Hundreds stand in line on the sidewalk. By nightfall, tents spring up and cooking stoves hum in unison with the traffic streaking past. Seamheads waiting outside Safeco Field for Mariners playoff tickets? Try REI, and gearheads willing to squat on the pavement for days to grab a top place in line for the semi-annual REI Garage Sale.
The draw? Drastically reduced prices-up to 75 percent off—on all the REI returns from the past season (fall sale=summer gear; spring sale=fall gear). That's a lot of outdoor gear. The floodgates finally open at 7 a.m., and a human surge (the lucky first 200) washes over mounds of sleeping bags, tents, boots, fleece, and Gore-Tex jackets. Kid-in-the-candy-shop euphoria doesn't do justice to the gear-induced insanity that ensues.
At least that is how it's worked for the past five years: Get in line early, get first grab. But if you aren't champing at the bit to bed down amid the bus fumes on Eastlake Avenue, this year's Garage Sale on Oct. 27-28 will use a 5,000-ticket lottery system to determine entry, which offers better odds. A $1 donation to the Washington Trails Association gets you one ticket and a line number (buy as many as you like). Personally I think REI is missing out on a perfect opportunity, not to mention a bunch of willing extras, to market a new line of "urban camping" gear. Oh, well.
Regardless of what time you get in, there will be volumes of gear scattered about like so much confetti; the sale includes thousands of returns collected at REI stores nationwide (lucky us that REI is based in Seattle). If by chance you don't find what you want in the garage, a hike upstairs to the REI Attic, with a sale section for new goods, might yield a consolation prize.
If you're looking for a slightly less intense outdoor gear-shopping experience, there is a plethora of other used-gear shops in Seattle. Second Ascent in Ballard offers below-retail prices on all types of gear, from mountaineering boots to Gore-Tex to cycling clothing. The shop also buys used stuff. It's hard not to find a good deal—as long as you get moving before the wet weather hits.
"As soon as the rain starts to fall, people want a new, better Gore-Tex jacket, one that they can wear around town," says Second Ascent's Chad Willems. "Shop early, the good used stuff is gone by Christmas for sure."