I’ll tell you, but you can’t read this while at work—you’ll end up shopping on company time.
There are lots of good web sites for outdoor equipment, and I’m sure I've overlooked some. But here's where I shop:
1. REI.com. It's the granddaddy of outdoor web sites, just as REI itself is the granddaddy of outdoor gear stores. REI “got” the Internet early, and it didn't take them long to move from a catalog on the web to a site that melds their real-world and online stores. Today the REI site is well-organized, easy to navigate, provides tons of filtering options for narrowing a search, and has lots of expert advice on how to buy and use gear. REI.com/outlet is a great place to find bargain gear. You can ship an item to a store for pickup, too.
2. Mountaingear.com. This site, headquartered near Spokane, Washington, is a little more specialized. You can find lots of all-purpose backpacking gear, but the emphasis is really on climbing. Need rock shoes? They offer 90 different types. A dynamic single climbing rope? Forty nine. Crampons? They offer 40, from full-on ice-climbing crampons to simple strap-ons. The site isn’t the most visually pleasing on the web, but the navigation and filtering tools work well and you can find what you need fast.
3. Sierratradingpost.com. One of the first discount sites, selling seconds and overstocks, and today maybe the biggest. A typical deal is a Marmot Titan three-person backpacking tent for $178, 25 percent off retail. Or Asolo FSN 85 hiking boots for $120, 30 percent off retail. Sierra Trading Post even has some esoteric items, such as climbing harnesses (Black Diamond Ozone, $75, 25 percent off retail). Some deals run to more than 60 percent off, and the only tradeoff is limited size or color choices. The site is easy to navigate, order fulfillment is fast, and customer service is excellent.
4. Campmor.com. Campmor’s site may have more stuff than even REI’s. They cover all the bases, including a huge assortment of family-size car-camping tents. And some of their sale or clearance items are fantastic. I often buy sunglasses from Campmor. Typical on the “Hot Deals” tab: Smith Advocate Polarized Sunglasses, $40—67 percent off retail. Highly recommended.
5. Zappos.com. Good footwear is important, and Zappos pretty much rules here. How about 475 models of backpacking/hiking/climbing boots? From the excellent mid-height Keen Targhee hiker ($100, or $25 off!), to the expedition-ready Scarpa Phantom Guide ($525). True, buying boots online can be a bit tricky because fit matters so much. But Zappos has an excellent returns policy, with free shipping both to your house and for returns, and great customer service.
I shouldn’t forget Eastern Mountain Sports (ems.com), which is the REI of the East. L.L. Bean (llbean.com) is more lifestyle than real outdoor, but the company offers great buys on basic items like the $30 Fleece Pullover.