I’m going to take a break from my gear evaluations to discuss something equally important: where to get this stuff.
Buy It New
If you are buying new stuff, it’s hard to do better than Recreational Equipment, Inc., better known as REI. Their stores are large, well stocked, and staffed with folks who are better than average when it comes to hiking knowledge.
As good as their stores are, the online experience is even better. I can’t imagine a more comprehensive array of hiking products, including close-outs and “outlet” type merchandise. They also have some pretty amazing on-line sales events. Thinking about purchasing that pricey down sleeping bag? Why not wait until you get one of their “30%” coupons in your email?
Two more reasons why I’m high on REI: the return policy and your member refund.
If you are not satisfied with an item for any reason (fit, function, etc.), you can return it for a full refund within one year of purchase, pretty much no questions asked. As amazing as that is, it’s actually less lenient than the lifetime return policy they had in place until recently. (You can still return the item for a refund, at any time, if it has a manufacturing defect in its materials or workmanship).
Top all of that off with a nearly 10% refund each year, which can be spent at REI for even more great stuff.
Buy It Used
I hate to repeat myself, but if you have an REI in your neighborhood, this is a great choice. Call ahead to find out how often they have used gear sales, then drop by and be prepared to be surprised; much of the “used” gear are customer returns that are barely scuffed.
Another terrific resource is at www.lwhiker.com. This website compiles list of items for sale from Backpackinglight, Trailspace, Hammock Forums, Whiteblaze, Cascade Climbers, Mountain Project and Summit Post.
Backpacker magazine has a list of top-rated used gear stores, although there isn’t one every city.
Beyond that there is always Craigslist and Ebay, although I would be cautious with either.
Make It Yourself
With the widespread acceptance of the ultralight approach to backpacking, and the advent of the internet, the make-your-own-gear (MYOG) community is thriving. Done right, it’s a great way to carry high-quality gear that is custom made for your body and hiking style. Plus, instead of discarding something if it is damaged, chances are that if you made it, you can fix it.
Good hiking, Ray