More for Your Money: Avoid transport fees/hassles and rent your vacation equipment

REI is among the businesses that rent out camping equipment.
(Mariah Tauger/ Los Angeles Times)

Malcolm Forbes may have proclaimed that “He who dies with the most toys wins,” but the multimillionaire wasn’t worried about excess baggage fees on commercial flights.

For the rest of us, renting the toys that make our summer fun can make a lot of sense. From camping items like bear-proof food canisters and solar-powered generators, to GoPros and waterproof cameras, renting is a great way to save on transportation hassles, as well as the initial investment.

“I’ve tried tents, backpacks, a number of stoves and also electronic equipment such as a SPOT GPS messenger,” said Monty Martinez of San Diego, who provides information tech support for the Marine Corps.

Sporting-good chains such as REI and Adventure 16 rent camping gear, and waterfront outfitters such as California Canoe & Kayak offer boats and stand-up paddleboarders.


There are two ways to rent most items; locally or online. Martinez has done both, with equal success.

Sometimes he picks up his gear close to home before a trip, but “If I’m going up into the Sierras I might stop at an REI much closer to where I’m going to pick up a camping stove or something like that,” he said.

If you choose to have an item shipped, it can be sent to your home or office, or it can be mailed to a hotel or UPS store at your destination, which is a great way to reduce airline fees.

Some retailers that ship include Lower Gear, based in Tempe, Ariz.; Outdoors Geek, based in Denver; Mountain Side Gear Rental, based in Arvada, Colo.; and Gear to Go Outfitters, in Brooklyn, N.Y. Tennessee-based offers a wide assortment of cameras and binoculars.


“We use only top-quality gear, brands such as Marmot, Big Agnes, North Face, so I feel like there’s a big draw there with people being able to access these high-dollar items for a low rental price,” said Colby Smith, a manager with Outdoors Geek.

Some outfitters rent entire packages, with price plans that vary depending on the duration. At Outdoors Geek, a four- to seven-day rental of a North Face Furnace 20-degree sleeping bag costs $32. Retail price? $179.

Students may want to check with their campus recreation departments, where less-expensive rentals might be available. California State Monterey Bay, for instance, charges $24 for a seven-day sleeping bag rental.

Although some rent to try a new sport or to save on airplane baggage fees, others, such as Martinez, like to test different brands of gear.


“My focus has mainly been to try before you buy,” he said. He estimated he’s rented five different tents and eight different backpacks in the last eight years.

For the most part, he’s been happy with the experience. The items might show some wear and tear, he said, “but nothing that was actually broken.”

Those hiking with young children can check with businesses that rent baby gear to see if they stock child carriers and mosquito tents.

Vea Kids in the main terminal at the Denver International Airport offers both and hopes to expand to other airports by year’s end, said owner Andrew Kucera.


In between rentals, he said, items go through a three-stage cleaning process. Similarly, the Outdoors Geek sleeping bags are laundered between each rental, and treated periodically with an anti-microbial fogging.

Smith said he spends a lot of time on the phone answering “outdoor education” questions from inexperienced campers.

Here are some tips:

— The differences between a $200 sleeping bag and a $30 one will include weight, quality, performance, packing ability and style.


— When renting a sleeping bag, pay attention to whether the insulation is evenly distributed. Synthetic bags in particular can bunch up over time.

— Backpack fit has to do with your torso length, not height. Other factors to keep in mind include the capacity of the bag, its weight, and various features, like the suspension system and whether the frame is internal or external.

— Check tents to make sure the seams are still taped. Set up your tent and notice whether it stands properly; if it’s tight versus sloppy. Are all the accessories there?

— When possible, give yourself a day before your trip to check out the gear and make sure it functions properly.


— Confirm that the store recorded your address properly when having items shipped, and recognize that there can be delivery delays beyond anyone’s control, so don’t have items delivered at the last-minute. If you order gear for a Friday delivery and there is a delay, it likely won’t be delivered until Monday.

— Know the environment you plan to vacation in and plan accordingly.

“I once did a trip to Venezuela into the Canaima National Park and I took Army Navy surplus equipment with me because I was trying to do it on a shoestring budget,” Martinez said, noting he would have done better by renting a quality product to avoid tent condensation in the cloud forest. “The equipment made it through and so did I, but it certainly detracted from my enjoyment of the experience.”