The Hunt for Gear at the REI Garage Sale

Early Bird Gets the Gear

If you’re an avid backpacker, chances are you know about the REI garage sale.  If you don’t have one near you, I’m terribly sorry.  This article will just make you sad.

For those of us who do: get ready.  REI is gearing up for a company-wide garage sale on October 21st.  For some select stores, there will be a second day of sale on the 22nd.  But we don’t mess with that leftover shit.  We get there at five a.m. with a lawn chair, and we wait at the front of the ever-growing line with our canteen of coffee.  Where I live in Portland, Oregon there is a two story REI with a massive garage full of big ticket items.  Other garage sales I’ve been to, like the one in Dallas, Texas, had a minimal selection of mostly damaged gear.  Either way, the one rule is: early bird gets the gear.

Strategy is Key

An REI garage sale is like black Friday for the outdoorsy.  You need to get there early to have any chance at finding what’s on your list.  But how early is early enough?  It depends on your location.  Talk to an associate at your local REI.  Most often, they know the patterns best.  They’ll know what time the first shoppers arrive and where to line up.

At the Dallas store, I arrived about 45 minutes early and still made it in the second group.  At the Portland store, I arrived at 5:30 a.m. and was the fiftieth person in line.  Portland doesn’t play.

Now that you know where to go and when, you need to get ready.  If you arrive four hours early, you can bring your smart phone and a piece of paper and make a list as you wait.  But if you’re like me, you come prepared.  Your list should go in order of what you’ll actively look for first.  The top of your list should contain the most expensive or most coveted items.  Moving down the list, the things you don’t need as badly, or things you think other shoppers will pass up.

Keep in mind that REI color codes the tags on their gear.  Blue dots mean new, yellow dots mean mostly fine, and red dots mean damaged.  The description on the tag will give you more insight as to what’s wrong with the item.  My strategy is to grab a mesh bag, scoop up anything I think might be good, and then go through it later.

Building Your List

Below is a sneak peak of what’s on my list, along with some tips for some of this year’s best gear that might be up for grabs.  Having alternative options is a good idea, because you might end up with your second choice for an awesome price.  If you go in only looking for one thing and you don’t get it, you’ll have wasted hours.  Don’t overwhelm yourself with a massive list as this might end up dragging your attention in too many directions and distracting you from making sure you get the best value for your time.


Sleeping Bags





Oh and one more tip: if you discreetly and respectfully hover around the people in the store who are sorting through their loot after they’ve left the garage sale, you’ll find even more treasures in the things they decided to put back.  Bring a friend to divide and conquer on your list — props to you if you have friends loyal enough to wake up that early for you.

Now that you have your own list, get to bed early on Friday night and set an alarm.  Getting to the REI garage sale early could mean shaving thousands of dollars off of your thru-hike gear list if you still have a lot to buy.  If you’re a morning person, you might even make some good friends while waiting in line.  If you see me wrapped in warm layers and scowling at every sound, just ignore me.  My mood will improve as soon as I see that wall of discounted gear.

Comment below to let me know what you’re on the hunt for!



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Comments 1

  • Ann Wolf : Oct 16th

    Our REI has a bathroom nearby open 24 by 7. So helpful for long waits in line. Best finds…things needing easy repairs.


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