Gearheads are a troublesome sort. I ought to know — I’m one of them. And WNC seems to attract these adventure-based, adrenaline-centered, outdoor-recreation types. Personally, I blame it on the ready availability of year-round paddling, the gazillion miles of single-track and bike-friendly roads, the lifetime’s worth of climbing opportunities. With such riches so near at hand, how can you not go adventuring?
But for some of us, the challenge isn’t so much finding the time as much as finding the funds to finance our obsession. And if you’re starting from scratch, even buying gear for a weekend backpacking trip can easily set you back more than $1,000. Don’t let the initial cost discourage you from heading outdoors, however. Because there are some creative — and less expensive — options.
In the Forrest
Yard sales, flea markets and gear swaps all offer low-cost alternatives to racking up a pile of debt to get shiny new toys. There are also several Web sites that buy and sell used gear (see sidebar, “Firsthand Tips on Secondhand Gear”). And locally, more and more merchants are including this outdoor-gear niche inside their stores.
The Enchanted Forrest is the brainchild of Forrest Hogestad, who patiently developed the requisite skills, nurtured by the nonprofit Mountain Microenterprise Fund. In 1997, Hogestad launched her business, selling handcrafted jewelry, unique clothing, and used outdoor gear. Eight years later, The Enchanted Forrest has become a north Asheville fixture.
A bounty of outdoor gear and apparel is displayed in a charming nook of Hogestad’s consignment shop. Over the years, I’ve nabbed some high-quality gear here without having to pony up a whole week’s paycheck. I bought a through-hiker-size MountainSmith internal-frame backpack several years ago from the specialty store. And last month, during the Merrimon Avenue retailer’s semiannual 75-percent sale, I walked in the door and, five minutes later, stepped out with a premium pair of aluminum-frame snowshoes for $32!
As Hogestad fields questions for Xpress, a customer politely weighs in. “The gear doesn’t tend to sit around too long,” the young boater reveals. “I try to stop in at least twice a month to see what’s new!”
Customers, says Hogestad, are always bringing in quality used gear and apparel; The Enchanted Forrest pays the consignee 60 percent of the selling price. “Most folks in the area know the value of the gear they bring in,” notes Hogestad. And her customers have enthusiastically embraced the store’s line of quality secondhand gear. This reuse-and-recycle philosophy benefits both buyers and sellers.
A quick inventory of the shop’s racks and shelves of tents, sleeping bags and outdoor accessories revealed a Patagonia paddling jacket, a pair of Asolo climbing shoes, and a Mountain Hardware three-season backpacking tent — all sporting very tempting price tags.
For some folks, the mere prospect of tackling an adventure-based activity can be intimidating enough — who needs the added stress of worrying about how to pay for expensive equipment? And for those potential outdoors aficionados who might shy away from buying previously owned gear, The Enchanted Forrest lets customers try out their purchases to make sure they fit properly and perform as expected. “They can return the product a few days later and expect a full refund if they don’t feel comfortable with it,” Hogestad affirms.
One more time …
Play It Again Sports began offering used gear nearly 15 years ago. Today, the company boasts more than 400 franchise stores nationwide. Larry Gore and Robert Cleveland own the Asheville store, which Cleveland says “mirrors WNC’s reputation of being geared toward the outdoors.
“Our stores basically offer similar sports-and-fitness-related products such as weights, golf equipment and fitness gear, but as individual franchises, we also cater to regional preferences,” he explains.
The cluster of full-suspension mountain bikes arranged around the entrance to the Tunnel Road store seems to confirm those words. Inside, new and used camping gear hang from one corner of the store, while snowboards, skis and boots occupy nearly half the front window. A closer inspection reveals a Lowe Alpine Systems internal-frame pack, complete with a hydration system, for a mere $39. I’d recently seen the exact same gear in a catalog priced $40 higher.
Customers, reports Gore, can expect to save an average of 50 percent (compared to the original retail price) when buying used gear from Play It Again Sports. All the chain’s stores buy, sell, trade and consign used sporting gear. And besides giving customers a more affordable way to try something new, “We also see folks upgrading to higher-performance equipment when they start to improve in a certain activity, such as mountain biking or skiing,” observes Cleveland.
And then there are the new kids on the block. After years of high adventuring, four West Asheville residents are ready to seek new challenges, drawing on their considerable field experience as they launch Second Gear.
The next wave of community-oriented businesses marks a second wind for the continuing West Asheville renaissance. What began as a couple’s quandary while shopping for a used mountain bike soon sparked a brainstorming session among friends at a local pub. The idea quickly morphed into a group business plan, which co-owner Russ Towers confesses was based on research “but more on a gut feeling.” Second Gear plans to open its doors in early April — just in time for spring training.
The owners, a near dream-team of WNC adventurers, include former Outward Bound leaders, an ex-Army ranger and an outdoor therapeutic counselor. All share a love of the region’s recreational resources and the belief that there’s a growing local market for quality used gear.
“We’re basically focusing on the gear and equipment for three popular activities: paddle sports, biking (road and mountain) and hiking/camping,” store manager C.W. “Buffalo” McMurry enthusiastically explains. The shop will also offer technical outdoor apparel, in-season winter-sports equipment, and some new accessories.
McMurry has been around the industry for more than 30 years (his partners describe him as having “growth rings” when it comes to outdoor adventuring). “We feel confident with our experience-based intuition,” he reports, “but we’ll definitely pay close attention to the needs and input from our customers.”
Besides a good selection of quality used equipment and a comfy shopping atmosphere, Second Gear will offer a computer-based inventory. Co-owner Pete Luellen, the company’s Web-site designer, says customers will be able to browse the store’s dynamic inventory and make purchases online.
Scottish climber Ken Hopper, who’s visiting store co-owner Jack Igelman, joins us for a midday interview. Outdoor stores in his native country, comments Hopper, help create a sort of community network among local adventurers.
Hopper’s observation draws smiles from Second Gear’s eager owners, all of whom call the west bank of the French Broad River home. Because for them, opening a used-gear store in their West Asheville neighborhood seems to be the missing keystone piece to the puzzle of how to successfully live, work and play in one of the greatest back yards east of the Mississippi.
Firsthand tips on secondhand gear
Some of my outdoor companions call me cheap; I like to think I’m merely thrifty. In any case, here are a few “cheaper by the dozen” options that might make your next adventure not only more exciting, but also more affordable.
Used Gear Dealers
• The Enchanted Forrest, 235 Merrimon Ave.; 236-0688
• Play It Again Sports, 611 Tunnel Road; 299-1221
• Second Gear, 415-A Haywood Road; 258-0757
• Outdoor Xposure, 52 Westgate Parkway; 350-0500
Gear Swaps and Used Gear Sales
• Ski Country Sports, 1000 Merrimon Ave.; 254-2771
• Nantahala Outdoor Center, Wesser; (800) 232-7238 (www.noc.com)
• Diamond Brand Outdoors, 2617 Hendersonville Road, Arden; 684-6262 (www.diamondbrand.com)
• Sunrift Adventures, Hwy. 276, Travelers Rest, S.C.; (864) 834-3019
• Backcountry Outdoors, Hwy. 276 at Hwy 64, Brevard; (828) 884-4262