Shop During Sales – Doh! It’s so obvious why am I even saying this here. Well, I’ve managed to cut 40% to 50% from the price of most of my gear by waiting for sales to come around. Goods that I’ve bought on sale include top bands like a Marmot Liquid Steel Jacket, Marmot Oracle Pants and REI Mistral. Keep your eyes peeled, it’s not just the end of season sales that can lead to big savings. I’ve bought two Karrimor backpacks and a pair of boots for half their usual price at a closing-down sale.
Don’t Shop During Sales – What? Didn’t you just say. Well hold on a second there. Paying half-price for a piece of gear that you don’t need or doesn’t fit you properly is a very quick way to max your credit card and fill the attic with junk. Some of my biggest gear mistakes have been made by impulse-buying while shopping sales.
Take a Minimalist Approach – Mark Twight in his book Extreme Aplinism says that if you’re comfortable while bivying on the hill the you’re doing it wrong. Thinking hard about ways to minimize the amount of kit you carry on the mountain or trail doesn’t just lighten your load, it can pad out your wallet.
Go Multipurpose – Buy gear that serves many purposes to avoid doubling up. Marmot’s DriClime windshirt (or the similar Buffalo mountain shirt ) works as both a baselayer and midlayer, which means your pack is lighter and you’ve saved some cash.
Shop the Internet – Most major retailers have an clearance or outlet section of their store. This is usually stuff left over from their main end-of-season sale that they’re still trying to move. Even without discounts, some bits of mountain gear are almost always cheaper on the Internet. Think of electronic goods (digital cameras and vidcams are usually 30% to 40% cheaper online than in stores) and bits of hardwear like friends, nuts and rope. You can also find great coupons and discounted mountain gear from some online sites such as Mountain Fresh Deals. Just remember that when you are buying kit such as boots you’re much better off shopping in a store where you can try a range of different sizes and makes.
Buy Last Year’s Range All the major gear manufacturers have regular updates of their most popular items. Often the basic cut, the features and the fabric stay much the same from year to year and all that changes is the color or other minor cosmetic feature. If last year’s model was good, there’s no guarantee that this year’s will be better, or even as good. The bonus is that the old stock gets marked down 30% to 50% to make way for the new.
Be Flexible About Brand – There’s no doubt that most of the top brands make top gear. But remember, when buying kit you’re paying for the cost of materials, the labor the design and make them and finally for the costs of building a profitable brand. Shop around and you can often find gear from smaller manufacturers that’s similar build-quality (half this stuff is outsourced to China anyway), made from the same fabric and has similar features – often at less than half the price of the big names.
Don’t Get Obsessed by the Label – Ask anyone who works in a gear shop and they’ll tell you the average Joe buying a waterproof will ask for Gore-tex, even though its not the cheapest or the best fabric out there. The new Event fabric, which claims to breath better than Gore, has had a hard time getting acceptance in the market because of this.
Cheaper Can be Better – Most gear shops will happily sell you an expensive hardshell jacket made of the fanciest breathable waterproof for alpine climbing, when in fact the conditions you’ll face will be cold and thus dry. A cheaper and more breathable top is often a better option in these conditions.
Let Your Gear Out the Closet – Most climbers and backpackers I know can’t resist buying something when they browse a gear store. Ask yourself how many fleeces, thick socks and other bits of outdoor clothing do you already have. Do you really need another fleece, sock or boot?