Go ahead, go outside, it’s free exercise!
Said no person who’s actually been an avid outdoor enthusiast ever.
Anyone who’s ever spent five seconds in an REI knows there’s limitless ways to spend money on even this “cheap” hobby. The people telling you it’s free aren’t wrong; you can go outside and walk around for free. Sooner or later though you’ll get tired of walking in circles around the park.
Maybe you’ll want to try riding a bike, rock climbing, or camping. Maybe you want to go explore a nearby national park. I hear Everest can be an amazing goal to shoot for if you’ve got the nads for it.
Regardless of your outdoor inclinations, costs can add up quickly. To fully outfit someone with brand-new backpacking equipment could run into the thousands of dollars. There’s tents, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, hiking shoes, camping stoves, fuel, fuel bottles, water bottles, water filters, backpacks, GPSs, first aid kits, trekking poles, etc… to consider.
And don’t even get me started on actual hiking clothes. That’s right, you can’t just plop yourself out in the middle of nowhere in jeans and a T-shirt. In between the sweat and rain that typical street clothes soak up and all the resulting chafing, you’d probably end up with some pretty epic skin infections after a bit (just ask Zach about his time in the Army…).
I don’t have thousands of dollars laying around. So, I’ve gotten pretty good at finding great gear for even better prices. Here are some of the ways I’ve saved money on gear over the years.
Buy Used Outdoor Gear
You can find all kinds of cheap stuff at thrift shops. Hiking gear is no exception. When searching for used hiking clothes, stay away from anything made of cotton (the old adage is, “cotton kills”). Stick with wool and synthetic clothes just to be safe.
Look for clothing that’s not too tight-fitting, but still looks like it can take a bit of a beating. No fancy skirts here, guys. Leave those tutus at home.
If you’re lucky you might have a local secondhand store that specializes just in outdoor gear (here in Fort Collins, we have the Gearage). If not, there’s always the internet: Craigslist and Ebay are always good old standbys for anything. There are even a few online gear consignment shops like GearTrade.
When To Spring For New Outdoor Gear
Truth: you can get a lot of your gear for cheap by buying it used.
But, sometimes you just gotta buckle down and buy new gear. Sometimes it’s a matter of good hygiene (you do not want to wear someone’s used socks or undies). Sometimes you just need to break in the equipment to fit your own body, such as with footwear or backpacking packs.
And sometimes, you just can’t get the gear you need as used equipment. In fact, I’ve often found that the best gear can’t even be found in thrift shops at all.
Buying new gear also comes with an advantage: warranties! Most outdoor gear is made to put up with some abuse. Obviously the stuff you find in Wal-mart and Target are exceptions to that. But, most reputable outdoor gear companies will offer great warranty programs. Always make sure to factor in any warranties into your purchasing decisions.
Where To Buy New Outdoor Gear
Of course, you can buy new gear right off the shelf from expensive outdoor stores. But we’re frugal people (or we try to be, at least), and we don’t spend a dollar unnecessarily, especially if we can get the same thing for cheaper by doing a little Google legwork!
Related: Recipes for Adventure: Hearty and Homemade Backpacking Recipes by Chef Glenn McAllister
If you’re looking to save big wads of cash on new gear, I’ve got two great options for you.
Pro Deals: The Best Thing Since Bacon-Wrapped Steaks
I first heard about pro deals from a biologist back in Alaska, as we were shaving a BFT for science.
It seems to be a bit hush-hush. I even remember one application I filled out a long time ago that discouraged people from discussing their particular program. But, this is a personal finance blog, and so I’d be remiss if I didn’t tell you, dear readers, about this little-known opportunity.
If you’re an industry professional, you’re probably eligible to get pro deals.
What’s an industry professional? It’s a pretty loose definition, but it’s pretty much anyone who works outside at all. It can include biologists, biological science technicians (me!), law enforcement officials, military members, photographers, fitness instructors, etc…
Related post: The Financial Reality Of Being A Broke Biologist
Hell, even my local hiking club has access to pro deals. It might be worth checking out to see if there are any similar clubs in your area, as well.
Pro deals are basically smokin’ hot deals that many outdoor recreation companies offer to individuals. They view it as a way to advertise their products by getting you, a professional, to use them. They generally offer the deals at wholesale (or at least very steeply discounted) prices.
Pro deals can be found by contacting or visiting a company’s website directly. Look around their web page for the words “pro purchase,” “pro sales,” etc… Depending on the company you can either apply directly with their program, or through pro deal networks like Promotive or Outdoor Pro Link.
Be prepared, though. They do need some proof that you are actually a professional, usually in the form of a reference or an official email address. Because the definition of a “professional” is so loose, though, it doesn’t hurt to apply regardless.
I got several pro deals with individual companies when I had naught but a University email address, because I worked outside for my thesis research.
I even applied for one company’s pro deal program and they denied my application, but not after offering me a great deal first. They sent me a full list of their gear and offered me the chance to make one-time purchase of as many items as I wanted at the pro deal price.
Discount Websites: The Second-Best Thing Since Bacon-Wrapped Steaks
If you’re not an industry professional, don’t despair. You still have tons of other options for finding cheap, new gear at prices that can be even lower than pro deal prices.
The Travel Gear Blog maintains a current list of deals scoured from all over the Internet. In addition, there are a few good standbys that I always like to check.
Steep and Cheap and Whiskey Militia are like the online QVCs of outdoor gear. They offer massive, pro-deal-esque discounts on one single high-quality item for a short period of time (usually just a few minutes), in limited quantities. If it’s a piece of clothing, they’ll offer multiple sizes. It can be quite addicting watching what the current deals are, and they even have an app you can download on your phone.
If you have a particular item you’re looking for, check out SAC Alerts. They have a handy Deal Tracker tab to keep an eye on three limited-time discount sites at once.
They also have a Deal History tool where you can search if Steep and Cheap has offered a particular item before. Because Steep and Cheap reruns their discounted items, you stand a pretty good chance at finding it again at some point.
You can even sign up through SAC Alerts to get an email or text message alert when whatever item you’re looking for is currently being offered. That way, you don’t have to sit around all day with an extra browser tab open.
Another great discount gear website to check is The Cymb. They offer similar levels of discounts, but it’s more of a traditional online store that has everything for sale at once. It’s a great place to go to if you just want some type of new gear (i.e., sleeping bag or T-shirt) but aren’t as specific about the brand or item. They have a huge selection, and it’s fun just to browse. It’s about as close to hobby shopping as I get.
Note: If you sign up for The Clymb using this link and make a purchase of $50 or more, we’ll both receive a credit for $10 towards a future purchase!
Get out there!
Don’t let a lack of gear be an excuse to hold back from getting out there. I’ve shown you a bunch of ways to get gear for cheap, but there are even cheaper ways: bargain for used gear, rent it from an outdoor center, or join trips through groups on Meetup or local outdoor clubs if you don’t have super expensive things like canoes or rafts.
Even if you don’t buy anything at all, get your butt out to some local trails and get hiking!
What are your favorite ways to save on outdoor gear? Do you use pro deals? Leave a comment below!