Buying new gear is almost never easy. Sure, you may know what brands you like best or the basic specs you want. But no amount of agonizing over product descriptions and third-party reviews will tell you what you really need to know, which is how the product will feel on day two of a four-day trip, how easy it will be to use in the field, and how it will perform in different weather, temperatures, and terrain.
That’s where Cairn’s new home try-on service comes in. Called Kitted, the program is essentially Warby Parker or Stitch Fix for hiking, camping, and backpacking gear. Order five items, wear them for 14 days, and then hang on to what you want and send the rest back. Aside from an up-front $25 curating fee, you only pay for what you keep. (Cairn will credit the curating fee on purchases over $100.)
To streamline the process, Cairn has you fill out an online profile with information about your sizing, primary activities, skill level, budget, and preferences. An algorithm uses that data to pull together a specialized assortment of product for you to browse and pick the items you want to test. The site has apparel, tents, and more from a number big brands, including Big Agnes, Black Diamond, Marmot, MSR, and Osprey.
Most important, this isn’t like buying something and wearing it around your house with the tags on before you decide whether to commit. Cairn encourages people to use the gear out in the wild, and cofounder Rob Little says that customers won’t get charged unless a product is returned entirely unusable. The company has ideas about how to handle the used products but is declining to share specifics for now, while it works out the kinks and figures out how to scale up. (Right now, Kitted is launching as a beta program open to 300 people, first-come, first-served. In the coming months, the company will announce a specific plan for giving used gear a second life, and in the coming years it plans to expand to other sports and to open up enrollment.)
Gear demoing is nothing revolutionary. Just last year, Arc’teryx launched its gear-library program, which allows customers to rent apparel, backpacks, and footwear from a few of the company’s brick-and-mortar stores. But the convenience of doing it all from home could be significant.