If you do anything outdoorsy, you’ve probably heard of REI’s garage sales: everything that’s been returned to the store gets marked down and resold as-is. You can find anything from never-used backpacks to hiking boots someone wore all summer, then abused REI’s return policy with their worn out shoes. Do you really need any more convincing to hunt through your nearest REI garage sale? Find your store on REI’s website to get the details on its next garage sale. While you’re there, go ahead and buy a membership if you don’t already have one; you’ll need it to purchase anything at the garage sale, and it’s only $20 for a lifetime.
I hear at bigger stores it’s common to get in line hours before the garage sale starts. I live in a small town, and can usually get there about an hour after the sale starts and still find what I’m looking for. So you’ll have to figure out arrival time for yourself, just know that it might get crazy. I do have some tips for once you’re at the sale though:
1. Have a rough list
How rough really depends on the items. Sometimes I have a general category of things I need – snow traction devices, camp cookware. There are also a handful of things I always keep an eye out for deals on, like merino baselayers and my favorite leggings.
If you’re on the hunt for more spendy items, it’s worthwhile to shop before the garage sale to determine what brands and models you’d be happy with – it can take a few hours of comparing and testing to figure out what you want. So if it turns out Osprey makes the only backpacking packs that fit you, you can scan the pack section for those and speed on through if they don’t have any, rather than wasting your time trying on every pack that looks like it might work.
2. Read the tags
The tag tells you why the item was returned, how long it was used, and the original price. Often the return reason has nothing to do with damage: for example, the pants to which the tag below belonged apparently stretched after washing. (The pants now fit me perfectly, so thanks for stretching them out, previous owner.)
TIP: if the return reason is “has a slow leak”, do not buy that thing. You will never find the source of that leak unless you are some kind of repair wizard.
3. Know what flaws you’re willing to repair (or put up with)
As you probably guessed, I got burned by the above-mentioned “slow leak” item. If you plan to repair something with a leak, make sure you can find the leak(s)! Also account for the repair cost – I bought a fleece jacket with a broken zipper for $1, while the replacement zipper cost $6 plus a good bit of grumbling about the replacement process. Still worth the price, but if I had needed to get the zipper replaced professionally, it probably wouldn’t have been.
Some flaws are unsightly but harmless, like the merino tank I bought with fraying trim around one armhole. Since it’s a baselayer, I bought it and just cut off the offending trim. Decide if you can put up with flawed-but-functional or if it might drive you nuts.
4. Take everything inside to try on/test
My REI sets up the garage sale in the small sidewalk space in front of the store, so there’s no extra room for trying on shoes or rolling out a sleeping pad. Your garage sale might be inside the store, but either way: find some empty space (I usually have good luck in the back of the store, near the shoes) where you can try on, set up, check for leaks, and examine any damages.
5. Don’t be tempted by “almost right”
Ok, so something being an “almost right” color probably isn’t a dealbreaker. But shoes or a backpack that fit almost right cause misery. Put it down and walk away. If you’re still on the fence, remember you can’t return/exchange anything you buy at a garage sale.
BONUS: come late for extra discounts
I was having a lazy Saturday last time I went to an REI garage sale and didn’t get there until almost 1 pm. At 1 pm all the clothing was discounted an extra 50%. Of course I can’t guarantee that your store will do further markdowns, but if you want to find out, wander through in the early afternoon and see what’s happening.
Have you been to an REI garage sale? Any tips to add?
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