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Gear Up for Adventure on a Shoestring Budget

Are you itching to head out into the wilderness on your own adventures but can't afford the gear you need? This is the series for you. You'll learn what to look for and where to find it to get what you need for one-tenth of the cost of new gear.

This post is the where, but not the how. Stay tuned for upcoming posts in which I'll cover how to shop for used clothing, kayaks, backpacks and more.

Rules of Frugality
I love this list, and I use it when I'm tempted to buy something new. If you think you need to buy something, start at the top, and hopefully you'll find a solution before you get to #6. 
  1. Find an alternative you already own 
  2. Borrow it 
  3. Rent it
  4. Buy it used
  5. Pitch in with another person to get it
  6. Buy new
Another rule of frugality is caring for what you already own. This means knowing how your gear should be stored and cleaned to make it last as long as possible. I'll get around to writing a post on that at some point, hopefully...

Click the keep reading to learn where and what to buy used....

Borrow Instead of Buying
I get to borrow this sweet full suspension
mountain bike from work- but if I
 break something on it, I have to pay to fix it
I am a huge fan of borrowing gear. I actually keep all my old gear that I rarely use just so my friends can borrow it. While borrowing is a great solution, there are caveats:
  • What you borrow (like a pack) needs to fit you
  • You need to know how to care for the item because you don't want to end up breaking it- don't let your hyper dog stay in your friend's $400 backpacking tent, it will end badly. 

Things to Never Buy Used
There are a few things you should never buy used. The list is short but important.
  • Helmets for any sport- Did you know that bike helmets typically expire 5 years after the manufacture date? That's because the foam that protects your brain degrades over time. Small drops from 5 feet and crashes that leave no visible damage can leave your helmet dangerously damaged without any signs- leaving you with a helmet that won't actually protect you. 
  • Climbing ropes- Climbing ropes are made of materials that are sensitive to UV, heat, water, certain chemicals, and dirt. In addition, each rope has a specific number of falls it can catch, and beyond that number, the core is not strong enough to withstand the tremendous forces of a falling climber. Damage and wear to the core of the rope is often hard to detect, and most climbers do not keep adequate records of the falls the rope has caught. 

Where to Shop: Gear and Clothing Sources 
Best for Used Gear 
  • REI Garage in-store sales: This gives you the opportunity to inspect and try on gear and clothes before you buy it, but do know that it is not returnable.
  • REI Used Gear: has been inspected by REI employees and found to be in like-new condition
  • Used outdoor gear stores: Enables you to inspect and try on gear before buying
  • Goodwill: You can find both outdoor clothes and fashion brands that function well in the outdoors. You would be amazed what you can find at Goodwill. 
  • Craigslist: You'll be able to try on and inspect gear before you buy it.
  • Patagonia Worn Wear: Patagonia employees inspect the worn clothes and ensure it is in good condition before selling it, so you know items are free of stains and tears
  • Local Used Gear Shops: Local outdoor gear consignment shops are great places to find clothes and equipment, but you may pay 20% or so more than you would on craigslist because the store charges consignment. Generally, gear at consignment stores has passed a function and quality inspection and won't be worn out. An example you'll find in many states is Play It Again Sports
  • Military Surplus: Shop in-store only unless you were in the military and know exactly what you're looking for. Military clothing, backpacks and sleeping systems (the recent stuff from the last decade) is made from the same high-tech fabrics you'll find in rain jackets and sleeping bags. Keep an eye out on upcoming posts for a detailed how-to guide on buying military gear for outdoor adventure. 
Used gear - at your own risk
  • eBay
  • GearTrade (this website is specifically for outdoor equipment and clothing)
  • Poshmark
Buying used clothing and gear online can be risky. Many sellers hawk counterfeit items that look like the real thing but don't fit the same or have the same quality standards. Clothing may not fit you, even if you buy your size. Gear may have flaws that didn't show in photos. Many eBay and Poshmark sellers do not offer returns, and those that do, require the buyer to pay return shipping. 

Only shop here if:
My most used piece of clothing: my Patagonia R1.
 I always look for replacements on eBay when I wear one out.
  1. You are replacing a worn out item, and have found the exact same item (size, year, model) online
  2. You can try on the exact same thing in a store
  3. Are familiar enough with the brand you're buying to spot counterfeit items and know what sizes fit you
  4. Are ok with a counterfeit item
Best for inexpensive new gear:
  • Sierra Trading Post- This website has a bunch of budget brand baselayers that are worth trying in addition to great sales
  • REI Online Garage (these are un-used clearance items that are returnable)
Shop here if:
  • You're on a budget but buying an item like a helmet or climbing rope
  • You're buying shoes
  • You might need to return the item