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Photo: Cairn

Let’s be real: outdoor gear is expensive, and buying an item sight unseen can be more terrifying than the moment right before the Pillsbury tube of crescent rolls pops open (it makes me shudder to think about it).

But that is where Cairn enters the picture. This reader-favorite subscription service allows members to dabble with a variety of gear before fully committing, and some members have been known to discover their new favorite piece of gear via their subscription. In order to receive the boxes at your doorstep, you must first decide which membership you prefer.


Original Boxes

The original membership is a monthly box that includes anywhere from 3-6 full-sized items (no trial sized). It costs $29.95 per month, but less if you opt to pay every six months or even annually. Cairn claims that each box would retail for up to $50, making the membership fee more than worth it (assuming you like everything you get, of course).

Obsidian Boxes

The Obsidian membership is the premium option, with boxes arriving quarterly. Unlike the original boxes, the Obsidian boxes include anywhere from 5-10 outdoor items with a retail value of at least $300 per box. Of course, this membership costs significantly more: $249.95 every quarter, or a grand per year.

So...what’s in these boxes?

My first Cairn box
Photo: Heather Balogh Rochfort

I got the chance to check out two different original boxes, and I won’t lie: I was suspicious. My husband and I are both gear junkies, and need more products like we need a hole in the head. What could we possibly find in these boxes that would make the membership worthwhile?

The first box arrived with three different items, with one being the obvious selling point: a Cotopaxi Luzon del Dia, an 18-liter daypack made from completely repurposed fabric from the Cotopaxi factory. The backpack itself retails for $55, so already, I was way ahead of the ~$30 subscription price. Additionally, the first box also included one Natti Bar (a new-to-me brand) and one package of Hydrapak Bottle Bright, tablets designed to clean water bottles. The Bottle Bright retails for $8 and the Natti Bar for roughly $2, so the total value of this first box amounted to $65. Not too shabby!

My second Cairn box
Photo: Heather Balogh Rochfort

Our second sample box was similar: four items with one big-ticket product. The largest item included was a Sierra Designs DriDown Pillow that retails for $29.95 (and is my new favorite thing because who doesn’t love a pillow while camping?!) Additionally, the box included one Skratch Labs energy bar (cherry and pistachio flavor), one two-ounce bottle of Bug Protector (an all-natural, DEET-free bug repellant), and one Rite in the Rain outdoor notepad that I never knew existed but is safely tucked away in my backpack. As a journalist, I’m always taking notes and having a weather-proof notepad handy has been a game changer! After adding it all up, the second box has a retail value of roughly $40.


Based on these two experiences, it seems like the Cairn subscription box would likely be well-worth the monthly fee, especially if you enjoy learning about new items. After covering gear in the outdoor industry for over five years, I still discovered four new-to-me items, two if which quickly joined my regular quiver of gear. Plus, added bonus: if you decide your subscription isn’t worth it, you can cancel at any time. No harm, no foul, and no loss.

Heather Balogh Rochfort is an outdoor expert and full-time freelance writer and author in the outdoor industry.

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