Yes you can afford quality travel gear and clothing for your journeys. The secret is buying it when the timing is right, not two days before your vacation.
I see a lot of people traveling around with unreliable luggage, bulky jackets that don’t ward off the elements, and clothing that is ill-suited to traveling with just a carry-on. (If your carry-on is too heavy for you to lift it by yourself to put it in the overhead bin, you have overpacked. Do better so you can stop holding up the boarding process.) Many of these people, if they were dropped into REI or MEC in the height of travel season may think, “These prices are too high for me.”
You don’t have to accept those kinds of prices to get good travel gear, backpacks, and apparel though. You just have to buy it when demand is low. That happens to be right now as I right this—late August. Summer vacations are winding down, back to school shopping has ended, and soon the weather will start cooling off. It’s in between time at retail.
This is not the only window for terrific deals though. Anytime stores have to move out the old to bring in the new you’re going to find drastic reductions. Companies like Colombia, Patagonia, and North Face are bringing out new styles at least twice a year and if you buy the old styles when those new ones are launching, you can find unbelievable bargains. Just look at this page from a company I’ll be profiling soon: Craghoppers.
Here’s a page from the outlet store at Sierra Trading Post. You can pick up terrific gear that’s just last year’s color (and maybe a few grams heavier) for 1/3 what it went for originally.
So what are the best times to buy travel gear? If you want the newest and hottest, it’s when the new 800-page issue of Vogue comes out in the spring and fall. That’s also when all the deals start rolling out though to get rid of existing inventory. Here are some examples of sales running right now as we head into fall, the switch from hot weather gear to fall and winter. If you’re reading this later the link may be broken or it’ll be switched to the outlet page, but just look for a tab called “Outlet,” “Bargain Bin,” or “Sale.”
Up to 70% off clearance items at Eastern Mountain Sports
20-40% off almost everything at Moosejaw
Extra 25% off sale items at eBags
The second big changeover is in the spring, when the jackets go for as low as it takes to sell them and the bikinis come out in stores. Logically this should be happening in May or so, but really it gets cranking as soon as early February—the height of ski season. If something is not selling well, they’ll already know it by then. By the time we get into March, the physical and online outlets will be offloading base layers, goggles, and beanies for the price of a 6-pack of craft beer.
There are smaller inflection points in there where bargains come out in force, usually because there’s a shopping holiday in there. Labor Day will bring out sales because the timing is right, but so will Thanksgiving, Father’s Day, or President’s Day.
Buying Travel Clothing Direct Can Be Surprisingly Cheap
Besides the online stores I mentioned above, note that many brands run their own stores and some are quick to discount slow-moving items. This doesn’t mean anything is wrong with them. It usually just means there’s a new style or color replacing the past one. These travel apparel companies are on the same kind of cycle as fashion ones and are under just as much pressure to come up with something new to talk about each season. Just saying, “Our travel shirt is super-popular so we’re not changing a thing” doesn’t cut it. To get new orders, they need to show buyers a new version. This doesn’t make much sense, but it’s the way it is.
Take advantage of the disconnect and you can be packing great travel apparel that lasts into a backpack or suitcase that won’t let you down on the other side of the world. Brand sites with frequent sales (currently up to 70% off at some of them):
Also keep in mind that some online retailers discount more than others. Zappos almost never does and its parent company Amazon takes advantage of the fact that many Prime members buy from there without even looking anywhere else, assuming prices are equal when they’re not. REI has always been less of a discounter than others. But now they have changed “Outlet” to “Garage” and seem to be insinuating that they won’t be selling out of season items anymore. Avoid all those or at least shop around to see if you can do better.