There comes a point with every item we own when it’s time to move on to something new. Now, this could mean that they are no longer usable; in that case, it may be possible to repurpose or recycle the materials. Then, in the worst-case scenario, we toss the item in the trash.
But sometimes, we outgrow a piece of gear, or our interest in that particular sport or activity has changed. In those cases, you have a few options: give it to a friend who will use it or resell it/donate it.
Donating old outdoor equipment comes with nuances, and not everything should be given to thrift stores. Whatever you choose, donating old gear diverts more materials from landfills, and it gives that product a new life with someone else that can enjoy it. We put together a guide on donating outdoor equipment to provide you with ideas about where to send, sell, or donate old gear.
Disclaimer: Not all outdoor equipment is safe to donate or even resell. Never donate safety or life-saving equipment, like climbing gear. Instead, recycle, repurpose, or throw them away. Likewise, if you are purchasing used equipment yourself, avoid buying used safety equipment.
5 Ways to Donate Outdoor Gear
The list below is adapted from Outdoor Minimalist: Waste Less Hiking, Backpacking, and Camping by Meg Carney.
1. Ask friends and family if they want or will use your old gear.
One of the easiest ways to declutter and rehome old outdoor equipment is to give them to someone you know. If you have a friend interested in starting a new outdoor activity, ask them if they might use an old backpack you no longer need. In many instances, people delay getting involved in new outdoor sports or activities because of the monetary barrier to entry that comes with purchasing new equipment. Plus, you never know; you may jump-start their new favorite pastime by giving them an old backpack, fishing rod, or even a decent pair of hiking boots.
2. Bring to a local charity, thrift store, or used gear shop.
Most of us live in an area with a thrift store or two. Thrift store shopping is a fun way to find a few hidden treasures or items to repurpose. Not all thrift stores are created equal, though. Choose ones that support fair wages, ethical practices, and give back to your local community. Anytime you donate gear to a thrift store, do not depend on them to clean the gear on your behalf. Most of the time, when you donate dirty items, they throw it away.
So, if you choose to go this route, make sure it is still completely functional, and clean. Larger chain thrift stores have a higher percentage of their items sent to landfills or shipped overseas versus reselling to customers in that community. Donate directly to small charities or work with locally owned consignment gear shops to ensure that item is reused and utilized.
3. Contact local scouts or outdoor learning groups.
If you want to give back to programs that help future generations get outside, look into area scouting organizations or other outdoor learning groups that may have kids in need. Many organizations have gear available for participants, while others may require each individual to have equipment of their own. In those instances, lower-income students and scouts are disadvantaged and might miss out on formative outdoor learning opportunities. If they do not have a specific donation program, contact a scout leader. They will know if anyone in the group needs assistance or can use the old gear.
Another program to look into if you can’t find a home for gear in your community is Gear Forward. Their donation program gives life to your old equipment by giving it to outdoor-focused non-profit organizations to get the gear to youth in need.
General gear redistribution programs also exist to help underrepresented groups get outside. A few examples include Colour the Trails and HBCUs Outside.
4. Bring outdoor clothing, tents, and sleeping bags to local charities or shelters.
While it isn’t a solution to the housing crisis, many shelters and charities do provide clothing and other products to people in need. Outdoor gear like jackets, tents, and sleeping bags are especially useful for people in colder climates. Finding organizations that can coordinate those donations for you is recommended to ensure you give the items to the people who need them the most.
5. Send usable REI equipment to someone in need using the GiveBackBox program.
The GiveBackBox program accepts donations for various used household items but also partners with REI to breathe new life into that outdoor gear. Donations are simple and easy through their program. All you need to do is go to their website, enter your zip code, and they will provide a label to the nearest participating charity. If you have multiple items, keep in mind that you need a label for each box.
GiveBackBox has a variety of partners outside of REI, and each participating partner covers the shipping cost.
Q: What kind of outdoor gear should not be donated or consigned?
Any safety or life-saving equipment should never be donated, consigned, or bought used. These items require specific structural integrity to ensure they function correctly. Other things that should not be donated include those that no longer work or are broken. If an item is too damaged to be used for its original purpose, look into repurposing or recycling programs instead. Weapons also should never be donated.
Q: What can you do with old camping gear?
You can donate, resell, repurpose, or recycle old camping gear. While it may be the fastest and easiest solution, throwing old camping gear into the trash further contributes to wasting precious resources. Many textiles can be recycled or made into something new. By reselling or donating those items, you are likely helping someone else experience outdoor activities they maybe otherwise could not afford.
Q: Can you donate old tents?
You can donate old tents to thrift stores, charities, and several nonprofits. Make sure the tent is clean and still functions properly. Tents that need repairs should have the repairs done before donation to ensure they are used, not thrown away.
Q: Can you recycle tents and backpacks?
Yes, some tents and backpacks can be recycled by specialized gear recycling programs, the original manufacturer, or textile recycling mills. Never put tents or backpacks in traditional curbside recycling bins. These typical industrial recycling facilities are not equipped to handle items that contain multiple materials or textiles.