It’s easy to get sick with envy when you read too many gear websites and see one too many spread of the latest toys from Outdoor Retailer. (We apologize.) Some of these things are just so cool—check out this campstove that charges your iPhone—but they can make you feel like your ticket to the outdoors is a second mortgage.
Don’t fall into that trap.
Last year’s tents and kayaks and campstoves worked just fine then, and, assuming they’re well enough taken care of in the meantime, they should work just fine now.
Used gear can be a fraction of the price, but the trick is to know where to get what you want. Without further ado, here are five places to get your search started.
1. CRAIGSLIST & EBAY
Here, basic rules of common sense apply. Think of every apartment search you’ve ever done on Craigslist and use a similar series of smell tests:
• Are there pictures?
• Does the ad have detailed information about the gear’s history and all the important specs?
• Is it at or below market value?
• Does it have all the parts?
If you’re buying a bike on Craigslist, read this article about selling your old bike from the buyer’s point of view. And always, always, ask a lot of questions. There are no reviews and no returns on Craigslist, so do your due diligence.
Similar to Craigslist, (i.e. direct from seller) with some more bells and whistles built in, Ebay is better for comparison shopping, especially if you want a specific make or model. Here you can apply the same set of rules and also check out the seller’s history so you know he or she is trustworthy. As with Craigslist, it’s up to you to ask the right questions.
2. YOUR LOCAL OUTDOOR OUTFITTER
Chain outfitters like REI don’t have their used equipment front and center—or necessarily on display at all—but they often have classes, rentals and lots and lots of returns. Put those things together and you end up with periodic “garage sales,” as REI calls them, where they unload the things they can’t rightfully call “new.” (You have to be an REI member, though.) Check with your local store or anywhere that rents out gear. The good thing about going this route is that you can see the gear with your own two eyes, ask questions in person, and know that a store has its reputation to answer for—in other words, there’s less likelihood of getting a bum deal.
Also check local listings for stores that specialize in second-hand gear. Backpacker has a good, if regionally limited, list of second-hand stores.
3. ONLINE MARKETPLACES
Just like their brick-and-mortar counterparts, there are websites that deal in second-hand gear. A couple options:
This online marketplace is what you would get if Ebay were devoted solely to outdoor equipment, but unlike Ebay items are sold for fixed prices—with the “percent off retail” prominently displayed. GearTrade gives buyers 72 hours to inspect gear, so you’re not completely in the woods if your purchase isn’t as advertised.
Mountain Equipment Co-Op’s Outdoor Gear Swap
This Canadian outdoor equipment co-op (think REI north of the border) has an online marketplace for buying, trading and selling outdoor gear. MEC approves listings, so there’s some degree of quality control, but like Craigslist and Ebay, there’s still an element of “buyer beware.”
4. YOUR LOCAL U.
Lucky U if you’re local place of higher education has an outdoors club. Many such university clubs maintain ever-changing inventories of gear, and some even rent to the general public. As new gear comes in, old gear often goes out, which means periodic sales. Call to see when the next sale is.
5. ONLINE COMMUNITIES
Every outdoor activity has its corresponding online community. Many of these websites, like Paddling.net and Surfermag.com, maintain classified listings or forums dedicated to swaps and sales. Granted, these communities can be tough nuts to crack for non-members, but they’re also usually goldmines of expertise.