Gear Up

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, the store REI should ring a bell.

I am obsessed with it, especially since I have gotten more into hiking and camping, so I splurged and bought the $20 lifetime membership.

There are a couple of things that I really like about REI: they are environmentally friendly; they sell quality products; they are member owned – that’s right, throw in your $20 and you are officially an owner; they have the world’s most amazing return policy, you can return anything. Which brings me to the point of this post.

Presenting…..The REI Garage Sale

What’s this, you ask? I’ll tell you, it’s pretty cool, and where to go to get great deals on some fantastic products. Usually held about four times a year (once per season – go on the website of your local store to check), REI closes down its stores for a few hours to the general public. You have to be a member to take advantage of this – but they do allow you to buy memberships there. So, inevitably, you end up standing in line at 9am outside your local REI, and then boom, they open the doors and it’s a free for all. Essentially the Garage Sale is comprised of two groups of gear, new stuff that has just been sitting on the shelves for a while, is last season’s model, etc., or items that have been returned using REI’s generous return policy.

So you might be thinking, why do I want used stuff? And my answer is, you do. Basically, REI takes anything back, regardless of the reason. Which, of course, leads to people really taking advantage of it and returning stuff that’s never been used or has been used for that one camping trip but ‘suddenly sprung a leak,’ but that means, we get to take advantage. A ton of the gear that is returned and then re-posted at the gear sale is either perfectly fine or has some small inconsequential defect that doesn’t make any difference as to how the product works. As a head’s up REI will always write on the tag the reason why the item was returned or is defected, so you know what you are getting into before you purchase.

For example, last year, I got this GSI Outdoors Bugaboo cook-set. As you can see, it normally sells for $100, and I know that GSI Outdoors is a quality established brand, but my sister found one in the bottom of a bin (all the pieces there) for $20. It had been returned, because the previous owner had partially melted one of the lids before they had actually even started cooking. However, the lid still fit on the pot, and kept a seal, so I ended up saving $80 and now have a camp cook-set for 4 people.

I also got these Outdoor Research Gaiters, pretty much established to be some of the best in the business, sold at REI normally for $69, I got mine for $15. They had some dirt on them, and the tag said that a snap was broken. However, I have worn these a few times, and have yet to find exactly what snap is broken, since they all work fine for me.

One of my better grabs was probably the ExOfficio briefs, normally $16 per, I got them for $3. These were just inventory that had been sitting on the shelves, (I do draw the line at returned underwear) and since I’m pretty sure the advancements in wickable underwear hasn’t dramatically changed between 2009 and 2010, I thought I’d take a gamble on them. They are perfect for hiking, biking, jogging, dry fast and roll up tiny for travel.

Tips for Garage Sale Success

Obviously every gear sale and every store is different, but in past gear sales I have seen, clothes, kayaks, hiking poles, sleeping bags, tents, bike racks, climbing gear and the like. My first tip is to case your store. Last year, I really wanted a kayak, but decided at the last minute to go to my Rhode Island REI rather than one of my more familiar Massachusetts REIs, and had no idea where they kept the kayaks, turns out they had 3 brand new Emotion kayaks ($250-300) for $89! Unfortunately, we had just missed them, but this year we know where things are located.

My second tip, is bring a buddy. It can turn a bit into a grabbing free for all at these events, so I brought my sister along with me, she went left, I went right and we met back up in the middle, having an extra set of hands always helps.

Tip three, have a game plan. Before we went in the store, I told my sister exactly what I was looking for (she wasn’t looking for herself, but is a skilled bargain hunter and bin diver, so an excellent choice of a companion), and let her loose. She ended up finding a ton of stuff that were great deals, so it is absolutely worthwhile to be on the same page. You don’t want your buddy looking for ski boots if you really wanted a tent.

Which leads me into my next tip, if you are really really focused on getting a specific thing, make sure you have an idea of where it will be, and let everyone in your party know what you are looking for. This year, I am actually interested in getting a smaller tent. I have a standard 3 person for car camping, but would love a lightweight 1 or 2 person tent that I could bring with me on a pack.

My final tip is always make a 2nd trip around the store. What happens is people go crazy and grab everything in site. Then after the initial adrenaline has worn off and they come to their senses, they realized they have grabbed way too much stuff and start depositing the unwanted back in the nearest bin. This is when you make your move because you can pick up stuff you might have originally wanted, but wasn’t first in line to get.

And actually, my final final tip is this, make sure you justify the cost of anything you buy, espeically if it’s damaged (i.e. my GSI set above). The biggies of these are tents and sleeping bags. Many of the tents will be returned because either they supposedly leak, or they are missing something (poles, rain fly etc.), now on some of these you can get fantastic deals, maybe $45 for a tent that was $199, but just make sure that it’s not going to cost you more to fix your returned product than it would be just to get the item new, or on a sale. If you get a fantastic deal on a tent, pop it up in the yard and find it has a tiny tear but everything else works, then no big deal, forking over an extra $10 for a repair kit still makes the deal worthwhile. So make sure whatever you get, inspect it, try it on, set it up on the floor, because you cannot return anything you get at a garage sale.

After the euphoria and adrenaline runs off, be happy with your new gear, and just think, camping season is here, you can start using your new stuff next weekend!

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