Ballin' on a Budget
A Broke Girl's Guide To Getting Gear...
My first outdoor experience was hiking at Arches National Park, Utah, at the ripe age of 24; it was my first "big girl" vacation. And by "big girl" I mean on my own dime. I was not even one year into my first full time job, so I still couldn’t afford five star living. I definitely survived on ramen noodles and Totino's pizza rolls, for some time, in order to make up for what I spent once I got home. I was a novice to the great outdoors; hiking boots, day-packs, and trekking poles were not in my vocabulary. My first hike was magical, but I suffered. I had never seen mountains like those in Moab, just as I had never seen blisters like the ones sprouting on my feet that day. I knew I wanted to go back. I wanted to see more nature. I just needed to figure out how.
First, I did my research. I looked for trails in my area and would go on small outings either by myself or in the company of others. One of the most important things I learned was that exposure is key. You don’t need much to hike for a day: just yourself, shoes (which I've come to learn is actually optional for some very special folk), hydration, and a trail map—just so you don’t get lost forever in the forest. Once I felt comfortable in nature, I began to accumulate gear to spend more time in it. Gear can be one of the most costly aspects to any adventure sport. It isn't easy buying gear when you are a student who has sold your soul to Sallie Mae, or when you are unemployed, paying bills, or just starting at your job. The hustle is real at times and gear can be a luxury that you just cannot afford. Below you will be able to find some tips on how I managed to acquire all of my gear whilst living broke as f—k.
Take Your Time!
I know this sounds super cliché, but Rome wasn’t built in a day and your gear collection will not be either. It has literally taken me years to get all my gear, and, even then, I am nowhere near done. Buy your gear one at a time. For example: I buy one quick draw a month. Yes, the progress is slow, but it feels wonderful to check something off your list.
Feed that Piggy Bank!
Making a savings plan is a great way to get bigger, more expensive pieces of gear, such as a larger backpacking pack, climbing rope, or a brand new skydiving helmet. These things generally cost hundreds of dollars and can really put you out. Save your money! Set an amount of cash you want to put towards your gear every pay period and stick to it. Make feeding your piggy bank as serious as feeding your dog. Before stopping by Starbucks to get your fix of caramel macchiato think about how that overpriced whipped cream money can be used towards your brand new ultralight tent. In time you’ll have enough saved up to buy what you need.
I cannot stress this enough! Look for a deal! If you have enough time to wait for holiday sales, do it! Research is key to shopping smart. Shop smart so you can look "$hmoney," as my inner Cardi B would say. Before buying any piece of gear I research major vendors such as REI, Moosejaw, Amazon, Backcountry Gear, Sierra Trading Post, and Steep and Cheap. Turn to places with a good return policy, such as REI, or especially L.L. Bean, for testing products that require actual testing. For example, rock climbing shoes require actual climbing to see if they fit. Some vendors such as Moosejaw offer discount for students, military servicemen, and first responders. If you aren't a student but know someone who is? Use their account! Give them the money and have them buy it for you. That 20% can make a a huge difference in some cases, so take advantage! Look for offers that will give you rewards money back if you spend over a certain amount of money. You can use those rewards towards another piece of gear.
Buying used is an excellent way of saving money. In skydiving, buying used vs. new can literally save you thousands of dollars. Check out Facebook pages for your sport, as well as forums in which people sell used gear. I have found outdoor consignment shops to be particularly helpful as well. Although there aren't any in my area, there are all types of used outdoor gear stores surrounding the Blue Ridge Mountains. I always make time during my hiking/climbing trips to check these places out. When buying used gear make sure you check for SAFETY. If you are buying anything for your skydiving rig, have your rigger inspect it first before committing any money. If you are buying climbing gear, make sure to double inspect it with someone who has experience buying gear. Safety comes before saving a few bucks any day.
Set a REALISTIC budget of the money you can spend/save each month on gear. Stick to that budget. The piggy bank that needs to be fed for real world bills such as rent and electricity is just as important as your gear one! If you find a good deal and think it is important to exceed your budget, make sure you adjust the rest of your monthly budget accordingly. If you cannot buy that piece of gear without eating PB&J sandwiches for the rest of the pay period then you cannot buy the gear. Or, if you are okay with living off ramen noodles for two weeks...then do you, boo. Just remember, no piece of gear is worth getting in debt for.
Prioritize what you need! You need rock climbing shoes if you plan on climbing in the gym. A day pack is very affordable and will open the door for you to go on many little hiking adventures before an ultralight tent will. I was using water purification pills before I was able to afford a water filtration device. It was cheaper and still a way for me to get outside. Prioritize what you need to help jump start your adventures!
Stay Positive and Have fun!
Accumulating gear is a long process! Stay positive. I am privileged to have a full time job. For those who are students, unemployed, or grinding just to make rent, it may be a longer process. Know that there is beauty in what you are doing—exploring spaces that we as people of color have lost a connection with for so long. Go on all the adventures you can with what you have! As long as you have shoes on your feet and a bottle of water so you don't die, so much can be explored. As you get more proficient in your sport and accumulate more gear you will be getting closer to your goal. I believe in you ^____^
Some vendors I have found very useful...
MooseJaw: These folks offer a nice student, military service member, and first responder discount. They have excellent rewards points promotions.
Sierra Trading Post: The TJ- Maxx and Marshalls of Outdoor Gear! Literally… They’re from the same company. This is an awesome website for yoga gear, beginner climbing gear, and hiking gear. Not too fond of their return policy though.
REI: If you plan on shopping here often, GET THE MEMBERSHIP! If you cannot get the membership right away but you know someone that does, shop with them! REI Garage Sales are only open to members and are an awesome time to get anything from tents to puffer jackets for the low low. I wasn't a member when I went to my first garage sale, but I had some dope friends who took me with them and helped me pick out things that I needed for winter hiking. REI also have a wonderful return policy, which is helpful when shopping for things you need to try out, ie: climbing shoes.
Backcountry Gear + Steap and Cheap: I have literally gotten gear at amazingly cheap prices through both. They’re awesome vendors to get quickdraws from. If there is a piece of gear I am looking for I always check for the steep and cheap price first and then look elsewhere. These folks also price match!
Finding ways to save on gear is something that makes me giddy with joy. In the quest for more knowledge, I would love to read your input on how you have built up your outdoor repertoire, especially if it is in ways now listed above. Blue Skies and Happy Trails to all of you!