Would You Rent All Your Outdoor Gear?

You can rent everything from tents to surfboards to overland vehicles—should you?

Last May I organized a mellow backpacking trip with a small group, one of whom was considering being outfitted by a rental camping equipment service that will mail you a backpacking kit, complete with tent, sleeping bag and pad, stove, backpack, and headlamp, all of which you box up and send back at the end of the voyage. I saved him the expense and supplied him from my own well-stocked (okay, very overstocked) garage of outdoor goodies. The price for the service isn’t too bad though, a couple hundred bucks per trip. Less than buying everything from scratch if you just wanted to try backpacking for a weekend.

Couple weeks back a brand new jacked-up Toyota Tacoma passed me on the street, fitted out with a clean rooftop tent and and freshly shined knobby all-terrains. Looked like your standard adventure-y pickup, except “RENTAL 4X4” was emblazoned on the door panel beneath the name of the company renting out the shiny overlanding toy. I dug into it a bit and discovered the company, based in San Francisco, will outfit you with anything from a Tacoma to a Land Rover to fulfill your overland fantasies, one weekend at a time.

Most recently, just yesterday in fact, I walked past a new surf shop that’s participating in beta testing of a surfboard subscription service. For a monthly fee, you can waltz in and grab a different surfboard every day. The annual cost shakes out to roughly the same price as a new surfboard. So, really, if you lived close to one of these facilities, and you bought about a surfboard per year, you’d never need to own your own board again.

I suppose you could say the same for all your outdoors gear at this point.

Especially in the Bay Area, where I live, the subscription-based economy seems to be taking over. Cars, clothes, jewelry, phones, computers—why actually own something when you can use it just when you need for a small fee, then send it back? On the one hand, the “Own Fewer, Better Things” philosophy is a guiding light for most purchase decisions I make these days. So, in theory anyway, renting things that you don’t necessarily see a need to own yourself makes a lot of sense, both economically, and in terms of just less stuff to haul around with you throughout life. It feels good to own less. Simple as that.

There’s a local sporting goods store near me where you can outfit yourself by renting everything you need for a crack at the John Muir Trail, a fishing trip in the Tahoe backcountry a weekend of skiing in Mammoth, or a snowshoe trip through the Trinity Alps, complete with ice axes and everything. Throw all that in a rented 4×4 and you don’t even need a car. Make it a Baja surf mission with a surfboard subscription service and you’re all set.

I’m conflicted. Personally, I want my gear to get beat-up and filthy. Every rip in my pack, every dent in my water bottle, each stain on my tent, and every tree scrape eating into the paint of my pickup form a sentimental patina. There’s little better then pulling out a well-loved piece of backpacking gear the first night on the trail and, for a moment, having that flash of nostalgia for trips past. Plus, I trust my gear and my truck. If I’m deep in the backcountry, I don’t want to rely on gear that’s been questionably used lord knows how many times.

I get the freedom from things that rentals provide, though, I do. It’s compelling. It’s just not for me. What about you though—would you trade ownership of gear for the freewheeling bliss of an empty garage?


Showing 13 comments
  • JoAnne Meadows

    I love the whole idea! It gives people an opportunity to try new things they might not otherwise try if they had to shell out a bundle for all the gear. If they decide they want to further pursue the activity they might buy some stuff they really like and continue to rent the rest, or they might eventually buy everything. Or if they do something only a few times a year it can be much more practical to rent–think ski rentals, which people have been doing for years.

  • Alan

    Makes sense for some things….especially expensive/specialty equipment. But for others (rented climbing rope anyone?), no way!

  • DanO

    Agree with Alan. It’s great that someone could rent good gear to try backpacking or fly fishing out before they commit the buck$ for their own gear. And getting out and seeing what everyone else uses will inform them to what they like/prefer/works for them. I have very specific things I still hand on to like a 1993 Sierra Zip Stove (SO MUCH MOJO in that stove!!) that I will always prefer over generic equipment picked by a store clerk. I know what works for me.

    The other reason I could see this working would be when you are away from your gear, maybe on a business trip, and get a sudden yearning or invitation to stay a few days and get out. Having a place you can get gear and then mail it back would be great.

  • Accidental FIRE

    Makes sense for things not often used or for when you’re far from home and don’t have what you need with you. But I get out a lot, so it’s way more affordable to buy gear when I’m using it very often. Plus certain things like a backpack need to fit correctly and just need to be bought if you’re going to use it a lot and have to have it dialed in for comfort.

  • Joe Bustos

    I get a sense of pride with ownership of my own outdoor gear – it’s mine and I know every little thing about it. I also treat my own gear better than I would rented gear. I have a good friend that recently closed the doors to what was a very good online gear rental business. Rentals can be a great way to break down the barrier to entry in getting people outside but when you start to have the need for technical gear, it becomes difficult to capture that consumer for rentals.On the contrary, isn’t that a good thing? In our industry, we want to introduce people to getting outside in any way possible by any means. Once that person experiences their first backpacking trip or whatever it is, we want them back and buying their own gear. It benefits our industry and grows participation.

  • Chloe

    As someone who lives nowhere near the scenery or adventures I want to be taking, I can seriously see the benefits of being able to rent the stuff I’d need for an adventure where I’d be having said adventure. Without having to schlep and wrangle gear on a plane or drive it all cross country (though I love my long haul road trips) I could actually take more adventures because I wouldn’t have to plan a week in for travelling there and back. I’m still probably too cheap to do it that way though, plus I have lots of gear already. I could totally see me renting over landing rigs though, I don’t really have a proper one.

  • Chris

    I think this concept is a great idea. Allows you to try different activities, different types of gear, etc. This is good for people just getting into the outdoors or doing something never done before. I have rented specific items before but never rented a whole setup. I would do it.

  • Eric

    Would love this when traveling far. I’ve hauled a giant duffel to Europe, Australia, and Hawaii, but that was back when 70 lbs was the weight limit and you got to check two bags for free (or at least they were included in the ticket price).

  • Tony Lima

    I think it’s great for trying new sports and activities. It makes trying new things not so cost inhibitory. I’ve recently been working on an app called Gearmo that lets you rent, buy, and sell outdoor gear from people around you. So I hope the trend of the sharing economy continues!

  • Brandon

    Sounds like a consensus, to me. It’s a wonderful model for people who are looking to get into something new and not yet ready to drop loads on their own gear. But like you say towards the end, I don’t think I could deal without my own tried & trusty gear for long. I’ve built a relationship with every backpack, sleeping bag, and pair of boots I’ve owned. So much so that I can’t bring myself to get rid of it all. I just retire everything to storage because of the memories.

  • Allison Gonzalez

    I’m actually going to do my first weekend backpacking trip this year and was wondering since I’m new if I should rent some if not all my gear. It would give me the opportunity to try out certain brands or sizes. And, hell, if I end up not enjoying backpacking then I’m not stuck with all that gear. (But I think I’m gonna like it. )

  • gringo

    I hope I never have to sleep in a rented sleeping bag or sweat in a rental rain jacket, but I will say that having had the opportunity to spend a few weeks exploring the Wadis and deserts of Oman in a proper kitted out Land Cruiser is an experience I will cherish for the rest of my days, and it wouldn’t have happened if I was not able to rent that truck.
    I will admit however, I was happy it didn’t have a big ugly RENTAL 4×4 sticker on the side 🙂

    • Justin Housman

      Yeah, that RENTAL tag on the truck would be too much for me to bear.

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