Some people stand in line for the newest cellphone, while others for Black Friday specials. Me? This weekend I queued up for the REI Garage Sale at the Seattle flagship store.

REI has a famously generous return policy (some joke their name stands for “Rental Equipment Incorporated”). Perhaps you’ve wondered what happened to those boots you wore once and returned? Well, they end up at the garage sale: a regular event where REI opens its vault of cut-price, barely used or slightly defective outdoor gear.

The catch? All sales are final and it is first-come, first-serve. Yes, the sooner you get there, the better the gear on offer. That’s why I spent the early morning hours sitting on a sidewalk waiting for REI to open. The event isn’t exactly a secret either, so despite my early arrival, there were 200+ people in front of me. Some had slept overnight, while others arrived before sunrise.

At 8:30 AM, we were hustled into a corral in the REI garage (making it, literally, a “garage” sale) and everyone nervously checked out the competition. A half hour later, 9AM sharp, they turned on some rodeo music, told us to “be nice to each other”, and opened the gates for the first 200 people.

[quote position=”right”]At the REI garage sale, the early bird gets the worm backpack.[/quote]

REI limits your time to 30 minutes, so at 9:30 it was our turn at the deals. Thankfully, my wife and I had a game plan. The week earlier, I’d scoped-out new boots and she had her heart set on a new backpack. Staggeringly, we both got exactly what we were looking for. We also picked up a new sleeping pad, some outerwear, and super-light daypack. Everything was 50% to 75% off the original price so we saved about $530.

Three REI Garage sale tips

  1. Get there early: While this almost goes without saying, you might need to get there earlier than you expect. We arrived at 6:45AM and there were still 200+ people in front of us. While my wife got the pack she wanted, the rest of the good ones were gone within minutes. REI puts new gear throughout the day, and towards closing, they start steeply cutting prices. In the afternoon, a friend of ours got a great sleeping pad for $1. If you’re late (or you return after a few hours), you may still get lucky.
  2. Plan ahead: My wife and I knew what we wanted, down the the brand and exact model number. This is particularly important for things that require a personal fit, like shoes or a pack. This also helps you save time since you don’t need to spend extra time trying on different options. I left my shoe search for last since I figured there’d be less competition for my shoe size. The strategy worked this time, but your milage may vary. And remember, there are no returns, so make sure you know you want it.
  3. Check the tags: Each item will have a reason why it was returned written on the tag. Typically it was either personal preference (didn’t fit right) or a defect (usually minor). A slightly defective item can often be easily repaired, particularly if it’s just a thread loose, missing part, or slight tear.

With our new(ish) gear, we were ready to hit the trails.

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