The Bargain Train Keeps Rollin’

When I first decided to take up hiking/backpacking as a means of easing the strain on my body from marathon training/running, I was humbly impressed with the cost of decent gear. And while it’s not necessary to buy a $300 pack and $500 tent to get out there, even a modestly priced setup totaled around $1200 after much research. That cost included everything, including the Ten Essentials, clothes, shoes, etc. And starting from zero like I was, twelve hundred bucks for the full kit really wasn’t that extreme.

Since generating that fiscally daunting list, I’ve come upon some great bargains which, combined with the odd gift card and birthday present, have allowed me to accumulate an impressive slice of my needed gear at very reasonable prices.

The latest arrived yesterday, and is a fun story all its own. On my list I had placed The North Face’s Furnace 20 sleeping bag. The best price I had found on it was a brief sale for $165, but it typically sells in the $179 range at places like REI. Given my limited disposable income, I relegated that purchase to the when-I’m-REALLY-ready-to-overnight list.

I have a credit card that accumulates frequent flyer miles for one of the major airlines. I haven’t flown anywhere in eight years, but it gathers up miles from all of my purchases in little bits and pieces, and I had accumulated a bit over 20,ooo. This airline has an online store of odds and ends where miles can be used for purchases. And given that I now shop flights by price and less by brand loyalty (especially since frequent flyer programs have lost their cachet and have been gutted by the airlines, but that’s for another blog and blog post), I figured I’d zip over there and see if they had any outdoor-related items I could pick up with my tiny accumulation of miles.

Imagine my surprise when I saw that they actually had three sleeping bags available. And imagine too the huge, shocked grin that spread across my face when one of those bags was the Furnace 20. Of all the hundreds of sleeping bags that live in the retail wild, the bag I wanted was one of the few they carried. Talk about beating steep odds!

But I was a few thousand miles short. Luckily, they allow you to use a combination of miles and cash to pay for items. So I added it to my cart, emptied my mileage bin and clicked to see what it would cost me in real money. The answer? $29. I started laughing. I couldn’t believe it. The EXACT bag I wanted, for a bunch of abandoned frequent flyer miles and $29.

I have been extremely blessed through this whole build-up to find the items on my list at a great price. I’m just a tent, sleeping pad and a bigger backpack away from being finished, and my total dollars outlay will be far below the $1200 original I had calculated…



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