The first thing you notice when you walk through a store like Atmosphere or MEC will probably be that hiking and camping gear is EXPENSIVE. A beginner planning their first multi-day trip could easily find themselves shelling out thousands of dollars for the right backpack, sleeping bag, boots, camp stove, etc. While there are some things that might be best bought new if possible (such as hiking boots), there is a lot of outdoor clothing that can be found for a fraction of the price second hand.
You may also want to test things out before paying full price for them. This is the perfect way to try a variety of brands and materials and find exactly what will work for you out on the trail. I have made the mistake of going out a buying a bunch of brand new gear, only to find myself repurchasing the following year because it wasn’t quite suited to my preferences and needs.
Before buying your gear brand new, take a look through your local thrift shops or online buy and sell pages, you might just find top quality gear at a very reasonable price. Keep an eye out for half price sale days or coupons to get even more bang for your buck.
So you’ve made it to your local second hand store, and may now be feeling a little overwhelmed by the racks of clothing and dedicated shoppers around you, but if you take your time you just might leave with some treasures.
Tops and Jackets
The first section I usually head for is the jackets and sweaters. I look for good layering options like fleece and puffy coats with a synthetic insulation. While the brand name does not necessarily mean best quality, it makes it easier to find pieces of clothing built for the outdoors.
Keep an eye out for brands like Columbia, Patagonia, The North Face, Salomon, Smartwool, or any other well known outdoor company. I usually look at the label first to save myself the time of examining every individual piece of clothing.
Once you have found something you like, it’s a good idea to try it on to make sure the sizing is accurate and that all of the snaps and zippers work. Check the materials to make sure you’re picking up something hiking friendly (no cotton!).
Also resist the urge to buy something simply because it’s a brand name, if it doesn’t fit you comfortably you likely won’t reach for it.
Pants and Shorts
After searching for tops, I head to the athletic pants section. You’ll find that trendy brands like Nike and Lululemon are often highly priced at Value Village ($30-$40 yikes), but keep and eye out for them at places like the Salvation Army, or smaller local thrift shops where prices are often more reasonable. I prefer to avoid leggings because, in my opinion, they tend to show more wear or pilling, but have found some great pairs of joggers and running shorts.
When looking for hiking pants, make sure you check the regular or dress pants section as well, I have often spotted hiking brands hidden amongst the office wear.
Try out a few different stores in your city, you may notice trends in different areas and some may be better suited for what you are searching for.
I stay away from buying running/hiking shoes second hand because they often have a fair bit of wear and I have no way of knowing if they will be good to put a lot of miles on. I do, however, look for shoes that I know I’ll only be using to walk around camp. Take a close look at the condition of the shoes, a brand name isn’t worth it if they’re nearly falling apart.
It’s important to completely clean and disinfect shoes that you buy. Fill up a sink or bathtub and scrub them, put soles or any soft shoes through the washing machine, and use bleach disinfecting wipes. Often after a little TLC your pair will look almost new.
I have found a pair of women’s swift water Crocs (I paid $8 and they retail for $55) in near brand new condition that I took on the West Coast Trail, a simple pair of water shoes ($4) for crossing rivers, and a pair of Timberlands (I paid $14 and they retail for $145) for a more sturdy/ colder weather camp boot. Success!
Hopefully these tips will help you find some great pieces of clothing to keep you comfortable no matter the weather.
Happy thrifting, happy hiking!