Rent, Don’t Buy: Your Gear Guide for Big Time Adventures

Shawn Forno

Checking a bag sucks.

Gone are the days when tossing a 30kg backpack under was included in the price of your ticket. Most airlines charge for checked bags—even on international flights—and buying specialized gear means extra bags, oversized luggage fees, and lots of hassle. Delta charges $90-175 for overweight bags and $170 for oversized bags.

Why not rent your gear when you land instead of buying (and packing it) before you leave?

The Benefits of Renting Gear

When you rent you:

From Patagonia to Nepal, the cheapest, easiest, option for even the toughest adventures might be gear rental. Here’s your Complete Guide to Gear Rental Options in 5 Popular Adventure Destinations:

Machu Picchu, Peru

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The Inca Trail is one of the most popular hikes in the world with over 1 million hikers completing the 2 or 4-day trek to the summit at Machu Picchu. While it can be an arduous journey at high altitude, the need for state-of-the-art, top-of-the-line, expensive-as-heck gear is minimal.

Don’t be one of the sheep (llamas?) that blindly spends hundreds of dollars purchasing heavy, overpriced gear that you don’t really need. Trust the guides who hike the trail every week and rent just the gear you need from experts, who know what works, when you arrive in Cusco. The best part about renting is that, not only is it cheaper, but you get to leave all that muddy crap behind once you’re done.

Renting From a Tour Company

Quechua Expeditions is the best local rental company I’ve come across in my research. Their reviews are great, they’re are TripAdvisor approved (I know that means a lot to some people) and they have a lot of great hiking gear available—everything from sleeping bags, tents, sleeping mats, boots, shoes, poles, and clothing—for around $4/day per item.

The gear you need will vary from season to season—January is rainy, July is dry, and it’s always pretty chilly at 14,000 feet—so, plan accordingly and be flexible. However, regardless of the season, you’ll most likely rent all of these staples for the Inca Trail. They even have budget options available:

Inca Trail Gear Rental List

A full 4-day trek with tent, sleeping bag, sleeping mat, poles, and shoes costs:

Not too shabby.

Renting a la Carte in Cusco

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If you’re really want to scrimp and save on rental gear, shop the camping stores along Calle Plateros near the center of town in Cusco. In her Inca Trail guide on Matador, Leora Novick says:

[Cusco’s] streets are lined with shops offering hiking gear for rental at very fair prices. If you’re not sure you want to commit to an expensive pair of hiking boots or a North Face sleeping bag, save yourself the money (and having to lug those boots around on the rest of your trip) and go the rental route. The shops are eager for your business, especially during the off-season, so don’t be afraid to bargain. I paid 10 soles a day for my insulated sleeping bag, which totaled just $15 for the entire trip.

Finally, someone who hates hiking boots almost as much as I do.

The shops in town have slightly cheaper rental rates, but inspect the gear carefully. The last thing you want is a subpar sleeping bag on a chilly night at 14,000 feet. Honestly, your time is more valuable than wasting a few precious hours to save $10. Rent with your tour company, and go do something fun instead.

Gear Donations: A Rental Alternative

The beauty of renting, or packing gear you plan to leave behind, goes both ways. If you’re looking to unload your pack in an ethical way after hiking the Inca Trail, but don’t want to trust your trip to rentals, gear donation is always an option.

Companies like Mountain Guides, “Encourage our Peru trekkers to bring along some of their used and close-to-worn-out-gear and clothing on this trip to donate to our local guides and staff after the trek.” It’s a nice gesture of gratitude, a great way to ditch those muddy hiking poles, and the gear will certainly go to good use—either with the guides and porters themselves, or within the local economy. Buying inexpensive gear, and donating it to the local community when you’re done, is a solid way to leave the right kind of footprint behind without costing you an arm and a leg.

Bonus: Donating gear a nice substitute, or add-on, to the cash tips most people give.

Peru: Pack For More Than Just Machu Picchu

In 2015, I spent three weeks surfing up and down the Peruvian coast and I was blown away. Honestly, Machu Picchu was probably the low-light of my trip. When you rent gear instead of buying and lugging it, you can ditch the hiking boots and check out the coast.

Peru is home to relaxed beach towns with some of the best surf on the planet. Check out (arguably) the longest left in the world at Chicama, and stay in Huanchaco for a few days soaking up the birth place of surfing. Yeah, you read that right. The fisherman in Northern Peru have been surfing there for 5,000 years! Sorry, Hawaii.

One week in northern Peru made me contemplate moving there.

Camino de Santiago, Spain

gear rental

The Camino de Santiago is my favorite hike in the world. The idea of traversing a whole country by foot (or bike, or horseback) enchanted me the moment I heard about it, and I’ve never been able to quite explain the obsession with this hike.

I’ve trekked large portions of the Camino twice—Saint-Jean Pied-de-Port to Pamplona, and the last 200km—but I’ve yet to finish it all in one go. Partly because I brought the wrong gear.

The Camino is a uniquely punishing hike. The most popular route—The Camino Frances—is a meandering 780km (about 500 miles) trek west from the French border town of Saint-Jean Pied-de-Port through the central mesas of Spain. It’s an up and down trek through several different climates and various terrain, but one of the hardest aspects of it is the surface you hike on most of the time—the road. Hiking on, or alongside, asphalt roads and hard packed trails for several hundred kilometers is extraordinarily hard on even young, fit, hikers. And, every single ounce of gear adds up on a trip that long.

My first Camino ended because I set an unrealistically fast pace. I simply didn’t have the right shoes for the trek (one of the only times I recommend a good hiking boot) and I blew my knee out early (around Pamplona). The second trek was shorter, and we made it to Santiago—not without incident (I’m looking at you “agua potable” water fountain)—and there were a lot of changes I’d make to my Camino packing list.

3 Problems With Renting Gear For the Camino:

The Camino Doesn’t Have a Starting Point

The biggest obstacle to renting gear for the Camino is that there isn’t one distinct starting line. The Camino Frances begins in Saint-Jean Pied-de-Port along the French border, but this little village isn’t a backpackers mecca with stores and markets. Some hikers start in Austria. Others begin in Portugal. Some take the north route, others the south, and some even walk east.

Most pilgrims only walk small portions of the Camino (particularly the final 100km since that’s enough to get your “Pilgrim Pass”) so there isn’t anywhere you can rely on finding good rental gear from. And, you really need decent gear for the full Camino.

The Camino Isn’t a Loop

The Camino isn’t just a cool hike—it’s a pilgrimage, and an ancient one. For millennia pagans hiked to Fisterra—the western edge of Europe—and for the last few centuries, Christian pilgrims have trekked westward to the bones of St. James (El Camino de Santiago means “The Way of St. James”). That means, the Camino and it’s infrastructure is a straight line pointing west—not a loop.

Hence, there isn’t an easy way for hikers who finish the trek to sell, or donate, their gear to new trekkers about to start. A common tradition on the Camino is actually to burn your clothes, or boots, once you get to the Atlantic Ocean (although it’s frowned upon by some).

The Camino Takes Too Long

Even if you did find a place that rented great gear at an affordable price, the hike is simply too long for this option to be cost-effective. The Camino Frances takes anywhere from 30 to 35 days, depending on the weather, time of year, and your fitness. That’s an average of 23 – 27 kilometers per day (14-16 miles. 15 miles a day. 7 days a week. For 6 weeks.) 

And that doesn’t include the 87km from Santiago to Fisterra (which I highly recommend). Even if you found some budget rates—say $20/day for boots, sleeping bag, and sleeping mat—that’s $700, not including the time it takes you to get back to wherever you rented the gear.

The only realistic thing you can rent for the Camino is a bike.

Biking the Camino de Santiago

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About 1-in-5 Pilgrims who reach the bones of St. James get to Santiago on two-wheels. The Camino hiking trail is ideally suited to mixed foot and bike traffic. Even novice bikers on rented mountain bikes can expect to travel at about twice the speed of their walking counterparts. 

To receive the coveted “Pilgrim” status, bikers have to travel at least 200 km to Santiago, so Ponferrada is a common starting point. Google maps says you can bike it in 14 hours and 2 mins. Let me know how that goes.

Camino Bike Rental

Cycling Rentals’ Camino Touring Packs kind of take care of everything. Seriously. The packages below include delivery to your accommodation anywhere in Spain or Portugal, and collection fees when you’re done, not to mention all this:

Sign me up.

Biking the Camino: Starting Destinations & Timelines

Triana Backpackers offers similar bike rental options with more customization and add-on day rates (10€/day):

If you’re a slower cyclist or want to take your time, the 30-day rental is the way to go. My new plan is to rent a bike, crush the northern route, and finally get the Camino monkey off my back.

Annapurna Circuit, Nepal

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I’ve never been to Nepal—and it’s a pretty intense destination—so I don’t want to give any inaccurate or incomplete advice about rental gear based on internet research. You deserve better than that.

Luckily, I know someone who’s not only trekked through Nepal—he rented and purchased a lot of his gear when he landed.

gear rental

According to Jason Moore, travel junkie and podcasting whiz from Zero to Travel, renting and buying gear in Nepal is pretty easy:

We spent a few days gearing up for our trek in Thamel, the tourist epicenter of Kathmandu. This neighborhood contains about a bajillion gear shops where you can purchase whatever you need—usually for much cheaper than it would cost back home. I bought trekking poles for around $6 USD—something that costs $75-$100+ back home—and they worked perfectly.

Renting high quality gear is a great option in Nepal too. You can rent expensive cold weather sleeping bags for $1-$2 per day so that’s what we did instead of having to buy and carry them around.

Cautions & Exceptions to Renting in Nepal

While Jason is a big fan of buying and renting gear in Nepal, he cautions you to be careful when you buy and crunch the numbers before you leave:

You do have to choose carefully, because the popular brand names are often knock-offs of the real thing. Sounds like no big deal until the “waterproof” pants you buy get soaked on the trail. If you plan on doing a lot of trekking, it might be worth buying and bringing gear.

Switchback travel also urges caution and attention to detail when renting important gear—like sleeping bags and heavy down jackets—in Nepal:

Rent from the small warehouse shops in Kathmandu that rent ‘real’ expedition equipment—like recycled genuine cold-weather gear and specialty items that are only needed for Nepal. You can rent these items for less than $1 per day and return them when the trek is finished.

Patagonia

gear rental

I’ve traveled extensively through Central and South America, but somehow missed out on Patagonia. I know. Criminal, right? Luckily, Jason had more to say about renting gear in Patagonia:

I spent 3+ months in Patagonia doing multiple treks throughout the country so I brought almost all my camping equipment and purchased a camping stove when I arrived, since I wasn’t sure what type of gas would be widely available. Once you are done with your big trip, a great option is to sell whatever you want to get rid of to other trekkers before you leave the country.

Hiking in places like the Torres del Paine National Park and camping in either Peninsula Valdes or Los Glaciares National Park each require a fair bit of gear for the harsh conditions. Even the Lonely Planet jury is split on renting gear vs. buying it in Buenos Aires.

However, the consensus seems to be that renting a tent is a safe bet, and renting makes sense if you only plan to camp or hike for a week or less. Specific gear rental recommendations for Patagonia treks include:

Camping in National Parks: Renting Gear in the USA

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For some weird reason, renting camping and hiking gear has never caught on in the US—Americans love to buy stuff we only use once. However, thanks to increasing rental options from major chains like REI and, Netflix style, rent and ship providers online, there’s never been a better time to rent gear. You just have to ask yourself one simple question before you rent a single piece of gear:

Am I ever going to use this again?

Be brutally honest about what you really need for that weekend camping trip, and how likely you are to go spelunking again next month. Fresh gear is amazing, and it’s easy to talk yourself into buying a $250 tent that you’ll, “Totally use all the time next summer,” but more often than not it’ll just collect dust in the garage. That’s just what happens.

Don’t Buy This Gear

Some gear is essential—backpacks, good shoes, a reliable raincoat—but most travel gizmos and gadgets are single-use. Here are some common items that you should always rent:

The rest is up to you.

Personally, I think a solid 3-season sleeping bag is a great investment that ages well over time, and I love my Tortuga Airbut I’m a travel writer—of course I’m going to use that stuff all the time. But no matter how much I geek out on gear, even I would have a hard time justifying $240 modular crampons, especially when I can rent a pair for $16/day.

REI Rentals – USA

REI is the big name in the game, so they’ve likely got what you need. Gear availability varies from state to state, so check out what’s available at your local store, and call ahead to confirm before you make the trip down. Also, you have to visit the store to see pricing info. Which is a bummer.

Gear to Go Outfitters – New York City

If you’ve never been to New York City, Brooklyn might seem like a strange place for an camping and and outdoor gear store to set up shop, but Gear to Go Outfitters, knows exactly what they’re doing.

New Yorkers are notoriously adventurous—you can rock climb in Central Park, kayak the East River, surf Long Island, hike the entire length of Manhattan, or get out of town to one of 180 state parks in New York State—and do just about anything you want in this action-packed metropolis. However, storage space is limited.

Rent water gear, climbing stuff, hiking, and camping gear to get out and away from the city all year round. Call ahead for reservations, and bonus: if you like what you rented, you can apply 50% of the rental to buying it.

Outdoor Geek – Online

Outdoor geek is a throwback to when the look of your website didn’t matter. Which I love. They have a huge selection of individual gear for rent, but the camping rental packages is where the site shines.

Their 2-person camping package (includes tent, sleeping bags, sleeping pads) costs:

Customizable for solo, group, or family trips, the camping package is a great way to get what you need, from experts that actually know, without breaking the bank.

Whittaker Mountaineering – Online

They rent lots of gear, but the shipping time is a little long—4 weeks ahead of time. If you decide to rent with them, make sure you plan waaaaaay ahead.

Renting Makes Cents Sense

Over the years I’ve grown more comfortable with the idea that not only is it impossible for me to be 100% prepared for a destination before I land—it’s foolish to try. Over-preparing ruins almost every trip because you eliminate the mystery and serendipity that happens when you travel. Plus, you’re trying to prepare for somewhere that you’ve never been before. Sounds like a bad idea to me.

For longer treks, pack your go-to core gear—pants, socks, hiking shirts, coat, etc.—and rent or buy inexpensive options for the rest when you get where you’re going. You really will save money in the long run, and honestly the worst problem you’ll have is that you’re going on so many awesome adventures, that renting gear is no longer cost effective. Poor you. Your life sounds terrible.

Bonus: If you rent often enough, you get to try firsthand, all the best gear. When it does come to buy, you’ll be an expert.

A Cautionary Tale

I travelled around Iceland for two months last summer with a 2-man tent after I covered a music festival in Reykjavik. It was an awesome trip, but I really wish I’d bought a cheap tent in Icealand (yes it’s possible) instead of the super nice one I borrowed from a friend. I used it a lot, but lugging that thing around for 8 weeks was a bummer.

TL;DR

Renting gear saves you money, hassle, and makes packing and traveling a breeze. Don’t plan your entire trip around gear that you’ll only use for a few hours. Rent instead and leave the headaches behind.

Image Credits: Unsplash