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Finding Affordable Outdoor Gear for the Family

Finding Affordable Outdoor Gear for the Family

The great outdoors is a place welcoming and available to all. Fresh air is free, right? Walking out your front door is easy and inexpensive, correct? Sometimes, however, when you look at the price tags on winter gear, hiking shoes, or camping supplies it doesn’t feel easy or inexpensive.

Check out Instagram, the latest Outside magazine, or the price tags at your local ski shop and you might feel intimidated or overwhelmed by the cost of everything. How is a family of five supposed to afford $75 hiking shoes, $40 shorts, or $60 backpacks just to get out on a family hike? Thankfully, there is a way to get outside AND not break the bank.

High prices should not be a barrier to getting outdoors. No matter what your budget, this article is full of tips and tricks to find gear for the frugal family. It IS possible to find affordable gear and still have satisfying outdoor adventures.

As a family of seven, my husband and I have prioritized getting outdoors as a family over other hobbies. This means we have spent money on gear as needed, but we do our best to do it frugally in order to keep our family’s budget stable.

A great thing about the outdoors is that there are many activities that you can do without buying any additional gear, as well as ways to find cheaper gear for the more expensive forays.

Top Tips for Deals on Outdoor Gear

  • Buy gently used gear whenever possible
  • Save searches on Facebook Marketplace or Craigslist to be alerted when items you want are available
  • Shop end of season deals from outdoor retailers
  • Use hand-me-downs
  • Shop online use gear sites such as Geartrade and REI Used
  • Buy clothing such as coats and snow pants a size too large to get extra use out of it.
  • Shop discount gear sites such as Sierra Trading Post and The Clymb
  • Buy lower cost basics such as thermals or fleece at box stores
  • Borrow gear such as tents until you figure out what works for your situation
  • Don’t buy something unless you are sure you need it or will use it
  • Re-purpose gear you already have
  • Repair gear you already have

The Most Affordable Outdoor Adventures

There are many fun ways to to get your vitamin nature fix. All you might need are some comfortable shoes and a water bottle. I love this quote from team member Jackie in her post on favorite gear:

“All you need to do to have an amazing time is walk right out your front door. “

-TMM Team Member Jackie.

Hiking

Affordable outdoor gear for families
My son on a backpacking trip, wearing a thrifted L.L.Bean rain shell and our favorite (thrifted) hiking pants from REI.

Hiking is a great affordable outdoor adventure. It can be done with a sturdy, comfortable pair of walking shoes and a tote or backpack for snacks and water. Don’t worry if it is a simple backpack–the point is that you are getting outdoors!

A hike doesn’t need to traverse a high mountain in order to count; many towns actually have a town forest with trails, and are a great place to start. Check out The Hiking Project to find a hike near you.

If you are looking for suggestions on some basic gear and gear brands to get started, this post is a good place to start.

Running or Walking

Similar to hiking, running and walking can be affordable outdoor adventures. These can be done with a pair of comfortable shoes and water. Find a local rail trail or park and head out with your kids! You can play tag games, run from the lion, or just peacefully walk while enjoying the sights and sounds of nature.

Nature walks are a great way to discover local hidden gems in the outdoors. There are frequently small parks hidden away that are a delightful place to get fresh air.

Swimming

With just a swim suit, and maybe some sandals or water shoes, you can enjoy some fantastic time outdoors at a local swimming hole. Search for waterfalls or lakes in your area to find a unique spot.

“Investment Required” Outdoor Adventures

Many families find the outdoors to be more than just “another” activity. Getting outdoors is something folks are passionate about because it is life-changing. Studies show that our mental health is better when we recreate outdoors. Nature is calming, and getting our blood pumping helps our health too!

Because of this, it is good to think of outdoor pursuits as a priority budget category. For example, I would rather skip staying at hotels or buying take out and save that money for camping gear we need. Because camping is a priority, we arrange our purchases around that.

Many outdoor activities require an initial investment to get started, but the gear lasts for awhile, and is generally resalable once outgrown or unneeded. Examples of this include camping, backpacking, canoeing/kayaking, biking, and skiing.

Affordable outdoor gear for families
Our double kayak purchased from a yard sale and a borrowed canoe, also thrifted.
Big ticket purchases can be found used if you are willing to hunt for deals and be patient!

Purchasing Affordable Outdoor Gear How-to

It can be overwhelming to discern what things are necessary when shopping for affordable outdoor adventure gear options. There are a plethora of outdoor gear companies that make clothing and gear for hiking, biking, camping, and lounging in the “great outdoors”. But do you really need “special” hiking shorts? Well, the answer is, yes, and no.

We have zip-off hiking pants for all our children because we have found that they are a great way to pack less when camping, and we treat all their “hiking” clothing with permethrin. We also purchase rain pants, and lightweight rain shells from name brands for our kids. The budget trick? We buy most of these clothing items used online!

I have purchased many used, high quality items from Thredup and Swap.com , which are both online consignment stores. You have to know which brands to search for, but it has been great for having a frugal budget and being green at the same time!

Some of my favorite brands to search for are: REI, Patagonia, L.L.Bean, Columbia, Mountain Hardwear, Salomon, Marmot, and North Face.

Affordable outdoor gear for families
In this photo, I am wearing great, yet affordable gear. I purchased the Prana pants and Patagonia fleece on consignment from Thredup.

Finding Deals on Pricier Gear

For outdoor activities that require more initial investment, you have to hunt more carefully and often for longer to find the gear affordably. These items are higher-priced, but they are “legacy gear” purchases, which means they can be passed down from child to child.

Affordable outdoor gear for families
Rita’s daughter ripping the trails in Vermont in a pre-owned
North Face rain coat and on a used bike

It is better to buy a high quality product second hand then to buy a cheaper, poorly made product brand new. A lot of high-quality gear can be found secondhand.

For winter sports gear, bikes, and kayaks, we have found most of our gear on local buy and sell groups such as Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, yard sales, and word of mouth.

Biking

Biking is one of the pricier outdoorsy sports, depending on what type of biking you do. You can buy cheap bike at the box store, but you truly get what you pay for. Often these bikes fall apart before they are outgrown. They are also heavy and more frustrating for small children to use.

This is a post on “affordable” outdoor adventures, however, biking is one area that it is worth investing in quality used or new gear. Otherwise, you will actually end up spending more money in the long run.

Finding Bike Deals

Our family has had great success with buying bikes on our local Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist. Many towns also have bike swaps in the spring where you can shop for new-to-you bikes.

Make sure you check the components on the bikes to ensure they are all working and in good shape. Avoid rust, frayed brake cables, corrosion, and heavy bikes. There are a plethora of decent brands to look for used. A few that are beloved by our team are Woom, Burley, Prevolo. Trek, Co-op Cycles, and other adult cycle brands also make decent kids’ bikes that show up used.

Affordable outdoor gear for families
My daughter enjoying her tag-a-long bike that we purchased on the local used marketplace site.

One piece of gear you should not buy used? Helmets. It is important to make sure that you protect your head and the heads of your little ones. A used helmet could have been in a crash, or be exposed to high heat, and might not do its job properly anymore. Buy new! You don’t have to pay maximum price, however. Some sites with good deals on kids’ bike helmets are: Sierra Trading Post, REI Outlet, and The Clymb.

Skiing

Making Alpine Skiing Affordable

Is it actually an oxymoron to use “affordable” and “alpine skiing” in the same sentence? Downhill skiing requires significant investment. There is no way to “skimp” on the necessary gear, and you also have to shell out money for tickets and often lessons.

We have sought out cheap local ski lessons through a home or public school ski group to get our children started. For around $15-$25 a week, your child can get a lift ticket, a lesson, and gear rental. Many mountains offer programs like this, and it is good to ask.

We now own gear for all our children. However, we did not buy it at full retail. Local ski swaps are your friend when trying to find affordable ski gear. These are often advertised on Facebook or your local newspaper. Our five children have all been outfitted for less than $125 a child. My skis and boots were bargain finds as well!

Rita’s daughter staying warm and having fun in her thrifted jacket, snow pants,
and ski gear. Goggles and helmet purchased new.

The one thing we do buy new? Helmets. Always make sure your child has a well fitted, sport-specific helmet. They are worth the investment. Check out this post on helmet options in various price points.

For more tips and tricks on budget skiing, check out this awesome post from TMM Team Member Sarah.

Affordable Nordic Skiing Gear

Nordic skiing (also known as cross country skiing) has grown in popularity this year. The global pandemic has shifted everyone’s focus on outdoor sports. Nordic skiing is generally a less expensive and safer pursuit that downhill skiing, but is more fun than snowshoeing.

Rita’s son styling a Columbia jacket bought from REI Used,
along with secondhand skis, boots, and poles
while on a recent nordic ski adventure in Vermont.

You can find good prices on used nordic gear through Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, or local ski swaps. I also have had great luck finding some of our gear at local thrift shops. Some of the boots are a bit beat up, but they have still worked well for my kids’ fast-growing feet.

For my oldest children, I invest more money in their gear. This is because they will grow out of it and pass it down to their siblings. My 13 year olds also ski faster and need gear that suits their style of skiing.

Another budget option is to rent a set of gear for the year. This is is a good choice if you have one child who doesn’t have gear, especially if they have no younger siblings. Kids grow out of gear so fast that renting can be more budget friendly than buying new each season.

Make sure you research the various binding styles and ski styles. Check out this post to get started with cross country skiing.

Camping and Backpacking

Budget Car Camping

For tent camping with a car, you can actually find reasonably priced gear online and at your local big box stores. Coleman 8 man tents are not the best tents in the world. Yet for under $100, they will get you through many a camping trip without breaking the bank. Other brands make tents in similar price points–make sure to keep it waterproofed and seam sealed.

Other options for tents and gear are easy to find. A basic propane camp stove is invaluable. We purchased ours used and it works great. Many other camping gear items can be found at thrift stores. No need to buy a fancy camping kit if you can find pots, cutlery, and plates for a couple bucks.

Frugal Backpacking Gear

I won’t lie, backpacking is probably the hardest place to truly get good, budget friendly gear. Additionally, for kids, backpacking is often “Type 2” fun, and so it feels more frustrating to invest money into.

I have a couple children who love to backpack, but as a family, we only go once a year. That means that the entire mass of gear only gets used once a year. My husband and I both backpack, and we both take children backpacking, but a lot of gear sits and doesn’t get used super often.

The most budget friendly way to start backpacking is by borrowing gear to see what works and fits well. Usually, some car camping gear, such as lightweight sleeping bags and foam pads, can be used for backpacking. You can put together a set up that works well for a test run.

Another piece of advice is to start by backpacking to a cabin or shelter instead of using tents. Tents get more expensive the lighter they weigh. Tents are also hard to find used in good shape.

If you hike to a cabin or shelter, it completely removes the need for investing in a pricey tent right away.

Best Websites for Gear Deals

I have found plenty of great deals on my local Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, and thrift stores.

But what about the best online resources for gear?

Here are a few of our favorites.

REI Used

REI resells their used returns on their own platform through REI Used. They also sell items that are sent to them in saleable condition that they didn’t sell. The great part about REI Used is they inspect each item, they have a 30 day return policy, and they have great customer service. My best scores here have been a pair of Atomic Hawx AT boots, and a Smartwool skirt. They sell everything from sleeping bags to swimsuits.

GearTrade

Geartrade has been around for awhile, but it seems like recently their product offering and variety has significantly increased. Here the gear is not vetted by the site; instead it is listed, packaged, and shipped by each individual seller. However, they do offer a satisfaction guarantee in case something you purchase doesn’t match the listing. Geartrade is an awesome place to find sleeping bags, tents, outerwear, and any active wear you could desire. My favorite find recently was a pair of Craft soft shell nordic ski pants.

Mercari

If you know what brand and size you are looking for, Mercari is a good place to hunt for clothing from great outdoor brands. Items are sold by individual sellers, but Mercari has a great inspection policy that allows the buyer to verify the accuracy of the listing. Also, some sellers offer a “make and offer” option that allows you to negotiate more.

ThredUp

ThredUp is a web-based clothing consignment store. They offer a huge variety of clothing and outerwear from every brand on the face of the earth. I have found great clothing items from REI, Patagonia, Icebreaker, and L.L.Bean there for my kids and myself. If you are hunting for men’s gear, don’t bother with ThredUp–they don’t sell anything.

Sierra Trading Post

Sierra Trading Post has been around a long time. I have been buying gear from them since I was a teenager.They sell a huge variety of outdoor gear, from basic wool socks to sophisticated technical snow gear. You can even find dog bowls and ice axes! Much of what they sell is manufacturer overstocks or past season, but everything is brand new. They offer a great return policy.

The Clymb

The Clymb sells manufacturer discontinued merchandise and overstocks just like Sierra. However they generally release items in “batches” that last for several days at time, before releasing something new. You have to keep an eye out to see what is new on their website. Sign up for their email list to receive really great discount coupons.

Score Deals and Get Outside

Most of us are trying to juggle our budgets with our desire to explore the great outdoors. For me this means buying used whenever possible, and seeking to borrow gear that I don’t need to buy. This also means that we can’t particupate in ALL the outdoor sports. Having a gear closet for all the adventures just ins’t practical or fiscally responsible. Each family has to make choices about where to save and where to splurge.

This all being said, when you are buying new, it is important to make sure the quality of the product is worth the price. Do you’re research. Read gear reviews on our sites and other respected blogs. Don’t buy the cheapest backpacking tent only to have it rip to shreds in the first windstorm. In the long run, buying quality, whether used or new will save more dollars.

We hope this post is helpful to you and your families. Keeping rocking that used gear and keep those smiles big. See you out there!

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Finding Affordable Outdoor Gear for the Family

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