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Is the Cairn Outdoor Subscription Box Worth the Money?

Do you have someone in your life who loves the outdoors, but is notoriously hard to shop for? Do you spend way too much time trying to find the perfect gift for the hikers, campers, and backpackers in your life? If you haven’t heard of Cairn outdoor subscription boxes, read on. They may be exactly what you’ve been looking for.

Introducing Cairn

Cairn is a subscription service that sends subscribers or gift recipients a box of outdoor goodies monthly or quarterly, depending on which service you order. They partner with new and innovative outdoor gear brands and works to inspire people to get outdoors more.

Every outdoor subscription box is full of surprises and features a solid collection of gear, apparel, food, skin care, or emergency preparedness items. The products are thoughtfully chosen and with each new Cairn box, you’ll be itching to head out on an adventure.

How Does a Cairn Subscription Work?

The Cairn box for November 2018, featuring oatmeal, a granola bar, instant coffee, and a water bottle. They are all arranged in a cardboard box.

The Cairn box for November 2018

Cairn has two outdoor subscription boxes available. You can choose from the Original Box, which is delivered monthly or the Obsidian Box, which is delivered quarterly. Here’s an overview of the two subscription boxes.

Cairn Original Box

  • Delivered monthly
  • 3-6 products per box
  • Shipping is included in the price
  • Retail value up to $50
  • Costs between 27.45  and $29.95, depending on the length of subscription

Cairn Obsidian Box

  • Delivered quarterly
  • 5-10 products per box
  • Shipping is included in the price
  • Retail value of $300+
  • Costs $249.95 quarterly

Once you’ve chosen which Cairn box you want to receive or give as a gift, you will be directed to the order form, where you can decide if you want to pay monthly, quarterly, or annually. The cost of the original subscription box is a bit cheaper if order a year-long subscription and pay annually. 

What’s in a Cairn Box?

I received three Cairn subscription box during my trial subscription — in October, November, and December. As promised, I received between three and four items in each box, with each item ranging in value from a few dollars to $30. Here’s an overview of the goodies I got in each box.

Cairn Box: October

A pair of blue and grey running socks from CloudLine

CloudLine socks from October 2018 Cairn box.

Cloud Line Merino Wool Trail Running Socks

I had already heard of and been coveting a pair of CloudLine socks. How did they know? CloudLine socks are made in the USA and feature a lifetime warranty. They’re made of 63% Ultra Soft Merino Wool, 31% Nylon, 6% Spandex. I have worn them dozens of times since they came in my Cairn box. Love them.

A close up of Joshua Tree Skin Care recovery lotion from the October 2018 Cairn box.

I love this recovery lotion from the October 2018 Cairn box

 Retail value: $15.99

Joshua Tree Skin Care Recovery Lotion

I had never heard of Joshua Tree Skin Care, but the Skin Care Recovery Lotion features arnica extract and essential oils of eucalyptus and tea tree. The lotion is designed to soothe aching muscles and joints, perfect for applying to legs and feet after a long hike or run. My husband actually pulled a muscle in his foot a few days after this arrived, and used this several times a day.

Retail value: $12.99

Croakies ARC endless

I use the original Croakies to keep my glasses in place when I’m doing water or snow-based activities, so I was excited to try these. Unfortunately, they didn’t quite live up to my expectations, as the piece that attaches to my glasses kept loosening up. Overall customer reviews were also mixed. Oh well.

Retail value: $14.99

A close-up of Picky Bars - blueberry, from the October 2018 Cairn box

Picky Bars from the October 2018 Cairn box.

Picky Bars: Blueberry Boomdizzle

My hungry teenager ate this before I could try it. He said it was delicious.

Retail value: $2.75



Cairn Box October Cost Breakdown

Total Cost to buyer: $27.45 -$29.95 depending on the length of the subscription

Total value of products: $46.72

The Ecovessel water bottle from the November 2018 Cairn box

The Ecovessel water bottle from the November 2018 Cairn box


Cairn Box: November

Ecovessel Aspen 16 oz. Insulated Bottle

Water bottles come in and out of my life like the wind. They are always getting lost and found and lost again. This insulated bottle promises to keep drinks cold for 80 hours and hot for 16, and it’s got a soft silicone, non-slip base, which I love.

Retail value: $26.95

Jonesbar Mango Bar

This lovely little bar contains just dates, mango, almonds, and chia seeds. It’s super yummy but contains 4 grams of protein, 5 grams of fat, and a whopping 19 grams of sugar in a 1.7 oz. bar.

Retail value: Not sold individually, but a box of 12 costs $29, which averages out to $2.42 for a 1.7 oz. bar

Alpine Start Original Blend Instant Coffee

Alpine Start coffee from the November 2018 Cairn Box

Alpine Start coffee from the November 2018 Cairn box

I’m a bit of a coffee snob, so I was hesitant to try these instant coffee packets, even when camping. I finally made myself a cup during a little winter camping trip last week and was pleasantly surprised. Yes, I could tell it was instant coffee, but it was surprisingly rich, and I wouldn’t hesitate to throw a few packets in my pack for impromptu adventures. Each box comes with 8 instant packets.

Retail value: 8 individual packets for $8.99

Picky Oats Performance Oatmeal

I admit that I haven’t tried this yet. I’m saving it for my next camping trip in February. With 10 grams of plant-based protein and 50% awesome toppings like dates, chia seeds, almonds, and apples, I’m pretty excited about this one.

Retail value: $2.99 for a single serve pouch

Cairn Box November Cost Breakdown

Total Cost to buyer: $27.45-$29.95

Total value of products: $41.35

Cairn Subscription Box: December

The COAL POW beanie from the December 2018 Cairn box.

The COAL POW beanie from the December 2018 Cairn box.

COAL X POW Polyana Beanie

COAL has teamed up with POW (Protect Our Winters) to work to halt climate change. The Polyana hat is a blend of a low-impact acrylic alternative and uses 76% less energy than traditional textile manufacturers. My new beanie is a deep blue and quite warm.

Retail value: $30

NOSO Patches

NOSO patches from the December 2018 Cairn box.

NOSO patches from the December 2018 Cairn box.

This is another product that I’m really excited about and didn’t know existed. These sturdy patches stick right on to rips

and holes on gear and clothing. I got two patches, and unfortunately, I’ve got a puffy vest with at least 5 holes. I can’t wait to use these and order more.

Retail value: $4.95 note we could not find an exact match online, so this is an estimate.

Clif Energy Granola

This is really awesome granola, and it’s all I can do to keep from eating it all up. Trying to save it for adventures, though. Fortunately, I can get this stuff at my nearest grocery store, so finding it in the Cairn box wasn’t too exciting.

Retail value: $5.49 for 10 oz.

Cairn Box December Cost Breakdown

Total Cost to buyer: $27.45-$29.95, depending on the length of the subscription

Total value of products: $40.44

Read Next: Little Gifts for Teens who Love the Outdoors

Is a Cairn Subscription Worth the Money?

Receiving my Cairn subscription box was a fun surprise that I definitely looked forward to each month, but is it something I would buy and use, month after month? My short answer is — maybe.

Cairn subscription boxes definitely provide value over the retail cost of the individual products, but I probably wouldn’t have bought many of the products if they weren’t auto-delivered to my door. While Cairn does an awesome job choosing cool and interesting items for your box, there’s definitely a chance that you’ll receive something you just don’t want or need. If just one of the three to six items in your Cairn box aren’t things you would use, the value decreases significantly.

As a gift to myself, I probably would not splurge on the Cairn subscription box. I love surprises, but I would rather treat myself to a piece of gear that I actually need. Nothing personal against Cairn — I just don’t want to round out my gear stash with stuff I never wanted in the first place.

Two Reasons the Cairn Box is Worth Investing in

A group of people walk through the snow holding snowshoes.

Do you need an outdoor subscription box to inspire you to take adventures? Probably not.

While I will not be continuing my own subscription, there are two situations where I could see the Cairn box being an awesome purchase. The first is as a gift for the adventurer in your life, especially a young person. My son is 19 years old. He doesn’t have a lot of money and he lives on his own. Because I have no idea what he needs for gear, I think this would be a perfect gift, and I can think of a handful of other people in my life that would love it as well.

A Cairn subscription would also be great for people who are really into checking out and learning about new gear brands. Cairn works with lots of startups and my favorite part about my Cairn boxes was learning about new companies. I was most excited to learn about Joshua Tree Skin Care and the NOSO patches, and I’m sure if I continued I would make the acquaintance of lots of other great brands.

Bottom Line: The Cairn subscription box is a fun surprise that is worth the money, and it makes a great gift for the outdoor lovers in your life.

Read Next: Awesome and Affordable Gifts for Backpackers

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A close-up of the Cairn box for November 2018 with the caption: What you need to know about the Cairn subscription box.A silhouette of stacked rocks in the sunset. Caption reads: Should you buy a Cairn box subscription?

Please note: I received a complimentary 3-month subscription to the Cairn Original Subscription Box in order to write this post.