The Best Time to Buy Camping Gear
Just as there are advantages and disadvantages to camping in different seasons, so are their strategic times to buy all the outdoor equipment campers will need on their camping trip in the backcountry. Whether you’re an ultralight camper who carries as little camping gear as possible to a primitive camping campsite or a glamping enthusiast who’s always outfitted with brand new sleeping bags, backpacks, cookware, hiking boots, sleeping pads, hammocks, and headlamps from top brands like The North Face and Big Agnes, you’ll surely begin wondering when the best time of year to buy new camping gear is. Avid campers know to keep an eye out for outdoor gear sales at retail stores and on Amazon year-round to avoid paying the full price to get a crucial piece of camping gear last-minute before a camping trip.
That’s a good rule of thumb, but the savviest outdoor gear shoppers should also have some idea of the seasonal change in prices that, depending on the type of equipment, fluctuates throughout the year. Cookware, for example, doesn’t tend to change the price on a reliable, seasonal basis, since it’s useful all year round. Other camping gear, like sandals, are primarily useful to campers during the warm months, and therefore may drop in price at the end of the season or in the off-season. Major holiday seasons run parallel to the natural ones and affect the availability and price of camping gear. The periods following Christmas and Father’s Day often have retail stores eager to get rid of the surplus they ordered and may not have managed to move during the holidays.
There are a few different scales you can use to determine the best time of year to buy camping gear. To stay prepared and ready for any last-minute camping trip that may present itself, read through this guide and stay mindful of the season and the condition of your current gear. Don’t wait until the night before you head out for the campsite to replace the first aid kit or the second-hand hiking gear you bought last year. The best time of year to buy your camping gear is out-of-season before you need it. Shop then and you’ll be happier and better prepared.
In-season, post-season, and off-season
To imagine what time of year is in-season, imagine the time of year we typically associate with camping trips, fishing, backpacking, and hiking. When the weather is warm and the forest is filled with lush greenery, and the weather is fine for outdoor grilling and campsites are filling up, then you know it’s the right season for a camping trip.
Beware about shopping during the in-season because campers who failed to adequately prepare for their camping trips will be rushing into big-name retail stores like Walmart to pay full price for some last-minute outdoor gear. When the retailers have such clientele to rely on, it’s pretty rare that they will bother with a sale. That being said, campers might consider buying equipment for the off-season, such as hiking boots or winter-treated sleeping bags, during the spring and summer when everyone else is grabbing hammocks and sandals off the shelves.
Online retailers like Amazon tend to follow the same natural seasons as traditional retail stores do. So you can expect Amazon to have some sales just before the season and immediately following it when people have returned from summer camping trips and rolled up their sleeping bags for storage in the off-season. That period is referred to as the post-season, when campsites are starting to empty and autumn is just on the horizon sees the majority of campers heading back to civilization, although some more daring campers will still be out in the backcountry, perhaps having changed to car camping.
In the post-season, many retail stores find that, in trying to keep their shelves well-stocked with outdoor gear during the season, they have over-purchased seasonal camping gear such as sleeping bags, tents, hiking boots, sleeping pads, hammocks, and first aid kits. Sleeping bags and sleeping mats come in different materials and with different design features to be most convenient in either warm weather or cold weather, so when the retail stores want to shift seasonal gear, you may find a good price on camping gear for the season that has just finished. Campers who are enthusiastic enough may want to keep this law of opposites in mind generally, looking for winter gear in summer and vice versa.
Focus on your camping gear
This rule should apply not only when you decide to replace your outdoor gear but all the time, meaning you should pay close attention to your camping gear and how often you are replacing certain items so that you aren’t buying brand new equipment when the old ones are still in good condition. It’s always good to keep an eye out for garage sales, online sales at Amazon, and gear swaps at retail stores like REI.
But it’s equally important to know when you need new outdoor gear and when the camping gear you already own is working just fine. Also, plan your camping trips ahead of time so you know what kind of camping gear you’ll need to bring with you. Don’t feel like a control freak just for planning a camping trip months in advance!
As we’ve discussed already, sales on camping gear tend to follow the natural seasons because campers also do. If you can manage it, planning on purchasing more durable winter equipment like hiking boots in the summertime will net you some savings, or perhaps you’ll find higher-quality equipment that you otherwise wouldn’t have been able to afford.
Bear in mind that hiking boots from last year are almost certainly still good this year, as most major brands like The North Face and Big Agnes design their hiking boots to be long-lasting, and occasionally even include a lifetime warranty. It would certainly be a shame to buy new hiking boots rather than cashing in on an included warranty you paid for already, so make sure you keep a note somewhere when a warranty is included on any piece of your camping gear.
It goes without saying that campers should practice proper maintenance of their outdoor gear during use and afterward, making sure to clean everything thoroughly and dry it completely before storing it long-term. Other things to consider are the construction of the equipment itself. Stainless steel cookware can generally take quite a beating and shouldn’t rust for a long time as long as they are reliably dried off before storage. Backpacking first aid kits are especially important, as some ointments will expire after some time has passed. Last year’s first aid kit may not suffice anymore, and campers should really check and double-check their first-aid kit before they reach the campsite. Finding the first aid kit lacking in the middle of a possible emergency situation can be a hazardous nightmare.
Retail store and online shopping
The logic of outdoor gear companies, whether you shop in the retail store or on Amazon, is fairly consistent. As we know, they tend to overstock in the pre-season to ensure they have enough camping gear for campers who shop last-minute in-season and then have sales to move stock in the post-season. There are also other seasons for retailers that campers should pay attention to.
Major holidays factor into stores’ decision to have sales or not. Consider each major holiday as a mini-season. Before Christmas, Father’s Day, and Labor Day, retail stores might try to overstock so they can make big sales on and around the holiday. Similarly, after the holidays the retail stores may have extra stock to move to hold a sale. Labor Day sales are fairly well-known in the camping gear market.
A quick google search is usually enough to inform shopping campers when Amazon is having a sale. Traditional retail stores are sometimes unintentionally opaque on their websites when a sale is going on, but bet that that major stores will almost surely have some sort of sale on during holidays. For the camping gear that doesn’t see much price difference in or out of natural seasons, like cookware, the man-made holidays are the best time of year to get discounts. Sharp campers may be able to combine both, reasoning that after Christmas there will probably be sales on winter outdoor gear but any remaining summer hiking gear should be especially cheap at that time.
Alternatives to brand new camping gear
Every camper loves to have a brand new sleeping bag or ultralight sleeping pad. Sometimes it makes more sense to look elsewhere than Amazon or retail stores for replacement camping gear. Gear swaps are quite common in communities with lots of campers and backpacking enthusiasts in their midst. REI is one retail store that is well known for hosting such events. Garage sales are also occasionally very beneficial to those searching amount the table and piles of used outdoor gear and household items to find like-new camping gear without having to worry about swapping back as they would have to if they had participated in a gear swap.
Garage sales may not necessarily be ideal for some hiking gear like hiking boots, depending on how many times they were worn. Campers wouldn’t be judged for thinking of hiking boots as a piece of outdoor gear that shouldn’t be sold secondhand due to the amount of action they see and how much sweat can collect within them. For almost everything else, from cookware to hammocks, garage sales sometimes have exactly what you need. Another advantage of a garage sale is you may be able to ask the previous user directly how the particular piece of camping gear worked in the backcountry.
Everything in this guide so far has been general rules to follow, but now we need to get a little more specific to illustrate their application. The technical requirements you need in your camping gear depends on what kind of camping trip you have planned, or what kind of camping trip you prefer to take in general. For campers who like to scramble over rocks and reach high elevations on day-hikes during their camping trips, hiking gear is essential. Hiking boots and ultralight tents and sleeping bags are highly desirable for such a camping trip. That will alter when the best time of year is to buy the outdoor gear. Hiking boots are going to be on sale after Christmas and in-season but near the end of the season, since they are generally used for wintertime camping trips.
Bear in mind that there will be a change of stock at retail stores and at Amazon around the end of the season and that directly affects hiking boots. An important technical detail is whether the piece of camping gear has been “winterized,” that is, designed for use in winter conditions or not. Campers looking for hiking boots for winter should look at the end of the season in summer, and those looking for ultralight and breathable hiking boots for summertime camping trips should look after the season or after the Christmas shopping season.
Sleeping bags and sleeping pads follow the same logic. There are ultralight sleeping bags and sleeping pads that are more breathable and insulated for comfort but not for warmth in cold conditions. Sleeping bags and sleeping pads constructed for use on camping trips in the winter are designed to keep heat in and might be less ultralight but ultimately ill serve campers better on wintertime camping trips. The best time of year to buy winter sleeping bags and sleeping pads is likely to be when they are on sale in the summertime, while the best time of year to purchase summertime sleeping bags and sleeping pads is likely to be when they are on sale in the off-season and after the Christmas shopping season.
There are many things to consider when it comes to purchasing brand new or secondhand camping gear. Firstly, since campers understandably prefer to hit the great outdoors when the weather is warm, the foliage is green, and the wildlife is out, the retail stores and online merchants like Amazon follow the general trend the campers set. There is a season the goes from spring to late summer, or perhaps into autumn depending on the climate in your region. During the season, outdoor gear is usually full price, but it may be on sale in the off-season.
Natural seasons also factor in, since they tend to dictate when campers are going into the backcountry on camping trips. There are some campers who still journey out into the backcountry in the frigid winter. A good rule of thumb is to shop in the opposite natural season, i.e. winter camping gear is on sale in the summer and summer camping gear is on sale in the winter. If you can prepare enough to combine this rule of thumb with the in-season and off-season rule, you’re much likely to find that special piece of camping gear you’re looking for without paying the full price last-minute.
The technical details of your outdoor gear also come into play when considering the best time of year to buy new stuff. Winter campers may even be looking for completely different outdoor gear, like extra blankets, which in-season campers would find fairly useless. There are some pieces of camping equipment that aren’t affected by this rule, such as cookware, but for some of the most important outdoor gear that’s used on camping trips, such as sleeping bags, sleeping mats, and hiking boots, the specifics about the particular outdoor gear are crucial.
Garage sales make a fine alternative to retail stores and Amazon from time to time, but they can’t be completely depended upon since it is really just luck determining whether the camping gear you’re looking for will be found at any particular garage sale. Gear swaps in the neighborhood or at retail stores like REI are nice and social ways to meet community members who are also interested in camping trips while exchanging some camping equipment from last year.
Overall, this whole strategy for determining the best time of year to buy new camping equipment is all about the equipment. The most useful strategy is to take good care of the outdoor gear you already have, store it properly, and keep an eye out for sales using some of the strategies outlined in this guide on the best time to buy camping gear.
Bonus tip: To maintain your outdoor gear, check out this video for tips on how to store and organize camping gear!