Do you hate paying the full retail price 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. At list price, they’re certainly 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. Fortunately, that’s gotten very easy to do. There’s been a huge proliferation of online stores all competing with each other to attract a slice of that spending for travel gear and clothing for the outdoors. Many brands are also trying to build your loyalty and get you to buy direct.
As I write this in May, my inbox is flooded with coupons and deals from online gear and apparel retailers. It’s a sign that the seasons are changing, both for real and on the retail calendar. In my mind we’re in the middle of spring, but retailers have already moved on to summer. They’re ditching anything with long sleeves.
Annual gear deal sale periods are the first thing to watch for, then there are certain times of year where it’s “Out with the old and in with the new.” So here’s the scoop on the best buying times, as well as a few other tips for scoring the biggest discounts on gadgets and gear for your travels.
1) Buy travel and outdoor 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, especially 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. My great Android smartphone was $350.)
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 2021 now. I want the great values, on clothing and luggage that will hold up well.
Most travel apparel companies put out new lines as fast as Gucci or Ralph Lauren. Few are as eco-consious as Patagonia or prAna. 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, Clearance, or Outlet sections of sites like Moosejaw, Sierra Trading Post, REI, or Backcountry.com.
Sometimes the best bargains are on specialist sites you may have never heard of. I love the ethos and return policies behind Zappos, but their sale section is weak. If you love shoes and love finding shoe deals, then head to Shoebacca instead. For the best luggage deals, you’ll have better luck at eBags than Amazon.
In addition to annual transition times, you have seasonal transition times. Coats and jackets have to get cleared out in spring, shorts and bathing suits have to go at the end of summer. Retailers are starting this process far in advance though, so you can actually find ski gear on sale already in late February and shorts/skirts start going on sale in August. The further you get away from that season, the bigger the markdowns.
Keep in mind that these seasons are based on where most customers are located, not where you may be going. So if you’re headed to a tropical place in the winter, you can fill a whole suitcase with new outfits for half price. If you’re skiing in Argentina or Chile in their high season in August, you could do the same thing with winter gear since few people are buying a winter coat or ski goggles in August back in the USA or Canada.
2) Bide your time until you get a great offer on travel gear you want
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 once got an e-mail like that from REI and bought 6 items for $58. Moosejaw, EMS, Colombia Sportswear, and others will also send you loyalty points deals that work as a rebate on your next purchase.
Sometimes out of the blue, Moosejaw will send me a $5 coupon to use on anything at their store. They just want me shopping there again!
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 transition times mentioned earlier.)
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. You may be able to stack coupons or use a mileage mall to get something extra out of the purchase, especially if you use a travel credit card too.
It makes sense to check 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. Plus they sell a lot of Chinese knock-off brands of questionable quality.
You can often score great travel gear deals from the manufacturers’ sites. 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. You also have to look for that “verified purchase” indication on Amazon because there’s a whole sleazy underworld there of fake reviewers and people criticizing their competitors.
5) Beg, borrow, or rent expensive outdoor gear
Have you ever seen a $500 Mountain Hardwear ski coat at Goodwill? Or a $350 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 local 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.
Many items can be rented too, don’t forget. I’ve met people trekking in Nepal or Patagonia who just rented what they needed locally when they got there and handed it all back at the end. You could rent ski gear 10-20 times for less than what it would cost you to buy a new set of skis, bindings, boots, poles, and helmet. Unless you live near a ski area, you probably won’t use the gear enough to justify the purchase.
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.