Getting outfitted for hiking and backpacking can seem overwhelming. When I was first starting out with I felt like there was so much gear on the market and that it was SOOO expensive. Plus I felt like the list of gear you need to buy for hiking and backpacking was never ending. That was over a decade ago, and while gear hasn’t gotten any less expensive, I’ve developed lots of different tricks for finding hiking gear on a budget. (Wondering which hiking gear should be expensive and which stuff you can buy cheap? My friend Lauren has the answers!) So here it is, my big list of 17 ways to save money on hiking gear. Read on for lots of ways to get deals on used gear, save money on new gear and even get some gear for free!
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The cheapest way to get gear is… for free. If you’ve got a a friend with extra gear, see if they’ll let you borrow it. If you join a hiking club in your community or at a university, they also might have gear you can borrow. I did lots of my first backpacking trips with borrowed tents, backpacks, sleeping bags and sleeping pads. It was a great way to try out gear and see what I liked. (And what I hated, like that too-big backpack that left me with an oozing sore on my collarbone). Be sure to clean and dry gear before returning it. And if you want to borrow gear again, bring your friend a 6-pack to say thanks.
Gear to Look For: Unless your friend is the same size as you, borrowing boots or a backpack won’t be comfortable. You’ll have a bit more sizing leeway with clothing, but to set yourself up for success, stick to tents, sleeping bags, and stoves.
Shop Your Closet
Check your closet: chances are you might already own some stuff that will work for hiking.
Gear to Look For: Workout tops and tights made of synthetics like polyester and nylon (avoid cotton) make great hiking clothes. I bet you already have some gloves and a warm hat you could throw in your pack. And speaking of a pack, if you’ve got an old book bag around, it will do fine as a day pack when you’re first starting out. If you’re doing an easier hike on mellow trails you might not need hiking boots: you can wear your regular running shoes that you wear to the gym.
Gear shops often have rental programs, especially in locations near popular trails. It’s a great way to try before you buy, and sometimes you can apply the cost of the rental to the purchase of equipment. MEC in Canada and REI in the US have great gear rental programs. If those aren’t convenient, a quick google will usually find gear rental programs in your area.
Gear to Look For: Most gear rental shops rent out tents, sleeping bags and backpacks. Some might also have stoves and sleeping pads too.
Visit Second Hand Sporting Goods Shops
Many larger cities and trail towns have second-hand sporting goods shops. These stores are usually cluttered with cheap bikes and skis from three seasons ago. But if you’re lucky, you can score a deal.
Gear to Look For: Lightly used hiking boots, tents, sleeping bags and backpacks.
Bookmark Discount Gear Websites
There are a few websites dedicated to selling discounted brand-name outdoor gear. Steep and Cheap, the bargain arm of Backcountry.com, has killer prices (up to 70% off) on big names like Arc’Teryx, and Patagonia. They also have a “Current Steal” section where products are offered at crazy cheap prices for only a few minutes. I think my very first online gear purchase was from Steep and Cheap: I scored a merino wool Icebreaker sweater for 70% off way back in 2006.
REI has their own discount site, REI Garage where prices are 30-50% off. REI Garage also has a deal of the day section where a different product is offered for at least 50% every day. They post upcoming deals for the week so you can plan ahead. Another popular option is the Clymb, a flash sale site where gear is on sale for a limited number of days at up to 70% off.
Gear to Look For: You can get pretty much any gear or clothing on these sites from socks to sleeping bags. Check back often as deals change daily.
Scour Thrift Stores
It can be worth checking out the selection at your local thrift store, particularly if you are in an outdoorsy city.
Gear to Look For: Head to the clothing section for brand name hiking pants and fleece jackets at great prices. Wool sweaters also make great warm layers for hiking.
Check Online Buy and Sell Sites and Facebook Groups
Online buy and sell websites can be a great place to find lightly used gear. Craigslist, Kijiji, and eBay are a good place to start. Facebook’s Marketplace is also awesome, as are outdoor gear buy and sell groups on Facebook – a quick search will usually find ones in your area. If you are in Canada, you can also check out MEC’s online Gear Swap site.
Gear to Look For: Big ticket items like tents and sleeping bags are your best bets. Be sure to ask for lots of photos and a description of the current condition if you can’t see the item in person before you buy it. Be careful when purchasing items that need to fit you like boots, backpacks or jackets.
Find an Outfitter Selling Off Rental Gear
At the end of the season many outfitters and rental shops will sell off used rental gear to make space for newer gear. These end of season sales can be hard to find, so its worth asking local outfitters if they have a rental sale at the end of the season.
Gear to Look For: The most common items items to find at rental gear sales are snowshoes, canoes and kayaks. You can sometimes also find deals on tents, backpacks and sleeping bags.
Go to a Gear Swap
Attending an outdoors gear swap can be a great way to find cheap used gear. Many ski towns have annual ski swaps where you can find great deals. As well, some outdoor stores also organize their own swaps. REI has their legendary Garage Sale a few times a year at their larger stores. MEC runs their Gear Swaps a few times a year.
Gear to Look For: At ski swaps look for high end waterproof breathable backcountry ski jackets or puffy jackets since they work great for hiking. At gear swaps look for pricy items like tents, sleeping bags, backpacks, jackets and boots.
Hit Up Big Box Stores
You can get find some crazy cheap prices on gear at big box stores like Walmart. In general, I don’t advise purchasing backpacking gear at big box stores since you’ll likely want to replace it with better stuff after a few trips since it’s so heavy and the quality is often terrible. However, in a pinch, their stuff usually works fine.
Gear to Look For: Big box stores often have a camping section with tents, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, stoves and backpacks.
Go to the Mall
You can also consider hitting up mall stores for hiking clothing.
Gear to Look For: Fast fashion stores like Old Navy and H&M often have super cheap workout gear, fleece and insulated jackets that can double as hiking gear. Uniqlo has great puffy jackets and their HeatTech line can work as lightweight base layers.
Check out Discount Stores
Discount stores like Marshalls, Kohls, TJ Maxx, and Winners often have name brand workout clothing at super cheap prices.
Gear to Look For: You can usually find wicking t-shirts, shorts, sports bras and tights that make great hiking clothing.
Sort Through the Clearance Section at an Outdoor Store
Every time you go to your local gear store, check the clearance rack. You might score a great deal. You can also find way more selection on the clearance and sale sections of gear store websites. Usually these sections are full of last seasons models and colours at cheap prices. Check out MEC’s Clearance section, REI’s deals section and Backcountry.com’s sale section. Most gear brands also have clearance and sale sections. For example, check out Patagonia’s Web Specials section or Outdoor Research’s Sale section.
Gear to Look For: Clothing and footwear go on clearance each year as new colours are introduced and old ones are cleared out. Only a small amount of tents, sleeping bags and other gear ever go on clearance since each model is usually carried for a few years before being updated or discontinued. If you see a good deal on gear, grab it as it won’t last long.
Wait for Sales
If you can wait long enough, most gear will eventually go on sale. The outdoor industry runs on a seasonal cycle. Typically winter gear goes on sale in the spring and summer gear goes on sale in the fall. Many stores have big Boxing Day sales (typically selling left over summer merchandise) and REI has it’s famous Anniversary Sale in May. As older models and colours are phased out, they will go on sale to make room for the new models.
Gear to Look For: In the fall, look for discounted summer hiking clothes, hiking boots and maybe even tents and sleeping bags. In the spring look for deals on puffy jackets left over from winter.
Qualify to Get Pro Deals
Outdoor gear and clothing brands often provide industry pro deals where they sell gear at wholesale prices (usually 30-60% off). The thinking is that if people buy their gear on pro deal and like it, they are likely to recommend it to other people who have to buy it at full price. There are a few ways to qualify for pro deals. One of the easiest ways is to get a job at an outdoor store. If you work as a guide, a ski patroller, with search and rescue, in law enforcement or for the military, you might also be eligible for pro deals too. High end brands like Patagonia, Outdoor Research, and Darn Tough Socks all have pro deals. Lots of other brands do too – just check their websites to find out. I worked at an outdoor store while I went to university and got lots of my gear through pro deals. If you’re serious about getting in to backpacking, a part-time job at an outdoor store is definitely worth it, just for the pro deal access!
Gear to Look For: Almost every brand you can think of has a pro deal program. Be sure to do the math on the discount before you purchase and factor in shipping costs, exchange rates and duty – not all pro deals are actually that great of a deal. Also keep in mind that you usually can’t return, exchange or resell what you buy on pro deal so make sure you’ve got the correct sizing info.
Go to Sample Sales or Factory Sales
Gear brands often have sample sales or factory sales once or twice a year to clear out gear. Typically these sales take place in the cities where the brands have their headquarters or sales offices. They aren’t well advertised so they can be tough to find out about.
The clothing and gear at sample sales may have already been used for photo shoots or sales meetings, but they are often in brand new or near new condition. At factory sales, the clothing and gear often have small imperfections that make them unsuitable for sale at the full retail price. These imperfections are often cosmetic and don’t affect function, such as incorrect colours, uneven stitching or tiny stains. Sometimes the stuff at sample sales or factory sales is just extra stock that the brand wants to sell quickly at a cheap price.
Gear to Look For: While some sample sales will have a range of sizes, you’ll have the best luck if you wear a size 2-6 in women’s clothing or a medium/size 32 pants in mens. At factory sales pretty much anything could be on offer. Be sure to look over the gear carefully before you buy and make sure you are ok with any imperfections.
Check Amazon and Aliexpress
Is there anything Amazon doesn’t sell? You’ll find all the usual big gear brands on there, and sometimes they have a slightly better price (and usually lightning fast shipping). However, Amazon also has smaller gear brands as well as some cheap knock-off brands you might never have heard of. The quality can be questionable on these knock-off brands, but the prices can be insanely cheap.
Aliexpress is kind of like Amazon, but aimed at the Asian, Russian and South American markets. Almost everything on Aliexpress is made in China and is super cheap, both in price and in quality. I’ve never ordered anything on Aliexpress, but people in some gear forums have mentioned finding good deals on there (but lots of duds too). Everything on Aliexpress ships from Asia so it can take over a month for your order to arrive.
Gear to Look For: Be sure to read lots of reviews on any gear from a brand you don’t recognize. Not everything on these sites is exactly as described. There’s tons of choice out there for everything from tents, to sleeping bags to rain jackets. But as always, buyer beware.
So there you go, 17 different ways to save money on hiking gear. What’s the best deal you’ve ever scored on gear? Tell me in the comments.
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