Personally, I purchased routers and switches off of ebay, but this is because I plan on going for the CCNP and even if I don't I like to try things on real gear.
You should be able to pass the simulations if you use something like Packet Tracer or some other simulator. Now that I have taken the test I do not think I needed to purchase real gear, but it will help me in the long run.
I passed CCNA working with both Packet Tracer and Boson NetSim. I worked also for 2 weeks on real equipment. However, As skepticals said if you plan only on taking CCNA then the simulators mentioned are more than enough.