Regular readers know that one of my other sites is the Practical Travel Gear blog, where I and two other writers run a new first-person review each weekday of a useful item to pack. The fact that we’re even able to do that shows you how many items are competing for your attention and it’s easy to spend a small fortune just preparing for a two-week adventure vacation, much less a trip around the world. So finding deals on what you do need to pack is imperative.
Right now my inbox is flooded with coupons and deals from the online travel gear retailers. It’s a sign that the seasons are changing, both for real and on the retail calendar. Which leads to the first item on this list…
Buy gear during transition times
I’m a cheap bastard when it comes to shopping and I’m practically allergic to paying list price for anything. I just don’t covet any thing badly enough to pay a premium. (The Apple marketing team hates people like me.) So if you see me at the REI or Academy Sports store, you’ll probably find me at the clearance racks, picking up last season’s model. Or last year’s. Most travel apparel companies put out new lines as fast as Gucci or Ralph Lauren (see this Columbia Sportswear runway fashion show video I made to see what I mean). But really the changes from season to season are very subtle. This year’s fleece jacket is only so different from last year’s model. But last year’s model is 2/3 the price—or less.
The virtual clearance rank is an even better deal. You can find some amazing bargains by surfing the Sale or Outlet sections of sites like Campmor, Sierra Trading Post, REI, Backcountry.com, Rock Creek, Altrec Outdoors, or eBags. Some even have an RSS feed you can put in your reader, like the very handy Steep and Cheap daily deal from Backcountry.
Always shop around
Prices on new travel gear items tend to stay relatively standard across sites, at least for the first few months. After that it’s open season. So shop around at the sites linked above or do a search on something like BizRate to get an idea of the range and see who’s got the best price. Don’t forget about Amazon: half the time they’re as cheap or cheaper than the others and on some things you get free shipping if your order is over $25. They have dedicated UK and Canadian sites as well.
Check the manufacturers’ sites too. For example, often the prices at the official Columbia and ExOfficio sites are as low as they are anywhere else, with plenty of closeout deals on colors or styles that didn’t sell quickly.
Read reviews to choose wisely
Of course I’m going to say that since I do travel gear reviews every week, but you no longer have to buy the marketing hype on anything without seeing whether real people agree. You can get long and detailed reviews on sites dedicated to gadgets, shoes, adventure gear, or biking products, or just read the reviews at the online retailers’ sites. Often you’ll see a pattern of some nagging defect or annoyance that will steer you away, or unadulterated praise from the masses telling you this is something definitely worth purchasing.
Beg or borrow
Have you ever seen a nice Mountain Hardware ski coat at Goodwill? Or an Osprey backpack? Probably not, because people have trouble donating something they spent $200 on, so the items just sit in an attic or garage, unused. The people who own them would probably be glad to give them or loan them to someone they know, however, so ask around with friends and relatives. Put a notice up on your Facebook page or beg from your Twitter followers. “I’m going to the Canadian Rockies for two weeks and need some good cold weather gear” will probably save you hundreds of dollars. Everyone wins, including Mother Earth.
How about you? What tips do you have for scoring good deals on gear?