A tent, a sleeping bag, and a camping stove can easily run close to a thousand dollars at a retail store. So how does a wannabe camper get outdoors without shelling out half a month's rent? Seattle's new Gearhouse has one solution, a monthly membership that comes with unlimited rentals—and even the friends to join the camping trip.
"You should never miss an invitation to go on a trip because you don't have the gear," says Gearhouse founder Evan Maynard. When viewing his own closet full of equipment, he realized that most of his expensive tools were mostly gathering dust. He envisioned a kind of clubhouse with shared stuff, an "infinite gear closet," but also a space to plan trips and learn outdoor skills. Gearhouse launched in September 2021 with $20 per month social memberships and another $20–$60 per month for gear closet access.
Given the sky-high levels of outdoorsiness in Seattle, there are plenty of straightforward gear rental options. The REI flagship in SLU offers a broad selection, from hiking backpacks to burly four-season tents for mountain objectives, plus bike racks and climbing shoes. Eddie Bauer launched a rental program last July, mailing clothing and packs directly to users—and will even sell the pieces at a discount if you want to keep them.
Smaller retailers like Feathered Friends, Ascent Outdoors, and Mountain to Sound Outfitters have similar spreads. Back 40 Outfitters will send a full car, backpacking, or concert camping kit. Daypacked's backpacks come filled with first aid kits and even snacks.
Plus, Seattle-area clubs have stocked gear libraries. The Mountaineers rents camping and snowshoe gear to individuals or organizations, and makes a point to carry clothing in sizes up to 3XL. University of Washington folk benefit from a huge student- and employee-only gear garage stocked with everything from fishing rods to downhill skis.
And, of course, tech is trying to revolutionize the gear rental process. Microsoft employee Adam Wise started GeerGarage in 2020, a website to do peer-to-peer equipment sharing. Imagine Airbnb, but for a backpack; the site links users and even suggests a meetup spot to pass along the rented gear. Wise had similar inspiration as Maynard when starting the project: "Let's get some of the equipment that's sitting in the garage back outside and into people's hands."
When Maynard launched Gearhouse, now sprawled across 18,000 square feet in SLU, he saw the need for more than just crampons and sleeping bags. "You can buy the gear or you can rent the gear, but it doesn't come with friends to go do the thing," he says. So Gearhouse's membership also includes access to a Slack channel f0r trip brainstorms and friend finding. The clubhouse holds bike repair and ski waxing workshops alongside a bar selling beer and LaCroix, and the group leads regular trail runs and hikes for members.
And as for that shared gear—Maynard purposefully did not stock Gearhouse with the ultra-heavy, durable pieces built to cycle through frequent, harsh use. Employees show renters how to use the high-end, lightweight gear before they take it out, and Maynard says his favorite surprise in Gearhouse's first year is how well members take care of the shared equipment.
Most rental programs stress the need to lower barriers of entry to recreation. Maynard calls it "an easy onboarding ramp to a new sport," and says quality gear is key to ensuring that newbies enjoy the outdoors: "We don't want your first experience to be crappy."