Get a gift card over the holidays? Not surprising. Gift cards are roughly a $160 billion dollar business in the US, (which, for context is about 20% of holiday sales). With the pandemic limiting travel and constraining the postal service, that percentage is likely even higher for 2020.
Retailers love gift cards. About 20% of them are never redeemed, meaning it’s all profit. Given that most gift cards go to large, national corporations, they’re usually lining some pretty plush pockets. Brands like Starbucks and Home Depot bank between $35-100 million dollars in free money thanks to unused gift cards. Of the cards that do get used, 75% of people spend more than the card amount (on average, $59 more), are 2.5 times more likely to pay full retail than scout for sales, and 34% of shoppers make a trip to a store they wouldn’t otherwise frequent.
If you have a few unspent gift cards, you don’t really have a gift. A corporation, with their owners and shareholders, have your grandma’s present. If you’re saving up for a big purchase, and the gift cards apply, great. But if you’re pretty content with your gear closet or got a gift for a shop that doesn’t specialize in the sports you enjoy, there are a few options to put a gift card to use. But before I do, I want to acknowledge that “I don’t know what to do with this kind of earmarked outdoor money” is a very nice problem to have. It means you’re either insanely content or very privileged when it comes to income, pro deals, or inherited gear, and a lot of use can check “D – All of the above.”
- “Consumable” products: Every REI, Dick’s Sporting Goods, and Bass Pro Shops carries some core staples of consumable products where you’re bound to work through a stockpile throughout the year. As an added perk, most of these products are sub-$20, so you don’t have to spend a lot of money cashing in that office Secret Santa gift with a $20 limit. Nab camp meals (remember how hard they were to find last summer?), bike tire tubes, sunscreen and bug spray, and refill your first aid kit. Grab a few gas canisters and write in the thank you note for “fueling” your future adventures. My list this year also includes some tech wash, down wash, and DWR products. I’m pretty content with my gear closet and I’m not interested in superfluous purchases, so gear care and maintenance products extend the life of my favorite things.
- Consider a class, trip, or rentals. REI, Evo, and most ski shops and bike shops offer trips and demo gear. Sign up for a guided nighttime snowshoe trek, an intro mountain biking or XC skiing course with gear provided, take a WFA, WFR, navigation, or AIARE course. Rent different skis just to try something new or pick up a paddleboard for a day or two. And if you’re planning an out-of-state vacation, rental fleets help cut down on baggage for heavy and bulky items – ideal if you’re flying or tight on trunk space.
- Hit the books & maps department. Books are lovely because the publishing groups and authors are often ardent supporters and stewards of recreational public lands, and they’re critical for helping people get outdoors safely and enjoyably. I’ve gotten tons of use out of my Beckey Guides and the Washington Scrambles guide, since they provide a lot of info that’s not easily found on the internet. I also like good vacation resources (I’d love to get my hands on other states’ Backcountry Ski Routes guides), and resources for when I’m playing hostess. For example, my parents like cycling routes with dedicated bike paths/lanes and laid back hiking, which aren’t my typical weekend hobbies, so a handy guide would make planning for their visits a little easier. Not to mention, there are tons of good intro guides to birds, mushrooms, wildflowers, astronomy, and rocks to help you learn more about your favorite places.
- Check for “expired” gear. This is the perfect time of year to inspect protective gear like your ropes, harnesses, helmets, and avalanche beacons. Materials degrade and antennae bend, but there’s nothing less sexy about buying new gear to replace seemingly fine items in your gear closet. Getting your aunt or cousin to help foot the bill through a gift card softens the blow. As 2021 turns over, check these items to see whether they’re hitting a replacement milestone. REI has a great guide for how to inspect climbing gear and timetables for when to make replacements based on age and frequency of use. Other helmets should get the boot every ~5-8 years, and beacons should be swapped out within 10.
- Don’t forget about sister stores. REI’s cards can be used on their Used Gear site. Sierra Trading Post is part of the TJMaxx-Marshall’s-Homegoods family, so your outdoorsy gift card can go to new cookware, hair products, bath salts – you name it. Dick’s Sporting Goods works for Golf Galaxy or Field & Stream. Moosejaw is an exception, though, and can’t be used in the other Walmart-owned retailers.
- “Re-gift” it. Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and half the population’s birthdays are in the next 6 months, and your gift certificate can be part of your present. I mean buy something they want with it, unless you really want to be a schmuck and tuck that candy-cane stripe, Santa clad gift card into your mom’s summer birthday card. Bonus points if you bring it full circle with a present for the original gifter.
- Donate it or buy items for donation. There are some really cool gear scholarships being run by nonprofits and grassroots members of the outdoor community. Non-profit SheJumps has a ski scholarship and outdoor consignment shop Isella uses their profits for a variety of gear scholarships. Likewise, women of color like Annette Diggs, Theresa Silveyra, and Liz Sahagún have been building a strong network of outdoor women of color, and distributing gear from fundraising or even their own pockets has been pivotal for making the outdoors more accessible and being able to build affinity groups. Do they know someone who can put that Hunters R Us gift card that doesn’t feed your climbing habit? Probably. And I’m sure they’d love it if you slid an offer into their DMs. There’s also the option of buying things for local homeless shelters and service providers since – surprise, surprise – the places that sell gear for staying warm and comfortable outside for days at a time are a great place to find gear for people who need to stay warm and comfortable outside for days at a time.
If you’re holding off for a potential purchase, it helps to put a few reminders on your calendar throughout the year to clean out your wallet for unused store credits. But regardless of where your gift card goes, make sure it goes to someone other than folks with a corner office or shares in the business. Happy gift card redemption season!