When it comes to sustainable outdoor gear and clothing, we love companies who care about the materials they use and the footprints they leave. Brands like Patagonia, BioLite, Toad&Co and Cotopaxi. But while buying new gear from brands who care about the planet is an excellent choice, there’s another option that’s even more eco-friendly (and cost-effective): buying used gear and clothing. Here’s why (and how).
Why Buy Used?
Because even when a pair of hiking shoes or a backpack or pants or a button up are made from recycled plastic bottles or remnant fabric or, I dunno, coconut fiber, the process of manufacturing new materials – even if they are made from old materials or natural fibers – uses tons of energy and pumps massive amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
Of course, many companies that care about the outdoors and their environmental footprint strives to offset their negative impact (like the carbon-neutral outdoor brands we wrote about in this post), but what’s even better than that is filling your gear closet with materials and products that already exist. For one, it keeps new material from having to be produced and aging materials out of the landfill before their time.
Where Buy Used?
Fortunately, there are plenty of places to find quality used clothing and gear. We always start at Goodwill for clothing. You can suit up for pennies on the dollar and still find great brands (and off-brands) that are often still in amazing shape and cost only a few bucks (compared to $80+ for a brand new pair of pants or a synthetic base layer). For clothing that’s been well-loved, sometimes all it takes to spruce up a used rain jacket is a wash and re-waterproofing or quick patch-job. Fortunately, we did a whole post and video about how to repair outdoor gear in this post and video.
Goodwill is also a great place to find used car camping gear. While we haven’t found a lot of stellar equipment for backpacking, we do occasionally see camp stoves, big tents, folding camp chairs and more at thrift stores that are great if you’re not concerned about size or weight. Naturally, the closer the thrift store is to outdoorsy epicenters like Denver, Salt Lake City, Burlington, etc., the more likely you are to find a good selection of outdoorsy stuff. And don’t forget that Goodwill has an online auction site where you can bid on big-ticket items and might get lucky if you find tents, snowboards, and more!
Which leads me to my next suggestion: for a better range of higher quality and brand name outdoor gear and clothing, including equipment, visit a local used gear shop. What we wouldn’t give to have a shop like Denver’s Wilderness Exchange in Austin! But many outdoorsy cities and destinations have a used gear shop (or a consignment section inside a local outdoor store). Check there and you’ll likely find more outdoor-specific items, if at a slightly higher cost.
REI Garage Sale
Honestly, I get way too excited about the REI Garage Sales, which are like Black Friday for outdoor enthusiasts, but multiple times a year. If you’re not familiar with the concept, the events are an opportunity to snag epic deals on used and returned gear (REI has a very flexible return policy). Depending on the location, it’s either first-come-first-served and you stand in line for an hour or more beforehand in order to get first pass of the loot, or you’ll get a ticket, which will be drawn lottery-style in groups of numbers or colors to determine when you get access to the floor. It’s wild. I love it. But we’ve scored great deals (50% off or more) on bear canisters, tents, rain covers, pants, you name it. You do need a membership to participate, but it’s only $20 for life and is totally worth it in our book. Find out more about membership here.
Finally, shop online to find used equipment. I’ve bought gear on Ebay and Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace and more, and always gotten a great deal on big-ticket items I was looking to buy (like our Big Agnes Fly Creek or Osprey Atmos 50). Plus, many large online retailers like REI have used gear sections with all manner of sustainable outdoor gear that you can snatch up! Other sites like GearTrade, Moosejaw ReTrail, and Switchbackr.com offer a place to buy or sell used gear, from skis to running shoes, tents to sleeping bags and everything in between! So take a look online before you buy new to see what might be out there.
Bottom Line: The Most Sustainable Outdoor Gear is Used Outdoor Gear
So when it’s time to update your gear closet (or outdoor clothing drawer – or drawers, if we’re being realistic), shop used first for the most sustainable outdoor gear. And save yourself a few bucks (or a few hundred) in the process. And when it’s time for you to upgrade, if you haven’t worn through the knees or torn all the seams or your gear isn’t literally falling apart on your back, sell it or donate it so someone else can get a few more years of use out of it before it get’s retired for good. With a little love (and sometimes some elbow grease, even worn used gear can still have plenty of life (and miles) left it in.
This post contains affiliate links, which means when you buy used gear after clicky-clicking on a link, we can buy used gear, too. Also, you help support Terradrift and our mission to get more people outdoors sustainably, which is also pretty dope.
Alisha is a freelance outdoor journalist and photographer based in Ogden, UT. She loves backpacking, hiking, mountain biking, kayaking and snowboarding (even though she’s terrible at it). She’s also pretty sure she’s addicted to coffee. alishamcdarris.com