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How to Score Epic Deals at the REI Garage Sale

rei garage sale flyer

Want to get awesome outdoor gear from the best brands, brand new or barely used, at insane discounts?

Then you need to find an REI Garage Sale. This is how REI gets rid of their returned merchandise, retired rental equipment, stuff that was damaged during shipping, and anything else that can’t be sold as new.

The garage sales are awesome, but there is a catch – an REI garage sale literally is a garage sale. Most of the stuff is going to be old and/or broken, it will be crowded, and you have to show up really early on a Saturday morning to get the best deals. The good news is, with a little luck, and proper planning, you can find some insane deals!

You have to supply your own luck, but I’ll give you some tips to help with the proper planning:

Manage your expectations.

The worst thing you can do is read about all the insane deals to be found at an REI garage sale and expect that you’re going to find stuff you want, in good condition, for pennies on the dollar.

If you go in with high expectations, you’re bound to be disappointed. Maybe you’ve heard about the person who found $200 hiking boots, worn a couple times, for $20. Or the person who found never-worn Vibram FiveFingers for $30. You probably haven’t heard about the hundreds or thousands of people who find nothing but old, dirty boots priced $60 and up.

Yes, the prices are going to be shocking. But it could be shocking as in, “wow that’s cheap!” or just as likely, “I can’t believe they’re asking that much for this junk!” You might find something that was only used for an REI photo shoot, or you could find something that apparently thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail before being returned.

I fear it’s only going to get worse as years go by. For example, in 2013, REI changed their lifetime satisfaction guarantee to just a 1 year guarantee. That’s still an epic guarantee from a retailer, but it could mean fewer items at the garage sales.

Just go for fun and be happy if you find anything!

Know the schedule.

Every REI store has their own web page, and on that page is a calendar of events. If the store is having a garage sale, it will be listed on there. So check the calendar each month to see when the next garage sale is.

The schedule is going to vary for each and every store. At some locations, they might only have two garage sales per year – a summer and a winter sale. Other locations, once every three months. Some stores have one each and every month. That’s why you have to keep an eye on your local store’s schedule!

Here in Pittsburgh, we have two REI stores, so there is usually at least one sale each month. Sometimes the stores alternate months, but on occasion, each store has a garage sale on a different Saturday of the same month, giving me the opportunity to go to two sales in one month!

Get there early.

line outside rei store

Saying that REI garage sales attract a crowd would be an understatement, so it’s in your best interest to get there early. What constitutes “early” varies by location and date, though.

You might show up at 5am and be first in line, with no one else even arriving till 7am. Another day you might decide to show up at 7am, only to find a long line already. It’s tough to call.

Some people actually camp out the night before to ensure a spot at the front of the line. If your local REI only holds these sales 2-3 times per year, you may want to consider that.

If your local REI has a garage sale every month or two, there’s no need to camp out. And if it’s outside of the city (with fewer people in walking distance an no public transit option,) you might not have to show up very early at all.

Regardless, have a way to pass the time. Perhaps a book to read, or an audiobook loaded on your smartphone. A camp chair would sure be nice, too! Or, take some fresh baked goods along, pass them out, and make friends! Chances are, anyone waiting in line at REI is also going to be an outdoor enthusiast just like you!

*The exception to this rule is if the REI has a specific procedure for letting people inside, rather than “first come, first served.” Sometimes they’ll hand out tickets to anyone waiting, and it ends up being a “luck of the draw” thing. In these situations, you only need to arrive 15-20 minutes prior to the start.

Know the store layout.

It really helps to know the store layout, and it’s even better if you know the garage sale layout.

Certain spots around the store will have tables, boxes, and bins filled with goods, and these are generally organized to match the store layout. For example, if there is a table of stuff near the electronics, it’s likely to be covered in sunglasses, cameras, headlamps, watches, etc. Backpacks will likely be on a rack near the rest of the backpacks. Tents and sleeping bags will probably be in a bin near the camping stuff.

Sometimes there will be a separate room, like a storage room or the classroom, that is open specifically for the garage sale. This is often where the shoes and clothing are located.

90% of the time, you’ll only find something good at the first table you get to, so plan accordingly and prioritize.

Don’t be too picky at first.

If you see something you like, pick it up and bag it. Don’t waste your time inspecting any single item. While you’re busy doing that, other shoppers are grabbing anything that catches their eye.

I suggest bagging up stuff you might want, then try it on and inspect it later, in a less-crowded area of the store. I don’t mean grab everything you can hold, but if you want to get more than one good deal, you have to grab first and ask questions later. Remember, you don’t need to make a final decision until you get in the checkout line.

But before you get in the checkout line, take another lap around the store. Remember that other people are using this same strategy, so they might put something back, which you can then pick up for yourself! 😉

Don’t pay more than “garage sale” kind of prices.

Personally, I don’t even bother buying anything that’s only 50% off. It’s too risky and it doesn’t make much sense.

Think about it. With brand new gear, you get 10% back as a dividend, and if you time it right, you can also use a 20% off coupon. Heck, certain Osprey packs go on sale for 25% off sometimes. Out of season clothing can be found for 50% off.

So you can get 25-50% off brand new merchandise that comes with the REI guarantee and a manufacturer’s warranty. Why would you ever pay the same price for used gear that can’t be returned?

What To Look For

Now you know how to get in there and find the deals. Here are my thoughts on what to look for and what to avoid.

What I’d buy at a garage sale:

  • Kayaks
  • Bike racks and car top carriers
  • Backpacks
  • Most like-new items
  • Stuff you know how to fix
  • Whatever still has a manufacturer’s warranty

The types of kayaks sold at REI are rarely used, let alone damaged. And if they are damaged, it’s usually obvious. And when you also consider that a lot of people won’t be prepared to haul them home from a garage sale, you might get a sweet deal with little hassle.

Bike racks and car top carriers sometimes don’t even get used after they’re first installed. Other than some scuffs and fading, these can be perfectly functional.

Backpacks are something that I think a lot of people buy them, use them once or twice, and realize they’d rather have their money back than have the pack. Or maybe a buckle broke and it was easier to return the pack to REI than email the manufacturer asking for a replacement buckly. Or maybe they bought the wrong size because they didn’t read my useful guide about buying the right pack.

Then, across all categories, most of the like-new items are worth a look. Just make sure it’s a good deal.

color coding guide

Where you can really save money is with items that are broken but easily fixed. This stuff is usually super cheap. I’d avoid most stuff that’s ripped or torn, but sometimes the required fix is just replacing a small part that’s easy to find and costs a few dollars. The key is that you already know how to fix it before you buy it. Don’t guess!

Finally, stuff that will still have a manufacturer’s warranty can be a tremendous opportunity. Generally speaking, a manufacturer’s warranty is only valid for the original purchaser, but that doesn’t mean a company won’t go above and beyond the call of duty. Some companies are great with repairs and/or sending out miscellaneous free parts, even if you purchased the item used!

*Of course, each situation is different.

What to avoid at garage sales:

  • Used shoes
  • Electronics
  • Bicycle tubes
  • Anything expensive
  • Anything fragile

Finding a nice pair of used shoes is like finding a needle in a haystack. You’ll sift through box after box of worn out shoes, and sometimes it’s hard to tell if the shoe is just dirty, or if it’s breaking down inside. There are exceptions though – hard-to-fit shoes like the Vibram FiveFingers or high-end rock climbing shoes are more likely to be returned after 1-2 uses.

I’m extremely wary of any electronics. If it was returned, it’s probably defective, and probably not something you can repair. In extremely rare cases, the fix might be to replace the batteries, but don’t count on it.

Considering bicycle tubes are only a few dollars brand new, I’d never risk buying a used one. I’d be careful with anything that holds air. It was probably returned because it leaks air. Similarly, anything that holds water (such as a hydration reservoir,) there’s a good chance it leaks.

Self-inflating sleeping pads can be a goldmine though, because patching them is relatively simple. And the tag that says “it leaks” scares off many shoppers, so these don’t sell quickly. And sometimes people just lie about it leaking because they need a reason to return it!

This is where price factors in. If there’s a $100+ sleeping pad for $20 or less, that’s one thing. But if it’s a $60 sleeping pad for $20 and you need to buy a $10 patch kit and patch the thing, I’d hesitate.

Then with anything expensive, I don’t just hesitate, I avoid it. Since there are no returns, no warranty, etc., I’d be scared to spend lots of money on anything. For example, a $400 sleeping bag for $180 is a nice deal, but what if something goes wrong? You’re out $180.

Lastly, anything fragile. I don’t like fragile items to begin with (what if they leave me stranded out in the woods?,) but something I can’t even return? No thanks.

My Personal Experience Attending An REI Garage Sale

The first time I was able to participate in one of these sales was on Labor Day weekend at the Settler’s Ridge REI store outside of Pittsburgh. I specifically liked the holiday weekend timing, hoping other outdoor adventurers were off on an adventure and not lining up to shop!

I showed up around 8:25 am and got a good spot in line with only about 12 people ahead of me. I probably could have been first in line by arriving at 8am. Most people showed up around 8:45 and by 9:00 there was a solid line down the block.

There was no special protocol; I’m pretty sure they let everyone in at once. I was too busy shopping to really notice, though.

After a quick peek at the kayaks, I went straight upstairs to the back room looking at shoes and clothing (shirts, pants, coats, socks, etc..) There were tons of shoes! There were about six tables with shoes on top, plus big cardboard boxes under each one that were all overflowing with shoes! The majority of them were pretty beat up, though, and I certainly was not paying 50-60% of retail for dirty shoes with loose stitching.

stretched shoe tag

I kept at it, though, and my first find was a pair of La Sportiva Oxygym climbing shoes that looked brand new. For $33, I couldn’t pass them up. I was so excited that I slipped my feet in right away, and wow, a perfect fit! This was a $99 shoe with an expected $9.90 dividend. Had I purchased new, that’s still about $90. A garage sale savings of $57.

I spotted more rock climbing shoes than I expected. Next up was the La Sportiva Nago, which was basically my size and felt great. But they were $50 and noticeably worn. Not a good value by comparison! Then there was a really expensive pair, the Testarossa I believe, which is a $175 shoe! Unfortunately, both soles were nearly worn through everywhere, and the uppers were totally beat. The reason for the return was “customer wore for 6 months and they developed hole in sole.” Are you freaking kidding me?! This is where you buy new shoes, not cheat the REI system.

[Side note: I went back upstairs later and the beat up Testarossa’s were gone. I guess someone thought the uppers were nice enough to get re-soled.]

Unfortunately, by the time I got to the rest of the tables and bins, the good deals were gone. Some stuff was alright, but either too broken or too expensive.

I almost bought a nice Jade yoga mat that was basically brand new and 50% off. The customer used once, but “it was too heavy.” I bet that was a great deal for someone; I just didn’t need a mat.

Then I found some nice thin gloves I wanted for XC skiing, but looked at the tag and they were $25. I can usually find good enough gloves for $10, so I skipped those.

Then I noticed a box of socks. Used socks must be super cheap, right? Nope. The used socks were $8, hmm, no thanks.

boxes and bins of products

That wasn’t the worst of it though. Some stuff was absolute garbage I wouldn’t expect to see in a yard sale for any more than 25 cents. But inside REI I found a broken water bottle cage for $3. I’m not sure which was worse, that or the used bicycle tube!

One table had quite a few decent headlamps ($30-40 new) for $15-25, except… they were broken. Some had electrical issues, along with broken pieces (the fragile plastic hinges.) I was shocked, considering you can get a headlamp that good, brand new, at a Sierra Trading Post sale for less. No joke – with a coupon for STP, it’s under $20 for a brand new Black Diamond Spot or Princeton Tec Remix LED headlamp (which retail for $40.)

After a few more laps around the store looking for hidden gems or items people put back on the table, I made my purchase, and was happy to have found one good deal!

Then I bragged about my find on Twitter and Instagram using hashtag #REIGarageSale. 🙂

 

Having an REI membership is awesome even if you don’t have a local REI store. But if you have time and it’s not too far out of your way, it’s a lot of fun to attend a garage sale! I recommend going, just go in with low expectations and enjoy the thrill!

Have you ever been to an REI garage sale?

Would you like to share any tips of your own?

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1 Comment
  1. That sale this morning was like Christmas come early!!

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coach levi
Hi, I'm Coach Levi. I'm a USA Cycling Certified Level 3 Coach as well as Level 1 Certified with Precision Nutrition. Want to feel better, ride faster, and look great? Let's work together!

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