I'm also against using REI as an intentional free rental. But their return policy also encourages other sales at a prices a little higher than other places. It's because of this return policy that I look to REI first for gear, but I've never returned anything.

The list isn't meant to be an expert's view as I'm certainly not an expert. Everyone, feel free to pick it apart and suggest improvements.

I really like the motto of a very small local store. "We don't have room to sell junk." Unfortunately, they are now more into kayaking than backpacking. I'm pretty hesitant to recommend gear that I know has bad limitations except for car camping. Then a person can just go home if it gets bad.