Lots of retailers have loyalty programs and discount clubs. Some offer real benefits, while others are mostly a source of unwanted emails. One that’s worth the modest price of admission is the REI Co-op Membership, which nets customers 10 percent back on most purchases plus access to heavy discounts during special in-store sales events.
The price of a lifetime membership is just $20—and through December 21, if you make a $100 purchase and buy a membership, REI will give you a $20 bonus card, essentially reimbursing you for the cost of your membership. (Note: You have only 30 days to spend that bonus card, so order a Hydro Flask or a flannel shirt before it expires.)
REI membership benefits
The primary reason to be an REI Co-op member is that membership dividend of 10 percent back. Although there are exceptions, most online or in-store purchases contribute to your 10 percent back, which REI pays out in March as store credit.
Members also get access to exclusive sales events, such as the biannual REI Garage Sales, where REI clears out open and returned items at big discounts; my own two-person dome tent and Osprey hydration pack came from one such sale. These sales are popular, and nabbing the best deals can mean lining up early, but that morning shopping excursion had me well-equipped for my next camping trip.
REI also hosts Outdoor School classes in a surprising number of locations and offers discounted admissions to members. These classes range in topic from snowshoeing to kayaking to first aid. Some of them are free to the general public, while others cost as much as $120 for nonmembers and $100 for members; $20 off is the typical member discount.
The fine print
Activities and sale items don’t count toward your yearly 10 percent back; same with gift cards. You also need to spend $10 a year to qualify for that membership dividend. If you don’t, you’ll still be a member—you just won’t get any store credit in March.
Why we love REI
Currently we recommend about 150 products made or sold by REI. This includes items that lots of retailers carry, such as Osprey backpacks and Salomon hiking boots, as well as REI store-brand items. Our respective top picks for the best car-camping tent and for the best canopy tent for camping and picnics are made and sold by REI, as is our top kids sleeping bag.
Kalee Thompson, Wirecutter’s senior editor for baby and kids products, has long been impressed with the quality of the store-brand gear, as well as the help you can get in-store: “The quality of REI’s store-brand stuff is very good. Their Kindercone kid sleeping bag and Tarn hiking packs for kids are top picks of ours. And their store-branded ski gloves, wool long underwear, and fleece layers have worked great for my boys when they’re tumbling around in the snow all day. I’ve also found that REI is the easiest place to shop for hiking shoes, as the salespeople are way more knowledgeable than in most places. Everyone I know who has worked at REI really lives that lifestyle. They’re outdoors all the time themselves, so they know how to give the right advice.”
Finally, REI’s return policy is also more than generous, giving you a full year to return everything except “outdoor electronics.”