|Powerdrains from Columbia undergoing testing |
as part of the #Omniten program.
"Do you feel beholden to the companies that send you gear? If you get a piece of gear that doesn't perform the way it's supposed to or performs badly, would you write a scathing review, or would you feel like you need to temper the review?"
Deciding What Gets Reviewed
When I was starting out, I reviewed gear I bought that I thought folks might benefit from hearing more about. When I was researching mountaineering boots for my Rainier climb in 2010, for example, I didn't find too many review from newbie mountaineers that were helpful. So, when I bought the La Sportiva Nepal EVO GTX boots, I reviewed them to help others like me make educated purchasing decisions.
I still review products I've purchased on occasion, but also review complimentary products or apparel I've received. I'm grateful to have the chance to try out new gear and clothing and it's an opportunity for me to give companies honest feedback. But I don't review every piece of gear I receive for testing on Adventure-Inspired; that decision's made on a case-by-case basis. The bottom line? If I think folks will truly benefit from hearing what I have to say about a product, good bad or indifferent, I'll review it here. (More on the "good, bad, indifferent" piece below.) Regardless of whether or not I ultimately post a review, it's always my goal to share feedback with companies that provide me with gear for testing.
|I considered reviewing this absolutely phenomenal Backpacker's Pantry cheesecake, but decided to start compiling a list of my favorite Backpackers Pantry and Mountain House meals instead because I don't have 500 words to write about cheesecake!|
How the Gear is Tested and What Happens After the Initial Review
There's no point in creating a review for a product that hasn't gone through thorough testing. If the aim of a gear review is to help readers understand how a product performs, if it lasts, and if it's worth investing in, the product needs to be put through the ringer. I'll always make sure to describe where and how I tested a piece of gear in the review, and so will guest reviewers. (Note: one of my favorite things about all blogs associated with the Trail Sherpa network is that gear reviewers provide the testing location, time and distance tested, and the testing environment. I love that level of detail!)
If it's a pair of hiking boots that are supposed to be waterproof, for example, you can bet I'll put them through the Bathtub Test, jump in a few puddles, play in the mud and more before the review goes up. If it's a skincare product like Climb On! Creme, I'll be sure to use it long enough to get a real feel for whether or not it works. After the initial review is written, I'll either keep the product for ongoing testing or pass it on to someone who can use it. And If I learn something new about a product after the review is posted, I'll go back and update the review with an editor's note at the bottom.
How Review Content is Determined
It's easy to go to a company's website and look up product specifications. The best gear reviews I've read minimize discussions of technical specs. That give the reviewer plenty of space to talk through how those specs and other features contributed to the performance of the product. As a review reader, I'm less interested in understanding how many pockets a backpack has and more interested in if they're in the right place, if they're the right size, and if the zippers are solid.
It's my goal to give Adventure-Inspired readers my take on the valuable features, things that miss the mark, and ways that the product can be improved. I try to keep all reviews between 500 and 750 words because I know how valuable every minute of every day is, unless I don't think I can get my points across thoroughly enough in that amount of space. Generally, if I don't have 500 words to say about a product, it's a review not worth reading and I won't publish it. I also don't do giveaways for products I haven't used.
Stuff That Doesn't Go Into Reviews
A detailed list of technical specs doesn't, that's for sure. I'm not opposed in the long run, but currently don't use a rating system because they generally seem arbitrary. If I used star ratings and gave a product 5/5 stars, what does it mean? Does that mean it's perfect, no flaws, performs exactly how it's supposed to for what it's supposed to and will work for everyone? I've considered putting one together using my own criteria, but don't plan to until I figure out what those criteria are. I also don't typically put prices in reviews because the price depends on what outlet you're purchasing from; MSRPs are great guidelines, but given how many stores and online shops we have to choose from, prices tend to vary.
|Testing out the Leki Khumbu Aergon trekking poles, one of the |
first pieces of gear to get a not-so-favorable review.
I will never give, nor have I ever given, a product a glowing review because I received it for free. Never ever. Ever.
It doesn't do me any good as a blogger looking to build a rapport with my audience, it certainly doesn't do readers any good, and it doesn't do the company providing the gear any good because it's not honest feedback. But every time a blogger mentions a piece of gear, it's publicity, so that's great, right? Not necessarily.
Bloggers who are serious about their craft know that readers value authenticity and honesty. I know I choose the reviews I read carefully; there's so much information out there and the five minutes it takes me to read a review need to be worth it. I'd argue that from a company's perspective, it's significantly more valuable to have your product on a blog with a reputation for honest feedback than it is on one with a reputation for 100% positive reviews.
And most products, if not all, products can be improved. I'll always make a note of things I think a company could change to make a product better. I don't believe gear companies or readers benefit from entirely scathing reviews either, and even products I don't like may have positive attributes.
I'll also always mention if I've received a product for free in the review because I believe in full disclosure, and because the FTC likes it when you do.
Phew! I'm hoping I covered most about what folks would be curious about, but if you have any other questions about how my gear review process for Adventure-Inspired works, please leave me a comment and I'll answer as best I can!