Dolla Dolla Bills, Y’all: How to save money on outdoor gear

Outdoor gear is effing expensive. There’s almost no getting around it. Well, almost. Fear not, my fellow sticker-shocked outdoors beginners – there are ways to save some cash while gearing up. Plus, I didn’t want you starting to think I had some sort of foot fixation after making my first two blogs exclusively about things that go on your feet.

First on my list was becoming a member of REI. It costs $20 up front, so I was reluctant to get one because I didn’t see the point if it wasn’t free. Then I realized that not only is it $20 for a lifetime membership, but REI members get a ton of great benefits.

You earn 10% back of what you purchase each year in a member dividend, easily earning back the $20 you paid for the membership, plus once you’re a member you get discounts on all of REI’s services, which include equipment rentals, ski and bike repair, and REI trips and training classes.

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On top of that, there are special sales for members, with the biggest being the REI Garage Sale, formerly known as the REI Used Gear Sale. The garage sale comes twice a year (take that, Christmas) and is an awesome way to get items for much less than you normally pay.

Everything at the garage sale has been used and returned, so it’s all heavily discounted. For the most part, everything is still in good shape, it just can’t get resold in the store since it has been used.

The key is going with specific items in mind and getting there early. The sale is just a giant room of stuff that’s loosely organized by category, so it’s easy to get distracted or overwhelmed.

Even if something is broken, there’s a good chance it can easily be fixed. For example, my husband got a brand-new Big Agnes tent (very expensive brand) for almost nothing because one of its poles had broken while still in the store. He bought the tent, emailed Big Agnes that he needed a new pole, and had a free one sent to his door.

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Active Junky is a company entirely devoted to discounting gear. By signing up for a free Active Junky account, you earn cash back on all the purchases you make through the site. They have hundreds of partners, including Cabela’s, REI, Nike, and a bunch of other big brands. The percentage you get back varies with the brand, but since it’s completely free there’s no reason not to try it out. There are no hidden fees and it’s free forever!

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For those of you that have a penchant for flash deals, I highly recommend you check out Steep and Cheap. It’s a flash sale site specifically for outdoor gear. Unlike many mainstream flash sale sites (I’m looking at you, Zulily), you can return any product you get on Steep and Cheap within 30 days, no questions asked. Added bonus: their parent company, Backcountry, is an affiliate of Active Junky and also has great sales. Finally, check out MooseJaw for more deals.

You can never go wrong with outlets and the clearance rack. I’ve found some absolute gems in both places, plus I’ve found out about really excellent sales by joining email lists. I know everyone needs another email newsletter like they need a hole in the head, but it’s a great way to get free shipping and first dibs on sales items.

One last tip – it can be okay to go cheap. Target has an excellent athletic apparel section that will hurt your wallet much less than a trip to REI.

No matter what your cash flow situation is, there are plenty of ways to not break the bank while getting your outdoor gear collection started. You just have to shop smart. But if you find yourself lusting over everything at REI, I won’t judge you if you splurge.

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