Here’s an in-depth guide on how to buy climbing gear on a budget through outlets, discount stores, alternate market deals, gear rental shops and buying used gear.
Honestly, climbing is an expensive hobby. One of the most expensive there is. But once you set up your kits and sets, they pay for themselves over time. But we get it. In the beginning, it can be hard to purchase everything all at once and pay for permits, travel and all that good stuff.
To start, you can try a mix of buying and renting while you gather your final gear list – if there is such a thing. Let’s just be clear, there’s always something new to buy.
Buying Climbing Gear on a Budget
There’s a difference between buying on a budget and buying cheap, dangerously weak gear. You have to find a mix of value and quality. For this, begin by establishing which trusted brands you can rely on.
In climbing, some brands are just better than others, but like all things, there are other brands where you’re just paying for the name (on some items).
Climbing Gear Outlets
One of the preferred options for buying affordable climbing gear are outlets. Some major brands also have outlet stores that can be shopped even online. Here are some examples of climbing gear outlets.
A top option for budget climbing gear is the REI Outlet. The store offers low prices for some of the best gear in the game. On occasion, they have steep sales of up to 70% off retail prices.
Steep & Cheap
Steep and Cheap is Backpacker’s outlet shop and it also offers steep discounts. This site allows you to shop sales by brand. Or you can shop the Bargain Bin with options of up to 80% off, items under $15, items under $30, or shop by category.
Sierra Trading Post
Another option is Sierra Trading Post, which is a brand owned by the TJX conglomerate. They do have an online shop where you can purchase select climbing/hiking gear for way less than big-name stores. They also carry big brands like C.A.M.P. and Petzl.
As a final option for minor gear knickknacks, you can shop the outdoor sections of TJMaxx, Marshalls or Homegoods. All of these stores are sister stores to Sierra Trading Post and offer deals on sorted gear items here and there.
While TJMaxx and Marshalls now have online stores, it’s better to shop in-store for this kind of stuff. Finding something is hit and miss, but if you have one nearby, make a habit of taking a gander every couple of days as the items change often.
On any given trip, I’ve personally found:
- Ski helmets, goggles, skis, ski poles
- Yeti ramblers
- Backpacks, waterproof bags, hydration bags
- portable stoves, headlamps, ice cleats…
Amazon/REI/Backpacker Gear Price Comparisons:
One of the best markets to buy trusted brands for a bit cheaper is Amazon. Often, even if you can’t find the exact brand you want, you’ll be able to find your runner up for less. Sometimes, your top brand may have some options on Amazon for less.
In a price comparison test we ran, we used Amazon as the budget market and REI and Backpacker as the premium market.
Black Diamond Solution Men’s Climbing Harness
Right now, the Black Diamond Solution Men’s Climbing Harness is $74.95 on the Black Diamond website. It’s the same price on REI. However, this particular harness in the slate/black color is available on Amazon for $69.94 for all sizes. We’ve just saved $5.01, and it will add up.
Osprey Atmos AG 50 Men’s Backpack
Similarly, the Osprey Atmos AG 50 Men’s backpack is available through REI for $240 flat for all three colors and sizes. That’s okay, but let’s look at Amazon. On Amazon, it’s available in three colors, Abyss Grey, Rigby Red, and Unity Blue. The Abyss Grey Medium, Rigby Red Small and Rigby Red Medium all are selling for $239.95, which isn’t much of a difference from the REI price.
However, when you look deeper, you’ll find some gems. The Abyss Grey Small, Abyss Grey Large and the Unity Blue Medium are also selling for $239.95, but you can purchase them on a 5-installment payment plan of $47.99. There’s no credit check to use Amazon’s installment plan. This option gives you five months to pay off a great pack that’s going to last.
If you choose the last option, you just saved $15, $20 total so far. If you choose the payment plan, you saved $192.01 today and have time to pay it off.
Osprey Atmos AG 50 Men’s Backpack Amazon Price Breakdown:
- $239.95 Abyss Grey Small 5 payments
- $239.95 Abyss Grey Medium
- $239.95 Abyss Grey Large 5 payments
- $239.94 Rigby Red Small
- $239.93 Rigby Red Medium
- $233.52 Rigby Red Large
- $230.00 Unity Blue Small (10 left)
- $239.95 Unity Blue Medium 5 Payments
- $225.00 Unity Blue Large (3 left)
Backcountry Access Tracker S Rescue Package
Avalanche safety gear is something that costs an arm and a leg, but if you ever need it, it pays for itself with your life. The Backcountry Access Tracker S Rescue Package on Amazon is another example of alternate-market savings. The rescue package isn’t available via the Backcountry website as a kit, but the individual items are.
The Backcountry Access Tracker S Rescue Package includes the following items:
- BCA Tracker S Avalanche Beacon
- BCA Stealth 270cm Avalanche Probe
- BCA B-1 EXT Avalanche Shovel
On Backcountry, the BCA Tracker S Avalanche Beacon sells for $299.95, and the BCA Stealth 270cm Avalanche Probe sells for $59.95. We couldn’t find the BCA B-1 EXT Avalanche Shovel on Backcountry. But a similar one, the Backcountry Access B52 Extendable Shovel, sells for $59.95. Together, you’re looking at $419.85.
The Backcountry Access Tracker S Rescue Package on Amazon sells for $379.95. We’ve just saved $39.90 and $59.90 total so far.
Renting Climbing Gear
Another option for getting gear when you need it on a budget is by renting it. While you set up your permanent climbing gear sets, you can offset some upfront costs by renting some gear. For this, we prefer some options like REI’s renting system.
REI offers gear-renting in six categories, camping/hiking, cycling, car racks, paddling, snow and climbing gear. The latter is what we’re interested in. Depending on your local store locations, pricing will vary. Also, being a member of the REI Cooperative applies savings.
REI Gear Rentals
You can opt for a basic mountaineering package which includes 1 Ice Axe, 1 Pair of Crampons, 1 Helmet and 1 Pair of Mountaineering Boots. For members, this will only set you back $40 and $8 for every additional night. Non-members pay $60 and $12 respectively, plus a $100 deposit.
REI Member Prices for A La Carte Rental Items:
- Helmets $6 + $2 for every additional night
- Crampons $15 + $3/add’l night
- Ice Axes $8 + $2/add’l night
- Plastic Mountaineering Boots $30 + $6/add’l night
- Leather Mountaineering Boots $38 + $8/add’l night
- Mountaineering Tents $65 + $13/add’l night
REI Non-Member Prices for A La Carte Rental Items:
- Helmets $9 + $3 for every additional night
- Crampons $23 + $5/add’l night
- Ice Axes $12 +$3/add’l night
- Plastic Mountaineering Boots $45 + $9/add’l night
- Leather Mountaineering Boots $57 + $12/add’l night
- Mountaineering Tents $100 + $20/add’l night
For non-members, a $100 deposit applies for all items with the exception of the mountaineering tents, which require a $200 deposit.
While you research the brands you like to use and make your lists of permanent gear, you can offset the costs over a few months by renting minor items.
Alpine Institute Gear Rentals
Another option is the Alpine Institute Gear Rental shop. Some prices here are a little more affordable. For example, Leather mountaineering boots go for $35 for the first day. But rentals aren’t by-the-day, but spans of days, 1, 2-3, 4-7, 8-14 days to be exact.
The Alpine Institute Gear Rental shop loans out some gear online, but most of their lineup is made available by phone. Their general requirements for renting gear is as follows:
- Valid photo ID and credit card required for all rentals.
- For non-clients, all advanced rental reservations need to be paid in full. Any cancellations will be refunded at 50%.
- Current AAI clients receive 15% off of their rental prices.
- Students with valid student ID and climbing club members with proof of membership receive 10% off rental prices.
- We do have an After Hours return, please call or email if this is needed.
- An additional day will be charged for each day rental equipment is returned late.
- For non-online rentals, you can call 360-671-1570 to reserve.
Alpine Institute Rental Gear Includes:
- Avalanche safety gear from $9
- Ascent snow shows/trekking poles from $15/$10
- Skis/snowboards from $55
- Mountaineering Boots/crampons/gaiters from $18/$16/12
- Ice Axes from $33
- Harness/backpacks/helmets from $10/$29/$12
- Tents from $31
- Sleeping Bags/pads from $8/$6
- Portable stoves/Bear Canisters from $5/$10
- Clothing from $13
On ClimbingRentals.com there is more of a wider selection and some prices are a bit more affordable. So this is an option to look at. Their portable stoves include Jetboil for $18/day, and their rental selection also includes belay devices, goggles, gloves and headlamps.
Borrowing OR Buying Used Gear
If buying new or renting doesn’t work for you, to start off, there’s nothing wrong with buying quality, used gear or borrowing time-tested gear. This reminds me of the late Tom Ballard.
Before he died on Nanga Parbat in 2019, a film was made about him in 2015, which followed his journey across the Alps. He completed the Great North Faces of the Alps during a winter season, something his mother had done in a summer season decades ago.
The film gives us a glimpse into Tom’s climbing life, which, before sponsors and the beginnings of his fame, was very humble. Tom climbed mostly with old gear his mother had used before she died. The gear was time-tested, quality gear that he was able to build his climbing career on. So, if you get the chance to use some hand-me-downs, don’t turn them down for new gear if they’re still in working order.
The question is what kind of gear is okay to buy used and what’s not. Generally, these gear items should not be bought used:
- Rope – you should be knowledgable of how the rope you use has been stored or used. Improper storage can weaken rope, abuse or overuse limits the lifespan of rope. It’s better to buy this new.
- Helmets and Harnesses – For comfort and safety, you should buy your harnesses new. This way, you’ll be able to know it fits well and it will come with proper usage instructions/weight limits for that specific model. It’s hard to tell if a helmet has received a major blow that weakened its strength.
Almost all other gear can be purchased used without much of an issue including clothing, crampons and axes.
Places to Buy Used Gear Online
There are some used gear shops online to start with if you don’t know anyone with gear they’re willing to loan out. Some of these are gear trading shops.
- REI Good & Used
- Mountain Project For-Sale Forum
- Mountain Equipment Co-Op – Canada
- Cascade Climbers
- Gear Trade
Hopefully, this will help climbers who are starting out to build their gear sets on a budget. If you have any questions, leave a comment below.