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Save Money On Kids’ Gear With These Tips

by Staff

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I couldn’t wait to become an Adventure Mom, planning family camping trips and taking my kid on favorite hikes. When the moment finally arrived nearly eight years ago, and I ventured to the kids section of my local Patagonia store, I was not prepared for how overwhelming the shopping experience would be and how quickly my budget would shatter, making the dream of summits with my son feel out of reach. I recall turning heads as I held up a down sweater bunting in front of my husband and whisper-yelled, “This costs an entire paycheck! And he’ll grow out of it so fast!” Somehow, between the sales racks and friends’ closets, I found a way. Two kids and countless treks later, I’m still alarmed by the price, on many levels, we pay for our kids to play in nature.

But a new era of responsible recreation is creating more second-hand platforms and mindful solutions for finding affordable top-notch gear than ever before. It’s now trendy to support the pre-loved culture, whether we can afford full-price North Face parkas and Deuter carriers or not. Choosing used has also become a simple radical environmental act with myriad benefits—and it’s easier on the wallet.

A recent study of parents by the National Institute of Health found that 45 percent of people of color and 15 percent of white participants said the financial burden of quality gear is one of the main barriers to the outdoors. And when you consider that 85 percent of textiles produced end up in landfills—not to mention that the apparel industry’s global emissions are expected to increase by 50 percent by 2030—it just makes sense to prolong the useful lifespan of gear and help reduce overproduction. When you’re abstaining from the latest flashy thing and selecting the most sustainable option instead, the budget-friendly factor almost feels like a bonus.

Before your next family adventure, save on hiking gear for kids without compromising performance, budget or the environment. Here’s how.

Score used gear directly from big (and small) brands

Since Patagonia pioneered its used clothing program Worn Wear 11 years ago, many kid-friendly outdoor retailers have followed suit. Online at REI’s Re/Supply (which also has a Re/Supply brick and mortar in Manhattan Beach, California, and Clackamas, Oregon), you can often enjoy half-off prices on mint-condition products from a range of brands like Keen, Reima, Bogs, Black Diamond, Helly Hansen, and Merrell.

Over the past five years, Re/Supply has sold nearly 6 million used products. In 2023 alone, it sold almost 1.5 million (up from 1 million in 2022), with Camping & Hiking leading as the most popular sales category. There’s a kids section too, with hiking clothes available at a discount. It’s great for your bank account, but also, according to the retailer’s website, great for the planet as well: “Buying used instead of new typically avoids carbon emissions of 50 percent or more based on REI’s estimate of preparing used gear for sale versus making new gear.”

There are also The North Face’s Renewed and Cotopaxi’s Más Vida programs, which have great deals on packs. When your kids outgrow the gear, you can return good condition items to used platforms like Re/Supply and Worn Wear and get store credit or a straight discount toward the next purchase. For buttery layers of merino wool without the nauseating price tag, look to Iksplor’s new Iksplor More program and Smart Wool’s Second Cut Resale shop available on thredUp.

Visit your neighborhood gear store (and get those sales)

If you’re unsure about buying used, look for deals at your local outdoor gear shop. Some stores have a year-round deals or clearance section, like REI, Columbia, Campsaver, L.L. Bean and Bass Pro Shops’ Bargain Cave, where you can take advantage of coupons on everything from a PrimaLoft Packaway jacket (last seen at $39) to a hooded down baby bodysuit (for $47, more than 50 percent off). Put those big sales like Labor Day, Black Friday, garage sales, anniversary and end of year sales on your calendar so you don’t miss them. Sign up for store newsletters to receive updates on basement blowouts, exclusive discounts, and substantial markdowns throughout the year. Nationwide retail chains like Dick’s Sporting Goods, Patagonia and REI (and REI Outlet) offer regular savings of up to 40 percent.

Kids’ gear can be so expensive for something only worn for a couple years. (Photo: Maskot via Getty Images)

Track down used gear at a third-party marketplace

Re-commerce platforms have emerged as a prime place to shop for kids gear. Peruse listings on Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace to find brand new or gently used items, such as carriers, sleeping bags, or snow bibs. This works especially for winter-specific clothes that your kids will likely only fit into for one or two seasons. At online dealers of high-performance goods like GearTrade, Out&Back, ThredUp, Sendy, and Arrive Outdoors, you can sort through multiple categories like condition, price, size, type of gear, location and brand. You can score sweet deals on practically new apparel: think Columbia fleece jackets for $20, a Kelty Redcloud Junior 65L pack for $88 (priced down from $199), or a Thermoball Eco insulated hoodie from The North Face for $47 (priced down from $150). Check the return policies, which can range from 14 days (ThredUp) to 30 (Out&Back).

Don’t overlook your local consignment shop

Depending on where you live, quality outdoor finds are often right there in the kids section of your local consignment or thrift shop. Following Second Gear in Asheville, North Carolina and Outdoor Gear Exchange in Burlington, Vermont, many dedicated used gear stores have popped up in recent years, like Wonderland Exchange in Seattle, Eugene Gear Traders in Oregon, and The Switchback in San Luis Obispo, California. It’s always good to ask if the store carries brands with flexible sizing that allow parents to extend the lengths of pant legs and arm sleeves, such as Columbia, Salewa, Obermeyer, and Patagonia’s Grow Fit system (here’s a handy tutorial on how it works).

Lean into the local community 

Turn to outdoorsy friends with older kids who likely have gear collecting dust in a basement bin. If you’re new to the neighborhood, join a hiking meetup or local chapter of a social networking platform where you can make a request for free items. You might be surprised with what you can find when you put out a call for specific gear on the Buy Nothing Project app (or your local Buy Nothing Facebook group) or in the Nextdoor group.

A young toddler is wearing a onesie snow suit and sitting on a bed of rocks at a Pacific Northwest beach. She is content and enjoying observing her surroundings.
Sometimes getting kids’ gear requires getting a little creative. (Photo: Fly View Productions via Getty Images)

Give renting a try 

As the rental revolution kicks into high gear, your local outdoor retailer has likely joined this growing market. With just a $30 lifetime membership fee, you can join REI Co-op, which offers its gear rental program in over 115 stores (with 10 more opening in 2024), with youth items ranging from sleeping bags ($14/first night, $4/each subsequent night) to backpacking packs ($18, $8) and snowshoes ($10, $4). Local trail associations often keep tabs on where to rent gear. For instance, the Washington Trails Association lists 19 places, plus a handy guide to creating your own gear lending library with friends.

Going to the Grand Canyon? Phoenix-based LowerGear has you covered, whether you need a kid carrier or a full family camping setup; they’ll even ship everything to any national or state park. Similarly, Wooded Nomad in Minneapolis will deliver rental items like carriers, family tents, and cookware direct to your home in the Twin Cities, and donate a portion of each rental to non-profits like the Minnesota Environmental Fund. If you’re planning a trip to Rocky Mountain National Park, Denver-based Outdoors Geek maintains one of the largest gear rental databases in the country, offering family camping packages (from $334 for up to three days), kids’ backpacks, and sleeping bags.

Check out gear from a lending library 

If you’re introducing your kids to hiking or don’t want to lug gear on vacation, community gear lending libraries are a great alternative to buying. At museums, public libraries, and parks and recreation departments across the country, lending libraries are working to close the “nature gap” by increasing access and equity in the outdoors.

In Harrisonburg, Virginia, for instance, you can borrow family camping kits when you join Massanutten Regional Library’s Community Gear Library, which also leads group hikes for the BIPOC community, women, families, and LGBTQ+ folks. Colorado’s Telluride Library has an expansive list of awesome stuff to rent in addition to family camping packages, like an acoustic guitar, state parks pass, solar charger, stargazing binoculars, bird bingo, and a Hacky Sack set. And Grand Rapids Parks & Rec Department operates on a pay-what-you-wish model with  hundreds of well-curated items, from hiking jackets to boots.

No matter where you are in the country, there’s likely a free rental program near you: There’s the Clark Art Institute’s Project Snowshoe in the Berkshires, and Wisconsin’s Cable Natural History Museum’s snowshoe, birding backpacks, and camera rentals. Other low-cost or free gear organizations include Families in Nature in Austin, Always Choose Adventures in Idaho Springs, Get Outdoors Leadville in Colorado, and the Outdoor Empowered Network, which operates 24 gear libraries targeting youth anywhere from Seattle to St. Louis.

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