There’s no getting around it: hiking and backpacking are expensive hobbies. There is a minimum requirement for what gear you need to get out there, and even the basics are expensive.
Since deciding to hike the Pacific Crest Trail less than 5 months before our start date, we’ve had to figure out what additional gear we’re going to need, and get it quickly. If we walked into our nearest REI and just bought everything we needed there, would we be comfortably and reliably outfitted? Most likely, but we’d also be out at least a few thousand dollars.
Never pay retail price for outdoor gear.
Even if you’re new to the game and just acquiring gear for a hobby, you should never pay retail price, especially for outdoor gear. There are a number of websites online that sell performance outdoor gear and clothing, usually at a lower price than your local brick and mortar outfitter. Here are some of the top discount gear websites and our experiences with them.
But First, Some Tips for Buying Discount Gear Online
Sometimes you won’t be able to follow these rules. For instance, if you’re like us, and decided you were going to do a monumental thru-hike only a few months before you need to leave, then buying-off season isn’t as much of an option. There’s also the supply problem with trying an item before buying- retail stores simply don’t have the inventory compared to an online retailer, so it’s difficult to match up items online and offline.
Flash Sale Sites
The Flash Sale is a nice business model, because it creates a sense of urgency to buy. Sometimes this urgency is justified- with quality items, there are sometimes only a small number available so you have to act fast- most of the time the hype is amplified (with the use of on-page countdown timers), and prices aren’t always the deal they’re made out to be.
Steep and Cheap
Steep and Cheap is the flash deal website run by Backcountry.com. I’ve bought a couple of items from here and my overview is that the gear is usually from the better brands like Marmot, Mountain Hardware, Patagonia, Big Agnes, etc., and encompasses categories from casual wear to specialty outdoor equipment like kayaking, mountain biking, snow sports and more.
Even though Steep and Cheap is owned and operated on Backcountry, I haven’t seen evidence of price control, with the same item being listed as full price on Backcountry, and over 60% off on Steep and Cheap.
If you have time and you already know that you want an item, Steep and Cheap can offer a great deal. However, I’ve seen items in flash sales on Steep and Cheap, that are less expensive elsewhere, like on Campsaver or even Amazon. I’ve also seen the same items featured in multiple Steep and Cheap sales over the course of a few months. There are many sites like Steep and Cheap out there and they can be a valuable tool for finding great deals.
Free Shipping? No.
Free Return Shipping? No.
What We Bought: ExOfficio Dry FlyLite Shirt, Toad & Co Chakalaka Skirt, Stoic Merino Base Layer
Probably my worst experience out of all of the sites reviewed, The Clymb features outdoor gear as well as athletic and clothing of the urban hippie variety. The Clymb’s target audience is not a hiker or backpacker, because though they carry some items from the major outdoor brands, the selection is small and the item descriptions lack critical details- like weight- that hikers and backpackers always look for. That being said, most of the gear offered is usually not up to backpacker weight or quality requirements, and the items that do meet standards are not competitively priced compared to other websites.
While I did buy some Patagonia light hiking shoes at a great price, after trying them on, I realized the fit and weight of the shoe wasn’t what I needed and had to return them. Here’s where it really sucks:
The Clymb doesn’t offer refunds- you get store credit. I can’t believe retailers, especially online ones, still do this. On top of that they charge for return shipping. Yeah. *Giving The Clymb The Byrd*
I was able to get rid of my Clymb credit when a flash sale came up for an item I was already looking to buy, however the item I purchased, and all other items in the same sale, could be found on other websites for the same price or less. Don’t make the mistake of buying from The Clymb.
Free Shipping? No, $7.98.
Free Return Shipping? No, $6.99. And you can only receive store credit.
What We Bought: Patagonia Drifter Light Hiking Shoes (returned), Icebreaker Women’s Tech T Lite, Icebreaker Pocket Hat
Regular Discount Websites
Sierra Trading Post
Sierra Trading Post isn’t exclusively an online retailer, it has 6 physical locations, only in the West and Midwest part of the country. Sierra Trading Post has a pretty robust catalog, and features most items at around a 30% discount. They carry all of the major brands and then some, and while not every item is the latest model or edition, the selection is wide enough to find something similar.
After buying my first item, I was, of course, inundated with marketing emails about sales and promotions. For once, these turned out to be pretty helpful. I took advantage of an “extra 35%” off day to buy two more of one of my favorite clothing items, a past season style, at 60% off the retail price. Noice!
The downside to Sierra Trading Post is that it doesn’t stock some brands, doesn’t always offer the best price for a particular item, and you can expect to add at least $10 to the price of an item at checkout due to tax and shipping.
Despite that, the website somehow seem to have that one item I need that I can’t find anywhere else. Ample sales usually means you don’t even have to try hard to get a bargain.
Free Shipping? No.
Free Return Shipping? Nope, $6.95.
What We Bought: ExOfficio Sol Cool Zip Hoodie
Camp Saver is like Sierra Trading Post, but with a limited overall catalog, I’ve found. It makes up for it with slightly better pricing.
I was able to find my Montbell UL Down Jacket, a very hard to find item, on Camp Saver for the best price.
I also like that Camp Saver always seems to feature a number of reviews for many items, something that Sierra Trading Post rarely has, so I can get an idea of what other people liked about an item without having to try and find user reviews on another site.
Free Shipping? Only if it’s Economy.
Free Return Shipping? Only if the product is defected.
What We Bought: (Women’s) Montbell UL Down Parka.
There’s something about Backcountry.com that I just don’t like. It’s well stocked and carries most of the major outdoor brands, but the prices are by no means competitive, and when they are, I have never been able to find the size or specs that I need.
Backcountry is also a corporate powerhouse, owning seven other online retailers (including Steep and Cheap) that sell some form of outdoor merchandise, and I didn’t like that I automatically received Backcountry marketing emails when I signed up for Steep and Cheap.
I haven’t purchase anything from Backcountry yet, but I do use it to read reviews for items that I’m interested in. There are usually several good reviews for each item on Backcountry, so at least it’s a resource for shopping research.
Free Shipping? Only if you spend over $50.
Free Return Shipping? Nope, $6.99.
What We Bought: Nothing.
The Gear Coop
I’d never heard of the Gear Coop until I did that Google Shopping search trick on a Smartwool base layer I was desperate to find for a good price.
The Gear Coop had the item I wanted at about 50% of what the rest of the internet was offering.
The catalog on the Gear Coop is much more limited than Backcountry, Sierra Trading Post or Camp Saver, and the product offerings from different brands and in different categories is erratic. I’m sure that’s why I was able to find such a good sale on the item I wanted.
The website is hard to navigate, and has its share of glitches, but the customer support has been fast and responsive in helping me deal with them. The Gear Coop also has unusually consumer-friendly shipping and return policies, and I finished my transaction not concerned that I was getting ripped off somehow.
With such good prices on a wide variety of items, it’s worth poking around in to see what you can find.
Free Shipping? Free 2 day shipping on orders over $20; Free standard shipping.
Free Return Shipping? Yes, within 30 days. They also have a nice used-gear return policy- up to one year.
What We Bought: SmartWool NTS Light 195 Long Sleeve Crew
It always comes back to Amazon. Don’t be surprised if you find the item you want at the best price on Amazon, even if it’s listed in a flash sale somewhere else.
Since Amazon is so widely used, you have the benefit of plenty of product reviews to read to help you make a decision. Even if you can find a better price elsewhere, always check Amazon’s reviews to see if you can find any mention of issues with the item quality or fit.
While Amazon certainly doesn’t have the variety of outdoor brands that specialty sites do, what they do have is usually very competitively priced, and their return policy is consumer friendly, so you don’t have to worry about paying up if you don’t like the item.
Free Shipping? Amazon prime, baby. They also offer free shipping on orders more than $25 (as most of your gear is likely to be).
Free Return Shipping? Always.
What We Bought: We’ve bought all across the gear spectrum from Amazon, including: Icebreaker Tech T Lite Tees, Darn Tough Socks, (Men’s) Montbell UL Down Jacket, Kelty SB 20 Trail Logic Sleeping Bag, RavPower 9V Solar Charger, Gregory Contour 60 Backpack, and we could keep going…
While these are just a few of the discount gear websites, you’re bound to run into them if you’re shopping online. Take note of the shipping rates and return policies before you buy, and always compare prices from competing websites, including Amazon.
What’s your experience with buying from discount gear websites? Let us know in the comments!