What to Expect at an REI Garage Sale

After my last trip to the Madison REI for their Garage Sale, I was pumped to find that there was a national REI Garage Sale happening on March 12th. Multiple people decided they didn’t want to come with me at 5:30am (and Andy was busy coaching water polo), but that only hardened my resolve. I would fly this sale solo, Jack Sparrow style.

((scroll down for products, comparisons, etc.))

I arrived at 6am, for a sale that started at 8am. There were only two other people in line, which simultaneously upset me (“I should have gotten up earlier so I could have been first!”) and happy (“Whew, I’m not 16th!”). I found that the two gentlemen in front of me got to the storefront around 5:30am, which was the time I left my apartment. Soon after I arrived, a few people started trickling in behind me until 7am when there was about 15 people in line behind me. From there, it snowballed and soon over 100 people were in line. I made nice with some of the people in line, chatted about past adventures and future dreams, and figured out what we were all going for.

All I wanted was a good sleeping bag, and maybe a bag for Andy, too. I was ready to jump on any 4-season tent,  good deals on waterproof pants, and  good condition electronics that might be fun. During our wait, a few of us wandered back to the loading dock to ask the employees a question about the sale.

The employee asked us what type of gear we were looking for. We each had different needs and he motioned to piles of sleeping bags or the row of backpacks to point out the areas we should look at first. We hung around there and chatted with another employee for a minute or two before the manager came over and told us “no pre-shopping”, so we went back to the line to share the info with the other people in line.

Bags on bags. The guy in front of me napped the dark red Osprey pack…good on ya, mate!

When they finally led us through the store, out the warehouse, and onto the back dock, they let us grab large canvas shopping bags to load up with stuff. This was different than last time.

I hiked on over to the sleeping bag and sleeping pad section, quickly finding that most of the sleeping bags were terrible or child sized and most of the sleeping pads were very heavy or had leaks in them. I grabbed two sleeping pads that looked good and two sleeping bags that looked good, cause both Andy and I needed these items. Upon opening the sleeping bags, i was disappointed to find that the there was a large hole in one of them and the other was a wearable sleeping bag that didn’t have a temperature rating on it. I quickly googled the I ditched both bags and head over to the miscellaneous bins. Trash. Almost literal trash in those bins. Insoles for shoes (not paired together), gloves with holes, broken sunglasses, etc. I grabbed a few pairs of women’s socks for Andrea, and hit the coat section.

They had some nice coats! Unfortunately, this REI seemed to know the market price of lightly used and slightly damaged goods, and all their prices were reasonable. I don’t come to REI garage sales for reasonable prices, I come to impulse buy dirt cheap gear! I found the same exact Marmot Zeus Jacket I bought 3 weeks earlier for almost twice the price. Their pants were just over 50% off, and some of the stuff was barely 40% off. I could see a lot of this stuff being sold for those prices on a good holiday sale. 50% off is nothing to scoff at, but when it’s USED items, I expect around 70% off. I’m not complaining (I totally am complaining), a ton of people jumped on these deals and I can’t fault REI for setting prices at market level.

I was very surprised with how they priced their electronics. GoPros with crazy problems like “exploded battery”, “doesn’t turn on”, etc. were selling for just a 10-15% discount from what you could pay on Amazon, eBay. Still a good deal, but since they are sold “as is” and already clearly have problems, just spend the extra few bucks on Amazon and get free returns and peace of mind.

I ended up not getting the sleeping pads because I googled the specific pad I was about to buy and turned out I could get the same pad, but not used, on Amazon for just $4 less.

Gear Retail Garage Sale Reason for Return
Smartwool socks $17 $4 Stain on heel
Patagonia Capilene Underwearpants $50 $10 Worn, had hole*
Eno Hammock Straps $30 $12 Bag ripped*
Merino Hiking socks $14 $7 Didn’t like color
Big Agnes Insulated Q Core sleeping pad $113 $23 Leak*
Totals $224 $56 (75% off) *Fixed

I have already repaired the tiny seam-rip in the Patagonia pants and the Eno hammock strap bag. The socks (were for my fiancee) and look just fine, no noticeable stain and she likes the color of the other pair.

Although anecdotal, I truly believe the Madison REI garage sale had better deals. Below I will go over some subjective and some objective differences between the two sales.*

Category REI Madison, WI REI Northbrook, IL
Shoppability -Gear racks held miscellaneous items, jumbled together

-Socks/gloves thrown into two boxes off to the side

– Few racks of coats, pants in middle of loading dock

– Shows/boots were lined up along one side of the loading dock

– Additional clothing racks on the sidewalk next to the loading dock

-Larger items were either hung on the rails of the loading dock or spread out in the grass next to the dock     

– Miscellaneous items thrown into large box-tables and all jumbled together

– Shoes/boots were in the warehouse, with seemingly no organization

Electronics – Items were just under the canopy of the loading dock, in the warehouse, just strewn about on a table;

– Prices were dirt cheap from the items I saw

– Items were inside the warehouse in a glass case, and an employee behind the counter would have to help you shop;

– All items seemed to be either extremely damaged (“GoPro battery exploded while in unit”) or market price (confirmed on Ebay, Amazon)

Selection of gear – One rack of backpacks, half a dozen racks of clothing, two large racks of assorted items (water bottles, headlamps, snowshoes)

– Just a few sleeping bags and tents, didn’t notice any sleeping pads

– Some larger items like canopies and shelters

– A few skies (cross country)

– Boots/shoes galore

– Loading dock rails were lined with backpacks

– Boatload of sleeping pads, sleeping bags

– Two large tables worth of miscellaneous items (aka mostly crap) mixed in with socks and gloves

– 4-5 racks of coats, pants, shirts

– Lots of boots/shoes

– Ride-on storage containers for vehicles

Staff – Friendly, but didn’t want cobbler

– Told us to buy something we were going to put back, assuring us that it worked

– Trendy and had beards

– Friendly

– One employee encouraged us to pre-shop, another employee forbade it

– Handsome

-Allowed people to save items to come back for later

*Note: each store contains items returned to that specific store. This information is essentially useless and I don’t know why I wasted my time with a chart; the item selection may change every single garage sale. However, the demographics and buying habits of the people in each specific store’s area likely don’t change and therefore the garage sales may be similar each time. Double however: many of the items that were comparable between the two locations had drastically different prices. I do believe the Northbrook REI priced based on what a similar item would be sold for on eBay, as opposed to Madison REI who priced based on a “get this crap outta here” strategy

My most recent trip was successful if not just for the Patagonia pants and the experience. I was disappointed that I didn’t get a dirt cheap sleeping bag, and I am wondering if I should have grabbed that silk sleeping bag liner…but I think I will definitely attend any and every REI Garage Sale possible for those random lucky items.

Andy expressed interest in hitting up the sale later in the day around 3:00pm. I told him it would be a waste of time, but he had nothing else to do, so he went anyways (if not just to see the wreckage of what is left at the end of a garage sale). Here’s what he had to say about it:

I got to REI around 3 o’clock and walked around back because that’s where I had seen the sale was held in a Snapchat from Tim where I found a couple of employees consolidating the few remains of the outdoor portion. I asked if the sale was still going on, and they said it was. One said, “you’re supposed to go through the store to get to the sale,” but another employee told me to, “not let him talk to me like that!” They clued me into the three remaining bins of miscellaneous junk left outside, and informed me that if the price hadn’t been knocked down already, I may be able to bargain with sale manager. Apparently later in the day, they start marking down some prices (seemed to vary between 10 and 20 additional percent off). After digging around and finding nothing useful (I found a cheap pair of YakTrax, but the reason the pair was so cheap was that they were only half a pair…), I went inside and found a decent selection of coats, shoes, other miscellaneous clothing, and an abundance of sleeping pads remaining. I browsed around for a bit before making myself appear busy so I could eavesdrop on an altercation between a customer and the manager.

A pair of really nice, expensive snowboard boots were set aside behind a curtain that was behind the glass counter (in site, but clearly out of bounds) for a customer to come back and buy later, but some other guy somehow wound up with them in his hands. A manager confronted him very professionally, and the customer claimed he found them on the floor. The customer then went on to argue that people shouldn’t be allowed to set stuff aside and tried to pressure the manager into selling them to him. After repeatedly refusing, the customer told him to call him at the end of the day if the boots hadn’t been picked up. The manager said that any reserved items that are not picked up by the end of the day are set aside for the next garage sale.The customer kept coming back to him every few minutes and trying to talk him out of this policy, but the manager stood his ground. The entire staff seemed relieved when the man finally left. Well handled, REI staff!

I continued to browse, but like Tim said, everything seemed pretty fairly priced, and since I wasn’t looking for anything too specific, I wasn’t all that interested in “fair.” I found a pair of MSR Lightning Trail snowshoes for 100 dollars, but I was not ready to commit to that, having done no research prior to the sale. The one purchase I made was a Big Agnes Insulated Q Core sleeping pad that was marked down from $113 to $23 because it had a leak. The pad I have been using is about twice as big as the Q Core (packed), so I rolled it out and inspected it. I noticed no major issues, and It came with a patch kit, so I figured it was worth it. I have since repaired the leak (“how to repair a leaky sleeping pad” article forthcoming), and now have a lighter, larger, warmer, and more comfortable sleeping pad. This will all come in handy for our next backpacking trip that is currently in the planning stages. Stay tuned… still. I know we said that last time, but we should have a rough itinerary set within a couple weeks.


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