Unboxed: Cairn Subscription Box

Unboxed: Cairn Subscription Box (April 2016)

Cairn Unboxed

For the first installment of Unboxed, I decided to try Cairn — arguably the most popular and best-known subscription box service aimed at the outdoor enthusiast.

Cairn offers one-month ($25), six-month ($135), and twelve-month ($260) subscription plans, all auto-renewing. I signed up for the one-month service on April 19 and my first box arrived via the U.S. Postal Serrvice on April 22, so I have to give Cairn top marks for rapid delivery.

First Impression of Cairn

I thought the box would be bigger, an opinion I formed based on the some of the items that are showcased on the Cairn website, like the Hydroflask Insulated True Pint.

Cairn Subscription Box: First Impression

In the wake of this initial (and somewhat unfounded) disappointment, I cracked open the box and found four items inside, lovingly nestled under Carin-imprinted wrapping paper.

Frontier Pro

Aquamira Frontier Pro: Cairn Unboxed

This is a small, portable water filter that attaches to almost any hydration device. It’s made by Aquamira, the same folks who make my preferred method of water treatment (read more about my appreciation of Aquamira at John Muir Trail Basic Needs: Water). Retail price: $30.

  • Usefulness: 9/10. Every hiker should carry a water filtration solution with them when they venture into the backcountry. I prefer Aquamira drops, but this looks like a nice, lightweight backup.
  • Purchasability: 4/10. Lately I’ve been thinking of getting a filter like this. However, I was leaning toward picking up a Saywer Mini (and still might).
  • Usability: 10/10. Now that this filter is in my gear box, I’m definitely going to try it out.

Pocket Bellows

Aquamira Frontier Pro: Cairn Unboxed

An “ancient fire-starting technology molded into a telescopic hand tool” from Epiphany Outdoor Gear. Essentially it’s a telescoping metal tube you blow through to stoke your campfire. Retail price: $15.

  • Usefulness: 3/10. I’ve never had too much difficulty starting a fire, but we all know fire needs oxygen, and this device will help feed the fire.
  • Purchasability: 0/10. I can’t think of a scenario in which I would have bought this.
  • Usability: 2/10. I might whip it out to test it during a group outing, but it would be in a purely “Hey, check out this funky piece of gear” situation.

BetterBand (2-Pack)

Better Band: Cairn Unboxed

An adjustable stretch band from Nite Ize. Nite Ize makes a lot of useful gear — like their locking S-biners, Figure 9 Rope Tightener and the DoohicKey — but I’m not sure the BetterBand is one of them. Retail price: $5.00.

  • Usefulness: 3/10. It seems a little overdesigned and more complicated than it needs to be.
  • Purchasability: 0/10. I never would have considered buying this.
  • Usability: 1/10. After playing with it for about 20 minutes, I’m still not quite sure how to use the thing.

Mocha Latte CoffeeBar

Mocha Latte Coffee Bar: Cairn Unboxed

It’s no secret that I like coffee, and this nice little bar from New Grounds Food is jammed with all the right buzz — organic, fair trade, coffee — that appeals to the environmentally conscious, caffeine-oriented outdoorsperson. Retail price: $3.00.

  • Usefulness: 5/10. I prefer to drink my coffee, but this is a nice way to get an extra caffeine boost to keep the jets firing.
  • Purchasability: 7/10. The wall of choice available to energy bar buyers is massive, but I’d probably give this bar another chance to take up space in my food bag.
  • Usability: 10/10. The Cairn box was barely 10 minutes old before this was eaten.

Unassuming Little Envelope

Unassuming Envelope: Cairn Unboxed

This contained coupons good for 15% off at Drinktanks, 20% off at Fireside Provisions, and 25% off my next order of the aforementioned CoffeeBar. Such a thing didn’t arrive with future Cairn shipments, so I think I got this unassuming little envelope only because it was my first shipment (but I could be wrong).

Combined Goods Total

The retail value of all the items in this shipment was approximately $53, with a potential value increase if I would do any shopping at places featured in the Unassuming Little Envelope (I did not). Cairn claims each shipment contains at least $50 worth of goodies, and this box, which cost me $25, easily met that claim.

Unboxed Gear Score

This Cairn shipment earned 54 points out of a possible 120, giving it an Unboxed Gear Score of 45.
If you’re wondering, here’s how I figure the Unboxed Gear Score.

Final Thoughts

When you visit the Cairn site, you’re treated to images of Carin boxes with things like the HydroFlask Insulated Pint, BioLite KettlePot, and other expensive-looking large pieces of gear. This was my first subscription box, and I expected the shipment to contain items that would excite me a little more. The Frontier Pro is definitely a useful piece of gear, but some of the other items — especially the Nite Ize BetterBands — are impulse items stocked at the checkout counter of adventure and sporting goods stores that I’d never think of buying.

Is Cairn Worth It?

Based on this shipment alone, I’d say if you’ve got $25 to burn each month, then this isn’t a bad little box to sign up for. But don’t let the pictures of the great gear you see on the Cairn website fool you — it’s definitely a mixed box of goods.

If this sounds like it’s something you’d like, you might want to give Cairn a try.


Unboxed is the continuing report of my personal foray into the world of subscription boxes aimed at the outdoor enthusiast.


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