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Buying Backpacking, Hiking and Camping Gear on Ebay

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times

Perhaps you've run across a backpacker using an exotic gas stove that costs about as much as beachfront property, and he was quick to tell you that he picked it up for five bucks on ebay? As you made your way down the trail you vowed to keep an eye on the "going, going, gone" page no matter what.

Did the same backpacker happen to mention the corroded 1977 model frame backpack he got stuck with, or the tent with no zippers?

The point is to recognize that virtually everyone who has ever purchased gear via an online auction has enjoyed the best of times and the worst of times; the outstanding $5 stove and the worthless $35 tent. Recognize going in that sometimes you're gonna get garbage. And while the seller may have a return policy, you'll often find that it isn't worth the time or the effort...so you move on. The occasional clunker is tough to avoid.

The stuff nobody wants

Unless you are dealing with a jobber or importer most of whom just deal in cheap merchandise from China you are likely looking at a used item. For one reason or another, it is no longer useful to whomever has listed it. Perhaps their son moved out of the house and left it behind. Or maybe you're looking at contents from a storage bin that the owner abandoned. On rare occasions, the owner has upgraded and no longer requires the item. But in many, many cases, the item is broken or obsolete or requires a part that can't be found...and it winds up on ebay...

"...backpack is in like new condition but has a small crack in the frame that can be repaired."

Sure, it can be repaired, if you happen to be proficient welding with tungsten inert gas. For most of us, however, this pack is broken and won't work. You might store stuff in it and throw it in your garage, but you'll never use it on the trail, so don't bid on it. You can't "wish" an item to be good. The ONLY time to bid on broken or incomplete items is if you happen to know the item and have the needed part in your possession. In that case you can probably steal that broken pack for a few dollars...unless some idiot is convinced he can fix it.

My son left it behind when he...

The "junior left it behind when he went to college" stuff is more prevalent than you might think. In fact, mom & dad will often say so in the listing. The thing to remember here is that junior probably left twenty years ago, and mom is finally dealing with the fact that he doesn't plan to come back. The downside to this is that the stuff is all old. Worse yet, mom and dad are even older, so they won't ship UPS. They only understand "post office" and probably wait outside for it to open so they can see if they got any checks today. They'll pack your item with the wrong kind of tape, and the guy at the counter will tell them he won't accept it, then they'll go see how much the strapping tape costs, and tell you that they estimated the shipping charges incorrectly, and of course they couldn't get back to you right away because something was wrong with WebTV...

I don't know much about this stuff, but it looks to be in real good shape...

This is just more of the same. Junior left it with mom, or he left it in a U-Stor-it facility, and the storage yard is auctioning it off. Sometimes it's a pawn shop, or somebody left something in the cellar at the fraternity, or the building super found it when a tenant left...in almost every situation, the stuff is old and the seller barely knows how to ship it. Best case scenario is you'll get something that smells only slightly musty, is only a little rusty, and it will arrive in three or four weeks. You'll buy the item for $2 and spend $20 to ship it; you're better off finding this junk at garage sales.

I bought this backpack for my wife, but she...

Assuming the seller is sincere, this sort of thing is an opportunity to get a good deal; sometimes a great deal. Usually happens when some thick-as-a-brick husband (sort of like me) decides that his wife should have something so that she can participate in his hobby. He goes out and buys an item -- after a salesman has upsold him to a better unit -- that is usually too big or too heavy or both. She dutifully tries to use it. This often results in minor sprains or arguments or both. The item then goes unused for about a year before quietly appearing on ebay. In these cases, you can really get a great deal.

I'm selling this for a friend...

Means the seller bought some junk at his neighbor's garage sale. Or junior left it with an estranged girlfriend, sparing mom the trouble of listing it.

But Rick, I don't like to buy online...

This is just more of the same. Sorry to break it you all but most purchases are made online. It has become easier and safer to buy new goods over the Internet. You can read reviews and experiences about equipment from dozens of sites at a time. Why go out when you don't need to? I prefer to make my purchases on Amazon.com. They tend to have the best prices for outdoor equipment.

Used equipment "Dealers"

These entrepreneurs will buy every single obsolete item when an outfitter upgrades their rental equipment, then auction it online. They'll describe it as "demo" or "former rental stock" or "adjustable for rental use." It could be anything from climbing boots to kayaks. You'll see the same seller offering multiple copies of the same item in a variety of sizes. It will look like it was once top quality stuff, but is now scratched up, and probably has small cosmetic parts missing. As long as you understand what you are buying, you can often find very sound equipment that just happens to look heavily used...because that's often what it is.

There are a couple of risks. First is that the seller has often made a significant cash outlay to get the stuff, and then goes ahead and sells with "no reserve." What the big print giveth, the small print taketh away: Shipping is usually significantly higher than average, so that they are sure to cover their bets. This is fine -- simply bid with the high shipping in mind -- unless "win the auction frenzy" leads you to overpay. Ain't capitalism grand?

Another risk in buying from these used equipment operators is that they are often selling a massive volume of stuff at the beginning of a particular season, which is when you happen to be most inclined to buy. Everything goes along smoothly, until the package arrives a day early with somebody else's item inside. In the frenzy of shipping, the wrong label got on one box, and it snowballs from there. A reputable dealer trying to build a business will make it right, but it's a hassle just the same.

The biggest advantage to buying from used rental stock is that these dealers tend to be more accurate about condition in their listings, the merchandise is quite heavy duty to begin with, and they usually offer a guarantee...so they tend to ship stuff that works.

-- Rick

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