Have you ever wanted to try a new outdoor activity, but you don’t want to spend all your money on new gear? There are ways to help anyone among us get started in expensive or complicated adventures. This is the first blog in a series about how to get involved in new outdoor activities, whether you’re rich or poor.
Even if you don’t have a ton of extra cash lying around, you can still afford to try outdoor activities that require a lot of gear – you just need a bit more strategy. The good news is that there are a lot of ways to save while still having the gear you need to stay safe and have fun.
Borrow or rent equipment when reasonable
If you’re trying out an activity for the first time, try to avoid buying gear until you’re certain that you’ll use it regularly. Ask around to see if your friends are willing to loan you some equipment, or call a local outfitter to see if they might be willing to rent the equipment you need. Outfitters and guide services that offer multi-day trips for clients often have a large variety of gear that they’re willing to rent at very reasonable prices – simply call them and ask.
Here’s the key to borrowing equipment: make sure it’s clean and dry when you return it. If you accidentally break something, fess up right away and don’t try to hide the damage. Returning wet, dirty, or broken gear is a huge bummer for your friends, and it might result in them refusing to loan their stuff to you.
Buy what you need, and don’t buy what you don’t need
Sometimes, you do need to put down some money for high-quality equipment. For example, buy safe, high-quality climbing gear that you can trust with your life while climbing. If you’re going on a winter camping trip, buy a high-quality winter parka so you don’t freeze your fingers if it gets really cold. Those are investments that pay off in comfort and safety.
On the other hand, if your college backpack can be patched one more time for your day hikes, you really don’t need another pack. And sure, it would be nice to have a sweet new stove, but if you can get away with using your uncle’s best friend’s vintage Primus single burner, you may as well stick with that as long as possible.
Shop for used gear online and in small, wealthy communities
In outdoor vacation hotspots, people often donate valuable clothing and other gear to thrift stores. Small, wealthy communities sometimes have a veritable jackpot of nearly-new gear in the local thrift store. Tourists come and go, ditching their almost-new backpacks and tents and down jackets before they hop on the plane home. If you’re driving through one of these places, take a moment to stop and shop. You might be able to upgrade your gear at a fraction of the normal price.
Online platforms such as Craigslist, eBay, or Facebook also offer a great opportunity to buy expensive gear at a fraction of the normal price. These can be especially helpful if you need something really expensive, such as a kayak or a winter sleeping bag. If you’re making a particularly large investment, it might be worth bringing a knowledgeable friend along to double-check the purchase – for example, to help you decide if a whitewater kayak is overly worn or if a set of used Nordic skis is reasonably priced.
Repair and improvise
Repairing gear is a key technique of unglamorous adventurers around the world. Before you get rid of your leaky old tent, try putting some tape on any holes and using seam-seal for the rainfly. That old summer sleeping bag might work for another season if you simply sew an insulating fleece patch onto the bottom.
Almost anything can be patched or repaired with a little creativity and perhaps some help from an expert. Also, I highly recommend owning and learning how to use a sewing awl, as this can vastly expand the range of repairs that you’re able to attempt.
Improvising is also helpful. Sure, a $500 rain jacket is nice, but in a pinch I’ve totally cut head and arm holes in a garbage bag and taped it around my body until after an intense rain storm. It wasn’t the most comfortable or fashionable thing I’ve ever worn, but it did the trick. Before you decide you need to replace something or buy a new piece of equipment, it’s always worth trying to improvise with what you have.
Buy gear with great warranties
This is one way to save money, but it only works in the long-term. Typically, you’re going to pay more initially for gear that comes with a lifetime warranty. However, if you use something a lot and know that you’re going to wear it out, this investment pays itself off over the years.
On the other hand, don’t take advantage of these warranties by intentionally breaking gear or trying to get a double refund. This practice can cause companies to lose too much money, and when they’re forced to switch to limited warranties it means that we all lose out.
Shop for durability
When you’re purchasing something, ask yourself how long it will last. For example, if you need to pay $50 extra for a water filter that will last a few years longer than the cheaper filter, that might be worthwhile. It’s also worth noting that “ultralight” occasionally means “less tough” (although extremely durable ultralight products definitely exist), so if you don’t need something to be lightweight you might do better to invest in a heavier, more durable product. Try shopping for clothing and certain types of gear in a workwear or sporting goods store, and you might more find items that are really built to last.
Take good care of your gear
You’ll need to buy gear less often if you avoid breaking the gear you already have. Typically, that means cleaning everything frequently. For example, if you dip anything in salt water, wash it. Mud is abrasive, so clean it off your clothes whenever you can. If something gets smelly, you can usually deodorize it with a paste made from baking soda and water.
Whenever you buy new gear – especially if it’s something expensive – take a moment to look for care instructions on the manufacturer’s website. Different materials require different care; use leather conditioner if you have leather boots that have been torn up; don’t leave tents and tarps sitting in the sun where UV can damage the materials; store kayaks and canoes in a protected area; don’t store sleeping bags in compression sacks.
It’s also critical to make sure certain items such as tents, hammocks, sleeping bags, packs, ropes, and boots are given an opportunity to dry completely after each outing. Spread everything out in your living room or someplace well-protected, and give it a full 24 hours to dry. This might seem like a lot of work to do after every single outing, it’s worthwhile to avoid mildew on your equipment.
How to gain new skills
You can try new activities without sinking a bunch of money into new gear. But there’s another issue you might face. How do you find a mentor to teach you a new activity? Check out my next blog post to learn more about how to an expert guide, teacher, or club to help you learn new skills.
Any other comments or questions about saving money on gear? Let me know in the comments section below.