The holidays are an amazing time for those of us that love the outdoors. With the holidays comes new tents, bikes, backpacks, stoves, and other types of gear we get as gifts and plenty of time to try them out before spring comes.
But one important lesson that I didn’t learn for a long time, is that the holidays are also a perfect time to find and buy great gently used backpacking, hiking, and camping gear.
It’s easy to shy away from used outdoor gear. By its nature, used outdoor gear won’t be perfect. It will be scuffed and scratched, it might be missing instructions, packaging, or parts. But a savvy person looking in the right places can often find great, fully functioning gear at a fraction of its original cost.
Why buy used backpacking gear?
- Cost and Quality – Let’s face it, with big name brand gear manufacturers it’s easy to spend a fortune building your gear loadout. Price isn’t always indicative of quality in the world of outdoor gear, but often big gear manufacturers like Arc’teryx, Salomon, Patagonia, Big Agnes, Mountain Hardware, and many more are on the cutting edge of design, creating their gear with quality materials and lifelong warranties. Buying used is a great way to reap those benefits without the hefty price tag.
- One Person’s Return… – I like to live by the motto of “Reuse, Repair and Recycle”. If someone wants to drop a piece of gear that I can get some use out of, that’s a huge win in my book. Many pieces of gear are returned to outfitters, donated, or sold online with just minor cosmetic issues, or issues that would be fixed with the help of tutorials online. For example, I recently bought a pair of Solomen boots that normally sell for over $100, for $45, and after a brush down, inside clean, and new insoles, they looked brand new. It’s hard to go back to paying retail after that.
- It’s not used, it’s pre-broken in – Thinking about boots specifically, one piece of advice that I always give newcomers looking for good boots on short notice is, “have you looked at buying used?” Speaking as someone that regularly buys used boots, and rarely has problems with them, buying good, clean, used footwear can be a great way to skip the breaking-in process. You won’t avoid all blisters with this method because everyone’s feet are different, but you will avoid some!
How to pick and buy used backpacking gear
- Know what you like and what you’re looking for – If I’m being honest, most of my used gear purchases have been impulse buys, but that doesn’t mean that you should do the same. The best way to buy used gear is with a clear picture of what you’re looking for, the brands that work for you, and items you’ve heard about and want to try. If you have a pricier gear brand that you already know you like, that’s what you should be keeping an eye out for!
- Look In-Person and Online – My favorite place to shop for used gear in person is at REI. For years REI has held monthly Garage Sales at their stores, offering steep deals on items returned to the store in the month prior. But ever since the COVID-19 pandemic, most REI’s have discontinued the monthly event in favor of a semi-permanent Garage Sale section in the store. I’ve been amazed at the basically brand-new gear people return for the most inane reasons. But don’t think that you need to go to REI to get a good deal on used gear, there are hundreds of local outfitters that almost always have a used or clearance gear section. Online you also have tons of different choices for buying used gear, I suggest looking at online gear communities found on Facebook and websites that specialize in that sort of thing. REI’s website also has a great section for both Used and Garage Sale items. Check it out.
- Compare Prices. Both New and Used – Are you getting a good deal? That should be your biggest question, because if you’re not, what’s even the point? This is an easy one to check both online and in-person, check out what you’d pay new and what the used item is going for, but don’t forget to factor in the cost of shipping if you’re buying online and anything you’ll need to buy to repair or refurbish your new deal. Those things can add up and tip the scale towards buying new if you aren’t careful.
- Use your senses – It’s going to sound gross, but sometimes a smell test will tell you everything you need to know about a piece of gear. Point is, when checking out used gear, you’ve got to use your eyes, ears, nose, and common sense when picking out used gear. How does the tread on boots look and feel? How does the gas regulator on stoves sound? How does that second-hand sleeping bag smell? If something seems off, it’s probably worth avoiding.