Thursday, 30 June 2016

So you want cheap* gear....

*Cheap (adjective) costing little money or less than is usual or expected
The gear that we require for alpine climbing and backcountry skiing is expensive. But does it need to be? Before I go into detail and suggesting ways in which you can save money on your next purchase, take a minute to really decide whether you need to buy it in the first place. That is the first step in saving money: Here are 11 more...
Ok, so it's the obvious one, but it's a starting point and the main focus of this article. The trick here though is to catch them at the right time. What are you after? Skiing gear? Winter climbing gear? technical alpine clothing? Most people realise by now that the best deals are found out of season. For example, buying winter climbing and ski gear in the summer. However, there are deals to be had in preseason and even mid season sales. Ski manufacturers, as an example, like to try and sell off last seasons skis to make way for their new products. To do this, they drop the price, quite considerably in some instances. Whitedot Skis for example have a factory outlet where they sell previous seasons ski at up to 60% off. They also usually have an early bird offer on new season skis during the summer and run their Dots Dozen preseason sale in the Autumn. Down Skis are the perfect example of having pre, mid and post season sales. They had a presale in July for several weeks but usually have a mid season sale too so keep an eye out for them. Outdoor retailers generally do the same thing. They sell off old stock to make way for new season stock. So it is definitely worth checking around online a few months and weeks before the winter season hits off, that is if you don't mind last season gear.

How often do you click the little cross in the top corner of a "sign up to our newsletter" pop-up window to close it? Well don't. Give it a chance. By signing up to newsletters, you are kept up to date on any sales, deals and discounts which may be coming soon. Yes you will get weekly, or maybe daily, emails which you won't even read and file in your trash folder, but occasionally, the daily notifications will pay off. Sometimes these newsletters may also contain a link for you to fill in a survey or questionnaire referring to the company at hand. It may seem like a waste of time but sometimes you are rewarded. Take Whitedot Skis, again, for example. I filled in a questionnaire from their newsletter and was rewarded with a discount code for 20% off their skis. And I will add that this discount code worked on their sale skis too. Double savings! A £700+ pair of skis for £430. So worth the minimal effort. One final note on newsletters, some websites will try and entice you by giving you a discount code on your first purchase or a 'money back' offer i.e. spend £50 get £5 back/£500 get £50 back, so take advantage of that!

Several Websites give you the option to create an account with them for added savings. Examples include Sportpursuit and EpicTV. Sportpursuit is a warehouse clearance online retailer. They sell off last season gear at ridiculous discounts. But beware as their delivery time is usually several weeks if not over a month at some instances. The reason being, they have a set sale time, usually a flash sale of 7 days. At the end of their sale, they order the requests to their warehouse and then ship them out. This whole process takes 2 - 3 weeks after the sale has ended. So if you need kit quickly for an up and coming trip, Sportpursuit is not for you, but they have some amazing deals with up to 80% off at times! EpicTV shop lets you sign up and gives you special members price off their RRP and sales. They are based in Chamonix but their delivery time to the UK is under a week in some instances. Even better though, you can order online and pick up from their store in Chamonix Sud. Whilst sat in the airport departure lounge last season, I realised that I had forgotten to order new skins for my skis. I searched online for a reasonable priced set of skins that I can pick up in Cham and came across a pair of G3 Alpinist skins on EpicTV (£130 reduced to £100). Obviously it was too late to get them delivered at home so I emailed them and they said to put the delivery address down as their store in Cham Sud. Two days later and they were on my skis skinning up the Grands Montets with change left over for a beer and burger in town that evening. So have a look around online a see who offers members discounts, you'll be suprised.

Bare with me here. It's a bit of a taboo shopping in Europe, I know. Most of us like to buy British and support our local shops. Like with the recent news of Edge and Wax going under and many more shops on the brink, we really should be supporting these small businesses. Plus, I don't know how much longer shopping in Europe will benefit our wallet due to the results of the referendum the other week. Anyway, shopping online on European websites also involves checking the Pound against the Euro. If the pound is good against the euro, like it was in August 2015 where it was 69p to 1Euro, then we have a deal. For example if we take the RRP cost of the new Scarpa Phantom Tech mountaineering boot from at €649.90 and convert that to £ at the exchange rate from today then that equates to about £545. Now if we had bought the same boot, from the same website at the same €649.90 price in August 2015 then we would have paid roughly £450. That's a £90 saving! But it's an uncertainty. We can't just sit at our laptops or on our phones checking the exchange rate everyday and hoping we can save a couple of quid if you wait a week or two. But it is worth considering from time to time. If you want to save a few quid and not support British businesses then check out the sites from the list below:

It may not be the obvious choice but actually have a look on a specific brand's website or visit a highstreet shop if they have one. On my last trip to Chamonix I walked into the Patagonia shop where they had a 30% off sale on everything. So instead of paying £110 for the new Snowdrifter 30L ski pack, I paid just under £80. Montane are selling of their end of line products at the moment and Black Diamond have an outlet store online. If you have a particular brand in mind, check out their website first and go from there. On the bricks and mortar side of things, visiting an actual shop may wield surprising sales and deals not advertised on their website. Climbing shops such as Joe Brown, The Climbers Shop and Needlesports will usually have items on sale not shown online and will also have a 'bargain bucket' where select climbing gear is reduced and may even have a cosmetic seconds bin where climbing gear is slightly scratched or the wrong colour but still perfectly usable and again, reduced in price. The other added bonus of visiting an actual shop is you can use your...

Joining a club or association can give you some great benefits and rewards. The British Mountaineering Council (BMC), Mountain Training Association (MTA), Association of Mountaineering Instructors (AMI) and the Austrian Alpine Club UK (AACUK), as examples, all have membership cards which you can use in most outdoor retailers to attain a saving of at least 10 - 20% off RRP. The MTA and AMI memberships are the more specialist associations where a National Governing Body (NGB) qualification is required; ML and SPA, as examples, for MTA and MIA/MIC for AMI. As a member of the MTA and AMI, you have access to a members area and pro deals on gear. Past deals through the MTA have been through RAB, Montane, Sherpa and Terra Nova where you could buy their gear at trade price. So a pair of Montane Super Terra pants would cost you £78 and not £130! Bare in mind though that you do have to pay a membership fee to join the likes of the above clubs, as with most clubs. But if you use your membership wisely, you will save on lots of kit buying. Other clubs to consider are the Climbers Club and for you softy Southerners, the South Devon Mountaineering Club. Whilst not strictly speaking a club, Go Outdoors does have their own discount card available to members for £5 a year. They may not have the most cutting edge, high tech gear on the market or even specialist knowledge, but from time to time they have some good gear in stock and cheaper than most other places. Plus, if you are a member of the armed forces or public services and have a MoD90 service card or similar they will give you an extra 10% off of their already discounted prices (but not sale prices). So again, worth checking it out for yourself.

Lots of websites are starting to do this now with the main retailer being Go Outdoors. Basically, you find the EXACT SAME product in size and colour on another website for cheaper, fill the form out on Go Outdoors and if it gets passed, you get 10% off the price of the cheaper product found on the other website. So for example, Go Outdoors are selling the Scarpa Phantom guide in size EU 46 for £310 where as Rock and Run are selling the same sized boot for £265. If the price match fits the specification for the Go Outdoors price match then you can pick up these boots for £238.50p! But check the terms and conditions as Go Outdoors do not price match from shops outside of Britain and no other discount can be applied i.e. military discount.

It's not the most obvious but by following and liking certain pages on sites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, you are exposed to some great deals. Log onto FB and search for and like outdoor gear brands, ski brands, outdoor and ski shops and keep an eye on them from time to time. The same on Instagram, follow brands and shops and see what they might have to offer. Down skis post up special promo codes occasionally, advertise sales they are having and even do very short 24hr flash sales on limited stock with a first come first serve basis. And don't disregard competition 'Like and Share' posts. I won a GoPro Hero 3 Silver a few years ago by just liking and sharing an outdoor retailers competition post. Certain Instagram profiles have weekly photo competitions where you upload a certain picture, just add their hashtag to the caption and hope for the best. If you use social media well then who knows how much you could save or even get for free.

Has anyone heard of Ebay? If yes, then it needs no explanation. Just use your common sense and pay with PayPal. If no, then ... google it. Other sites exist too and one that most climbers will possibly be familiar is the UKClimbing For Sale/Wanted forums. If you are not bothered with buying used gear then it is worth browsing. But again, be cautious, use common sense and ask questions if you are unsure. You can usually get the price down with a bit of friendly bartering too but don't try and get something for nothing. Another option is to use Facebook buy and sell groups such as Outdoor Gear Exchange UK.

This is easier said than done. It is not as simple as writing a well worded email to a gear company asking for free gear to 'test'. Most companies have a very select team of professional climbers and skiers to test their gear. But from time to time, companies are on the look out for the 'average Joe' to test their gear. If you have just started rock climbing and only top roping VDiff, or still snow ploughing down a Blue piste, then maybe applying to test gear won't be for you. However, if you're an experienced climber, alpinist or skier, working mountain professional or have an interesting trip, expedition or objective in mind then you may just full fill the requirements. At the end of the day, there is no harm in asking a company or filling in an application form. But just remember, you won't get something for nothing. Yes, you might get a 'free' jacket, but you then have to test it in every discipline you can, write about it, submit reports and pictures, think about it and how it works, how it doesn't work. Instead of sitting on that belay ledge thinking about what you are going to order off the menu tonight, you have to be thinking about the product at hand. I applied to test a new Haglofs jacket last year through the ISPO Open Innovation and got accepted. I received a nice new prototype jacket in the post but then had to wear it and test it over a few months. Climbing, skiing, taking the dog for a walk, I wore this jacket. At the end of the test period another slot opened up to test a new hardshell for Bergans of Norway. I applied again, but this time didn't get accepted. So it's luck of the draw and maybe I wasn't what they were looking for the second time round. Again, just remember that a company isn't going to just hand out gear to you for nothing. 

Do you really need to buy top end expensive brands? Do you need those £450 pair of Patagonia sallopettes or can you make do with a £50 pair of Decathlon softshell trousers? After all, that saving right there is the biggest that I have mentioned on this article. Think about it, the biggest saving all together, other than not buying gear in the first place, is to buy cheap gear. But that's for you to decide. A friend of mine bought some trousers from Mountain Warehouse and they ripped on their first outing on a winter climb in Scotland. Not what you want in that situation! So just be sensible with your purchase and only you can decide what's really required for the climb or ski at hand. If you really can't afford new gear then maybe a mate of yours has something which you could borrow, whether it's a jacket, ice axes or skis. A pint down the pub is always cheaper than a shiny new pair of DMM Apex axes. 

And there is always crag swag for the really desperate...


Patience. It will pay off eventually.

Do you have any more suggestions on how to save money buying kit? Leave a comment and also tell us what your biggest saving was.

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