Outdoor gear is expensive. Perhaps not by the standards of motorized sports, but certainly compared to jogging or birding or reading books. Since becoming firmly established in Montana a decade ago I have been cursed by the perceived necessity of cultivating and maintaining equipage for a wide range (mountain biking, alpine and nordic skiing, snowshoing, fly fishing, bow and rifle hunting, packrafting, backpacking, hiking, rock climbing, snow climbing, canyoneering) of pursuits. Storing all that stuff in a coherent and useable fashion is one issue (for a future post), acquiring it without undue stress is another, a problem with good, sustainable, and not necessarily obvious strategies.
As in “going light” for any distinct activity, the first and best way to spend less on gear is to have and need less of it. Start with clothing; you don’t need that much of it, and it is far better to buy better and less and simply have things dialed and predictable and that work for places on most days. Beyond specialist items like a drysuit and chamois shorts the clothing I use changes little one activity and even season to the other.
When it comes to actually purchasing outdoor clothing, buying on sale and out of season goes a long ways. This has been somewhat less the case the last few years, due to either demand or smarter wholesale purchasing, but the good sales direct from major brands often equal prodeal discounts. But that is not interesting advice. What we’re hear to discuss is finding truly exceptional deals on used gear, which is the way to save on the truly big ticket hard good items.
By way of example, the other day I visited a favored emporium whose specific name and location will remain a mystery. They are not an outdoor specialist, but do sell a decent amount of consignment outdoor gear. I’ve very occasionally found shockingly good deals there over the years, including last winter a full length Neoair Uberlight for 10 dollars. On this recent visit I was intrigued enough to purchase a nice pair of Lake MXZ300s (sized up a full size, ideal for cold weather) for 15 dollars. Towards the end of our (me and the 3 year old) rounds, I saw, crumpled on the floor under a rack, a distinctive combination of red and black and grey nylon in just the right shade and texture. Further examination revealed an older, but pristine, Kokatat semi dry suit, with relief zip and fabric booties. Even further examination revealed the zippers, gaskets, and inside laminate to be lacking in obvious issues. Further examination once I got home revealed a Kokatat fleece onesie inside (it felt a bit bulky). The price?
50 dollars. This for the older, almost functional equivalent of what I bought for 750 dollars back in January.
The place to find deals like this is not an established, well stocked used gear store. Second Wind Sports in Bozeman has the widest and deepest selection of used outdoor stuff I’ve ever seen in one place, by a large margin. They also have, with few exceptions, the most outrageous consignment prices I’ve ever seen. 500-600 for a clapped out pair of AT skis and bindings, 240 dollars for an absolutely worked over HMG 3400, 80 for a well used Osprey daypack. Whether this is due to demand volume, or to Brozonians wanting 100% return on their brodeals, I do not know, but I feel safe in assuming that (in a similar vein) Wabi Sabi is a much more expensive place to find used fleece jackets than it was 16 years ago. Perceived scarcity is highly relevant here.
The same rules apply to Craigslist, Ebay, etc. Outstanding deals can be had either when the seller is not overly worried about resale, or when they are not aware of what they have. Ski swaps can be good places for the former, as people are often clearing the shed and motivated by timeliness over maximizing return. For example, the Dynafit and the Fischer skis shown at top were both had for (the magic figure of) 50 bucks at separate ski swaps. Going off topic at swaps and sales is also often a solid tactic; looking for things like camping or climbing gear, or headlamps, as people seems less picky about pricing. The caveat with any of this is time. There are certain places and instances where good stuff is more probable, but it is still a numbers game.
The other caveat, especially with hard goods, is that a certain, considerable amount of technical background is immensely helpful. Being able to recognize what a thing is at a glance, and then evaluate if it is in suitable condition and at a price that suits you, potentially all in a few moments while the rush of a swap goes on around you, is not simple. And the best way to violate the first rule, above, is to buy something just because it is a good deal.
Finally, it is worthwhile to consider which expensive gear items are unapologetically worth it. For years I’ve used a heavy, ancient (bought in 2004 for $99), janky, increasingly leaky, drysuit, without a relief zipper. Since buying a new, much lighter one this winter I’ve both brought it more often (as it actually takes up less space than my boat), and been warmer and even drier. Should have done that quite a while ago. There are plenty of other examples, things that either make an appreciable difference while in the woods, or enable a whole new pursuit, that for me are always more fulfilling purchases than just another jacket.