The outdoor gear market is a huge and rapidly expanding world. The price difference between seemingly similar pieces of gear can often be confusing, and many people opt for the more expensive option thinking that they are getting a better value.
However, there are plenty of places to find top-brand and excellent quality discount (and even FREE) camping gear; you only have to know where to look!
Here’s 12 ways to get cheap and even free camping gear:
1. REI Outlet & Used Gear
REI is a hive of wonderful outdoor gear. While REI itself does stock the latest models and full-price gear; REI Outlet is its lesser-known cheaper cousin. The outlet still gives you the chance to purchase top brands and quality, but at over 50% off.
“So, what’s the catch?” I hear you ask… I am happy to say there isn’t one! The gear is simply previous-year models, or post end-of-season. Imagine buying next year’s winter ski gear at the start of Spring, or that 2019 top-rated rain jacket instead of the upgraded 2020 version. REI Outlet is a fantastic way to get great gear for cheap – do not be put off by the reductions in price!
They also have a great selection of used gear online, and members can make the most of their regular in-store “Garage Sales” for the best deals on second-hand gear. In fact, the REI membership program is one of the best out there – offering you 10% back in store credit on every purchase for only a $20 one-time fee.
For the Canadian equivalent, then check out MEC. They offer membership in a very similar way to REI.
2. Sierra Trading Post
Think T.J. Maxx for outdoor gear – that is the essence of the Sierra Trading Post. There are some real gear gems hidden away, but you do need to search quite a bit to find the best ones. This store is best suited to people who enjoy browsing, who don’t have a certain brand or model in mind but are open to any deals which may pop out at them.
You can visit STP online or in-store, and the only caveat is that some of the gear is super discounted because of small (or obvious) defects. Make sure you thoroughly check any cheap items which seem too good to be true! That being said, don’t forget that outdoor gear is still easy to patch and mend – if you’re okay with a slight retro vibe.
3. Browse Facebook groups
Facebook has become one of the best resources for buying and selling used and discounted items. If you live in a part of the world with good trails and outdoorsy people, then there’s a good chance there is already a Facebook group for you!
These are a great place to go because they connect you directly with local people, it is obvious if someone is acting from a fraudulent account, and most people are just as down-to-earth and passionate about your chosen activity as you are.
The only thing you should be wary of is sending over money before you have received the item. If you can, try to pick up locally from the seller directly so you can check over the items first – this is what Facebook recommends. If you have to go through postage, then do it through a secure client like PayPal and make sure you get proof of postage.
4. Thrift Stores
You may already be in the habit of perusing the aisles of your nearest thrift store for a regular outfit, but they can also be a haven for outdoor gear! Okay, so perhaps you wouldn’t trust a tent or sleeping bag you find in there – but great outdoor clothing can be hidden away on those clothes racks, especially in mountain towns and places with a lot of outdoor enthusiasts.
A friend of mine once found a fully working harness and six heavy-duty carabiners for $20 from the Goodwill in Olympia. (She still uses them to this day. They haven’t failed her yet…)
Well-known brands may be marked more expensive as the store will price them accordingly, but you can sometimes find lesser-known brands for pennies if the retail managers don’t realize their worth! Again, check clothing thoroughly for signs of wear.
5. Buy old rental gear
This is a great way to score decent tents, sleeping mats and cooking equipment. Rental stores will often have to “decommission” certain items due to a fault or too much wear-and-tear. Most of the time, these issues are totally fixable but not worth the liability for the rental store.
It’s unlikely that you’d find their old gear listed for sale on a rental company’s website, but if you don’t mind calling around and asking a few stores if they have anything they might sell you, then you may in luck. You’re also more likely to score cheap gear from a local store as opposed to an online conglomerate with a store in every state. So stay local, put on your best persuasive voice and be prepared to haggle!
6. Patagonia Worn Wear
This option is specifically for Patagonia branded goods – but let’s face it, we all probably own at least one piece of their gear… Patagonia are known for being committed to the environment, and offer a trade-in policy for you to send in some of your old gear for store credit, or to purchase some used gear for yourself.
They also offer a repair service for those pieces of gear you are emotionally attached to and don’t want to part with.
Most of the gear on Worn Wear is still fairly expensive, but it is Patagonia after all. At least you can take comfort in the knowledge that their gear is incredibly well-made and will stand the test of time.
Warning: their gear is addictive. Shop with caution.
7. Sport Pursuit
Offering up to 70% off top brands, Sport Pursuit is a huge online warehouse with a great range of discounted goods. You can get last-season gear almost as soon as its taken off the shelves and find some absolutely mad deals.
They offer a ‘Price Guarantee’ and are so confident that they offer the lowest prices, they will offer you double the difference on any purchase you make and then happen to find the product cheaper elsewhere.
The one caveat is that you have to be a “member” before you can browse products, but this is a free membership and you only need to create an account with an email address and password. They also offer fast, worldwide shipping.
8. Sign up for giveaways
Most top brands will offer regular giveaways on their social media platforms and via email to their subscribers. Followers will usually have to just “follow” or “like” a page, tag a friend and share – it really is that simple. Other brands offer you the chance to be a little more creative in order to win – like writing a short story on your best hiking trip or craziest outdoor experience.
A lot of the prizes are decent too, often latest season gear and sometimes even an international trip. Check your spam and “other” inboxes in your mail client, as many branded emails often find their way out of your main inbox and you might miss a deal. Sure, you will enter more of these giveaways than you’ll ever win but for very little effort, it is certainly worth a try!
9. Trade gear among friends and clubs
This may sound obvious, but there is nothing wrong with a good old-fashioned trade. We tend to think that our possessions should have a monetary value; but if you and a friend both have something the other needs, then who cares about money?!
If you’re part of any outdoor group at school, work or even just your wider community, then it certainly can’t hurt to ask around. Clear out your gear store and make a list of everything you have to trade, and get the word out that you’re looking to trade.
On a vaguely related note, if you’ve never read the story of a guy who traded a red paperclip for a house, then check it out… My point is – never underestimate the power of a trade.
10. Get sponsored!
If you have even a humble but dedicated social media following, then you may be able to get sponsored by your favorite brands to do the activity you love. You may not get picked up by the big names straight away, but if you are great at what you do (or not so great but have a unique trip coming up) then there is bound to be somebody interested in sponsoring you.
A great way to find sponsors is to look for retailers who started in your local area (like Outdoor Research who started small in Seattle) – brands seem to like that kind of connection, as the chances are a lot of their customers are from your area too.
11. Share among friends
Again, it may sound obvious but there is no shame in sharing gear with your inner circle. If you are going on a group trip, then you don’t all need to purchase every piece of gear because you’ll probably have enough between you.
You could also club together to buy gear and simply arrange a flexible schedule for using it. This is a great idea for things like backpacks in different sizes, tents, tarps and so on – items which can be expensive but not needed on every single trip. Just make sure your group is tight and there are no weak links. There’s nothing worse than a gear-hoarder or that guy who never pays up.
12. Sign up for PRO deals
Most reputable brands will offer some sort of “PRO” deal for people in the business. This doesn’t mean you have to be a full-time adventurer – a pro can be a park ranger, wilderness guide, photographer, environmental worker and many, many more things. It is all up to the discretion of the brand. (Tip: check out Outdoor Prolink as way to connect with brands)
A lot of PRO deals offer up to 50% off, often in return for a small charitable donation at checkout and so forth. Unlike sponsorship, most PRO deals don’t require you to publicize them on your social media – but there is often a rigorous questionnaire and proof-of-earnings required during your application.
If you want to know whether your favorite brand offers PRO deals – simply do a web search for “*brand name* PRO deal”. Many manufacturers won’t advertise it on their public facing website, to keep it an option mainly for professionals who are more in-the-know.
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Suzie Hall has a passion for all things wild and is a scuba diver and Orcalab researcher based in Hanson Island off the north coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia. She spends most of her time exploring this great wide earth and her travels have taken her to some remarkable locations including Patagonia, Kyrgyzstan and the wild British Columbia coast. Fueled by a drive to protect our wild spaces and their inhabitants, Suzie works in conservation projects around the globe and lives to write about the amazing people, places and wildlife she encounters.