Shoppers browse racks of used winter apparel and equipment at GearME in Freeport. (Portland Phoenix/Shannon Bryan)
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A toboggan is happiest in the snow, flying downhill with a pile of gleefully screaming riders on its back. And most snowshoes agree that they’d rather be tromping through the white stuff than doing anything else. 

But the reality for some outdoor gear is decidedly less thrilling. It takes up space in closets, garages, and basements, cloistered away alongside the power tools and large bins full of … we’re not even sure.

Downhill ski boots cover a wall at Play It Again in Portland. (Portland Phoenix/Shannon Bryan)

In those dark places, ice skates question their purpose. Skis cling to their partners for comfort, all the while waiting, wishing, hoping to touch the cold corduroy of a freshly groomed trail once again. 

It doesn’t have to be this way. You can be the hero who gives a second (or third or fourth) life to that out-of-use equipment – and have some pretty memorable adventures of your own in the process. 

Finding new homes for our old things isn’t a new concept. Hand-me-downs and yard sales have served this purpose for as long as we’ve had siblings and yards. Online options, like Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace, are also excellent resources for re-homing our things (I have both a new-to-me sea kayak and a unicycle, thanks to strangers on the Internet).

For those who still appreciate a brick-and-mortar shopping experience with a well-curated selection of goods that you can touch, turn over, and try on, greater Portland has an increasing number of options (not that trading cash for a used canoe in a Hannaford parking lot isn’t also wonderful).

Gear exchanges, like Portland Gear Hub in Portland, GearME in Freeport, and Woods + Waters in Brunswick, buy and sell gently used outdoor apparel and equipment (and occasionally some new things, too), with a selection that changes with the season.

While it’s hard telling what might be found on the shop floor any given day, you won’t be bored by the browsing. Shop owners tend to be particular about what makes it to their shelves – quality gear that still works and has all its parts. You won’t find any broken-zippered sleeping bags or a consciously uncoupled hiking pole. 

Another bonus to shopping secondhand: that I-won-the-lottery feeling you get when you discover a pair of barely used Salomon hiking shoes that just happen to be your size and cost only $10. I speak from experience (thanks, Goodwill). Buying used is better on your budget, keeps working gear from going in the trash, and is a first-rate way to explore a sport without a big investment. Wins all around.

So the next time you’re in that market for outdoor gear – perhaps this is the winter you’re going to take up cross-country skiing, maybe the kids feet have outgrown their boots yet again – consider swinging into a used gear shop first. 

And if your basement/closet/garage is harboring a stockpile of no-longer-used boots, sleeping bags, backpacks, and snow pants, it may be time to set the gear free. If you’re not swayed by the simple goodness of the act, consider this: You can make some money and invest it in new-to-you gear you’ll actually use. Or doughnuts. You could also buy doughnuts. 

Those implements of outdoor adventure, which once brought you joy in the woods and on the water, can still bring joy to someone else. Now doesn’t that just warm your heart?

Freelance writer Shannon Bryan lives in South Portland and is the founder of fitmaine.com, where she writes about the coolest ways to be active and get outdoors in Maine.

Cross-country skis and winter apparel wait for new homes at Portland Gear Hub. (Portland Phoenix/Shannon Bryan)

Where to
get the gear

Find gently used outdoor gear at these resale and consignment shops:

Portland Gear Hub
155 Washington Ave., Portland, 207-761-7632
portlandgearhub.org and www.facebook.com/portlandgearhub
Non-profit outdoor gear and bike shop (with an emphasis on the bikes). Accepts donations and some consignment, and also offers workshops to help you keep your ride in good working order. 

GearME
475 US Route 1, Freeport, 207-869-5952
gearmeoutdoors.com and www.facebook.com/gearmeoutdoors
Outdoor gear and apparel consignment shop. Nice selection for adults and kids, and also offers rentals, too.

Woods + Waters Gear Exchange
12 Pleasant St., Brunswick, 207-844-8353
wwgearexchange.com and www.facebook.com/woods.waters.gear
Outdoor gear and apparel consignment shop. Nice selection for adults and kids. 

Play It Again Sports
315 Marginal Way, Portland, 207-773-6063
473 Alfred St., Biddeford, 207-602-6066
232 Center St., Auburn, 207-777-7427

www.playitagainsports.com/Locations/List
In addition to outdoor gear like downhill skis, snowboards, and skates, Play It Again stores buy and sell team sporting goods and fitness equipment. 

Also: Resale shops like Goodwill are budget-friendly places to buy warm winter layers like coats, fleece, hats, boots, and mittens. Outdoor gear, like skates, sleds, and cross-country skis, is more hit-or-miss, but it’s worth a cruise around the store to see what they have.
Find a location: goodwillnne.org/location-type/store/