Skip To Main Content


Outdoor Recreation
Buying Gear on a College Budget Assorted, well organized climbing tools

Gear stores are my kryptonite. Seriously, no matter how much will power I think I have, I cannot walk by a shiny gear store full of ropes, expensive clothes and backcountry tools that I don’t know how to use. It’s like a candy store, but a lot more dangerous and expensive.

One issue, though. I’m a college student, and outdoor gear tends to be incredibly pricey. More often than not, it costs nothing to go out enjoy nature; however, the supplies you need to do some of the crazier outdoor sports (even camping, actually) can add up quickly and leave your wallet feeling very empty inside.

Over the past few years, I’ve learned through trial and (unfortunately) error the best ways to enjoy the outdoors and have the gear to do so on a college student’s budget.

Here they are:

  1. Secondhand gear stores. Yes, they do exist. Yes, they are just as amazing as you would expect them to be.

Although I don’t know of any secondhand gear stores around Ames, there are a lot all over the U.S. that I would strongly encourage you to visit on your next trip. My personal favorite is located in Moab, Utah. It’s called Moab Gear Trader and, wait for it, they have an online store too! You can check out loads of super discounted gear and clothing on their web page here. Stores like these only take in high-quality, usable products that are worth purchasing. Pretty neat, huh?

  1. That REI membership? Get it

A lifelong membership to the REI co-op is $20. Seriously, just $20, and you only have to make one payment. Not too shabby. Through REI, 10% of all of the full-price purchases you make both online and in-store go toward you. When you become a member, you have access to the holy grail of gear-purchasing: garage sales. REI hosts “garage sales” for returned goods that are in perfect condition. Most of the time, the gear has only been used once (if at all). I like these events especially because they’re for members only, which means the crowd is significantly smaller and the good stuff doesn’t get snagged as quickly. REI also recently started selling garage sale items online, so if you can’t make it to any of the local events, you can purchase the discounted products from the comfort of your own home!

  1.   Facebook isn’t dead. Why? Gear swap groups.

Uh huh, you read that right. Gear swap groups are a thing, and they are incredible. How do you join one? I would just search “Used Climbing (or biking, trail running, camping, etc.) Gear Swap” under the “groups” tab on Facebook, and you should be able to find something. In these groups, you can post any of your own used gear for sale or you can check out what the other group members are trying to get rid of. Most of the time the gear is minimally used and in great condition! It’s like Craigslist, but better.

  1.   Friends! Use them.

What else are friends for besides using them to mooch off of? Ha! Just kidding. But really though, having friends who are into the same hobbies as you can be a huge help when you’re looking for new gear, clothes, etc. More often than not when I tell my friends I’m looking for something, one of them will say “Hey! I have an old _____. You can just have mine instead!” and they’ll either sell it to me or give it with the knowledge that good-friend-gift-giving karma will come back around and benefit them eventually.

Well, there you have it. Some of my personal favorite cheap-tastic gear buying tips for all you dirtbag college students! Get out there, get bargaining, and enjoy the outdoors!