Though subscription boxes may appear to be a recent phenomenon, the reality is these curated monthly boxes have been delivered for nearly a century. After the proliferation of catalogs from the likes of Montgomery Ward and Sears had proven the viability of mail-based commerce, New York-based journalist and advertiser, Harry Scherman would launch the “Book of the Month Club” in 1926 before later being adopted by other noteworthy outfits like the Columbia House Records club. And as online shopping began to trump traditional in-store purchases in popularity over the last decade or two, the stage was set for a subscription box boom.
In 2010, we began seeing a significant influx in modern subscription box services, with dozens of highly specialized companies deploying highly-curated boxes, each targeting a specific activity or lifestyle. Of the enormous variety of available subscription box types, companies trading in outdoor gear have become particularly popular — no doubt at least partially due to how well the subscription model lends itself to the outdoor gear space, coupled with the overall rise in off-grid activities and exploration. With this segment quickly becoming oversaturated with various brands and startups, it’s become increasingly difficult to sort through the proverbial sea of available offerings to hone in on the few standout services. So, with this in mind, we’ve scoured the segment to bring you this hand-picked list of the best outdoor subscription boxes.
Monthly Shipments Of Awesome
The Main Benefits & Reasons To Order A Subscription Gear Box
To the uninitiated, the prospect of letting some stranger select your gear for you may sound strange, however, the reality is that there’s a myriad of objective benefits that come with utilizing subscription gear boxes. Below, we’ll briefly touch on some of these more crucial aspects, along with some recommendations on how to go about selecting the best gear box.
Brand Spotlights: All of today’s most reputable subscription gear box services are headed up and run by individuals that are genuinely knowledgeable and passionate about the outdoor gear product space and as such are very well-tuned into what’s happening in the segment. As a result, those behind these outfits are uniquely qualified to be putting together these boxes, and their immense knowledge of outdoor knives, hiking jackets, hand-tools, tents, and the like allows them to highlight some of its lesser-known but still high-end brands, potentially turning you on to new and previously undiscovered companies and products.
Quality Over Quantity: When it comes to EDC gear, we’ve always subscribed to the philosophy that quality trumps quantity, so unsurprisingly when we’re looking at subscription gear boxes we take the same approach. After all, there’s very little purpose or benefit to receiving a box full of cheap knives, garments, and tools that will very seldom get used, and often quickly break if they do. So, while it does cost more, this is why we’re very much in favor of opting for gear boxes from either more high-end subscription service or from brands that offer decidedly premium, top-shelf package options.
Expert Curation: Quite possibly the biggest benefit to subscription boxes is the curation involved. With their fingers constantly on the pulse of the outdoor and EDC gear space, the people piecing together each monthly box are able to draw from their massive wealth of knowledge in the space to deliver a hand-picked selection of items that wonderfully compliment each other, or are simply stellar standalone pieces of gear. Assuming you don’t spend 40 hours a week professionally keeping tabs on the outdoor gear space, you can almost certainly benefit from the curation offered by modern subscription boxes.
Bulk Pricing: In order to fill up the boxes they send out each month, subscription services have to order the items that constitute their packages in bulk. This mass-order enables these services to purchase said items at a discounted rate, and because they lack much of the overhead of traditional stores and business models, these companies are able to pass these savings onto the customer — meaning you aren’t just getting some of the best-curated gear, but you’re also getting it at a great price.
Frequency: The lion’s share of subscription boxes are delivered monthly, though most companies also let users select the frequency of their shipments. This can mean receiving boxes biweekly, monthly, quarterly, or, biannual, or annually. Depending on the frequency you select, you can also save additional money, as placing an order for an entire year’s subscription will almost always come at a more affordable price. You can also start with a quarterly box, and then later upgrade to a more frequent delivery schedule if you’re satisfied with the service.
The Unknown Element: Interestingly, part of what’s being sold here is the “thrill of discovery.” There’s an unknown element involved in ordering subscription boxes and users can always anticipate being surprised by whatever opening their respective box reveals — something humans appear to be inherently drawn to, as evidenced by the enormous success of “Mystery Flavor” candy products. In a nutshell, these boxes briefly recreate the feeling of opening a package on Christmas morning, only this happens every single month.
The Ritual: If you talk to almost anyone that utilizes subscription box services, one thing you’ll no doubt hear time and time again is that most customers thoroughly enjoy the ritual of receiving monthly (or bimonthly or quarterly, etc) shipments of hand-selected gear. On top of the mystery element, subscription boxes give customers something to look forward to, as well as adding a bit of the unknown to an otherwise predictable monthly routine. Some users will even formulate monthly plans for exploring the woods or hitting the trails based on the items they receive that month in their box.
You really can’t talk about the outdoor subscription box space without mentioning The Nomadik. Despite its wildly accessible price, the company manages to deliver a range of surprisingly quality gear, selecting solid yet affordable items such as Opinel knives, Third Eye headlamps, GrandTrunk hammocks, Outdoor Element’s Firebiner multitool carabiner, Ursa Major wipes, PURINIZE liquid water purifier, and Green Goo Pain Relief Salve, just to name only a few.
Curated by boarders, for boarders, PowMau is a specialized subscription box containing products and accessories for surfers or snowboarders (or both). From board wax and winter beanies to sunscreen and snacks, these boxes contain anywhere from three to five items from well-known premium brands and are offered at an approximately 40% discount off of their regular MSRP. Each month the company also puts together entirely new gear boxes, so you’ll never receive the same items twice.
Alpha Outpost is another key player in the outdoor subscription box space. Founded by a US Military veteran, the company deals in survival and outdoor gear, sending out themed boxes each month — such as a hiking box containing a water bottle, day pack, and trekking poles, or an outdoor cooking box with a cutting board and camp kitchen carving set. In addition to selling standalone items, Alpha Outpost also has subscription boxes starting at just $40, plus your first box only costs $5 to get started.
Combat veteran owned and operated, Primal Outpost is another accessibly-priced subscription service that trades in some surprisingly high-end gear, with its boxes containing products from staples in the outdoor and EDC space such as Kershaw, Gerber Gear, Nitecore, UZI, SOG, Coleman, Maxpedition, Rite in the Rain, 5.11 Tactical, Bastinelli, ESEE Knives, We Knife Co. CRKT, and Max Knives, amongst many others. In addition to helping veterans organizations and selling subscription boxes, Primal Outpost also holds in-person classes on outdoor activities like survival training or rock climbing.
Street Team Cycling Box
Aimed at cyclists of all skill and experience levels, the Street Team Cycling Box is a monthly curated shipment for two-wheeled enthusiasts containing bike tools, apparel, accessories, and nutrition items — all sourced from leading companies scattered across the globe. These are mostly practical and universal items that will come in handy for any cyclist like chain breakers, handlebar tape, and energy bars. And while the discounted amount will vary month to month, Street Team Cycling says that the items in each box are equal to or greater than their collective MSRP.
Post Fly Guide Series
There’s no shortage of subscription boxes catering specifically to anglers — such as Mystery Tackle Box and Lucky Tackle Box — though dollar-for-dollar it really is hard to beat Post Fly’s decidedly top-shelf Guide Series subscription box. Backed by a satisfaction guarantee (or your money back), this service sends out fly fishing gear for warm water, salt water, or trout-fishing applications — with each $50 box being valued at over $80. Post Fly also sells one-time purchase crates, rods and reels, and a host of other fly fishing essentials.
Hikewize is a premium take on a hiking-specific subscription box that takes the concept of curation to the next level by asking customers to fill out an “Explorer Profile” that clues the company into the exact type of gear that’s best for each user. Hikewize’s boxes are pieced together putting a premium on quality over quantity, and as such boasts some fairly high-end gear from a slew of well-established brands. From outdoors books to water bottles sweatshirts to camp mugs to day packs, this company really does offer a little bit of everything, albeit all under the umbrella of hiking and outdoor gear.
Barrel & Blade Level 2
If you’re looking for a no-nonsense subscription service that exclusively trades in top-shelf tactical and survival gear, then Barrel & Blade’s elite Level 2 package is probably for you. While they admittedly don’t come cheap, B&B’s Level 2 packages contain a curated array of high-end knives from equally premium and firearms accessories (such as optics, grips, tools, etc) from outfits like Spyderco, CRKT, and Magpul. Best of all, everything B&B ships out has been extensively field-tested by its highly knowledgable and experienced staff — most of which is ex-military.
Isle Box is a monthly subscription box service with a more predictable content system. Rather than receiving a random assortment of items, each month’s box contains four parts, a high value, main item, supplemented by a secondary item, and rounded out by an auxiliary item and a snack. Unlike many of the services that send out knives, tools, and gear, Isle Box pretty much only deals in straight-up hiking and camping equipment, with items from names like MSR, Therm-a-Rest, KLMIT, Smartwool, and Platypus.
BattlBox Pro Plus
Battlbox is a leading outdoor subscription box service that offers four different subscription tiers, with the highest and most elite of which being the Pro Plus-spec. Though it does come out to more than $1,900 annually, Battlbox’s Pro Plus packages contain what’s unequivocally the most expensive and high-end gear offered by any subscription box company. Battlbox also has an extensive archive on its site showing the items contained within previous monthly boxes to help give you an idea of what to expect each month.
Cairn Obsidian Collection
Cairn undeniably offers some of the most high-end and well-rounded outdoor subscription boxes, primarily targeting camping and hiking enthusiasts. A major step up from the companies that trade in small knickknacks and accessories, Cairn’s Obsidian level subscription box comes with a slew of items exceeding $100 in value such as Scarpa boots, Coalatree’s Trailhead hiking pants, a Rumpl blanket, an Osprey hiking backpack, and Snowline camp tables, just to name a few examples. Subscribing to the service also automatically enters you to win one of Cairn’s monthly adventure giveaways. And, while each box does cost $250, it contains at least $300 worth of product.
Steel To Reel Club Survivor Elite
The Steel To Reel subscription service operates under the belief that cheap gear isn’t good and good gear isn’t cheap. As such, the company only deals with reputable, name-brand gear, all of which is hand-picked by a team of military veterans and survival experts and is sold at up to 30% off the items’ MSRP. The company’s top-of-the-line Survivor Elite package is comprised of some wildly impressive products, such as Biolite camp stoves and ESEE knives. Steel To Reel does have more accessibly-priced subscription boxes, as well, starting from just $40 per month.
The 15 Best Food Subscription Boxes
If the concept of a perishable monthly subscription box is more your speed, then be sure to head over to our guide to the best food subscription boxes for more than a dozen of the most renowned outfits shipping quality steaks, cuts, snacks, supplements, vegetables, and meal kits straight to your front door.