Write a Killer Gear Review
Want your gear review to stand out from the crowd? Want fellow backcountry enthusiasts to find your reviews helpful, informative, and credible?
Here’s how you can write a thorough, informative, and honest (e.g. “killer”) outdoor gear review:
Use the gear.
Your review should be based on your experience, not secondhand claims from friends, the internet, the manufacturer, or a visit to your local outdoor store. Only write a review after you’ve had sufficient opportunity to test your gear. The more you use a product, the better your review will be.
Test in appropriate conditions.
To determine if the gear performs as promised, you need to use it in a range of conditions, locations, and situations appropriate for the product.
Write down observations, details, and circumstances during testing.
Shoot pictures and videos.
Images and videos can illustrate certain points more effectively than words. Visuals also make a review more personal and readable. Try taking images and/or short videos of gear in the field; product details, features, and performance; or issues of concern.
This is where you evaluate the gear’s performance and form your opinions.
Keep in mind commonsense limits for gear. Don’t expect a tarp to keep out the snow on Denali, or an ultralight rucksack to carry 50 pounds comfortably. Consider how the product performed during normal usage. Did it meet manufacturer claims? Fall short? Exceed them?
Evaluate your piece of gear individually. Don’t judge gear based on a previous experience with the same brand, or based on a brand’s reputation, marketing hype, or awards.
Just because a product doesn’t match your outdoor style, doesn’t make it a poor selection for everyone else either. There are many different, legitimate ways to enjoy the backcountry, and the gear to go along with them.
For context, compare to similar gear. How is this product different than or similar to others? Was the tent easier to set up than other models you’ve used? Are the trekking poles harder to adjust? Say so, mentioning specific examples of other models or brands for comparison.
Find the positive. Find the negative.
Acknowledge the pros and cons. Even a disappointing product probably has something positive going for it. Likewise, your favorite five-star product probably has some limitations worth mentioning, even if they seem nitpicky. You don’t have to give equal weight to both sides, but you do need to acknowledge positives and negatives for other potential users.
Stick to what you know.
Do not extrapolate your experience to all people and all uses. Evaluate the gear based on your own experiences. Do not make hypothetical guesses about how the gear might work for someone else under different circumstances.
A killer gear review tells readers if the product performed as promised, and if it’s a good choice for them. Stick to the facts, keep the emotion to a minimum, and if you think it’s important, include it.
Have an opinion.
This should go without saying. A review is your assessment of the gear’s performance. A review is not a list of facts or a description of a product and its features. So, what does the gear claim to do? What does it actually do? Does it solve a problem? Cause a problem? How well do you think it works?
Write for your audience.
What does a fellow hiker, backpacker, climber, skier, or paddler want and need to know about this product if they’re considering buying it? Readers will use your review to help them decide whether or not to spend money on this gear. Tell them what they should know before plunking down their cash.
Get to the good stuff.
Online readers skim and scan for info. They will not read through hundreds of words just to find out if you liked the gear or not. So get to the point quickly, at the start of your review. Provide details and examples farther down.
Show. Don’t tell.
Back up your love-it, hate-it, or on-the-fence opinions with examples, details, and evidence. Show why this is “the best tent ever” or “the worst boot you’ve worn in 30 years of backpacking.”
- Don’t write: “The stove is good and cooks pretty well.”
- Write: “I’ve used this stove to cook breakfasts and dinners on the trail for the past three years. It boils water pretty fast (less than 4 minutes/liter) and is great for dehydrated meals for the solo backpacker or a couple. However, I’ve had mixed success simmering group meals in a pot over it.”
Include specifics about how often, where, and when the gear was used, in what range of conditions and terrain, and for what activities.
- Don’t write: “I’ve used these boots on a lot of hikes. They’re comfortable.”
- Write: “Since last spring, I’ve hiked weekly with these boots on the rugged trails of northern New Hampshire, and they’ve been comfortable from day one: not one blister. My hikes typically cover 8-12 miles, include 3,000-4,000-foot peaks, and keep me out all day, but my feet never get tired in these boots.”
Stick to the facts.
Back up and justify your opinion with facts, not feelings. Prove that the tent or filter was too heavy, the stove boiled too slowly, or the pack’s torso measurements were wrong.
- Don’t write: The pack fits badly.
- Write: The fit of this pack was off, particularly the length. I have a 19-inch torso (measured by myself and professional pack fitters) and have used many packs sized for my torso length. I bought this pack in size medium (for 18-20 inch torsos, according to the manufacturer) but it was much too short. The pack didn’t reach down my whole back all the way to my hips. I had to exchange it for a large (for 20-22 inch torsos).
Readers want to read a constructive review of the gear, not listen to your angry rant. Keep personal attacks and disputes out of your review. Be constructive with criticism. You don’t need to be rude or cruel to be honest.
Backcountry enthusiasts come in a range of sizes, styles, and experiences. Readers want to know who you are and how you use your gear. Is this your first backpacking tent, or are you a veteran AT thru-hiker? Do you tend toward ultralight trekking, or do you happily hump 50-pound loads of creature comforts?
Account for fit.
When reviewing gear where a proper fit is essential (backpacks, footwear, clothing, etc.), describe your relevant body parts (e.g. a narrow foot; a 20-inch torso; a 6-foot, 2-inch body) and whether or not the gear fit properly.
A poor fit should be noted, but fit alone isn’t reason enough to give a bad rating. Bodies come in different shapes and sizes, and some products and brands will fit you better than others. Look beyond fit and discuss features, performance, construction, durability, etc.
If you think it’s important, include it.
It’s your review. If you think a point is important, include it. Chances are someone else will find it helpful too.
A picture often can illustrate a gear feature or failure more clearly than words. Use images in your review to illustrate, explain, and document.
(Add images using the insert/edit image button. Only include images you have permission to post.)
A brief video can clarify points even further. Use video judiciously and consider how it can enhance your review: show ease of setup or product details, give a demonstration.
(Videos can be uploaded to YouTube or Vimeo and inserted into your review using the insert/edit video button.)
Keep it concise.
There’s no ideal length for every gear review. Say what you need to say, whether it takes 150 words or 1,500. Just make sure that all content is relevant, helpful, and usable.
Online readers skim and scan for the info they want. Help them find what they’re looking for with a well-organized, usable review.
Use section headers, lists, and bullet points to organize your content into scannable sections. Consider starting with a summary and a list of pros and cons, followed by the full review.
Break up text.
Use paragraph breaks and section headers to break up large blocks of dense, unreadable text. Online text needs more frequent breaks than print.
Use proper punctuation.
Include periods at the end of sentences. Don’t write in all lowercase or ALL CAPS.
Use a word processing program to check your review for spelling and grammar. Then read it again for mistakes your computer won’t catch.
If you call the product the wrong name or mistake a feature, readers may immediately dismiss your review, your opinion, and you.
Proofread your review in a word processing document before submitting it. If you’re a Trailspace member, you’ll have two hours after submitting to further edit your review. If you find an error in your review later, let us know and we’ll try to fix it.
Trailspace members can rate your review as helpful or not. Collectively, those ratings determine how prominently your review is displayed. Want to be considered a trustworthy, helpful reviewer? Then be honest, transparent, and objective.
To earn a good reputation and build trust within the community:
Tell the truth in your review in a fair and ethical manner. Don’t hide any relevant facts or information.
Think before you submit.
Your gear review will remain visible to Trailspace users long after you’ve submitted it. Consider how your words and actions will reflect on you in the future. Feeling especially heated about your experience? Wait to cool off before submitting your review.
Readers want to know if they can trust you as a truthful reviewer. Don’t pretend to be someone you’re not or misrepresent or hide your true identity. If you have a personal, professional, or commercial relationship with a company, its products, or its competitors, you must disclose that in your review.
(See Review Rules and Guidelines for more info.)
Fess up to freebies.
If a company or its representatives provided the product you’re reviewing free of charge or through a special deal you must say so in your review. The Federal Trade Commission considers such arrangements endorsements. Be legit and bolster your reputation with total transparency.
(See Review Rules and Guidelines for more info.)
Prove your objectivity.
Don’t be a fan boy of one brand or hater of another. Review gear objectively across different brands and products. If you only slam certain gear or exclusively write five-star reviews, readers will question your fairness and objectivity, and the trustworthiness of your reviews.
Own your opinion.
Don’t hide in anonymity. If you’re comfortable sharing certain details, take the time to flesh out your member profile for other members to see. Include a picture of yourself, background about your outdoor experiences and activities, even your name or geographical location.