More gear on the cheap

Outdoor stores are expensive. Places that aren’t outdoor stores but sell outdoor gear aren’t. Here’s some surprising places to buy outdoor gear.


Stores or companies that specialize in selling outdoor products often have products that are, well, expensive.

There are various reasons for the expense of these products:

  • Smaller volume of sales means the prices are going to be expensive
  • The quality of the product is often quite good, which does raise the price
  • Recuperating costs of design, testing and marketing is a large factor of the price

Ultimately though, I think it is because it is what the market will bear: We, the consumers, are conditioned to pay a certain price for items and outdoor manufacturers and stores can charge accordingly.

But what happens when you sell a fleece beanie at a hardware store? Or purchase nylon wind pants through a dance supply company? Or buy safety glasses through a contracting supply company?

It means these items, not typically sold for outdoors people,  are considerably less expensive than typical outdoor gear and clothing items.

The items are typically made in bulk. While the quality is not quite as good as say Patagonia, they are good enough.  There is minimal marketing, testing and design dollars to recuperate on the products.  And, I think this is the important point,  the market is aimed at a different consumer. (For example, a fleece beanie at Home Depot is sold for $2 and not $25).

So what does that mean? It means that a surprising amount of outdoor items can be bought without spending a lot of money.  Certain items are worth every penny (sleeping bags and shelters immediately come to mind). But does a $5 fleece hat perform less well than the $25 one? Probably not. 🙂

So, in that vein, here are some sources of cheap gear and clothing.

In previous articles, I’ve written about items that can be bought, I’ve often mentioned inexpensive gear. In particular, items that can be bought  at:

But what has amazed me over the past few months is that places that do not sell outdoor gear per se have an amazing amount of items for sale that are inexpensive and functional.  They may not be quite as refined as higher end items (in some cases), but for a person on a budget or beats on their gear, the lesser priced items can be a good alternative.

Some interesting items I’ve found in the past few months:

  • Walgreens: Winter socks and hats for less than $5. A Patagonia down sweater clone that is synthetic vs down. Costs $20.  Probably a good alternative to the m-65 liner jacket.
  • Home Depot:  Fleece hats for $2. Gloves for less than $10.  These items are a quick, impulse buy for those working outside all day and forget/need a warm hat and gloves.   Home depot also sells an amazing array of headlamps and flashlights that often come with  batteries.
  • Marshalls / TJ Maxx:  Amazing the amount of name brand athletic clothing sold there. Surplus from last year or factory seconds (Darn Tough socks, for example)
  • “Real outdoor gear” that happens to be used for something else: Not sold for the outdoors, but because they are made in large quantity for other pursuits, they are inexpensive.  Contractor safety glasses and unlined warm up pants come to mind.
  • Grocery Stores: I’ve seen winter hats, gloves, balaclavas and even light fleece jackets for sale there.

Just a few more ideas to outfit yourself on a budget. Sometimes it is not even a matter of money, but outdoor gear can get thrashed. Better to use a lesser expensive item in some cases. While I would not want to use a Walmart sleeping bag, a $2 fleece hat from Home Depot does the job quite well.

More gear for the frugal backpacker here….

NoteSome readers have taken umbrage at this post claiming I am dissing outfitters. To quote my own article Certain items are worth every penny (sleeping bags and shelters immediately come to mind). But does a $5 fleece hat perform less well than the $25 one? Probably not.”    

This article is merely a way to look at some less expensive alternatives that aren’t sold in a traditional outfitter.  I doubt I’ll be buying a 850 down quilt at Home Depot any time soon but I sure as heck seeing nothing wrong with buying a $5 fleece beanie there. 😉



8 Replies to “More gear on the cheap”

  1. You have three cheap areas here that you really can’t compare, I was going to say two but we’ll go with three. So while all in cheap/inexpensive, here is why they deserve their non-compairison:

    Military gear: Often built well but also often sized for men and have very limited colours and design features.

    Costco/hardware gear: Cheap but often cheaply made, you may find some gems. Lots more colour, sizes, and features.

    Thrift store gear: Here is my reason for writting this. Thrift stoe gear can be high tech hiking brands for cheap, it can be Costco gear for cheap, and it can be military gear for cheap.

    So I think the main focus of the article is/should be on high end hiking gear stores compared to mass consumer store gear. Thrift stores and/or military surplus stores are something different.

    1. I disagree as I found plenty of good, solid gear in all places. It is gear on the cheap…not “The Gear Categories That James of Canada Thinks Would Make A Good Article” 🙂

      1. well said pmags…
        the trolls just can’t stay off of other people’s pages.
        i didn’t see you write “hey, i’m asking your permission to write things on my own fucking page and if you don’t give it you should try and hijack my posts rather than go back to your page n0 0ne goes to. what’s that? you don’t have a page? awwwe…butthurt much???”
        i know. this post was old but i just read it…
        thanks for the confirmation of resources we know and the education of those we don’t…
        may i humbly add sportman’s guide for perusal…
        and their sherpa lined fleece cpo shirts are BADASSERY…
        keep carrying the full strength troll spray…
        and ignore>>>ignore>>>COMPLETELY ignore.
        they WILL dissolve into the ether if you do this COMPLETELY.

          1. if you go there right now they have the rag wool mittens that are openable to gloves and swiss ones with trigger fingers…
            guide gear down jacket 600-700 fill $30

  2. Great article and I totally agree with you : we can often find an enormous amount of outdoor gear at non specialized outdoor gear stores. You could also write an article on “free outdoor gear”, because most of the time, people already have many articles in their closets. For example, a while ago, I found a very old and no longer used cashmere sweater which now serves as a great middle layer! Lightweight, and keeps me warm even when wet, all for the cost of verifying my closet first 🙂

  3. Totally late to this topic, but since it’s a commonplace discussion, I wanted to add my own frugal tips. I was born and raised in a cheap family, so it’s a genetic predisposition I have.

    Dollar Tree:
    painter’s tarp/window shrink; lots of dried fruits and veggies, along with plenty of other food items; Tupperware knockoffs I’ve used for no cook rehydrating: all the plastic cutlery your heart desires; I typically refill my FAK from here, they sell small stock ones as well as many other otc meds, $1 for 60 vitamin i …hello!! Perused the “hardware” section and found plenty of stuff to re-use for packing, duct tape/electrical, those car window shields we all love, mine is Hello Kitty but still works, crappy mini biners, ziploc bags, trash bags… I love their single use super glue for my repair kit; bandanas, microfiber towels, I also resuse their eye dropper bottles… I’m sure I’m forgetting quite a bit.

    Flea markets; I’ve found sooo many new and used items from trail cameras to a yeti soft cooler to bulk lithium batteries. The one’s out west have been best for finding some true outdoor gems. w
    When in Colorado Springs I frequent the weekend ones as much as possible.

    Academy Sports;
    I came across this atrocious monolith to cheap gear while in Winston Salem. Picked up two pairs of Salomon and Brookes for myself and my mother who wears these to work, for under $60. They have everything from generic brands to obvious overflow/bankrupt stores. I get a lot of my paddle gear there.

    Ollies/Roses/Gabriel Brothers (Gabes), Marshalls etc.;
    I hit these places up out of curiosity and have found A LOT of items. I’ve found brand name trail runners, lots of wool or poly thermals, Marshalls had Marmot Precip jackets, the company Avalanche sells quite a bit of outdoor/workout related gear for super cheap.

    The discount grocery stores are the bomb!;
    At Aldis I’ve purchased everything from (very comfy) leggings with softshell material and zips that keep my buns toasty, wool blend socks for $5, softshell jackets, I even purchased a 40L pack for my son here for $20. I didn’t think it would see much use but he actually loves it and I tried it to find it was pretty damn comfy. They usually have decent hardware sections too. Lidl, which is a competitor of Aldi, has plenty of the same types of items for the same cheap prices. Also carry a variety of marketed “healthy” foods that are freeze dried, nuts, summer sausage, instant espresso etc., are cheap here too.

    Definitely not cheap, but CAN BE, is Dicks. Along the same vein of REI Dicks has (free) memberships.
    The main difference (and why I’m listing it), is that you can use an unlimited amount of coupons on one purchase along with your member points.
    For example;
    I purchased my son a $300+ TNF setup for winter here for under $80 with no sales or the like, just with store cash I’d accumulated.

    At thrift stores I’ve found that searching the teens section tends to bring out more outdoor clothing; many parents donate old sports uniforms and boys tend to wear more technical fabrics than the items you’ll find on adult racks, I often DO find women’s tech clothing mislabeled in youth boys at a lot of them.

    Wal-Mart actually has some decent SUMMER bags.
    I picked up two 40° synthetics for kiddos to use and one my mother converted into a dog bivy. They were both at exactly a lb each, before we modified the one for the dog, not too shabby.

    P.S.; if anyone hikes with their mutt, my local Pet Value gives me freeze dried and powdered dog food, which is ridiculously expensive, for FREE! No one ever buys it and local shelters won’t accept it for donation as they have to mix it!! So she saves it for me and I pick it up every few months for NOTHING. No money spent is what I strive for.

    Literally, dumpster dive. No, no, don’t jump in any old dumpster. If your local laws allow it (look for scavenging as the keyword), you can pilfer anything from brand new furniture to working xbox systems (seriously game stop?!). Sometimes just asking store owners and managers if you could look for anything recyclable/reusable, they could care less.
    Avoid Wal-Mart, they purposefully dump paint and other grossness onto things ppl may reuse, which is pretty terrible imo.

    Hope my cheap ramblings save someone some cash!

    I know this is a lot of text, but if you’re like us and have a family (we have three newly adopted children, have raised five altogether), money is hard to come by. I have expensive gear where it matters, but I detest wasteful spending and our society’s need to buy and throw away.

    I’d prefer to save money to head out somewhere nice and give my kids a head start at life and new experiences than spend $150 on a Patagonia fleece that works the same as my $20 one. Thanks so much for sharing your frugal experiences with us, and no one cares what Canadians have to say, James;)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Subscribe without commenting