Have you ever shopped at REI? I spent the first 25ish years of my life not knowing about this store. When I finally did learn of them, I didn’t really expect to shop there much – I wasn’t very outdoorsy at the time, plus a lot of their items can be on the expensive side. Quality, but expensive. Eventually I learned about the REI Garage Sale, and that changed my perspective entirely.
If you’ve ever been to an REI Garage Sale, you might know there are some tricks to a successful shopping experience. If you haven’t been to an REI Garage Sale, then let me tell you – they can be a whole lot of awesome, or a whole lot of pain. That’s why I’m writing about it today. I wanted to pass on my best REI Garage Sale tips and tricks. I’ve been to Garage Sales at 8 stores in 4 states, so I feel pretty knowledgeable at this point, lol.
Why now? Because many stores will be holding their Garage Sale this weekend! Not all stores host the Garage Sales on the same day, but many do. They are typically held approximately once a quarter, although the last one was less than two months ago. Some stores even hold them monthly!
If you are interested in going to the Garage Sale this weekend, head over to the REI website to find your nearest location. Each store’s individual site will list upcoming events, including the date and time of the next Garage Sale. They only announce them a few weeks in advance though, so if you don’t see one that means it’s still a ways away.
What is the REI Garage Sale?
First thing you should know: REI has your typical brick-and-mortar stores as well as an online store. The clearance section of the online store is called the Garage. This is not the same thing as the Garage Sale. When the Garage has a sale, that is also not the same thing as the Garage Sale. If that seems confusing, you wouldn’t be the first person to think so. The clearance section of the website only changed names a few months ago, and I spoke to an REI employee shortly after who said he was getting asked about it several times a day. What’s up with the confusing name, REI?
Okay, so what is the Garage Sale? It’s basically just like a garage sale you’d have at your house, but it’s at a store. REI has a great(!) return policy. When items are returned, REI will put them into storage for the next Garage Sale. The price of every item is reduced from the original retail price. I’ve seen tags that list prices 20-90% off the original price, although that varies by store. The better the condition of the returned item, the smaller the discount.
While the items available will include all sorts of things, you can expect them to be influenced by the previous season’s returns. So at a sale in the spring, you’ll often see winter gear. At the one this weekend, there will probably be more water sports and hiking gear.
Sometimes, you will find a brand-new-with-tags item mixed in. This usually means there is a small dent, stain, missing piece, etc that the employees found on an item that hasn’t left the store yet. These items are the best, in my opinion. I was able to get a brand spanking new Hydro Flask for a coworker, who is obsessed with them, for 60% off. All because there was a 1/4-inch dent on the bottom of the bottle! You couldn’t even see it unless you turned the bottle upside down. Crazy.
Some people have compared the REI Garage Sale to Walmart Black Friday shopping. While it can be hectic, let me tell you that I’ve done both several times and the Garage Sale is nothing like Walmart on Black Friday! There will be lots of people crowding around the tables. But if you see a brawl or people pushing each other out of the way, something has gone terribly, terribly wrong. REI Garage Sales are…more civil.
Format of the Garage Sales
First thing first, understand that every Garage Sale can be different. The store managers have some flexibility in how they run things. I’m going to list some of the formats I’ve seen – you may see something different.
- Some stores let everybody in at the same time. Others space them out with timed groups.
- Some stores will have a dedicated area for the sale. Others will have Garage Sale tables scattered throughout the stores. Personally, I prefer the latter. It lets me shop for other items after I’m done looking at the Garage Sale items, without having to check out twice. The check out lines can be loooooonnnnngggggg.
- Every REI Garage Sale will have an entrance policy decided locally. Use this to determine when you should show up.
- If it’s based on your place in line, then you may want to show up very early depending on how serious you are about getting deals. Some people even camp out overnight! Check with your store before trying that, though.
- If you are just going to see what’s available, you don’t need to show up 3+ hours early. Since I already have all of the major items for my interests and I don’t need anything, I usually show up about 30 minutes before the doors open. Typically this puts me at about the 50th-75th person in line. This has been more than fine, for me. YMMV.
- If it’s a random lottery, you really, really don’t need to show up more than 30 minutes early. The store will hand out tickets just prior to the sale beginning, and it’s up to the luck of the draw which group you get into. Beware, though. I’ve been to two stores that claimed they were doing a random lottery, then they handed out tickets based on your order in line. Liars!
- You are welcome to try on clothing items, set up tents, blow up inflatable sleeping pads, etc. If the Garage Sale is in a sequestered area, you might not have a changing area. Keep that in mind.
- Prices will be indicated on the tags attached to every item. Some stores just write out the reduced price. Others will have a colored sticker or ink dot, indicating a percentage off the original price. I prefer stores that just list the price.
- ALL SALES ARE FINAL at the Garage Sale. I repeat, all sales are final. REI’s return policy does not apply to Garage Sale items. So make sure you really want, will use, and can use the item you are about to buy!
In order to make purchases at the Garage Sale, you have to be an REI member. REI lifetime memberships are only $20, though, and they offer other benefits such as coupons and rebates from your full price purchases.
In many cases they don’t even ask until you are ready to check out, at which point you can buy a membership on the spot. The only place I’ve ever been to where they actually checked before letting you into the sale was an REI in Las Vegas, Nevada. I’d be prepared just in case. You can sign up online at https://www.rei.com/membership/join#.
My REI Garage Sale Tips And Tricks
Without further adieu (there’s been enough), here are my best REI Garage Sale Tips and Tricks!
- Figure out when you need to arrive. No later than the Friday before the Garage Sale, call up the store and find out their plan for letting people into the sale. Based on that, choose an arrival time.
- Bring a bag, even if you’re a guy. You won’t want to carry everything in your hands, especially when you realize you are holding 13 different items and can’t grab that awesome perfect condition Jetboil in front of you. The stores do have some reusable shopping bags to hand out, but they can disappear quickly. Better to bring your own. If you have one, the giant Ikea reusable shopping bags seem to be a popular choice!
- Bring a fully charged smartphone. If you think you might need it, bring an external battery. Why? Because I’ve found it extremely useful to check out the specs on items that I’ve found at the Garage Sale. If I’m considering an item, I can go online and find reviews, weight (for ultralight items), and perhaps most importantly – the current selling price. REI bases the Garage Sale price on the original price with a discount based on the reason for return. Every once in awhile, you will find that the same item, brand new, is now on clearance somewhere – possibly even the REI you are standing in! You might be able to get the same item in better condition for a better price. Even Garage Sales should include a price check.
- Bring snacks! Every REI I’ve ever been in had a food section and a water fountain, so you don’t have to get hangry if you end up staying there for hours. However, it’s much easier to just bring a water bottle and a granola bar or bag of peanuts. This way, you won’t have to go searching for something when hunger or thirst strikes. More importantly, you won’t have to wait in the really long checkout line just to buy a Kind bar. Take it from me, spending 30 seconds putting a snack in your bag is worth it.
- Know what you want to buy and head to that section. Every REI Garage Sale I’ve ever been to had items grouped together by type (biking, hiking, travel, water sports, etc). This has been true whether the Garage Sale was in its own separate area, or if it was scattered throughout the store. If you don’t know where they are putting things (and you usually won’t, unless you can see into the area before the sale starts) then just ask an employee where the stuff you are looking for is.
- Prioritize your purchases. If you desperately need a new sleeping bag and oh, a helmet would be nice too, GO TO THE BAG SECTION FIRST. Any time spent looking at things you maybe-might-kinda-want is time when the rest of the shoppers are taking the things you want.
- Team up. If you have friends that would be interested in the sale, bring them along. Plan ahead by telling each other what you are looking for. You can divide and conquer once you get into the sale! For instance, if your friend needs a puffy jacket and headlamps while you are looking for backpacks and hiking pants, one of you can go to the clothing section while the other searches the hiking section. If you don’t have a friend to go with, make friends with the people in line and ask them for help! I chatted up a couple in Atlanta who were planning to hike the Appalachian Trail. We ended up finding a few things for each other throughout the course of the sale and handing them off whenever we passed each other. The husband decided to give up an ultralight quilt he’d been considering and I was able to snatch it up. Score!
- Look for types of items, not specific items. If your plan is predicated on getting the exact jacket in the exact color and size you want, you will probably end up disappointed. If you go in with a mindset of “I want a winter jacket” you are more likely to be successful. Same goes for all other items.
- Find out whether your local REI has an afternoon price slash. More on that below.
- Find the balance between hoarding and giving up too easily. If you can’t decide if you want to buy something, don’t put it down. Somebody else will quickly snatch it up and you probably won’t get another chance at it. That being said, don’t be the jerk who takes every backpack off the rack, squirrels them away in a corner, and guards them while you wait for the rest of your group to arrive to inspect them. Not cool, dude. Do a quick assessment while standing at the table or rack, and choose one or two items that look promising. You can do a full inspection later, but don’t take items out of the area if you haven’t given them a once over. You’ll just piss off everybody around you. Once you’ve decided against a purchase, please return the item to the area where you picked it up. These niceties are what separates the Garage Sale from the Walmart-on-Black-Friday experience.
- Bring batteries if you are considering buying any electronics. Usually AA and AAA batteries, plus the aforementioned external battery, should be plenty. If something plugs into a wall, find an outlet and test it out.
- Bring wet wipes. Some of this stuff can be grungy. Even if you aren’t buying grungy items, you’ll probably end up touching them at some point. Or you might want to clean something off to determine if it’s worth buying. I’ve had several people remark what a good idea this is when they see me cleaning something.
Some of My Best REI Garage Sale Purchases
- At my first REI Garage Sale, they let in small groups of people for 10 minutes at a time. After they were done in the Garage Sale area, customers were funneled towards the check out counter. That area had some room to spread out and no time limit to leave. Due to the short timeframe in the sale area, many would grab items that they ended up not wanting once they got a chance to inspect it. This meant that items were constantly being put back into the sale area. I ended up leaving for lunch with a plan to come back after I was done to see what remained. Little did I know, this particular store lowered all Garage Sale prices by an additional 50% after 2pm. I ended up buying several hundred dollars worth of items at that point, including a tent that I purchased for $60 and sold the next week for $175! Retail price of that tent was $350 brand new. I was also able to pick up a sweet 0* sleeping bag for only $54!
- Osprey Farpoint 40 – found new with tags, this was in the sale for 50% off the normal price because it was missing the strap to carry it like a duffel. This is a large bag that I would never want to carry like a duffel in the first place, but if for some reason you did you can buy shoulder straps pretty cheap online. I’d been considering this bag as my main piece of luggage for about a month at that point, and it was a no-brainer to pick it up for half off. Brand new!
- A few years ago, I was at a Garage Sale, not looking for anything in particular. I came across a pair of REI Sahara hiking pants for $28. Y’all, these pants have changed my life. I wear them everywhere. Hiking, yes of course. But also to and from work (I change into uniform at the office), on a hot summer day, and every time I travel. They don’t wrinkle, they dry extremely quickly, and they are the most comfortable pants I own. Since buying the first pair, I’ve probably worn them at least 200 times. I’ve also purchased a second pair in black and a pair in grey. I’d pay full price for these, but luckily I found the second pair at a subsequent Garage Sale and the third pair was on clearance.
BONUS SECTION: THE TAGS
Make sure you read the tag attached to every Garage Sale item. There are two reasons to do this.
Number one, the tag not only lists all of the purchase information (brand, original and Garage Sale price, item name) it also lists the reason people returned it. If the item is an electronic and the tag says “Won’t Turn On” then maybe you don’t want to buy it. But, test it out for yourself first. I’ve come across many a “does not work” tag where the item worked just fine. Likely the person returning it didn’t want to admit they didn’t like an item or were just trying to get their money back, so they lied. REI will accept basically any return as long as it was purchased within the last year. They used to have a lifetime policy, but I think too many people took advantage of that.
Number two reason for reading the tags: they are hilarious. The reasons people give for returning items are 100% comedy sometimes. Examples I’ve seen with my own eyes:
- “Fit in store, didn’t fit at home” (what happened between the store and home?)
- “Only lights up if left in sunlight” (on a solar-powered lamp)
- “Doesn’t inflate” (inflated just fine when I blew air into it…)
- “Too warm” (on a Marmot Never Summer sleeping bag rated for 0* Fahrenheit weather)
- “Doesn’t have a back” (on a quilt. That’s….ummm…kind of the point)
And I didn’t see this one in person, but it’s floating around the internet: “Jacket reminds him of his ex.”