REI vs EMS Compared: Which Gear Brand Is Best for You? (2023)

In our REI vs EMS comparison, we’ll explore which outdoor clothing and equipment outlet is better. REI (Recreational Equipment Inc) and EMS (Eastern Mountain Sports) are both well-known companies.

We’ll explore the different features and services that REI and EMS both offer and have a look at their pros and cons. We’ll even show you some alternatives out there too. First, let’s dive into the main differences between these two popular outdoor clothing and equipment outlets.

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Table of Contents

Main Differences Between REI vs EMS

The main differences between REI vs EMS are:

  • EMS has a wide range of brands available, whereas REI doesn’t offer as many brands
  • EMS is limited to 29 days from the purchase date, whereas REI offers a one-year return policy on most their products.
  • EMS stores are mostly based in the US Northeast, whereas REI stores can be found nationwide
  • REI has free shipping on orders over a certain amount, whereas EMS does not

Exploring REI vs EMS features and services

To find out which outlet is better, we’ll look at each feature and service of both REI and EMS in depth.

Range of products

Both of these outdoor recreation stores offer a wide range of products. This includes a range of outdoor clothing and equipment for men, women, and children.

We’ve found that both REI and EMS stock a wide range of products such as jackets, footwear, and backpacks to name just a few. There isn’t a whole lot of difference between REI and EMS when it comes to their range of products.

They both stock a lot of great brands such as Outdoor Research, The North Face, Yeti, and Arc’Teryx. So, the chances are you’ll find what you need in both stores if you are after a particular brand.

That being said, EMS does stock slightly more brands than REI.

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Warranty and Returns

Warranty and returns can be a big factor in judging where you buy a product from. Given the rough and ready nature of the activities that these products are designed for, you may need to use the warranty on an item you buy.

REI offers a one-year warranty and a chance to return on the majority of the products that they sell. You can return the product for a refund or a replacement with the exception of outdoor electronics. This includes things such as GPS devices, cameras, and bike trainers. They need to be returned or replaced within 90 days of purchase.

EMS is a bit different. Their returns policy only lasts for 28 days from the purchase date. This is quite a bit of a difference and for some people, it can sway what outlet they go for.

Customer Service

There are several ways to get in contact with both of these companies. REI has this really well displayed on the website. You can contact them by phone which is open 7 days a week, email or you can even use their live chat function.

A really good part of REI is that they have a customer help center. This allows you to easily find answers to a number of services that REI provides. It is definitely a bonus and saves spending a long time on the phone or waiting days for an email reply.

EMS also offers a customer help center where you can find out answers to a number of questions around shipping, returns, common FAQs, and more. A really helpful resource. EMS doesn’t have as many contact options as REI.

In fact, it can be quite difficult to find contact details on their site and they try to push you on to their customer help center as much as they can.

If you look hard enough you can find an online contact form to submit a request. Both have really good customer information on their site but REI is definitely better when it comes to contact details and methods of getting in touch with them.

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REI and EMS offer different shipping options that vary in price.

REI has three shipping methods – Standard, Two Day, and One Day Express Shipping. Standard shipping (which has a delivery date of between 3 – 7 days in most cases) is $5.99 on orders up to $49.99 and free for orders more than this amount. Two Day Shipping varies depending on how much you spend but it starts at $19.99 and goes up to $24.99.

One Day Express Shipping with REI is the same, it varies by the amount of your purchase and starts at $27.99 and goes up to $32.99. They can also ship internationally which incurs additional costs. If you want, you can pick up your purchase in-store for free.

EMS offers Standard, Two Day, Overnight, and Saturday delivery options. So, slightly different from REI and they have a flat rate for each option. Their standard shipping is a bit more expensive and it comes at a flat rate of $7.99. Two-Day shipping costs $19.99, Overnight shipping $29.99 and Saturday delivery costs $39.99.

They don’t have a free shipping option like REI and the flat rate doesn’t include any additional surcharges.

Physical Stores

Even though many people are now turning online to buying outdoor gear for camping, walking, hiking, or whatever sport or activity they enjoy, physical stores are still important.

REI has 165 physical stores spread out across 39 states. One-fifth of these stores are actually located in the state of California although they were originally founded in Seattle. REI allows for in-store pickup for items you have purchased in most of their physical stores (you can choose this option before you buy).

They also have a handy store locator on their website where you can search for your nearest REI outlet.

While EMS ships throughout the USA (and abroad), their stores are all concentrated in the US Northeast (hence their name). They have around 50 stores. If you aren’t based in the Northeast of America, you probably won’t be visiting a bricks-and-mortar EMS store however as we said, they do ship across the country and further afield.

They also offer in-store pickup for some of their items.

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Reward and Membership Schemes

REI is a consumer co-operative and this is reflected in their membership scheme. By joining REI you get 10% off most items that they sell as well as access to member-only discounts. By joining REI you are able to vote on the directors of the company too. You get dividends and you can check these on their online membership portal.

A lifetime membership costs $20 which is really cheap. In fact, if you regularly shop at REI, the benefits of discounted products can pay for itself quite quickly.

EMS also has a membership scheme. You can join if you are a resident of the USA or Canada and are over 18 years of age. This gives you access to rewards. You get 1 point for every dollar spent on qualifying items while there is member-only offers too. You also get a reward on your birthday.

The EMS reward scheme is free. Both of these schemes are pretty good and designed to save you money. The REI membership scheme is more far-reaching down to its co-operative makeup.

Other features

There are some other features of REI and EMS to tell you about. REI has their outlet store which is great for picking up a bargain on out-of-season items and outdoor gear that has gone out of production.

Another feature of REI is the fact that you can trade in lightly used gear for an REI gift card. This is a feature unique to REI members. There are some things you can’t trade-in, but it includes things such as jackets, tents, footwear, and sleeping bags. REI Adventures allows you to book trips across the world while they also host classes and events in the great outdoors.

EMS Schools offers a variety of programs too. This includes trips for rock climbing, skiing, kayaking as well as avalanche training. They also have an Outlet and Clearance store where you can pick up a bargain on out-of-season products.

Comparing REI and EMS pricing

Given the range of different outdoor gear that both REI and EMS offer, it can be difficult to compare pricing overall between the two stores.

They both offer discounts and cheaper products with their outlet sections so you can get a bargain with both.

Some items are slightly cheaper with REI (some water bottles for example) however you can get good deals with both retailers and their prices are largely similar.

Pros and Cons


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  • Offers a wide range of outdoor clothing and equipment
  • Membership scheme where you can get discounts and dividends
  • Good range of contact options and customer help center
  • Has physical stores nationwide
  • Can trade in worn gear for a gift card
  • REI adventures allows you to book trips


  • Doesn’t offer as many brands as EMS
  • Shipping prices vary depending on the cost of your order


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  • Offers a wide range of outdoor clothing and equipment brands
  • Has a flat rate shipping fee
  • You can get discounts with their rewards scheme
  • Their outlet store provides discounted goods
  • EMS schools offers outdoor trips and training


  • Contact options are quite limited but with customer help center
  • Returns policy isn’t great
  • Physical stores are only located in US Northeast
  • No free shipping option

Are there any alternatives?


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Another well-known outdoor recreation store is Backcountry.

They stock the most well-known brands such as The North Face and Patagonia amongst many more. They also offer a good wide selection of different gear for outdoor activities such as hiking, camping, climbing and also winter sports like snowboarding.

Although they don’t have physical stores, they deliver across the country. A good feature of Backcountry is ‘gearheads’ which are experts in outdoor products that you can contact for advice and recommendations.

While their additional features are a bit limited compared to EMS and REI – although they do offer an affiliate program. Also, Backcountry is well-known for providing good end of season sales so you still have the opportunity for picking up a bargain.

If you can’t find a product you are looking for or it is out of stock in REI and EMS, Backcountry is a very good alternative to consider.


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Perhaps slightly less known than some other outlets, Moosejaw is another outdoor recreation business that offers a wide range of products.

They offer their own accessory and clothing brand that can be cheaper than some of the bigger names. There are around 11 Moosejaw stores however you can order online and delivery is available nationwide.

Aside from their own clothing brand, they stock many of the popular names too such as The North Face. Moosejaw has a rewards program that is useful if you are planning on shopping there regularly. It offers 10% cashback on purchases that can really build up over time.

Some other features of Moosejaw include price match where they’ll match the cost of a product if it is cheaper on another US retailers site. They also have good contact options and regularly have clearance sales where you can pick up a bargain.

FAQs About REI vs EMS

Question: How many stores do REI and EMS have?

Answer: REI has far more physical stores than EMS. EMS are based in the US Northeast and all their physical stores are located in that area – they have around 50 stores whereas REI has 165 physical stores spread out across 39 states.

Question: What contact options does REI have?

Answer: REI offers several methods to get in contact with them if you need and they are all clearly laid out on their website. You can contact them by phone which is open 7 days a week, email, or use the live chat function. REI also has a customer help center with answers to frequently asked questions.

Question: What contact options does EMS have?

Answer: EMS is a bit limited in how to contact them. You can use a contact form on their site but it isn’t easy to find. They do have a customer help center that answers many questions and gives you information on things such as shipping, returns, and more.

Question: Do REI and EMS charge for shipping?

Answer: Yes, both REI and EMS charge for shipping. You can get free shipping with REI on their standard delivery if your purchase is over a certain amount whereas EMS charges a flat shipping fee. Both retailers have faster delivery options which cost more.

Question: Does REI have a rewards scheme?

Answer: Yes. REI is a consumer co-operative and if you join, you can get 10% off most items as well as exclusive discounts.

Question: Does EMS have a rewards scheme?

Answer: Yes. Even though they aren’t a cooperative, you can join as a member and get discounts on certain products. You get 1 point for every dollar spent on qualifying items and you also get rewards on your birthday too.

Our Verdict: REI vs EMS – both are great retailers but REI just edges it

Choosing one of their outdoor retailers over the other is pretty difficult. They both offer a great range of different outdoor products such as clothing and equipment.

If we had to pick one we’d go for Recreational Equipment, Inc (REI).

It is pretty close but there are a few things we like better. We prefer their shipping rates and the fact you can get free shipping on orders over $49.99 if you choose the standard delivery. They are a cooperative which also swings it for us as you can join, get discounts and also dividends.

REI also has more stores nationwide so they are easier to visit if you do want to get to a physical location and they offer a better returns policy. Their contact options are also better and much more straightforward. Even though they don’t stock as many brands as EMS, they do offer a lot of top-quality outdoor gear.

EMS isn’t bad by any means and there are a lot of good points about them.

We just feel that they are a bit more geographically limited and don’t have as many pros as REI. That being said, we wouldn’t hesitate to look at EMS if we couldn’t find a product in stock with REI but for us, REI just edges it.

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David Borgogni

David is a strong advocate of outdoor-related activities and has many years of experience backpacking and hiking around the world, including the Italian and Austrian Alps in Europe as well as central and southern Asia.

Locally, he has also led many groups cycling through Vermont, Nova Scotia, and Wisconsin. David constantly uses and tests the latest gear for the outdoors, which in turn allows him to help others make more informed buying decisions. He’s excited to share more of his knowledge and to see others enjoying the great outdoors more because of his advice and recommendations.

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