"I've seen some of the thrift-shop steals you've come up with, and I'm envious. I NEVER find that sort of stuff around here (San Antonio, TX), and I don't know if I just have bad timing or if it's due to the non-outdoor nature of the place."
The only other city I've done any thrift store shopping is Vancouver, BC, so that wouldn't be a fair comparison either.
I never cease to be amazed at what I find, and the stuff is like new most of the time. I have learned to look closely and I've gotten an MBA in ourdoor clothing design-- by the failures I've seen.
Basically, you need to ask, "why is this in a thrift store?" Here's a tip: if you want to know what a garment has been through, look at the zipper pulls. If all is shiny and no nicks in the paint, etc, it hasn't been used much. Then check the zippers for operation, and look at the cuffs, neck and hem-- you're looking for holes, nicks, frayed ends and so on. Check the elbows and knees and the butt. Look for stains, and torn pockets and bad zippers inside too. Turn pockets inside out to check for holes. I find money once in a while! Look for delaminations on interior coatings. On older Gore-Tex stuff, look for wiggly wrinkles-- signs that it was cooked in a too-hot dryer and some of the membrane has stuck together. If rain gear has a mesh lining, try to look through it and or rub some of the inside cloth together to see if it is shedding the interior coating. I bought an REI jacket that had all the stuff inside flaking off. I washed it and the inside of the washing machine looked like a snow globe-- there was white stuff all over. On pants that migh be used for skiing, look for cuts on the insides of the cuffs where they got their skiis crossed up and gashed the fabirc with a sharp edge. Check the elastic-- really old stuff will stretch and not come back-- OOPS! Finally, use your nose too-- mildew and cat urine are two that I run into and neither are worth the trouble to try to correct.
We're deep into yard sale season and it is a dilemma-- shop or hike :) I'm trying to spend one weekend in town and another in the woods-- trying....