing up an hour early is not unreasonable -- and bring a friend to hold your place in line while you scout any gear they've got set up outside and decide what you want to race for.
6. REI Garage Sales, Attic and Outlet
Maybe some of you remember the halcyon days of REI's "Super Clearance" sales, when every item that had a price ending in .83 was discounted an additional 50 percent. Those have gone the way of the dodo, but you stand a decent chance of scoring deals at an REI "Garage Sale" instead. Garage sale schedules are set independently at each store, so the easiest way to find the next one near you is:
- Find nearby stores by entering your location into the REI store locator.
- Click the store(s) nearest you, then click on "Classes and Events." Any upcoming garage sales will be listed there
REI also keeps a regular, rotating stock of returned items for sale in their "Attic" (not a literal attic -- it's usually located somewhere near the back of the store). You can get screaming deals here, but buy carefully because sometimes there really is a problem with gear -- ripped seams or missing pieces, for example -- and items purchased in the Attic cannot be returned.
Last but still useful, you can sometimes find good deals, especially on closeouts, at REI's online outlet.
7. Sierra Trading Post
I've never had the chance to visit a Sierra Trading Post outlet, but their website is one of my first stops if I need new outdoor clothing. I'm particularly fond of their Bargain Barn, where everything is priced at least 60 percent off retail. You'll get a lot of closeouts and seconds here, but who cares if that pair of socks you just got has a tiny cosmetic blemish on them? They still keep your feet just as warm or dry, and they're cheap.
8. University Rentals and Outdoor Programs
If outdoor recreation is big in your area, odds are good that the local university rents several types of recreational gear. This is a reasonable way of trying out gear to see if it's something you'll really use but, just as important, there's a good chance the university will periodically sell off used rental gear. Just call and ask.
If the answer's no, ask whether the university has an outdoor program. If they do, that program has to get rid of used gear from time to time -- maybe they'd be willing to sell it to you.
9. Swap Meets
There's no central source for these, so keep your eyes peeled to newsletters from university outdoor clubs and local outdoorsy clubs, or do some judicious Googling. Don't be shy -- you might find hiking-specific gear like packs, boots, headlamps and clothing layers at swap meets for skiers and climbers too.