How to score big on the REI Used Gear Sale

Today was my second time at the REI Used Gear Sale (which is now called REI Garage Sale). In total, from these two sales, I've scored some amazing finds:

Like-new REI Quarter Dome 3 tent for $139 ($200 new)
Like-new Merrell minimalist running shoes for $52 ($100 new)
Gently used Osprey Poco Plus child carrier for $125 ($260 new)
Patagonia down jacket for $70 ($160 new)
ENO double deluxe hammock for $26 ($85 new, missing carabiners and knots undone)
Used double layered socks for 83 cents ($8 new)
Used cap for $7 ($22 new)
Like-new base layer for babies for $12 ($25 new)

That's savings of $430, or 50%!!! Obviously some items, like tents, backpacking backpacks and GoPro cameras, have high demand and you have to have a strategy to snag the ones you like. Here are my tips for scoring the best deals:

1. Do some scouting beforehand

Visit the REI store on the previous night and see where they've kept everything. Different stores do it differently; some keep items on racks in their parking lot, some block off one part of the store, and others spread items out in marked boxes in their respective departments (tents in the tent section, shoes near the shoe section, etc.) Try to remember the general areas where your top coveted items are placed.

2. Have a "wishlist"

Do your research beforehand and check reviews for your top most-needed items. For example, I know I wanted a 3- or 4-person tent. So I wrote a list of all the tents at REI that I would take, if they had it on sale. I had my first choice, second choice, etc., so I didn't have to waste time thinking about which one is better, having to look up ratings on my phone, etc.

3. Bring a BIG shopping bag

I prefer IKEA shopping bags, they're huge and strong enough to fit tons of stuff. You definitely need it, too -- see #6.

4. Get there early

Some stores only let in small groups or people in at a time, thus preventing a huge crowd and chaos, and also rewarding the early birds. If necessary, camp out... but make sure that you know what system the store will be using. You don't want to camp out overnight or stand in line at 4am, only to find out that everyone gets let in at the same time. And when you do get in, make a beeline towards your first-choice items.

5. Work as a team

Have a partner or go with a small group, so that after everyone has picked out their top choice items, you can all sort through your pile and return to the bins at your leisure, while someone guards the pile at all times.

6. If you're considering getting it, hold on to it

Don't pass something by, thinking you can get back to it. Chances are, someone else will have taken it. Grab it first, and decide later if you really want it.

7. Beware the impulse buy

Items bought at the REI Garage Sale cannot be returned, so don't buy junk just because it's cheap. Make sure you're buying stuff that you will actually use.

8. Go back for seconds

Later on, people will be putting back items they decided not to buy. So you can often score some great finds after the initial mad rush has ended. That's how I got the ENO hammock! Go back, check the bins and racks again for items you're still missing from your wishlist, and walk around the store to check out the little piles that people have left scattered around.

Do you have other tips on what strategies to use? What were your experiences at the REI sale? Share in the comments! Good luck and happy shopping!

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