More people are interested in outdoor recreation than ever before, but acquiring the necessary gear and apparel can be a huge barrier to entry. Thankfully, we’ve also seen an increase in used gear and clothing sales, spanning from brick and mortar consignment shops to online platforms started by big names like Patagonia and The North Face. Recently, heavy-hitting outdoor gear retailer REI joined the ranks with their online Used Gear store. Below is our take on REI’s new endeavor, including how it works, conditions and pricing, gear availability, shipping and returns, site layout, and more.
When consumers return outdoor gear to REI, the retailer puts it back on the shelf—if it’s in brand-new condition. However, REI has such an excellent return policy (you can return almost any item within one year of purchase) that many returned items are lightly or moderately used. And while REI's Garage Sales are great, you have to live close and be able to find exactly what you want in your specific size. Enter REI's Used Gear Program, a section of their main website devoted to giving returned outdoor gear and clothing a second chance.
Now, when REI receives returned merchandise that they can't put back on the shelf, they assess it to make sure it’s in usable condition. If an item is deemed worthy of resale, it's professionally cleaned and assigned a condition, price, and individual notes on wear and tear. The item is then listed on REI Used Gear and ready to be purchased and shipped from a central location.
REI Used Gear uses four descriptors for condition: excellent, lightly worn, moderately worn, and well worn. In addition to knowing the general wear of an item, you'll also find details listed below the pertaining to the exact item you have selected. These short descriptions provide information about stains, scuffs, abrasions, debris, and more. The hope is that you will know as much as you can about the product—short of seeing a photo or holding it in your hand—before purchasing.
In terms of pricing, the exact number varies depending on the condition and discounts fluctuate between items. But we’ve found that hard goods currently average around 30 percent off, footwear around 50 percent, and clothing closer to 60 percent. The platform also tells you the full retail price of a model and how much you’re saving (not all used gear sites do) so you can decide whether or not buying used is worth it. In comparison, Patagonia's Worn Wear and The North Face's Renewed platforms do not make full pricing readily available, so it takes a bit of research to compare prices between new and used items.
REI Used Gear is relatively new and building inventory, but we've been impressed off the bat. When the company first launched a used gear site in the fall of 2017, they had more traffic than expected and the used merchandise went like hotcakes. Realizing the popularity of the program, REI developed a more advanced strategy around organization and inventory, and the site now offers a surprisingly deep selection of products, from clothing and footwear, to stoves, sleep systems, and more. The selection is much broader than you'd find on Patagonia or The North Face's used product websites, incorporating hard goods as well as clothing. We did find that footwear and apparel are strongpoints, and like any used gear store, there are limitations in finding an exact match in terms of sizing and desired color.
REI Used Gear does charge for shipping. While testing a cart and checkout, we got a shipping fee of $7.50 for the first item, but the price went down per item after that (four items was less than $20 total). But unlike many used and consignment gear shops, they allow returns within 30 days of purchase. We love supporting our local used gear shops, but the no-return policy at many of them is a real downside. Especially when ordering clothing online, the ability to return the item if the fit is off is a huge bonus.
REI Used Gear is an extension of REI’s regular website, and can accessed by a tab at the top of the main page. The layout is very similar to the main site: gear and clothing are arranged by categories and subcategories, and filters allow you to find what you’re looking for with minimal effort. Once you click on a specific item, you’ll find a full product write-up and reviews—similar to the main site—then can choose between size, color, and condition. Overall, the organization of REI's Used Gear is excellent and offers similar ease of shopping as buying new gear.
In comparison, Patagonia’s Worn Wear website has similar organization with categories and subcategories, but each available item is listed individually. This means that there may be dozens of colors and styles of Synchilla Snap-T Pullovers that individually pop up in a search, and it's the shopper’s job to scroll through all of them to find the right size and color—an exhausting and time-consuming task. Thankfully, REI Used Gear streamlines this browsing process by consolidating all items of the same make and model on one well-organized page.
Other Used Gear Sites
REI Used Gear joins a large community of online used gear retailers, both crowd-sourced and retail-based. In terms of crowd-sourced platforms—GearTrade and Mountain Equipment Co-op’s Gear Swap to name a couple—anyone trying to clean out a closet can list their used outdoor products. This can be a great way to find deals, but with the lack of quality control, you can never be fully confident in the condition of your order. The ability to have an item professionally cleaned and assessed is a great service, along with the free returns.
As mentioned above, both Patagonia and The North Face also run their own used clothing and gear websites. While we appreciate the ability to purchase their products at a discount, we find both of these sites more challenging to navigate. Patagonia’s Worn Wear is not well-organized and it can take quite a while to find the right product. The North Face Renewed is better organized than Worn Wear, but it doesn’t list the discount percentage. That said, these sites do have their strengths: Worn Wear has a huge inventory (it’s been around a lot longer than REI Used) and they allow returns at any time, as long as the item is in the same condition as it was when purchased. Further, The North Face’s return policy is a bit more generous than REI’s, allowing for returns within 60 days of purchase.
The Final Word
For a used gear shop in its beginning stages, we’re thoroughly impressed with REI Used Gear. More than any other website we’ve come across, REI makes it convenient to find exactly what you want and be assured of its condition and discount. In short, it’s just as easy as shopping on their standard retail website for new gear, which is a good thing. And given REI’s sheer numbers—154 brick-and-mortar stores across the country and a massive online presence—the Used Gear website is bound to increase its inventory over time. More than anything, we’re excited to see one of the industry’s most important companies continue step up their sustainability game, and we hope more follow suit.