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If you are trying to purchase all of your backpacking gear at one time, as we were, I highly suggest creating a list of must-haves, researching the specifications of each item  you absolutely need, and then noting the full-price of each item.

When you go to the REI Used Gear Sale, note you must be an REI member. This is a one-time $20 fee for a lifetime membership, and you will save enough money to make this a worthwhile purchase. Plus, you’ll get coupons all throughout the year. Just a few weeks ago REI had a $20 gift card for each $100 spent only for members – just made my money back in that deal alone.

We showed up 4 hours early and were the second people in line after the campers (we didn’t have a tent yet, so we couldn’t really camp out easily). This was plenty of time to be one of the first people in line. What irked me, though, is that they decided to let everyone in at the same time, so it was kind of pointless to be honest with you.

Anyway, I went in with a list and sent my husband to tackle our top 3 items while I tacked our other top 3 items. Then after we found those items, we came together, made decisions on what we wanted to keep/discard, and perused the store for items people threw back. There will be hoarders – expect it. Wait around a while and you will be pleasantly surprised at what people put back after hoarding 10 snowpants.

Our loot:

  • REI Quarter Dome Tent (roomy, ultralight, top of the line, 3 person, 4 lb, 2 door, 2 vestibles, $369 new paid $70 because the seam started to crack but we fixed it easily – you can’t even tell there was ANYTHING wrong with it now!)
  • Patagonia rain jacket (lightweight, best one out there for backpacking, $130 new paid $30 still with tags)
  • Sierra rain jacket (new $80, paid $10 still with tags and stuff sack)
  • Sleeping Bag (light, compact, 20 degrees, used in a REI photoshoot once, $100 for $30)All in all saved $500 and got several items that were on our list. Now we were able to scratch those items off of our list and move on to finding sales for the other items.

Do NOT purchase anything you don’t need, especially if you are trying to buy everything all at once. You will waste money and come away disappointed after the adrenaline wears off.

If it looks like a piece of crap, don’t buy it unless you are positive you can fix it to a standard that pleases you. You will waste money buying broken items this way.

Walk around and ask people with piles of stuff they are sorting through if when they are finished you could take a look at their throwaway items. This is how we got our tent. We saw these guys with 4 tents, and they were setting them all up in the store to see which one they wanted. We snagged one of their throwaways, and it was the best purchase we could have ever made.

Do be nice to those around you in line.  You will make new friends, possibly learn a thing or two about their backpacking experiences, and have a higher chance of snagging their throwaway items once in the store.

Do not expect a certain item to be there. You are playing a lottery by sleeping in a tent all night for some used gear. You may walk away with nothing worth purchasing, and you need to be okay with this up front so you don’t become discouraged. Go into it thinking of it as an adventure and a way to make new friends.

They are super fun events, and I highly recommend you getting there early, creating a list, and splitting up to find only the items you really need and are worth the purchase.