Do you hate paying retail for luggage, travel gear, or outdoor adventure clothing? Well it’s easy to avoid that if you get your timing right and follow a few simple strategies. You can always find great deals on travel gear if you shop smart.
Long-time readers know that I founded and ran a site called Practical Travel Gear for many years. We put up a new first-person review each weekday of a useful item to pack or wear. The fact that we were even able to do that shows you how many items are competing for your attention in the marketplace. And at list price, they’re not cheap. 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 and apparel retailers. It’s a sign that the seasons are changing, both for real and on the retail calendar. As I write this it’s “back to school” time, but also we’re closing in on the end of summer and the beginning of fall.
Annual gear deal sale periods are the first thing to watch for, so here’s the scoop on the best buying time, as well as a few other tips for scoring the biggest discounts on gadgets and gear for your travels.
1) Buy gear during transition times
I’m a cheap bastard when it comes to shopping and I’m practically allergic to paying the full retail price when it hits three digits or more. 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 that color that’s sooo 2018 now.
Most travel apparel companies put out new lines as fast as Gucci or Ralph Lauren. Few are as eco-consious as Patagonia. But really, despite the “New and Improved!” marketing hype, the changes from season to season are very subtle. This year’s fleece jacket is barely 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 for travel gear deals. You can find some amazing bargains by surfing the Sale or Outlet sections of sites like Moosejaw, Sierra Trading Post, REI, or Backcountry.com.
2) Bide your time until you get a great offer
Any of the brands or online retailers would be thrilled to have you on their e-mail list to be alerted every time there’s a sale. I got an e-mail like that from REI two weeks ago and bought 6 items for $58. Moosejaw, EMS, and others will also send you loyalty points deals that work as a rebate on your next purchase.
If you don’t want so many messages in your inbox though, just sign up for my Gear Sales Insiders newsletter instead. I only send it out four to six times a year, only when the deals are too good to pass up. (Mostly during those transitions times mentioned in point #1.)
3) Always shop around for deals on travel gear
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 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 a certain amount or you are a Prime member. They have dedicated UK and Canadian sites as well. But don’t automatically order from there just because you have Prime: often older items are discounted more deeply on the dedicated gear sites.
Check the manufacturers’ sites too. For example, often the prices at the official Columbia and Patagonia sites are as low as they are anywhere else, with plenty of closeout deals on colors or styles that didn’t sell quickly.
4) Read reviews to choose wisely
You no longer have to take the manufacturer’s word on anything without seeing whether real people agree. Someone who goes mountain biking every chance they get is glad to tell you if their mountain biking shoes crapped out on them. If I tell you I’ve been using some of my luggage and travel pants for 10 years now—taking 12-15 trips per year—you know I’ve really put those things through their paces.
You can go really niche if you want to on sites dedicated to drones, skis, knives, camping gear, or biking products if you search around. Or just read the reviews at the online retailers’ sites to get a general idea. Often you’ll see a pattern of some nagging defect or annoyance that will steer you away, or unadulterated praise from the authenticated buyers telling you this is something definitely worth purchasing. Just remember that reviews follow a reverse bell curve: people don’t usually leave one unless they hated the item or loved it.
5) Beg or borrow
Have you ever seen a $500 Mountain Hardwear ski coat at Goodwill? Or a $300 Osprey backpack? Probably not, because people have trouble donating something they spent hundreds of dollars on if it’s not worn out. So the items just sit in an attic or garage, mostly 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. Do you really need to buy a tent if you’re going to use it once a year? Or a kayak? Put a notice up on your Facebook page, in neighborhood groups, 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.
Don’t forget, you can register at gear stores if you’ve got a wedding, graduation, or big birthday coming up. (Or refer people to your wish list at Amazon.) Fill out what you really need for your travel adventures and let your relatives worry about what’s on sale.
How about you? What tips do you have for scoring good deals on travel gear?
If you want to get an alert four or five times a year when the discounts are the deepest, get on my long-running Gear Sales Insiders list.