5 Tips for shopping an REI garage sale

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:

5 tips for making the most of an REI garage sale

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?


Linking up with Fit & Fashionable Friday

14 Comment

  1. That’s awesome! I’ve never been to an REI garage sale before but now I am quite tempted 🙂

    1. Hannah says: Reply

      I highly recommend 😉

  2. The ones in Salt Lake are NUTS!! It’s like black Friday. You get there atleast an hourbearlt and join the huge crowd and then they pass out playing cards to determine how to let people in so they may call all 4s or all clubs etc. But when I was willing to get up early and face the crowds (and lucky enough to be called early) Ive snagged a bike trainer that “made too much noise” and alite chair for half price and an old backpack of mine that I returned for an upgrade but later regretted haha. I wish it were more casual here like your location!
    KJ | Om Nom Herbivore recently posted…Vegan London Fog SconesMy Profile

    1. Hannah says: Reply

      I’ve heard the big city ones are nuts! Did you find the exact backpack you returned? That’s pretty crazy.

      1. I did haha I knew it by a small hole in the bottom. Really random that I was able to get it back!
        KJ | Om Nom Herbivore recently posted…Vegan London Fog SconesMy Profile

  3. Ingunn says: Reply

    The ones at the flagship store in Seattle have iPhone launch-type lines, people camp out and everything! It’s insane.
    Ingunn recently posted…Through the lens I see lifeMy Profile

    1. Hannah says: Reply

      I’ve heard the flagship sales are crazy! I’m sure they have tons more stuff than our little store, but I’m not sure fighting the crowds would be worth it.

  4. How fun! I’ve never been to an REI garage sale, but I’d love to check one out.

    1. Hannah says: Reply

      You should! They are great for general fitness gear as well as outdoor stuff.

  5. Megan says: Reply

    I have never been to the REI Garage Sale, but it sounds like something I’d love! We lived in a community with a Cabela’s store and they used to (long ago before they got too big) have an annual tent sale that was, just as you said, a tent full of returned or discontinued items. People would come days in advance and camp out to get the good stuff. It was fun and I found many great deals there (using many of your tips above!)

    1. Hannah says: Reply

      That does sounds similar – although I have to say I’m not sure I’d be up for camping days in advance!

  6. I’ve never even been to a REI store but it sounds like this Garage Sale would have so many cool finds!
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    1. Hannah says: Reply

      Oh it does!

  7. […] And if you have an REI, don’t forget about their garage sales. […]

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