How to buy used outdoor gear

How To Buy Used Outdoor Gear

For the thrifty shopper, used outdoor gear can be a gold mine. People selling off their slightly used or broken gear offers steep price reductions from getting anything new. The only problem is figuring out what is fixable and what is just junk.

To locate used outdoor gear, websites like gumtree, craigslist and ebay offer several options, and even Facebook has a section for items for sale. But for the widest selection, try finding local clearouts from individuals or from gear shops. Check out your local outdoor retailers and see if they have any suggestions. The main benefit to these sales is that you can see the items in person before committing to them, which makes your job a whole lot easier.

For items that need to fit, see if you can try a new version on before looking for it second hand. Especially with backpacks and footwear that require quite a bit of time to find the right fit. It’s a lot easier to pick out used gear if you already know the size you need.

What’s wrong with it?

The first step in buying used outdoor gear is finding out why it is being sold. Normally, sellers will be upfront with what is wrong with an item. Descriptions will say things like “didn’t fit” or “hole in the fabric”. If you have the opportunity it’s always worth looking at the item in person to see what these descriptions refer to.

For example: A tent says “tear in floor”. So you set up the tent and inspect the tear. Turns out it’s only a little hole no bigger than your little finger. That’s easy to patch, so the tent is a good buy! But, in setting up the tent you also notice a bent pole. Well, bent poles are easy to fix but at least you know before you bought it! Here are some common complaints or reasons people sell their gear:

Doesn’t Fit/I don’t like the color
Items with this complaint often are in the best shape, but have the highest price because they’re barely used. Still, they’re probably cheaper than retail. If you can, inspect the item before buying, there might be something the seller didn’t report or didn’t notice.

Doesn’t Work/Broken
By far the least helpful description, “doesn’t work” is also one of the most common. However, these items can be the diamond in the ruff that you’re looking for. Sometimes “doesn’t work” is code for “seller didn’t read the user manual” or “needs new batteries”. Look up the user manual online and test the item out yourself to see if it actually doesn’t work.

Won’t Stay Inflated
This comment is specific to things like sleeping pads, but it appears again and again because inflated pads do get leaks. If the pad looks to be in good shape, as far as you can tell, look up reviews for the model. Some pads – notably the older version of the Big Agnes Q-core (newer ones are fine) – have valve problems from a manufacturer standpoint and therefore won’t actually stay inflated. But many people sell their pads because they left their pad inflated for several days and it deflated. Unfortunately, due to the nature of air, pads aren’t going to stay fully inflated for several days. An easy fix is to top them off every night – problem solved.

However, if the pad does have a hole or tear of some kind, it’s probably not worth salvaging. While there are plenty of patches available to fix your own gear, starting out with a good pad is probably for the best.

Has a Hole
Sometimes, you’ll get a seller that will kindly state the nature and placement of this hole, but not always. But, most holes smaller than your palm are easy to patch (excluding inflatables). A role of ‘Tenacious Tape’ will do the trick for almost anything.

But be wary of holes in waterproof items. Raincoats and rainflies can be fixed with a gore-tex patch, but if a dry bag has a hole in it, a patch may not be enough to keep the contents completely water free.

Part of adventuring in the outdoors is having your gear take on a certain smell. If that smell is just smoke or general dirt, it won’t harm the product and can be aired out pretty easily. Older gear can even obtain a smell when the nylon starts to break down, which is not something to worry about. However, be cautious of smells of mold. Products that have been stored wet or incorrectly can grow mold and mildew, which is trickier to get out. A good wash with the appropriate soap will normally get rid of the mold, but not always the smell.

The Zip is Broken
Broken zips are often a lost cause. While is it possible to fix some zippers, most have to be completely replaced – a process which will most likely cost you more than a new item would. 

What Not to Buy Used
Used outdoor gear is amazing! But not everything should be bought used. Specifically, any type of safety gear that you might need. This includes harnesses, helmets, and safety ropes. The reason for this is because most of these products have specific limits on what they are designed to do or a specific number of falls they can take. Buying a used item means you don’t know how many falls they’ve already taken or what their specific limits are. If you’re trusting your life to something, get it new from a reputable retailer.

That’s all folks!

Looking for used outdoor gear is a great way to get high-quality products for peanuts -if you don’t mind patching a few holes or doing some light washing of course! But always remember, if you wouldn’t buy it new, there’s no reason to buy it used. Great deals are tempting, but if you don’t need it you’ll just add clutter to your gear storage. Happy Shopping! 

For more tips, how-tos and gear reviews, check out the rest of our blog.

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