This month saw the arrival of my first ‘crate’ from the SOFREP Crate Club. A bit of background here – SOFREP is a US-based news site and forum theoretically for military special operators. Actually you could debate if that’s really who it’s aimed at, but it’s certainly largely written by former military personnel from specialist units, and covers news that is of interest to people from that kind of community.
For some time it’s run something called the ‘Crate Club’, which is a system whereby you pay a fee and, once a month, are sent a box full of goodies. It’s not unique to SOFREP, and similar schemes are run for all sorts of products, although they do seem to be particularly popular with (and perhaps suitable for) the quasi-military/outdoorsy/prepper crowd. You don’t get to choose what is in the box, or even know what will be in it before you order, but the trade-off is a) you should pay less than RRP overall, b) in theory you get stuff ‘hand-selected’ by experts and c) you get the excitement of receiving a box every month with no idea what is in it, which is undeniably kind of fun.
Anyway, I’m a bit dubious about the whole enterprise for reasons I will go in to (and will probably be apparent after my actual review of the first crate) but they recently launched the Crate Club for the UK (and rest of the EU I think) and I obviously couldn’t resist signing up. I pre-ordered several months ago, for the first crate arriving in June, which has now finally come.
I honestly can’t remember what I paid, I went for the ‘Standard’ crate and I think I either went for the monthly payment of £23.99, or I may have signed up for six months for a little less. One reason I can’t remember is because I never received any kind of confirmation email, which is my first criticism of the whole process. I’d have expected to get some kind of communication about when the first box was likely to be despatched, and so on, but nope. In the end, as June approached, I actually had to email them to double-check I was subscribed.
I didn’t really know what to expect in the box itself. The site bangs on about how it is top-quality gear ‘hand-picked by former special operators’, and it certainly seems as if some of the gear that has been sent out previously in the US is quite cool, although maybe that is just the stuff they like to post pictures of on the site. That said, £24 or so is not a great deal of money for good quality kit, even allowing for bulk discounts, so you can’t expect miracles.
The whole concept is also a bit questionable anyway. If you really are in the military, or even just keen on hiking and outdoors activities, then most of the time you will want to select and buy your own kit, based on what you like/want/need rather than be sent random things. However, of course sometimes some bonus goodies might be nice, and could expose you to a cool idea or bit of kit you hadn’t thought of or wouldn’t have bought yourself. Besides, no one forced me to sign up, I did so because I think it’s a fun idea and I’m happy to write off £24 a month, and then treat anything really good I get sent as a bonus.
So, how was the June crate? Well, I won’t sugar-coat it, pretty disappointing. Here’s a little video of me opening it, and some initial commentary, bearing in mind I literally just filmed this on my phone minutes after the box arrived, hence why I can’t remember some details.
Having now had the chance to double-check the details of some costs, and think a bit more, here is a slightly more complete review.
Firstly, the contents, a single Helikon Bandicoot waist pack, was kind of initially disappointing. Maybe I’m being unfair, or misunderstood, but one of the things about the Crate concept is I kind of expected more than one item, otherwise it’s not really a ‘crate’, it’s just a random product. If nothing else, having several items increases the chance that at least one or two things would be interesting or useful to a given recipient. They also state on their website that they emphasise “hard to get, exclusive gear” which this categorically is not, it’s a widely available sort of tactical product made by a mid-range company that sort of straddles the line between tactical and tacticool. Anyway, as it is, I basically just got sent a single product that I don’t particularly want.
That said, I’m really relieved I didn’t get that shitty ‘100 Deadly Skills’ book.
The product itself is, fine I guess. It’s decent quality, made by a respectable manufacturer, and fairly practical if you ignore aesthetics. Trouble is, it’s also basically a bum-bag which honestly has a bit of a credibility problem. I guess it could be handy as a sort of emergency grab-bag, with a few bits of first aid and other emergency kit in, either to keep in a vehicle or elsewhere, but I think that’s more a case of finding a use for it than anything else. Potentially I might use it for either extremely low-risk hiking on a warm day when I just want a few essentials with me, or for more serious hiking as a way to keep some important and/or emergency items close to hand rather than putting them in my main bag, but I’m still not convinced it’ll see much use.
For military purposes there is actually an occasional need for this sort of thing, but I still think the ‘it looks silly and therefore stands out’ factor might negate even those uses, and that’s all I’m going to say on that point.
As far as actual value goes, this is a fairly poor first effort. Regardless of the RRP quoted on their info sheet, a quick google shows that these are available for around £25 on Amazon and elsewhere, meaning the total saving for those paying monthly is in the order of £1-2, although I appreciate it’s a bit more if you signed up for a 6 or 12 month deal. When you factor in a) they are supposed to be getting special deals and b) I didn’t choose the product and it’s not something I wanted, I reckon this is pretty poor.
Speaking of the info sheet, it’s only barely written in competent English, and my initial thought was that it sounded like the kind of thing you’d expect to find on the manufacturer’s website or Amazon product description. Well I checked, and sure enough it’s just a copy-paste from the manufacturer’s website description. It says nothing about who picked it, why, how they use it, and so on. In other words, it adds nothing of this ‘hand-picked by real special operators’ value that is supposed to be the reason anyone would sign up for the Crate Club. It might seem like a small thing, but the complete lack of effort put into the accompanying information sheet was almost the most disappointing part of the whole crate.
So, scores for the June SOFREP crate:
Products: 2/5 – A single reasonably good-quality product, but not exclusive or interesting, and fundamentally not that useful to most people in my opinion.
Value: 2/5 – Available online for only a pound or two more than the monthly subscription.