When it comes to the outdoors, cheap and free are two of my favorite words. Much of my gear is used, handed down or bought on clearance at a big discount. All of it has served me well. Here's some ideas to find good gear discounted heavily and even sometimes free!
Family and Friends
You would sometimes be surprised what is lurking in peoples attics, garages and basements. I've had gear given to me just because a friend or relative heard I was interested in camping and outdoors and they had something they haven't used in years collecting dust somewhere. I've in turn given away extra gear I've collected to people who have needed it. Strike up a conversation about camping and the outdoors at family gatherings, parties, etc. Most people love talking about their experiences outdoors and even if they don't offer anything but their advice, you may learn something new.
Garage Sales and Flea Markets
Almost every garage sale I have ever gone too has had something that can be used in the outdoors. I've bought backpacks, camp stoves, knives, sleeping bags and cooking gear at garage sales. I've passed up great gear at yard sales that was selling dirt cheap because I already had it or didn't need it. If you've got a few hours on a Saturday, go hit a neighborhood garage sale, I wouldn't be surprised if you could find every bit of gear you needed. It may not be exactly what your looking for, but it will be perfectly serviceable.
Military Surplus Stores
I love Mil-Surp stuff. Almost all of it is well designed and made to last. I've found that U.S. Military gear to be of exceptional quality but also the most expensive. Foreign military gear is also good stuff and usually costs much less. I've found the best deals online.
I am always looking through the clearance sections of all the big "mart" stores. I once bought two small pup tents (one I still use quite often) for $6.00 a piece brand new, off the clearance rack. The best time to find deals on outdoor gear is at the end of he season as most of the retailers are marking it down dramatically to get rid of it.
I love dollar stores, quite a few things I carry in my kit are bought there. Light duty rope, emergency candles, light sticks, all at a dollar each. The small LED flashlight I'm currently carrying is a dollar store item.
Thrift stores are great places to find cookware, backpacks and bags, wool blankets and clothing for the outdoors. Stop in often as the merchandise does turn over quite quickly.
Make it yourself
My favorite way to get gear! Search online for home made or diy outdoor gear. Go to your library and find books about camping written in the 1950's and 60's. Modify it and make it your own. There is a wealth of knowledge about the outdoors in old books. There are out of copyright books available online many different places.
Getting outdoors doesn't have to be expensive, If anyone else has any great ideas or places to get good gear at a reasonable price let me know. Thanks for reading and I hope our paths will someday cross in the woods.