After trying Cairn, one of the more popular brands in the outdoor subscription box arena, I decided to try S.E.R.E.Box, a company I hadn’t heard of until I’d read about them at Outside. S.E.R.E.Box is (or was — more on that later) part of Cratejoy, a subscription box packager with a massive offering of boxes catering to just about any interest.
S.E.R.E.Box (which they’re quick to tell you is pronounced “sear box” not “siri box”) stands for Store, Equip, Rescue, and Evade. They cover four key elements of preparedness — food, fire, water, and protection (whether that’s from the elements or danger). To keep true to this theme, S.E.R.E.Box breaks down their shipments into different categories. August’s theme was Survival and October’s was Food.
Ordering from S.E.R.E.Box is a bit confusing. They send out bi-monthly shipments, each with a different theme, but bill you quarterly. So every time your subscription renews, it’s for two shipments and you won’t see the second shipment for two to three months.
S.E.R.E.Box offers two different subscriptions: the Alpha Box and the Mini Box, which offers only a few choice items that are part of an Alpha Box subscription. The main page of the site claims you can also buy a one-time box to try them out (which I wanted to do), but, from what I could tell, there was no way to do once you got to the the box selection page. So I decided to dip my toe into the murky S.E.R.E.Box waters and start with their Mini Box subscription, .
The smallish box arrived via the United States Postal Service with no branding. I didn’t even know what it was until I flipped it over and looked at the return address.
After seeing some pictures of fully branded S.E.R.E.Boxes on the internet (like this one), my first thought was they didn’t take much care in upselling their Mini customers to the Alpha Box. But there may be another reason (again — more on that later).
Once I opened the box, I found two items lying haphazardly around some shredded red packing paper (good for kindling!) and a single color postcard explaining the items (I later learned this was called the SEREDATA card).
Luci EMRG Light
A lightweight, waterproof, inflatable solar lantern from Mpowed. It’s about the size of a can of Dinty Moore Beef Stew and has four LED lights that give off 25 lumens. The light has four settings: low, high, blinking, and red blinking (which blinks out S-O-S). It charges with a solar panel and a full charge to last seven hours. And, because it’s inflatable, it stores quite easily, compacting down to the size of a thick pancake. Retail price: Well, this is funny. The list price on the Mpowerd site is $11.95, but the SEREDATA card claimed a value of $15 — an interesting discrepancy.
- Usefulness: 8/10. Light is always useful, and a light source that doesn’t need batteries is especially so. It works really well for night-time map reading.
- Purchasability: 10/10. As it happens I already own a few of these lights (although a different brand).
- Usability: 10/10: I’ve used one of these on my outdoor adventures, including family car camping and a small group trek into the Sierras. It’s great for cooking dinner and doing a little reading before bed.
Ranger Bands (10-Pack)
A bag of really small (1/2″ diameter), really tough rubber bands from Wazoo Survival Gear. These things were first used by Army Rangers, apparently, and that’s how they got their name. They can be used, allegedly, for all sorts of tasks — adding a grippy surface to tool handles, bundling things together, and holding small boxes (think Altoids-style) closed. They also are supposed to burn with a slow, intense flame, so they’re good for tinder in a pinch. Retail Price: $2.50.
- Usefulness: 1/10. The small bands are pretty damn small, and I couldn’t get them around the handle of my smallest knife, flashlight, or even an Altoids mini box. I haven’t yet tried to burn them, but I can see where a larger band might be more useful.
- Purchasability: 0/10. I’ve never seen these in a shop, but if I did, I’d walk right on by.
- Usability: 0/10: Despite the light weight, these won’t be joining me on any trips largely due to the fact that I can’t get them around anything and I carry more effective tinder.
Combined Goods Total
I’m going to use the Mpowerd website price for the Luci lamp, which puts this shipment’s retail value at $14.50. Because S.E.R.E.Box bills for two quarterly shipments at one time, I was charged $27.20 for this shipment and the October shipment (which I assume will never come — more on that in a moment). But if we split that down the middle, this shipment cost me $13.60, a mere 90-cent savings over what I would have paid retail. But I did use the 20% code they offered on the website, so that cut my cost a little. If it weren’t for that, I would have paid $34 for two shipments (putting the pre-discount cost of this shipment at $17). Either way, I wouldn’t call the S.E.R.E.Box Mini a bargain.
Unboxed Gear Score
This Cairn shipment earned 29 points our of a possible 60, giving it an Unboxed Gear Score of 48. If you’re wondering, here’s how I figure the Unboxed Gear Score.
The S.E.R.E.Box Mini just isn’t worth it. While the Mpowerd Luci is a great piece of gear, I feel the reported price was inflated to justify the cost of the box itself. And the Ranger Bands were, to me, all but worthless.
However, I did decide that subscribing to the Mini was perhaps a bit unfair to the folks of S.E.R.E.Box, so I very reluctantly re-upped for another two shipments of the Alpha Box (which isn’t set to be shipped until December) to give them a fair shake. However …
… Then This Happened
Sometime in mid-September, the S.E.R.E.Box website vanished (the always useful Internet Archive has a snapshot of the S.E.R.E.Box site from September 10). Well, maybe not vanished, but it’s been “Temporarily Closed” for some time now and it no longer shows up on Cratejoy’s list of suppliers. I reached out to Cratejoy to ask what the deal was, and they confirmed S.E.R.E.Box was no longer one of their vendors but had no idea what happened to them. I’ve reached out to S.E.R.E.Box as well, but I haven’t heard back.
So I doubt if I’m going to get my second Mini Box shipment (scheduled for October) or any future Alpha Box shipments. And because they vanished with no word, there was no way for me to cancel my subscription — and that leaves me wondering if I’ll be seeing any mystery credit card charges.
All that said, I can’t really recommend S.E.R.E.Box, even if they do rise from the ashes — the communication is completely lacking for a company that has the ability to charge your credit card on a recurring basis.
Unboxed is the continuing report of my personal foray into the world of subscription boxes aimed at the outdoor enthusiast.