Sometimes I joke that my initials should just be “X” because all of my gear is marked with a black “X” signifying it was bought at an REI garage sale. I just got back from one before our hike to Lebanon Hills this weekend and found a few things I needed for our SHT hike.
Gear pictures are tiny because they are from my FB page…
Loyal REI Co-Op members looking for the best deals have been known to sleep outside the store overnight (even in sub-zero Minnesota!) just for a chance to grab some great gear at this sale. Its part tradition, curiosity and the thrill of the hunt as travelers, athletes, gear junkies, Moms and Dads and fashionistas alike all descend on the sale knowing that this is THE SALE.
If you have not heard of an REI Garage sale before, you may have heard of the outdoor retailer’s famous Scratch n’ dent sales. I heard of my first one 7 or 8 years ago and had friends sleep outside all night to be first in line to buy a pair of muddy old hiking boots someone had already worn. One year, they scored me an early ticket and I went to my first sale. I was totally overwhelmed, underprepared and left with a dented, leaky water bottle and a pair of climbing shoes that were too small.
The items at the REI scratch n dent/garage sale are typically things that have been returned or have been sitting around on clearance for a while. Still good gear, you just have to be a little strategic. Depending on the store, the entrance to the sale can be a ticketed entrance, only small groups at a time for minutes of shopping, a limited number of items allowed or a gosh-darned-chaotic-free-for-all with gearthirsty shoppers sprinting across the store to get to the back (that only happened once).
I’ve been to at least a dozen of these sales since that first dented, leaky water bottle came home with me and have honestly saved thousands of dollars. The store closest to me still has a traditional, one-day-only smaller garage sale every couple of months, they seem more frequent now. But last year, the flagship store just a little further down the road started having HUGE 3 day Garage sales in a tent in the parking lot which is where we were this weekend.
Like planning for a hike or a trip, one must be prepared! Here are a few tips for making the most out of your REI Garage Sale Adventure:
- Plan ahead. Subscribe to the REI email so you can find out when the sale is happening. The store employees also know when they are coming up, so you can ask when the next one at your next visit. Get up early and plan on being at the sale for a couple of hours. I you don’t have a membership, you can buy one at the sale, it’s only $20 for a lifetime and gets you into the sale and an annual dividend on most purchases. It will definitely pay for itself.
- Arrive early. If it’s a traditional REI garage sale, get there an hour or two early and bring a chair. Some people sleep outside to be first in line. You can always find someone to save your spot while you stick your chair back in the car. Prepare for the weather. I’ve brought sub zero sleeping bags, a thermos of hot coffee and whatever I need to stay warm and dry while I’m waiting out there.
- Make a list. Before you go, or while you are waiting in line, write down what you are looking for and then prioritize. If you don’t know where to start, check out packing lists online that have links to actual products. REI has some good ones. Or your Boy Scout Troop’s packing list…or take note of gear your friends recommend. I just keep a running list on my phone and am always amazed at how often I find just what I am looking for, sometimes for 90% off! Example: I just put the Ursack on my Christmas list two weeks ago thinking there was no way that I would find one of those at the sale, and I did! For $19 instead of almost $100.
- Prioritize/Focus. Look first for the things on your list. There are like a million things (and people) to look at and sometimes there’s a time limit. It can be totally overwhelming, and if you don’t prioritize, you might panic and come home with a dented leaky water bottle.
- Bring a friend. Besides just having company in the line, you can team up and share what you are looking for with friends. When in doubt, hold onto it, then meet back with your friends and let them help you decide if you really need that item before you check out. Its totally normal to see people sitting around the store on the floor sorting out a pile of gear with their friends and deciding what to put back.
- Inspect everything for damage and try it on. Some items will be broken or worn out. If you are handy, you might be able to fix it yourself or send it back to the manufacturer for repairs for a small fee. I have had items that were totally worth repair, came out way ahead on the deal, and prevented that item from going into the landfill. I’ve also had a couple of duds because I wasn’t paying attention. Just like your neighborhood garage sale, items that are bought at an REI garage sale cannot be returned.
- ALWAYS read the return tag. Some of the reasons listed for the return are pretty funny and people often stretch the truth in order to get their money back. My favorite honest return tag for my Kingdom 6 tent stated “Did not like camping”. Probably the best deal I ever got was on my Delorme InReach. The tag said it didn’t work, they sold it for $5 and I brought it home and it worked! Reading the tag can also save you from wasting money, so read it!
- Go back in. If you are at a traditional garage sale and you are limited on allotted time or number of items, you can always go back in or come back later in the day. Once you have the items you were looking for…go back and browse through the gear table, look in the boxes underneath…people put things back into the sale all the time and you’d be surprised what you can find when you take your time.
- Talk to the employees Remember that Ursack in #3? I asked an employee that was re tagging a jacket for me if he’d seen a canvas-looking, white bear bag at this sale. He didn’t know what an Ursack was, but he said he saw something like it and pointed way over 3 tables away. It was smooshed up in a pile of tents, so I wouldn’t have even looked there had he not helped me out. Yay!
- Sell or donate the stuff you don’t need. After you’ve outfitted you (and your family), get rid of the stuff you don’t need by donating it to a non profit, scout troop or selling it. My local REI just had a member garage sale earlier this month at their store where members could rent a table for a very small fee and sell their own gear at a fun party with food and music. I love that!
I’m pretty stoked to be trying out my new sleep system (even if it is just in the living room) and ended up knocking off a whopping 24 oz (that’s 1.5 lbs!) with the Outdoor Research Helium Bivy and Thermarest NeoAir Xlite Sleeping Pad. Also in this weekend’s haul are the Altra Superior Trail Runner and Urasack Allwhite Bear Bag. Overall I averaged about 75% off on gear I was already looking for to improve my set up for SHT 2018. It’s also pretty great to be able to sell and unload some of my older gear as the new stuff comes in.
Are you an REI Garage sale junkie? Just starting out or lightening your load? Post your comments here and I’ll be sure to review the new sleep system OUTSIDE in the coming months…maybe in the spring.