Back when I lived in Seattle, my favorite way to spend a rained-out weekend was to visit the REI flagship store. With its lofty ceiling and echoing vastness, it was truly a cathedral to adventure in the great outdoors. Everywhere you turned, a new opportunity presented itself. I inevitably left with at least one or two new things to speed me on my next expedition, and a covetous knot in my stomach over other products I’d seen. I spent the rest of the day thinking about the awesome kayak, the ultra-light tent, or the ingenious camp stove that I didn’t pick up.
Alas, I wasn’t well-versed enough in the REI brand to know that I could have experienced all this awesome outdoor gear any time, without dropping a ton of money on it, thanks to REI’s outdoor gear rental program.
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Since its inception nearly 100 years ago, REI has been so much more than an outdoor adventure outfitter. The company is defined by a community passionate about protecting, preserving, and enjoying nature. Along with a traditional advocacy mission that sees the company donating to wilderness protection and cleanup initiatives, the company has organized innovative programs that bring people together in the embrace of nature. Back in 2016, REI’s D.C. flagship store hosted United Outside, a 100-day program designed to help people disconnect from the turbulent political climate and reconnect with one another. In 2018, their new store openings in Tennessee and Illinois were celebrated by donating thousands of dollars to local nature preservation and restoration projects.
As of 2015, the company had invested $4.2 million in more than 300 local, regional, and national nonprofits working to care for and improve access to more than 600 inspiring outdoor spaces, and awarded $410,000 in grants to nonprofit programs that engage young, diverse populations in the outdoors.
However, there’s no better form of advocacy than giving people a chance to experience the thing you’re advocating for. And that’s exactly what the REI rental program is all about.
REI’s gear rental program has been around for a while, but was limited to its bigger locations along the West Coast, but as of this year, the company committed to doubling the size of its rental program, expanding it to stores from coast to coast. In addition to offering rentals at more stores, REI is expanding the range of gear offered for rent. That means new types of items, but also more of the top-quality brands sold at REI.
There’s no better form of advocacy than giving people a chance to experience the thing you’re advocating for. And that’s exactly what the REI rental program is all about.
Word on the street is that much of this commitment has to do with responding to the needs of a millennial clientele. For a cash-strapped generation desperate for the refreshing solace of time in nature, REI’s gear rental program offers a “sharing economy”-style solution for getting away from it all and reconnecting with their sense of adventure.
And for compulsive buyers like me, the program also offers an opportunity to test out the gear before you buy it. Does the heel lift bar really make that much of a difference to your snowshoeing experience? Is the extra-thick sleeping pad worth the extra money (and the extra space it takes up in your pack)? Do you really love stand-up paddleboarding enough to invest in one of your own? Now you get to try it and find out.
Peter Whitcomb, head of REI’s rental program, acknowledged that price and storage space can be barriers to getting outdoors. “At REI we believe in the transformative power of spending time outdoors. Offering rental gear makes it that much easier for people to learn a new hobby, check out new gear, connect with friends, and get outside.”
There are 114 stores in 30 states from Alaska to Alabama that can set you up for any kind of adventure your heart desires, from camping to cycling to snow sports — some even offer car racks and boats for rent. Gear rentals are available to all, but REI Co-op members get a discounted rate. Some store locations will carry more of certain types of gear than others, so make sure to call ahead or visit the store’s website to find out whether they have what you’re looking for. If there’s an outdoor adventure you’ve been waiting to take, but you hesitated because of the cost of entry, hustle to your nearest REI store and get outfitted.
To learn more, or to see the gear rental prices, click here.
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