Cairn Gear on the Road: Tips from a Tour Guide

Some of you may recognize Sam Brockway @brockwayout (or his dog @poppythemoosedog) from Cairn's Instagram feed. We've teamed up with Sam in the past to put our Cairn gear to the test in the wild. When we heard he'd be hitting the road ALL SUMMER as a full-time tour / outdoor guide, we had to know what Cairn gear made his travel cut and how he put it to use. Here's what Sam had to say. Thanks, Sam!

I wrapped up my last day as a tour guide for the 2018 season on September 20th. I packed my Osprey 65L Transporter Duffel for the last time before finally going home, in a small and musty male dorm room, in Wharton, New Jersey. The first items to go in the bag were: shirts and base layers organized in my Gobi Gear Segsac Compress, Pants and socks organized in my Eagle Creek Compression Cube Set, my Marmot Featherless Hoody, my Sierra Designs Dridown Pillow, and my Packtowl--all from Cairn, and all wearing a beautiful patina from heavy use after 5 months on the road. It dawned on me that I had been more dependent on the gear that I received from Cairn over the years than any gear that I had gotten for myself to get through the summer. Below are some highlights of how Cairn outfitted me for my summer as a tour guide, but first, I should explain exactly what it was that I was doing on this gig.

From May through September, I worked for a company that runs small group tours all over the United States (and Canada) for passengers from all over the world. The trips that I ran were targeted for mostly European passengers between the ages of 18 and 35. I completed about a month-long training program, then drove a 15 passenger Ford Transit with a luggage trailer 21,500 miles in about 3 months (for reference, the circumference of Earth is 24,900 miles). I visited Nashville and Washington D.C. 4 times, the Grand Canyon 3 times, Las Vegas and New Orleans twice, Shenandoah and Great Smoky Mountain National Park once, was evacuated from the Yosemite fire, and had to pack up camp to escape flooding at a whitewater rafting outfitter in Ocoee, Tennessee. Guiding involved being knowledgeable about every destination on the trip’s itinerary (many of which, I had never been to), and planning all of the activities. Trips were anywhere from 7 to 21 days, in length. I ran four trips, in total, and drove across the country 3 times in one summer. 85% of the time, I was camping.


OSPREY 65L TRANSPORTER DUFFEL (Cairn Fall 2018 Obsidian Collection)

The first item, which I could go on all day about, is the Osprey Transporter bag. My girlfriend mailed it to me, as I was already on the road, and it met me in New Orleans, where I opened it over a Po’ boy. The utility of a bag like this was immediately apparent. First, the Transporter is rugged. It easily handled dirty campsites, getting tossed around in the trailer, and even a few downpours. The bag came away with just a few scuff marks, but the contents always remained organized and dry. The second thing I noticed, was that the bag is designed to be easily carried, no matter how you need to carry it. When I was leading groups in cities, I would often have to park the van and trailer far away from where we were staying, but the backpack straps made the Transporter a breeze to carry long distances. The sturdy side handles made the bag easy to load and unload, and the duffel strap worked perfectly for when I already had a daypack affixed to my back. Finally, and most importantly, the Transporter packs down into a miniscule carrying case, which meant that when I did not need to use it, it could fit into the precious little storage space I was allotted in the back of the van.

BLACK DIAMOND FINELINE JACKET (Cairn Fall 2018 Obsidian Collection)

The Fineline jacket also arrived over the summer, and met me in New Orleans. It could not have come a moment too soon. Anybody who has spent their summer months on the east coast knows that it is not a matter of if, but when you will be hit with torrential downpour. The when for me was about 20 separate occasions, one of which flooded my passengers’ tents in about a foot of water, and forced us to hightail it out of there in search of alternative accommodations. Not only did the Black Diamond Fineline keep me bone dry every time, but it packs down to absolutely no space so I could leave it in a pocket in the back of the van, where I could snag it in a moment’s notice every time it started to rain. It is also feather-light when crammed into a daypack.

GREGORY SALVO 24L DAYPACK (Cairn Spring 2018 Obsidian Collection)

Speaking of daypacks, my trusty Salvo pack has accompanied me everywhere since it’s release in Spring Obsidian Collection. It carried enough water to get me through a 12-mile hike in 115°F temperature in the Grand Canyon, while having enough pocket organization for me to easily store all of my camera gear. What more could you need in a daypack?

MARMOT FEATHERLESS HOODY (Cairn Fall 2017 Obsidian Collection)

Most of my summer was spent in excruciating heat on the East Coast and in the Southwest. However, due to the high elevation, the Grand Canyon still gets awfully cold, at night. The Marmot Featherless Hoody took up no space at all in my bag, while offering enough heat that it was the only jacket I needed to bring with me, all summer.

ASTRAL FILIPE WATER SANDALS (Cairn Summer 2018 Obsidian Collection)

I abandoned the flip-flop thing when I left college at Santa Barbara and moved to cold-weathered Seattle. However, these sandals were so functional that I used them for nearly everything this summer. Most notably, they were great on all 4 whitewater rafting trips on the Ocoee, Pigeon, and Gauley rivers.

ORGANIZATION (Various Cairn Monthly + Obsidian Collections)

How do you live out of a bag for 5 months without losing your mind and all of your things with it? Organization, organization, and also organization. Every last one of my bags used for organization came to me by way of Cairn over the years. I kept all of my performance gear in the SealLine Blockerlite Cinch Compression 10L, all of my shirts and undies in the Gobi Gear SegSac Compress 20L, my camera gear was organized in the SegSac 15L, my pants went into the Eagle Creek Pack-It Specter Medium compression bag, and my socks were in the small Pack-It bag. I knew where everything was, all summer. That’s never been the case for me before.

PACKTOWL LUXE BEACH (Various Cairn Monthly + Summer 2018 Obsidian Collections)

It might seem excessive to dedicate an entire section toward a towel, but not so. This pillowy-soft, highly packable towel is in an entirely different class from the travel towels I used to use. It absorbs an incredible amount of water, while drying remarkably fast. It held up for weeks without needing to be washed, which, if you have ever used a travel towel, you know that is not the norm.


LIGHT/CHARGING (Various Monthly Cairn Collections)

I am not sure how many nights I spent camping over the summer, but I am guessing it was right around 70 nights. The two things I would always think about once the sun dropped were lighting, and keeping my phone charged. While I was driving the van, during the day, I would charge my Power Practical Lithium 4400 Power Pack and my UCO Gear Air Rechargeable Headlamp, then I would leave my LuminAID Packlite Max solar light in view of the sun, near the back window. That way, my headlamp was easily accessible, and never needed battery replacements. Also, I slept in the trailer while camping, so the LuminAID light illuminated the trailer, while the Power Practical Power Pack ensured that my phone was fully charged, and the alarm would be ready for me in the morning. I really don’t know what I would have done without these three items this summer.    

KNIFE & MULTI-TOOL (Various Cairn Monthly and Obsidian Collections)

I have this horrible habit of leaving multi-tools in my daypack when I fly places. I have had four multi-tools confiscated by TSA, and that is not even counting the few times that they have not been taken from me. Anyway, I was out a multi-tool for this very reason at the beginning of my season, and the combination of the Gerber Suspension NXT Multi-Tool and the Paraframe I TI Serrated blade became instant favorites of mine. I actually used the Multi-Tool to open cans on the last four nights of cooking, as my passengers kept getting canned items to cook, and I kept forgetting that my cooking kit’s can opener was broken.

MOSQUITO RESISTANCE (Various Cairn Monthly and Obsidian Collections)

If you have ever spent summertime in the South, then you know about bugs. Everywhere. When I got out of the van to set up camp anywhere in the south, I promptly covered up with the Toad & Co Debug Lightness Shirt and turned on the Thermacell Radius mosquito repeller. Other tour guides were shocked at how few mosquito bites I had all summer.  

There are so many other items from Cairn that I used in some way, however, the gear listed above was absolutely vital to my ability to perform my job at as high of a level as possible. I also, of course, continue to use everything regularly now that I have returned to Boise, Idaho, where my traveling is with just my girlfriend and pup instead of 13 needy passengers :). I cannot believe how well all of my Cairn gear has held up, and cannot wait to see what the next vital addition to my gear closet from Cairn will be.

What are your most essential pieces of gear you've received from Cairn? Comment below.