by Jennifer Fontaine – Outside-minded families are happier families, and while most of our readers already know this, a growing pile of research supports what a legion of parents, grandparents, coaches, and caregivers already understand. When people go outdoors, attention and focus sharpen, family relations improve, moods become lighter, and everyone, regardless of age and ability, is able to experience the positive power of nature.
Our partners at REI share this belief that a life outdoors is a life well lived. What began in 1938 as a collective effort to afford opportunities for outdoor adventure, REI has grown into a cooperative offering quality outdoor gear with an inclusive mission to back it up.
REI’s lifetime membership gives outdoorsy families access to annual dividends, exclusive sales, and community education events so grownups and kids can spend less time worrying about logistics and more time enjoying evenings around the campfire.
But don’t just take our word for it. We sat down with a few of our favorite outdoor families to find out what an REI Lifetime Membership means to them.
As a single dad of two teenage daughters, I keep a careful eye on our monthly budget to ensure we’ll have meaningful experiences in the outdoors. Hiking and camping in our nearby parks can be very good, economical getaways for the family.
I have had my REI membership for more than 25 years, I always look forward to receiving our annual dividend, so the girls can use it to buy their own equipment. My older daughter, Mya, loves the hammock we just purchased as she loves to read books and relax in it. My younger daughter, Keira, enjoys using her hiking poles, especially on long, steep hikes through the hills of the San Francisco Bay Area.
They also have the added benefit of having a park ranger and naturalist for a dad, so we often stop during our hikes to investigate the beautiful flora and fauna that our state of California has to offer.
One time, we decided to drive through the eastern Sierra Nevada mountains on a whim, but completely forgot to bring enough water in the car. I remembered that I had packed my Lifestraw water filter in my backpack, and we were able to drink water from creeks and rivers safely throughout our trip.
Mya filled up her REI backpack (which I bought her when she was 7 years old and she still uses to this day) with water, as it has a water bladder inside it. One of my favorite REI products is their sweat-wicking shirts that I wear as a base layer, helping me feel cool without feeling drenched with sweat. Keira is more form than function as the fashion maven in our family, so she loves to show off her pink Black Diamond headlamp, even in the light of day.
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My girls have recently taken up climbing, and they took a 12-week course in an indoor gym where they had to borrow their gear. With the help of our next annual member dividend, we look forward to buying climbing shoes so they can go whenever they want.
My history with Recreational Equipment, Incorporated began with a pair of itchy wool socks sometime in the 1970s. I grew up near Seattle, Washington, birthplace of REI. The daughter of a forester whose life was spent tramping the damp woodlands of the Pacific Northwest, REI was a staple of our family’s outdoor lifestyle: We slept in an REI tent, carried REI-purchased packs, and wore those infernal scratchy REI wool socks underneath heavy leather hiking boots, or “waffle-stompers.”
“No one else I know wears these dumb things,” I’d complain, yanking the gray, woolen stockings up over my skinny 9-year-old calves.
“You’ll be warm even if they get wet,” my dad would counter, ignoring my sour face as he climbed out the door of our Volkswagen Bus at yet another random trailhead.
Dad became an REI member shortly after he moved to Seattle in the 1950s for his first forestry job with a railroad, managing swaths of timber in remote sections of the West. A product of the Depression era and two frugal German-Irish parents, he knew quality and economy were important when considering gear for work in the oft-rugged outdoors. It was only natural that, when he became a father to three children, a sense of function as opposed to fashion was the rule.
It was a rite of passage to secure our own individual REI memberships, and I still remember signing up in 1987 when Dad and I purchased my first mountain bike. I carry the card with me today as a symbol of REI’s mission to include everyone, young, old, or in-between, in the world’s outdoor spaces.
As a mother of two young adult sons, I sometimes look back at our history of REI purchases and ponder those items I still use with regularity. My Half-Dome tent still sets up in five minutes and has housed a legion of young people in campgrounds and along mountain trails. REI bike panniers carried my life’s possessions through a tumultuous 1980s journey to find myself along Eastern Europe’s backroads.
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Our Nod Pod sleeping bags have kept two boys warm and cozy on countless nights outdoors. REI-brand rain gear, in various sizes, has kept a Pacific Northwest family of explorers dry since the 1990s. And the socks; those itchy, bulky rag-wool numbers still sit in my parents’ outdoor closet. Those REI wool socks, and all the gear purchased after them, are a reminder that a store like REI is more than a retail outlet — it’s a sign of lives well-lived. I smile every time I stand at a store register, proudly offering my REI membership number. It’s part of who I am.
Raising Kids Wild
When we need outdoor gear or last-minute camping essentials, we head to REI. At the start of spring we anticipate the arrival of our REI membership dividend — because every little bit helps! We sort through our stuff and see what we need for the new camping and hiking season. Most times it ends up being a pair of water sandals for our youngest; or this year, we are looking forward to some new packs for our three teenagers.
REI’s values as a company aligns with our family’s, centered around conservation and stewardship. We love how over 70% of company profits go towards organizations committed to outdoor access for all. We are always looking for new ways to get involved or serve our community, so it feels good knowing the money we spend with REI will go right back to causes we care about.
Two years ago, we moved cross-country from the West Coast to the Southeast in hopes of expanding our adventures to the mountains. We got rid of the majority of our possessions but what remained was tons of treasured outdoor gear. From the rolling hills in California to the Blue Ridge Mountains, one thing is consistent — gear we use on the trails.
We were relieved when we found out a REI was only 15 minutes away. One thing we always count on when shopping there is everyone is super resourceful–going in is a quick trip with kids in tow.
Since we camp every year, our REI Co-op Passage 2 Tent, tent is our most-loved item. We use our REI Co-op Trail 40 backpack not just for backpacking but for overnight trips and road trips. Patagonia Down Sweater Jacket for girls is always a must for comfort and warmth but also their warranty is nothing short of miraculous with the unforeseeable of a 5 year old on a trail.
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When we hike, we almost always grab a pair of Darn Tough socks for their unwavering durability after miles of climbs or rough terrain and we’ve bought several KEEN Newport H2 Sandals for our youngest because they are the best shoes for stream crossing and hiking in the Summer. REI has and always will be our outdoor gear shop of choice.
Hailing from Washington, REI is my store and I cherish my REI membership. I remember when the original store on Capitol Hill was old, musty, had uneven floors, and traveling into the “big city” with my father was an adventure in itself. There are tons of online competitors now, but when I think of getting gear I always think of REI first. Nowhere else can I get honest advice from people that have used the gear they’re selling.
Our family mostly adventures close to home in the Pacific Northwest, but we have gotten away on bigger trips a few times over the years. We’ve taken gear from REI up Mt. Shasta, sailing and fly fishing in New Zealand, along trails in Europe, and most recently fly fishing on the isolated coral atoll of Kiritimati Island.
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Other than my Deuter backpacks and Tubbs snowshoes, my favorite gear isn’t all that flashy. My REI Gauntlet gloves have summited all the volcanoes in Washington and will undoubtedly be with me as I tackle the remaining volcanoes in the Cascades. If my kids are with me, I’ll have a bag of Mountain House Macaroni and Cheese because that’s what all kids eat, right?
If the trail’s dry, or at least not covered in wet snow, I’ll be wearing a pair of Altra Lone Peak shoes. Between their wide toe box and a pair of Injinji NuWool toe socks blisters have become a thing of the past.
And for those really hot days above treeline or flyfishing for bonefish along the equator, I use a pair of OR ActiveIce Sun Sleeves. Somehow they keep my arms from burning while being cooler than if I had nothing at all!
With REI stores all over the United States, it’s easy to find the gear for your next adventure and be sure you’re getting the right stuff from folks that know what they’re talking about.
Tales of a Mountain Mama
It’s hard for me to remember a time when my family growing up didn’t rely on our REI membership for our gear for different Alaska adventures. My parents were members before I was, but I am fairly certain I became a member myself before I had a drivers license. While the nearest REI was over an hour away, it was a treat to make a stop there and get new gear for fishing, hiking or a backpacking trip on the Chilkoot Trail. Family splurges were made to outfit us for family adventures.
In college I quickly realized I was within walking distance to the REI in Bellingham, Washington. Despite being a poor university student, my dividend was suspiciously high during those years.
I arranged my schedule so I would have long days of classes offset with a few days a week I could escape to Mount Baker to snowshoe, ski and hike. Gear purchases for my excursions were easily justified (at least in my mind). I am fairly certain I wore my much-loved Patagonia R1 80% of my college days (though I am not sure I should admit that??).
Despite being hours away now from the nearest REI, I shop online as I heavily rely on quality gear to get my own family of seven safely and happily outdoors on a daily basis. While I struggle to drop money on anything else, as a family we firmly believe that the right gear translates into successful adventures. And since it’s fairly impossible to control the radical emotions and unpredictable actions of five kids under age 10, we’ll take all the help we can get.
We learned quickly to never leave home without our Kid Comfort (or two) if we truly wanted to make it any distance (and be able to haul all the snacks). Base layers are worn daily all winter long and the most organized place in our home is our gear closet, simply out of necessity.
And so we trudge on, a family finding sanity in fresh air and the forgiving wide, open spaces (when one has five loud children). These are the days we treasure the most.
As an outdoor family of five, we need our REI membership! Whether the kids have outgrown gear or have found a new outdoor family sport, we love getting the annual dividend so we can invest in our family’s future adventures. From baby carriers to multiple tents, REI gear has always come along with us on our adventures.
Before having children, my husband and I visited my motherland, Peru, and traveled all over the Amazon Jungle and Andes mountains. Our gear survived sweltering jungles and the coldness of a Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu.
After having children, we didn’t stop exploring, and used REI membership dividends to invest in baby carriers, trekking all over our San Francisco Bay Area, the Sierras, the Hawaii islands, and have taken multiple road trips to the Colorado Rockies from California.
My family loves visiting our local REI store, and the employees have witnessed our kids growing up years. My husband’s favorite gear is our REI Quarter Dome 3-person tent, into which all five of us squeezed inside during one particular cold night of camping in the desert.
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My eldest son’s favorite gear is his REI Co-Op Passage 38 Kid’s Backpack (now discontinued, the Tarn 40 is comparable), which goes with him for all outdoor adventures. My daughter loves her Sunday Afternoons Sunday Chaser Kid’s Cap because she can dip it in the river and cool herself off while hiking.
My youngest son’s favorite gear is his ever-so-cute REI Tarn 12 backpack, in which he loves carrying his own first aid kit, snacks and water. Lastly, I can’t live without my REI Screeline Hybrid Petite Pants, because they fit a short woman like me, and they have been able to withstand multiple years of family outdoor adventures.
If you’ve read this far and are still unsure if an REI Lifetime Membership is worth the $20 (YES, $20) investment, we’re going to break it down for you.
REI Lifetime Membership Benefits:
- An annual dividend payout gives an average of 10% back on all purchases at the end of the year.
- Members enjoy a no-questions-asked return policy
- Exclusive access to member-only sales get up to 50% off
- Receive discounts on classes (everything from camping 101 to survival skills) and services (like bike repair) at REI stores
- Free shipping for online orders over $50
- Access to the REI used gear website
Beyond personal benefits, our favorite benefit is REI’s contribution to hand-picked outdoor stewardship projects. Since 1976, largely due to member participation, REI has donated over $77 million to projects that have a direct positive effect on the trails and parks in your own backyard. As REI grows, so does the company’s investment in a family-friendly outdoor industry. What are you waiting for?