Just like Subaru Outbacks and Toyota Tacomas, some kinds of outdoor gear last longer than others—and can withstand the abuse of multiple owners. To find out which items you should buy used, I spoke with Josh Sims, owner of the Gear Fix, a Bend, Oregon–based shop that repairs and sells used gear. Here are his top six suggestions on what to look for when you’re scouring shops and websites for killer deals on preloved gear.
You can find used Coleman cookstoves for cheap and broken ones for even cheaper. If you find one that doesn’t work, buy it and take into a repair shop, or just Google “how to fix a Coleman stove,” and you’ll soon have a working model for much less than you’d pay for a new one. Heads up: Avoid stoves that are completely rusted out—they take too much work to repair. Broken gas pumps, however, are no problem. They’re usually easy to fix with a new gasket.
Sims suggests beginners always go the preowned route because used backpacks cost a fraction of new ones and are easy to find on Craigslist or in used-gear shops. Older, broken-in packs will probably be a little heavier than modern models yet plenty comfortable, as long as you have the right size. You should also try on the pack when it’s weighed down so you know how it carries. When you’re inspecting the pack, pay close attention to zippers and buckles. A discolored buckle usually means it’s frail and needs to be replaced. A broken zipper pull is no problem, but a broken zipper could set you back $75.
Canoes and Kayaks
“I don’t see any reason to buy a new boat, unless you want a shiny boat,” Sims says. Older boats might have scratches and scuffs, but they’ll work just fine if they’re structurally intact. Look for boats made from rotomolded or extruded plastic (instead of fiberglass or light layup plastic), because these boats are more durable. If you see a crack or a patch, don’t buy the boat. Also beware of dents. Some will pop out. Others, like the ones boats get from sitting in one place for too long, stay there and affect the craft’s performance.
If you’re not racing, you don’t need a fancy pair of Nordic skis. Any old pair you find—as long as they’re in decent shape, mounted with decent binding, and the right length—will be plenty fun on the trails. Here’s how to test the skis: Run your hand along the base to see if the fish scales still have some bite to keep you from slipping backwards on uphill climbs—they should be quite rough, not worn smooth. Check the camber by putting the skis together, bottom to bottom, to see if they form a nice oval shape. Finally, look to see if any part of the ski is delaminating; if it is, pass. For bindings, make sure they’ll properly hold and release your boot.
Sims likes to turn old beat-up mountain bikes into commuters because they’re reliable, their fat tires are great for potholed streets, and because they’re fairly easy to find for cheap. When looking for a bike, try to find one that’s been cared for. Avoid rusted and dented frames, and stay away from rusted components because they’re expensive to replace. Rusty chains and worn-out tires, on the other hand, are easy to fix.
Kids grow fast, so it doesn’t make sense to shell out for the newest stuff every season. Thankfully, their gear tends to retain its value, so you can often buy a used back carrier, and then sell it for almost the same price two years down the road. Check out ski swaps and end-of-season sales for the best deals.