Good gear is expensive. But once you start getting into hiking beyond the occasional weekend day hike, you need to have the right gear. High-quality hiking gear not only makes you more comfortable, it helps you stay prepared and ultimately stay safe if anything goes wrong.
You don’t have to be a queer hiker to want to know how to save money on hiking gear, but considering the financial disparities between LGBTQ folks and the general population, it’s no surprise that many of us are looking for ways to save money on hiking gear when we shop.
Read on for 7 ways to save money on hiking gear, why you should always buy the best gear you can afford, and my favorite tips for getting hiking gear for less.
How do you save money on hiking gear?
1. Shop end-of-season sales and clearance
During end-of-season sales, retailers discount new merchandise so they can clear out their inventory for the new season. The selection will be limited. They won’t have all the sizes or every color. But you might walk away with new gear for 10-30 percent less than what it would otherwise cost.
Don’t forget to check clearance while you’re there. While the clearance section is smaller, it offers year-round savings.
The selection will be limited. They won’t have all the sizes or every color. But you might walk away with new gear for 10-30 percent less than what it would otherwise cost.
2. Shop outlets
Outlet shops are hit-or-miss and can be a bit of a drive.
But if you’re patient and persistent, you may be able to walk away with hiking gear at a great price.
Before you head to the outlets, study the directory and identify the stores you want to visit. Then get an early start to beat the crowds.
3. Buy direct from brands
Big brands often have clearance sections on their website. By shopping directly from the brand, you can get the items you need at a discount. Sign up for the email newsletter of your favorite outdoor brands to get emails with coupon codes that’ll save more money on hiking gear.
Buying clothing directly from brands can be difficult unless you know exactly what size you are. Always check the return policy before you buy.
Some retailers (like Eastern Mountain Sports) make you pay for return shipping; if you return the item in a store to avoid the surcharge, you’ll get a gift card you have to use in the store.
A good workaround is to use online ordering for gear you don’t need to try on: accessories, gadgets, your shelter and sleep system, water filtration systems, headlamps, and so on.
4. Buy Used Gear
You’ll save money on gear if you shop used and there are more ways to do it than ever.
REI members get to shop returns in a separate section of the store.
Selection tends to be hit or miss, but it never hurts to look. My wife actually scored a set of collapsible hiking poles this way.
Since all the gear is inspected before it’s put out, it creates trust. I owned the poles and could vouch for them, so we just got an REI team member to check them out and make sure they were in good condition!
Consignment gear stores
Consignment gear stores exist and are a great way to buy hiking gear for less! My local one sells dealer samples for 30% off retail plus consignment items. Their return policy gives you a week to inspect the item, so you can do your due diligence at home and return it if you have second thoughts.
From Geartrade to Ebay, there are lots of options to shop used gear online. Both of these platforms allow you to message back and forth with the seller before you buy, so you can ask any questions you need to feel confident in the gear you’re purchasing.
Peer to peer sales
Through tag sales, Facebook marketplace, organized gear swaps, and sites like Craigslist or Nextdoor, you can buy used gear directly from the previous owner.
In many of these circumstances, you can arrange to see the item before you buy. This is a great alternative for people like me who want to see and touch items before they buy, particularly when it comes to expensive items.
I bought my kayak off Craigslist, and it has a narrow opening. I needed to make sure I could get in and out of the boat before handing over $500 for the boat.
Why is hiking gear so expensive?
Hikers want items that are lightweight, waterproof, packable, comfortable, built to last AND look good on and off the trail.
Performance clothing might offer SPF protection and sweat wicking; good boots might have waterproofing, thick treads, and shock absorption. Comparatively, fast fashion just needs to look good and these days even that’s debatable.
Sticking with the fast fashion example, fast fashion brands can get away with cheap prices because the audience is much bigger, they can manufacture at scale, and the quality of materials is subpar. When items fall apart after a few washes, no one cares. With hiking gear, crap quality is dangerous.
You’re also paying a premium because the outdoor market is saturated with brands competing for customers. Some brands double as status symbols, which gives the manufacturer a license to charge more.
How much should you spend on hiking gear?
This is a personal decision, so no one else can make it for you.
How much to spend on hiking gear depends on the trip you’re planning. For occasional hikes, you can get a decent pair of boots, hiking poles, and some wicking clothes for $300 to $500—less if you hit up outlets or consignment shops. From there, you can make it a habit to pick up pieces as you come across them. Before you know it, you’ll have a good supply of gear.
If you’re planning a thru-hike, you’ll probably spend around $2,000 on gear and you may not have the luxury of time to wait for sales.
How do I get cheap hiking gear?
I don’t recommend getting cheap hiking gear. Cheap gear is more likely to break or fall apart. Even if it works, it probably doesn’t function as well as the premium stuff.
The tips above will help you get good hiking gear for less, which is a best-of-both-worlds approach.
Many outdoor companies offer gear rental, which is a great way to test out the options and figure out what equipment you really like before you make a big purchase.
That said, there are things you can get away with buying for cheap and things you can skip altogether. When I started car camping more, I made do with sleeping bags from childhood, pots and pans from the kitchen, and other things I already owned instead of buying specialty gear for it.