That trend is having a financial impact too. According to a 2017 report, Americans spend $887 billion annually on outdoor recreation. With profits continuing to skyrocket, the outdoor recreation industry now ranks among our nation’s largest economic sectors.
But while that increasing demand is great for companies like REI and Columbia Sportswear, it puts budget-conscious enthusiasts in a tight spot. When a pair of skis costs the same as a month of rent, an exciting hobby can quickly start to feel like a cash sink.
Is it possible to get outdoors without blowing up your bank account? Read on to find out.
The cost of getting outdoors
Every outdoor activity has a certain price range associated with it. Biking, for example, typically only requires one piece of equipment. But then you might want a new water bottle, special bike shorts, and a top-of-the-line helmet. After a while you might want to upgrade your bike to better fit your favorite trails.
As with any activity, you’re in total control of how much you want to spend. Camping can cost a few thousand dollars in start-up costs, but you can also do it for just a few hundred bucks. You can go camping locally, bring your own food, and borrow equipment from a friend. Or you can buy a trailer or RV, drive across the country and eat at local restaurants. You can buy all the latest equipment at REI or scour thrift stores and Craigslist for better deals.
Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to minimize the costs of getting outdoors—here are a few.
Find pro deals
Brands will often sell equipment, clothes and accessories at-cost to customers who represent the kind of clientele they want to attract. Outdoor enthusiast Lindsay VanSomeren of The Notorious DEBT, said this advice especially applies to people who work in related wildlife fields, but even regular folks may qualify.
“You can contact companies directly through their customer service emails to ask about their pro deal programs, and there are also websites like Experticity and Outdoor Pro Link that manage pro deal programs for many companies at once,” she said.
Use your social media channels to your advantage and post pictures on Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat and Facebook of you being active while using outdoor-appropriate hashtags. Companies will pay attention to your followers and your social reach, so don’t be shy about spreading your love of nature.
Just like buying Valentine’s Day candy is cheaper on February 15, buying outdoor equipment in the off-season is also a better deal. If you’re planning on buying a new hammock for camping, check out stores at the end of the season. Buying skis in December will always be more expensive than buying them in May.
But don’t get too lured in by the end-of-season sales. Buy what you need, not what looks enticing. Remember, buying $200 hiking boots for $100 is still spending $100.
Getting outdoors is often a social activity, done with friends and family members. If you’re lucky, some of those family members might have the equipment you need. If they’re willing to share, you may be able to forego hundreds or even thousands of dollars in startup costs. Even if borrowing isn’t an option, they might be willing to sell you their gear at a discount if they’re upgrading.
VanSomeren suggests finding groups on MeetUp.com that are interested in the same outdoors activities you are. Groups like these often plan outings, so if you’re just starting out the group will be full of knowledgeable people who can steer you in the right direction.
Ever been one of those people who pick up a new hobby and insist that they need all the proper equipment before starting? Yeah, I’ve done that. I’ll find a new interest and decide I need to have all the gear that goes with it. Unfortunately, that backfires when I quickly lose interest and end up stuck with hundreds of dollars’ worth of junk.
If you’re new to hiking or rock climbing, start small and only buy what you truly need. Yes, that state-of-the-art camping stove looks beautiful, but is it better than the mid-range one?
Before buying out the hiking section of REI, promise to hike five times before splurging for a Camelbak or extra pair of hiking boots.
After buying all the equipment, the biggest cost of exploring nature is getting there. Transportation can range in the hundreds for driving in an RV to the thousands if you’re flying your entire family to the Grand Canyon and renting a car.
The easiest way to cut back on costs without decreasing the frequency at which you go out is to stay local. Only travel within a few hours of your house, and explore the closest spots first. You may be surprised at the hidden gems in your own backyard. Less travel time means less gas, less food to pack and less wear and tear on your vehicle.
Some states, such as Texas and Utah, offer annual passes that pay off if you camp multiple times a year. The more you camp in one state, the more you could save.
Buying new equipment can be a huge deterrent for people new to camping or other outdoor activities. Thankfully, there are plenty of sites and resources where you can find used gear at a fraction of the price.
GearTrade.com is one of the most popular sites for camping, winter sports and water sport gear. Most of the equipment listed has a small superficial defect that shouldn’t affect how it functions. If you live in an area popular with outdoor enthusiasts, your local Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace should also have plenty of listings – though it might take a few weeks of looking to find what you need.
Getting outdoors is great for your health, but not necessarily your wallet. As long as you shop deals, stay near where you live, and find friends to split the cost with, you can still do outdoor activities on a budget.
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