Have you noticed all of the amazing sponsors Hike it Baby has attracted lately? Our mission to get families outdoors–on the trails and into nature–has caught the attention of companies that share this vision, and we couldn’t be more excited! However, gear can be expensive; even with the incredible discounts that we have been offered through these sponsors. As a single mom, full-time college student with a part-time, minimum wage job, I have had to be extra thrifty when it comes to buying hiking and outdoor related gear for my toddler. I make sure that our outdoor adventures are safe for both of us, in gear that may not be top of the line, but is certainly sufficient!
We live in South Dakota, where temperatures can be -20°F in the winter and 90°F in the summer. We get outside 3-5 times per week and hike as often as my time off allows. I do all of this while maintaining a pretty tight budget. I regularly have to decide: “Do I think we need this item, or do I just want this item?” Some things are a necessity, and so then I have a decision to make: “Will second-hand work or should I shop for discounts on a brand name? What have we outgrown that I can sell, to be able to purchase the items we need now?”
When clearance sales occur I like to buy a size up, and sometimes another size up as well. I have storage totes labeled with sizes in our closet and can store the items for the next few years to come. It may seem weird to buy winter gear in the summer, but trust me, you’ll appreciate it when winter comes and you already have the items you need (and bought them for over 50% off!!). When family or friends ask what we want for gifts, I suggest gift cards, gift memberships, or buying kid clothes one to two sizes up.
I keep a tab in my head with a list of brand names and products that other families give good reviews for, then I look for those items second-hand or wait for discounts and off-season sales to buy them. I look on blog sites for contests and giveaways to enter, too.
Here are stores I buy from or memberships that I use the most for buying gear:
• I bought my REI membership (one-time $20 fee) and am so happy that I did. Now, I get annual dividends and can shop for clearance items at member pricing!
• I am also an Amazon Prime member and can order items with free two-day shipping. Amazon has warehouse deals on items that have been returned. Sometimes, you can find great deals on expensive items this way.
• Babies R Us has a membership program (free–you earn 1 point for every $1 you spend and 125 points equals a $5 coupon) that earned me many coupons for cash off. I would buy diapers there and soon would have a $10 off coupon to use on buying a piece of gear or clothing I had been eyeing.
• Zulily.com has offered some great discounts on gear brands that I’ve had my eye on. Just be warned, it can take a few weeks for items to be delivered; I shop a season ahead if I can. My son has lived in Doodle Pants (they are a great base layer and tuck nicely into boots) since he was tiny and we also found a Tuffo rain suit and a pair of Oakiwear boots for incredible discounts.
• Other sites, such as Backcountry.com or SierraTradingPost.com, offer clearance prices on items that may be off-season or making room for new stock. This is where I like to look for camping supplies or things like hiking poles.
• Consignment shops and sales are another great place to find items if you know what you are looking for. These are also nice for when you need to sell some of your gear in order to pay for new gear!
• I use my Walmart and Ibotta apps to find me rebates on my every day purchases. I use the money I get back from these to buy water bottles, snack containers, and the velcro cup tethers we use while hiking.
• Sam’s Club or other membership bulk clubs will have member prices on seasonable items, like ice cleats for your boots and bulk packages of trail mix.
• Another savvy way to shop is to use a credit or debit card with a cash rewards plan to help buy those big purchases and get the rebate later.
I am a list-maker at heart. This helps me focus on what I need, and to try not to impulse-buy things that I just want. Make a list of items you need for the upcoming seasons:
1). Wool Socks – Buy off-season! This summer, I was lucky enough to be near an REI while on vacation and found clearance wool socks for myself and my two-year-old for under $5. PLUS, because I am an REI member, I had dividend dollars so I used $0 to pay for them! Extra small kids socks can fit toddler feet and a pair of adult socks work great over mittens, or over pants for those being carried.
2). Base Layers – Another thing to buy off-season! Any sports store will sell these at a clearance prices come spring. I do not own any wool base layers, the synthetic layers work well for us under our snow-gear. I am an average sized adult and can fit into XL boys sizes, which are sometimes cheaper than the adult sizes. I buy a size up for my son for the upcoming season. I scored toddler sized base layers from REI and Cabela’s clearance section and they work great!
3). Winter Jacket – For myself, I have a great winter coat from The North Face that has lasted me over 5 years! I love it and it has been worth the money I spent on it. That being said, there are many inexpensive winter jackets out there that are just as warm and can last a few years, if taken care of. When I was wearing an infant, I used a coat I found that was a couple sizes bigger than normal to zip us both up in.
For infants, buntings can be found used relatively inexpensively, because they only wear them for one season they tend to be passed down and are great for keeping babies snug and warm.
For my little guy, hand-me-downs and used purchases have been a great option. I do not like the labeling on his current coat, but it is incredibly warm with a hood and snap on mittens. It’s such a perfect fit that I just covered up the labels with reflective duct tape! Now, I can spot him when we are playing outside in the winter evenings!
4). Winter Boots – I don’t buy used adult winter boots, because they can be worn out and actually do damage to your feet if they don’t fit well. I wait for a sale and purchase from a company or business with a satisfaction guarantee. I have winter boots (Sorel) that I take care of and have had for 5 winters (3 of which were in Alaska).
For infants, fleece booties over a pair of adult wool socks worked great for us!
For my kiddo, I bought a pair from a consignment shop that has a waterproof shell and the inside is lined with warm fleece inserts. They cost less than $10 and with a pair of wool socks his feet stay toasty warm and dry.
5). Cold weather accessories – Hats and mittens are easily found at any price but are especially affordable during the off-season clearance sales. I also buy the bulk pack of hand warmers when they go on sale; we insert them in our boots during long, cold weather hikes. A weather shield for your carrier or stroller is really worth the money; I have used a garbage bag in a pinch but it wasn’t ideal.
6). Rain or Hiking Boots – For myself, I have a pair of waterproof hiking boots (Cabela’s brand) that look reasonably fashionable for everyday wear as well. I waited until there was a sale t and purchased them after trying them on in the store.
For my toddler, I tried a pair of cheap rain boots but the water got in over the top and his feet were drenched and cold after a few minutes. I buckled down and purchased a pair (Oakiwear) when they were on a huge discount from Zulily and I have no regrets! He splashes and jumps to his heart’s content and his feet stay warm and dry! It was worth spending a bit more for those and if I truly couldn’t afford them, I would have asked that they be a present from someone!
7). Rain Jacket – Getting outside in the rain can be a fun and even peaceful experience if you have the right gear! I bought a truly waterproof (not water resistant – those are useless in my opinion) jacket (Columbia) and stay nice and dry when hiking in a spring downpour. I suggest buying one with a hood; if back wearing your kiddo, the water can pool and then dump down your back when you lean forward if you don’t have the hood up!
For my son, I purchased a thin, water resistant jacket. I waited until Zulily had a big discount on rain suits (Tuffo) and purchased one for our rain play. This is nice because when we go back in the car or house, I can peel off the rain suit and he is still nice and warm and dry with all his clothes still on.
8). Sun Protective Suits and Hats and Sunglasses – I bought a sun protective hat from REI on clearance and you can always find UV protective shirts at consignment shops, or for cheap at places like Old Navy at the end of summer! For myself, $6 bought me a great pair of light weight, vented, uv-protected sunglasses that actually look cute!
9). Stroller – I found an all-terrain jogging stroller on Amazon’s Warehouse deals for a significant discount. I knew beforehand which brand (Graco – to match my infant car seat) I wanted and stalked the site for deals.
10). Carrier – Hard Framed or Soft-Structured – This is tricky. I bought an inexpensive SSC second hand and it was a killer to my back. I went to a local Babywearing meeting to try different carriers on and learned which one felt the best for both of us. Then, I stalked the swap pages and the consignment shops until I nabbed one. I also bought a Tula from Frogmama.com , she sells carriers that the manufacturer says have a cosmetic flaw (to this day, I can’t see what they are talking about on mine) but are still structurally safe, for a big discount.
Once we started doing longer hikes, I wanted to find a good hard framed carrier. I was lucky and found a Kelty for sale on Craigslist for only $45. My son was a happy hiker in it, but the fit wasn’t the best for me. I went to our local sports equipment store and tried some different carriers on. The Deuter fit me the best so I waited for REI to have a sale and bought mine with the money I had from selling the Kelty.
11). Accessories, not necessary but nice to have – Instead of purchasing a water storage pack, I bought just the reservoir from Amazon and use it in our pack. The Dollar Store has been awesome for those little things like bubbles, glow sticks, hooks to hang keys from, flashlights, pouches to store trail maps and first aid supplies, retractable badge holder to keep my license and HiB cards in, and disposable diaper bags for packing out dirty diapers and other garbage. A gallon-sized freezer bag works great for keeping diapers and trail guides from getting wet. I got my son’s pull sled for under $5 at Menards last year and we use it quite a bit for walks around our apartment complex!
Before I had all of this gear, there were times when I decided not to do a particular hike or walk because of our lack of gear. This makes me sad to think about, I’m sure if I would have put a shout out in the Hike it Baby room that many parents would have offered to let me borrow their spare gear! I now have an entire tote in the back of my car with extra pairs of mittens, snow pants, blankets, etc for anyone to borrow! I know how it can feel to consider not hiking or getting outside because of a lack of funds or gear and I hope that some of these tips can help you find ways to save money on that gear without having to spend more than you can afford.
Christel Peters is a Branch Lead for Hike it Baby Spearfish and the Mama to Sebastian. When she isn’t chasing her adventurous toddler on the trails she is one of the Blog Editors for Hike it Baby. Do you have a story that should appear on our blog? Let us know!! email stories to : firstname.lastname@example.org