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Our Cairn Box Subscription Review

by Bonnie
Cairn Box Subscription Review

Over the last several years, subscription boxes seemed to have popped up for all kinds of things. Each of these subscriptions provides you with a box of items for you to enjoy, with boxes generally arriving once a month. There are subscriptions for just about anything, including food, clothes, makeup, and much more. Here is our review of the Cairn box, which is a subscription box for outdoor gear.

We started our Cairn subscription in September 2018. We’ve now had it for more than 18 months and have received some pretty fabulous gear! As you might imagine, some items are more useful for us than others, but it’s always fun to see what you get each month. Seriously, it’s almost like getting a birthday present each month (just ignore the fact that you paid for it).

(Disclaimer: When we link to places you can buy our stuff or places we stayed, we are using special codes which earn us commissions on the sales at no additional cost to you. Please see our Review Policy  for more information.)

Cairn Subscription Options

The basic Cairn subscription costs about $30/month (as of June 2020). You can choose to pay monthly, every 6 months or annually. As you might expect, you can save a little bit off the monthly cost by paying for 6 or 12 months at a time. For us, the savings is not enough to warrant the up-front cost, so we just pay monthly.

Each Cairn box includes 3-4 items and a newsletter.
Our most May 2020 Cairn box – most boxes contain 3-4 items plus a “newsletter” with information.

In each monthly Cairn box, you get 3-4 items worth up to $50 in retail value. All items are full-size items, not travel or sample size. While some items are not always things we will use, I would say that each Cairn box does contain at least $30 worth of gear and often a higher value.

Cairn also offers an Obsidian Collection, which is a premium box of new products and brands. This is not actually a  subscription, but a once-a-quarter limited offering that costs about $250 and offers more than $300 in value. We have not yet paid for an Obsidian box, but it is tempting. 

Your Cairn Preferences

When you sign up for a Cairn subscription, you need to complete your profile to indicate what clothing sizes you wear and various outdoor preferences. This helps Cairn make sure you get items that you are actually interested in, will use and, for clothing, will fit.

Our first Cairn box.
Opening our first Cairn box, which included a headlamp, collapsible water bottle and snack bar.

While you do not get to choose specific items to include in your box, completing your profile allows Cairn to get you products best suited for you. Many months do have multiple versions of the box so that you have a better chance of getting gear for your specific outdoor hobbies.

Of course, when you receive one Cairn box for a couple, like we do, that means one person tends to get all the clothing items. In our case, that’s me! You can adjust your preferences anytime, though, if you want to change that up.

What to Expect in Each Cairn Box

So, what can you expect each month in your Cairn box? There will usually be 3-4 items. Often, you’ll get items that are related to each other, but not always. The thoughtfulness of how items pair together, though, is great. For example, one month we got sunglasses and croakies (a “string” to hold glasses around your neck). Most recently, we received tent stakes and a tent pole splint.

Sunglasses and Croakies we received in a Cairn box.
We love how you generally get related items in a Cairn box – this one, for example, includes sunglasses and croakies.

Additionally, you’ll almost always get some sort of food or drink item. We’ve gotten to try several different types of protein bars, energy bars and various breakfast items, including coffee and tea. 

Finally, each box contains a “newsletter” that tells you more about the items in your Cairn box. It also includes information on other gear or outdoor adventures. 

Just about every Cairn box includes some sort of food or drink item.
Some of the various food and drink items we’ve received from Cairn.

Our Favorite Cairn Box Items

Here are just a few of the items that stand out as some of our most-loved and most useful items we’ve received in our Cairn box.

Croakies Belt 

While I don’t need a belt often, it’s always nice to have a good belt. This Croakies belt is perfect for outdoor use. It’s easy to trim to the size you need and then even easier to adjust as needed when wearing it. And, it has a hidden feature – the buckle can be used as a bottle opener.

Bonnie taking a picture of the trail with her iPhone.
Bonnie taking a picture on the trail. Note the colorful belt… a Croakie belt we got from Carin.

The one we received was best sized for me, but Grant liked it so much he ordered two for himself! You can get these on Amazon in a wide variety of colors and patterns.

Hat & Gloves

We actually received these in two different boxes, but they work well together! The hat is a COAL Headwear POW Beanie. POW stands for Protect Our Winters; their mission is to halt climate change. This particular beanie was made with Polylana, a low impact alternative to acrylic. Most COAL beanies sell for $20-30 on their website.

A hat and gloves are two great items we've received in a Cairn box.
Selfie at the Buffalo Roundup. The COAL beanie kept Bonnie warm on a cold fall day.

The gloves are Smartwool liner gloves, and they immediately made their way into my list of favorite winter items! They are lightweight, form-fitting and keep my fingers warm. To be honest, I don’t think I’ve tried them in extremely cold temperatures yet, but they are good everyday gloves. Best of all, they have a screen-friendly thumb and forefinger.

Blackstrap Daily Tube Sun Mask

This multifunctional sun covering by Blackstrap can be used as a facemark, head covering, neck protection or even as a covering for a camera or phone. It’s lightweight, provides 50+ UV protection and is quick-drying. 

This is a great item to keep in your backpack for hiking – you can use it to shield the sun, dunk it is a river or lake to help you cool off or use it to cover your face from dirt.

Bonnie getting the wrap wet so she can cool off.
Bonnie getting the wrap wet so she can cool off.

Serac Classic Hammock

One of our most exciting Cairn box items is a hammock! While we, unfortunately, don’t get to use it often, it is something that we absolutely love having. The box included both the hammock and webbed straps.

Grant taking a nap in the hammock we got from Cairn.
Grant taking a nap in the hammock we got from Cairn.

Rechargeable Flashlight

Whether you are at home, on the road or on the trail, it’s always a good idea to have a flashlight (or some kind of illumination) with you. Getting caught in the dark is never fun and can be dangerous if you’re out on the trail or wandering unknown streets.

A USB-rechargeable flashlight we got from Cairn.
A USB-rechargeable flashlight we got from Cairn.

We generally carry a flashlight and/or headlamp in our packs for this very reason. So, when we received this small, USB-rechargeable flashlight it immediately went into my travel bag. Most of all, I love that I don’t need to worry about batteries!

Rechargeable Headlamp

Let me just say that we have been a fan of headlamps for years! We almost always have one in the truck, in our daypacks and in our luggage. You just never know when you will need one. Yes, flashlights are great. But, if you have your hands full, a headlamp is even better! 

A USB-rechargeable head lamp we got from Cairn.
A USB-rechargeable head lamp we got from Cairn.

We received this rechargeable headlamp from UCO Gear in our first box and it immediately went into Grant’s travel backpack. Again, the fact that it is USB-rechargeable means that you’ll never be stuck hunting for batteries, which is always a plus when traveling.

Mini Lantern

Whether you are camping, working outside at night or dealing with a power outage at home, lanterns can be another great source of light. With a lantern, you can generally illuminate a bigger area than you can with a flashlight or headlamp. This makes is a great option for anywhere you have several people or are moving around a bit. 

This small UCO Lantern is perfect for a reading lamp if we are boondocking.
This small UCO Lantern is perfect for a reading lamp if we are boondocking.

This UCO Sprout Mini Lantern is small and lightweight, making it great for camping or backpacking. It even has a blue Moonlight Mode, in addition to the traditional white light. Unfortunately, it’s not rechargeable but takes only 3 AAA batteries. Amazon sells both the standard AAA version and one with a rechargeable Li-ion battery.

What I like about this lantern is the magnetic lanyard that allows you to hang it from a hook, a branch or a backpack.

Gerber Multitool

One of our ten essential items for hiking is a small knife or, better yet, a multi-tool. When we received this Gerber Suspension NXT, it immediately went into Grant’s daypack. In this one piece, you have 15 tools, including needlenose pliers, scissors and screwdrivers. 

The Gerber multi-tool is one of many great items we've received in a Cairn box.
The Gerber multi-tool (top) is just one of several tools Grant carries when hiking.

Grant’s favorite thing about this multi-tool is that every tool locks and you don’t need to open it up to access the various tools. 

Dirtbag/Drybag

We’ve recently done some canoeing and kayaking where we had to make the tough decision on whether or not to take our phones. For that reason, I’ve been thinking about getting a drybag to add to our travel gear. Thankfully, before I could act on that, we received one in a recent Cairn box!

One of the best parts about getting out on Nine Mile Pond is the quiet. You quickly feel very removed from civilization.
Kayaking at Everglades National Park. A drybag would have made carrying my phone a lot less stressful.

This particular bag by Deuter is a reusable, waterproof rolltop bag designed for use in the backcountry. The design makes it great for pack it in, pack it out backpacking trips. It’s also good for keeping items dry. We haven’t had a chance to truly test it out yet, but we plan to on our next water adventure later this summer.

Ultralight Towel

When traveling, we generally always carry a lightweight, quick-drying towel. Yes, you generally will be provided with towels in a hotel, but if you’re looking to hit the beach, are out on kayaks or canoes or are grabbing a public shower at a train station, you’ll often need your own towel. 

This ultralight towel by Nomadix is perfect to keep in your backpack, car or RV. It weighs only 8 ounces, is super absorbent and quick drying. Best of all… it’s made from recycled plastic bottles and has a fabulous Smokey Mountains design on it! You can also find this towel at REI.

EcoVessel Water Bottle

I almost always travel with a reusable water bottle. With this, you can stay hydrated and protect the environment by not buying single-use plastic water bottles. When I received this EcoVessel insulated bottle in a Cairn box, it immediately started getting used. Not only is it insulated, it also has a strainer so you can have fruit-infused water on the go! 

The EcoVessel water bottle is one our most-used items from a Cairn box.
The EcoVessel water bottle gets a lot of use!

The only downside of this bottle is that it is a little big (24 oz) and is sometimes a tight fit in a cupholder or side pocket on a backpack. Still, it’s a great bottle for everyday use inside or outside.

EcoVessel Reusable Straws

This set of 4 stainless steel reusable straws by EcoVessel is one of the most-used items we’ve received in a Cairn box. While I can’t say that I never use plastic straws anymore, having these reusable straws certainly does reduce my use of plastic straws. These straws have colorful silicone tips, which is a must for me – I hate sipping directly on steel! 

Stainless steel reusable straw from a Carin box.
I love the reusable straws that we received in a Cairn box.

Best of all, they came with a carrying pouch and a cleaning brush.

Final Thoughts on Cairn Subscription Box

These are just a few of the really amazing this we’ve gotten in our Cairn subscription box. Yes, we have received items that we don’t really need or want. Some of those we’ve kept just in case; others we have given to friends. 

Some of the items we've received in a Cairn box.
Just some of the many items we’ve received from Cairn.

Overall, though, we’ve been happy with the items we’ve received and their value. We’ve considered cancelling our subscription a couple of times, but always talk ourselves out of it because of the great things we get. 

One neat thing about Cairn is that you can earn points by reviewing the items you receive. You can use these points for Cairn gear, a free month of the regular Cairn box or even a free Obsidian collection. 

If you are looking for amazing outdoor gear, a Cairn subscription box is a fun way to explore all that is out there. You can even give a subscription to someone else, making it the perfect gift when you just don’t know what to give that certain someone who loves outdoor adventure.

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