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5 Insider Tips From a Former Camping Store Employee

Updated: Dec 16, 2021

Hannah Unbound standing on a mountain looking into the distance

I never thought working a sales job in retail would be a dream career, with long hours, upset customers, and standing on my feet all day, I thought it was going to be a nightmare. But I was so wrong! Did I have to stand on my feet all day, handle cranky customers and work every other early morning or late night? Yes, but I loved it!

Even for an introvert like me who is terrified of talking to strangers, I couldn't help but talk about camping gear all freaking day! I was excited when new shipments came in so I could see the latest gear, and greet customers to see what they were looking for so I could help them get the best equipment for their trip.

Working at an outdoor gear shop taught me so much that I want to share with you, as a customer or as someone who may want to work at one. Here are my 5 insider tips from a former camping store employee!



1. Test Out the Gear

If you see a tent, sleeping bag, pad, trekking pole, or almost anything you want to check out before purchase, then open it up! While this may be something only true for a select number of stores, at the store I worked at, they would gladly set aside an area if someone wanted to set up a tent to see how roomy it was or climb in a sleeping bag to see if it's warm enough.

a pack towel at an outdoor gear store

Don't be afraid to even ask to open up the packaging, I've opened so many things for customers that they ended up not even wanting to buy. Which is totally fine, I simply repackaged it and put it back on the shelf (not always the best option, but it works). Don't feel restricted to what you see on the package.

You can also ask to see if they rent any of the gear you're looking at. This is clearly the best way to really test out an expensive piece of gear before taking the plunge and purchasing it.

Backpacking weights for testing out a backpack in an outdoor gear shop
Quick Tip: If you're looking for a backpacking or hiking bag please try it on with weights. Most stores have bagged weights of varying sizes to put in the bags. Once you put some weight in and strap it down, walk around the store for at least 10min to make the straps are totally comfortable with nothing digging into your body.


2. Almost Every Gear Company Has an Amazing Warranty

a wall of backpacking bags in an outdoor gear store

At the store I worked at, there was the "Great Big Book of Warranties" where we could look up any of the companies we carried and see what sort of guarantee they had on their product.

For most of the companies, you could simply come back into any camping store, hand them the product and let them know you want it sent in to get fixed. This is the easiest, cheapest, and quickest way to get warranties taken care of!

The most well-known warranty is Osprey's "All Mighty Guarantee", which covers any of their bags forever, no matter what. Even if 30 years from now you wear a hole in the bottom of the bag, you can send it in and get it fixed or replaced. But what most people don't know is that Deuter has the same warranty and less expensive bags for the budget backpacker.

So always try to find the warranty of a product because it may make the high prices a lot more worth it!

Quick tip: try to get your warranty requests in early or in the off-season (roughly October-February), sometimes a repair can take over a month, so you do not want to miss a trip because you sent in your equipment too late.



3. Buy Food and Fuel Early

Freeze-dried backpacking food and backpacking iso-pro fuel are the most likely to be out of stock regularly during the busy season (spring and summer). Most days we would have backpacking food purchased out of our hands as we were stocking it! So if you prefer certain flavors, have dietary restrictions, and need certain brands or quality, go early to buy freeze-dried backpacking food.

Walmart or sports stores such as Dick's or Big 5 are other good places to check for fuel and food when the camping stores are out of stock. While their food variety is lower, it's better than eating tuna for 4 days.

If you want to know about more of my favorite places to buy camping items you can find them here.



4. A Camping Store Can Order Almost Anything

If you go in wanting an Osprey Atmos 65 backpacking bag, but they don't even sell that product, they can order it from the company. Just like the warranties, they have representatives from every company they buy from so they have direct contact with them. This means they can get you that weird water filter piece from 3 years ago that you can't seem to find anywhere or a replacement zipper for that waterproof jacket.

Again, just ask an employee. Sometimes they have extra random parts in the back for free, or they can order it super easy, and you'll have it quicker and cheaper than finding it on your own.


5. If You Work in the Outdoors, You Could Be Missing Out on Major Discounts

Hannah Unbound taking a picture of a desert landscape in Joshua Tree California

So many outdoor gear companies have "pro deals" that give you extreme discounts on either select products or entire companies! If you're a rafting guide, park ranger, arborist, or any outdoor-related occupation (including working at outdoor gear stores) you can sign up!

A clearance tag at an outdoor gear shop

Each company is different, sometimes it's a one-time discount or for the year, but for most companies, all you have to do is send in a pay stub and some personal info and you're in! You can have access to awesome discounts at companies like Sea to Summit, MSR, Osprey and so much more!

This might have been one of the reasons I stuck around on the job for so long, when you're surrounded by amazing gear you want to buy every day it doesn't hurt to get some money off so I didn't end up spending my entire paycheck each week.

If you don't work in the outdoor sector, but just love getting outside on your own time, I wrote a list of some of my favorite cheaper high-end gear for those of us who don't have access to crazy discounts. You can find that post here.



Multiple layers of camping clothes layed out

Those are my 5 tips from working at an outdoor gear shop. I think one of the biggest take-aways from this is to just ask an employee for what you want. Anyone who works at a store dedicated to enjoying the great outdoors is one of the nicest people you will meet, so there's no need to be shy. There is something about getting outside on a regular basis that just makes you a happier and nicer person, it's science.

How often do you go to buy new outdoor gear? (I at least look around the stores about every other week, it's the only kind of shopping I actually like!)

Let me know in the comments if you have any tips you would like to add to this! I'm always looking for new ways to save time and money on grabbing the greatest gear! Also, feel free to email me or DM me on Instagram with any questions you may have.

Until next time,

Happy Trails!

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Hey there! My name is Hannah Smentkowski, I'm the photographer, writer, hiker, camper, and craft beer drinker of this blog!


Here, I share my travel, camping, and hiking tips to help anxious explorers get outdoors with confidence!

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