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11 Tips for the Best Outdoor Gear Reviews


Peter puts the Scarpa Rapid LT approach shoe through its paces during hiking/gear testing.

Have you ever read a gear review and been left wondering more about the product than when you started? It's frustrating! Luckily, there's something you can do: write a better review of your own outdoor gear.

When it comes time to review your own gear, you want to give answers, not questions, right? 

Whether you're reviewing your 20-year-old backpack, the latest solid fuel stove, or any other outdoor equipment, clothing, or footwear, following these simple tips will ensure that your review answers more questions than it raises:

1. Use the Gear

Obvious, right? To know how well the gear fares, you need to get outside and use it in a variety of real-world situations, conditions, terrain, and activities for which it was designed. Repeat as often as necessary (and able).

So, if it's a backpacking tent, hit the trails numerous nights before you write that review. Rock climbing equipment, spend the summer at the crag, my friend. Alpine touring skis, join the local dawn patrol.

Sure, the kitchen and backyard are helpful for taking pictures and video and for testing features. But, do not write that review until you've thoroughly used and tested the product in the outdoors where it belongs.

2. Be Honest

Be fair, honest, objective, and open-minded about the product, your own experience, and any outdoor industry relationships. Be honest and transparent when you share a review; readers will better trust you and your review.

3. Have an Opinion

Ultimately, readers and would-be gear buyers want to know: Would you buy it again? Why or why not? Was this gear worth the price you paid? Answer these questions and you're golden.

4. Get to the Point

The best reviews are a reasonable length and get to the point quickly. So, discuss a product’s performance in appropriate detail, but don't fill the review with extraneous information. As Lewis Carroll wrote: "Begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end: then stop."

For a complete outdoor gear review, start with a succinct summary (what's the gist you'd tell a friend about this gear?), pros (its strengths), and cons (its weaknesses), before diving into the meat of the review with details, opinions, images, and any videos.

5. Say How Well it Performs

Once you've thoroughly used your gear you can tell how well it performs and how well it's made. Evaluate performance, features, and manufacturer claims. Keep in mind for what use and conditions the product was designed.

Assess fit, construction, durability, and ease of use. Tell how it has held up over time, to a variety of uses, and to the elements. How has it held up to bushwhacking, rock scrambling, that accidental drop off a cliff? How about to daily trail runs or weekly ski ascents?

6. Show...


Nothing shows gear like pictures and video. Gonzan demos the Sierra Designs Zissou 30 Lite DriDown sleeping bag in his video review.

Include original images and video. Share your pictures from the lake, crag, trail, and mountain. Take your gear out in the yard and demo its notable features in a video starring you.

Even a so-so review becomes more useful when you add original pictures or video. Readers want to see your personal experience, and as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words.

7. ...and Tell

Give details and specifics about the product's performance and features. Include images, comparisons, and your opinions. Cover the gear's strengths and its weaknesses (even that epic gear failure probably has something going for it, right?).

Then back up those assessments with details from your adventures.

8. Compare

There are times when it's best not to compare: date night, your mother-in-law's Thanksgiving dinner. But in a gear review it's helpful to share what other outdoor products you've used or considered. How does this one compare to the other climbing harnesses, snowshoes, trekking poles, trail runners? It's okay, even preferable, to name names and describe past gear relationships. Really.

9. Consider the Reader Your BFF

Forget what everyone else says, what would you tell your best backcountry buddy about your gear in one minute? What activities, terrain, conditions, and people is the gear best suited for (or not). Tell the reader—your buddy—about your own experience and opinion. 

10. Tell About Yourself

Fit and comfort matter, but outdoor enthusiasts come in different styles, shapes, and persuasions. So give some context, and include pictures of you and the gear. Are you a petite, fast-packing, ultralight hiker? A tall, rock-climbing retiree? A first-time paddler? Whether you're a beginner, professional athlete, weekend backpacker, or veteran outdoor guide, fellow review readers want to hear from and about you.

11. Share the Adventures


Jake takes the Wild Things Custom Insulight Jacket ice climbing during gear testing.

Describe the conditions, terrain, and activities in which you've used the gear. Where, when, and how long have you used that sleeping bag, soft shell, or stove? Two decades in the Sierra? Two weeks in the Alps? For what activities? Whitewater paddling? New England rock climbing? Desert hiking? Backcountry skiing the Rockies?

Share your gear's adventures, so other readers can see how the gear performed under real-world conditions and activities.

Then share your review on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, or other social media, so others can learn from your gear experience.

 


Like outdoor enthusiasts, gear reviews come in a variety of styles. However, the very best outdoor gear reviews are full of details, images, and opinions that show how the gear performed in the field.

Share your best outdoor gear review, then get back outside for some new adventures (which you can tell about in your gear review updates).

 

Check out more outdoor gear review tips in Write a Killer Gear Review.

See the best-of-the-best Killer Reviews by fellow Trailspace community members.

What do you want reviewers to include in their online gear reviews? Add your own outdoor gear review tips below


Filed under: Gear Reviews

Comments

Erich
REVIEW CORPS
405 reviewer rep
821 forum posts
May 22, 2013 at 10:55 a.m. (EDT)

Thank you for posting this, Alicia. My reviews are rather few and far between because I like to live with the gear for a while, before assessing it. My recent review of the Nova Craft Trapper is a example. I had it for over a year and paddled it numerous times, as well as letting others paddle it, before I thought it was time to write a review. 

And I would add to what you said above, that it is important to talk to the designer/manufacturer to understand what the intended purpose/audience/environment is. It doesn't do anyone, or any product justice if you test a summer sleeping bag in sub zero conditions and write that you were cold. Think about what the designers goal was and then determine and write if that goal was met.

TJ1984
TOP 25 REVIEWER
531 reviewer rep
39 forum posts
May 23, 2013 at 2:29 a.m. (EDT)

Thank you this was helpful. I joined this site so I could review some of my gear, and also to take part in the community.

I always use this site when looking up new gear, so I wanted to do my part and review the things I have used as I often find it quite frustrating when I cant find any adequate reviews.

I've got a lot of gear I am quite excited about, and I could probably write some glowing reviews for them now (ex Fizan Compact Lite poles), but I will hold off until I get a few more hikes in and can get over the gear "honeymoon stage" and be able to write something thats ultimately more useful.

Alicia MacLeay (Alicia)
TRAILSPACE STAFF
471 reviewer rep
2,916 forum posts
May 23, 2013 at 9:05 a.m. (EDT)

Thanks for the comments and feedback so far. 

Erich, I think your comment about understanding the intended purpose of the product is spot-on. I consider that part of being fair in a review. Nothing does everything well; you need to understand your own needs and wants and also understand what the product is designed for to see if they match or not. Then you can assess whether the product performed or not.

TJ1984, I like your comment about the gear honeymoon stage. Maybe we should call it a "new-gear-moon" stage. Any other clever ideas out there for naming that phase?

Ashleigh
TOP 10 REVIEWER REVIEW CORPS
1,986 reviewer rep
262 forum posts
May 23, 2013 at 11:17 a.m. (EDT)

Nice job, Alicia. This will be very helpful in the future.

- Ashleigh

gonzan
MODERATOR REVIEW CORPS
658 reviewer rep
2,137 forum posts
May 23, 2013 at 1:39 p.m. (EDT)

Good Stuff, Alicia! 

Aw, shucks, you used my video :) 

Alicia MacLeay (Alicia)
TRAILSPACE STAFF
471 reviewer rep
2,916 forum posts
May 24, 2013 at 10:07 a.m. (EDT)

Thanks, all.

Even more important, thanks for your own super helpful gear reviews you've shared. Reading those has taught me most of the tips above.

Jake W
TOP 25 REVIEWER REVIEW CORPS
973 reviewer rep
571 forum posts
May 25, 2013 at 10:09 a.m. (EDT)

Lots of good tips, and lots of good looking people in those pics! ;)

Rick-Pittsburgh
1,633 reviewer rep
3,962 forum posts
May 26, 2013 at 12:57 p.m. (EDT)

Good stuff Alicia. One thing though...

9. Consider the Reader Your BFF

Forget what everyone else says, what would you tell your best backcountry buddy about your gear in one minute

My only issue is that I don't think I could tell anyone about a specific item in a minute.

If anyone has read any of my ramblings you should know what I mean.

They are like The Song that Never Ends...

...they go on and on my friends. ;)

Alicia MacLeay (Alicia)
TRAILSPACE STAFF
471 reviewer rep
2,916 forum posts
May 26, 2013 at 6:09 p.m. (EDT)

Ahh! Curses on Rick for getting that song stuck in anyone's head! (Just kidding, Rick!).

You're right that a good review likely needs more than one minute of gear explanation. I think the one minute (or elevator pitch) concept works well for summing up a product or concept though. It makes you hone in on the essentials: who and/or what is this product good for (or not)? If you've got that part down you can then work out from there to the details.

Thanks for bringing this up though. You're absolutely right about the need for details and evidence to back up one's opinion.

Rick-Pittsburgh
1,633 reviewer rep
3,962 forum posts
May 27, 2013 at 1:29 a.m. (EDT)

Alicia said:

Ahh! Curses on Rick for getting that song stuck in anyone's head! (Just kidding, Rick!).

 Blame it on the Trillium from my last trip. :p

G00SE
TOP 10 REVIEWER REVIEW CORPS
3,703 reviewer rep
590 forum posts
June 5, 2013 at 8:18 a.m. (EDT)

Good article. I only started writing reviews this year. At first it was to win the January contest, but then I started feeling that, since I use this site all the time to read up on reviews, I had a duty to post my own.

Honestly, though I hate having the "Top 10 Reviewer" label. I definitely haven't earned such a title. When I look at reviews by guys like Rick-Pittsburg & Arson, I'm embarrassed by the quality of my reviews.

Of course, the GOOD NEWS is, I'm learning from this experience, and in the past few weeks I've been editing my earlier reviews to make them better. I noticed that after improving my Princeton Tec Apex review over the weekend, I suddenly had 2 votes. That's definitely a motivator to go back and rewrite my lesser reviews.

Tipi Walter
225 reviewer rep
1,158 forum posts
June 5, 2013 at 9:02 a.m. (EDT)

USE THE GEAR---This is my top criteria.  Most gear reviews are pitiful in this regard, especially those like this---

"I have a new tent called the Billowing Zygote.  It's my favorite tent of all.  I feel it is the perfect tent for backpacking as it only weighs 2 lbs.  I have it sitting in a stuff sack in my apartment and it hasn't been put up yet but I give it 5 stars and can't wait!!"

USE THE GEAR---And then there are those guys who use an item and won't even talk about it until they wear it out and find its flaws.  All gear is imperfect and has faults.  Every tent has something to complain about after 5 years of hard use.  Problem is, few people test it long and hard enough to find its flaws.

Every piece of backpacking gear will fail at a certain point.  A reviewer's job is to find that breaking point and THEN report it.

Rick-Pittsburgh
1,633 reviewer rep
3,962 forum posts
June 6, 2013 at 5:38 p.m. (EDT)

Jeffery Gosnell said:

Honestly, though I hate having the "Top 10 Reviewer" label. I definitely haven't earned such a title. When I look at reviews by guys like Rick-Pittsburg & Arson, I'm embarrassed by the quality of my reviews.

Jeffrey, do not feel embarrassed in the least in regards to your reviews. I have read them and you have a pretty solid approach when writing them. 

I am not sure if you have ever looked at my earlier reviews but they weren't nearly as in depth as the ones I have been writing(Soulo, etc.)

I think the BA Copper Spur 1 review that I wrote was when I found what works for me. 

Finding your niche and what works for you takes time and you will get there. Be patient and keep plugging along. 

You are already well on your way and you have already written a Killer Review so give yourself a big ol' pat on the back. 

Of course, the GOOD NEWS is, I'm learning from this experience, and in the past few weeks I've been editing my earlier reviews to make them better. I noticed that after improving my Princeton Tec Apex review over the weekend, I suddenly had 2 votes. That's definitely a motivator to go back and rewrite my lesser reviews.

I myself have to go in and edit a few reviews that I have done(earlier ones.) 

The first review I have ever written was written here(no previous experience.) As well as my reviews have been received over the years here they can always be better and for me it is a never ending process to find that sweet spot. 

Ya know, I have a logic that if when writing a review if I help one person then I have made my mark. 

Another thing I do is think a lot.

For instance, if I was considering an item to purchase what would I want to know about it? Not necessarily what is apparent to the naked eye but different technologies implemented(ie coatings,) so on and so forth. 

...then again I have a substantial ocd issue when writing reviews and I sometimes find myself on my days off sitting in front of the monitor punching keys for 14hrs non-stop.

A lot of coffee involved there let me tell ya. ;)

Anywho, my mindset is to put the product in the readers hands w/o actually doing so. 

If I can consistently do that then I have achieved a major goal as far as I am concerned. 

I also read many other reviews. I have learned quite a bit from others here and hopefully others can say that they have gained a bit from my feedback as well. 

There is a lot of solid feedback posted above not only in the article Alicia linked but also in the responses following it. 

Good stuff everyone.

Keep on keeping on.

-Rick

 

G00SE
TOP 10 REVIEWER REVIEW CORPS
3,703 reviewer rep
590 forum posts
June 7, 2013 at 5:53 p.m. (EDT)

Thanks for the encouragement, Rick! I appreciate it.

bheiser1
TOP 25 REVIEWER REVIEW CORPS
1,028 reviewer rep
1,208 forum posts
June 8, 2013 at 6:44 p.m. (EDT)

Most importantly, Jeffrey, is your savings account tracking on target for your AT thru-hike in 2023? :)

G00SE
TOP 10 REVIEWER REVIEW CORPS
3,703 reviewer rep
590 forum posts
June 9, 2013 at 9:06 a.m. (EDT)

bheiser1 said:

Most importantly, Jeffrey, is your savings account tracking on target for your AT thru-hike in 2023? :)

 Yes, it is, Bill!  :D

bheiser1
TOP 25 REVIEWER REVIEW CORPS
1,028 reviewer rep
1,208 forum posts
June 9, 2013 at 9:52 a.m. (EDT)

Excellent! :)

Rick-Pittsburgh
1,633 reviewer rep
3,962 forum posts
June 18, 2013 at 1:08 p.m. (EDT)

Alicia said:

Then share your review on FacebookTwitter,Google+, or other social media, so others can learn from your gear experience.

I am 100% on the bandwagon with the sharing of one's own personal reviews/experiences on various social media venues that one utilizes.

A few reasons are:

  • You reach out to a broader spectrum of individuals. Some of which may not know that Trailspace even exists. These folks may have something to offer and without an outlet to do so they really don't have the ability to do so other than campfire talk.  
  • In doing the above you could quite possibly generate helpful feedback in regards to things you may have missed or not touched on in your initial review. Questions & feedback generate answers & thought; answers & thought generate ideas...
  • In reaching out to a broader spectrum of folks you could quite possibly help that one person out there that is looking for an item such as a great pack but you didn't even know they were in the market for one.
  • Granted, you may not necessarily be reaching out to folks that have the same interests as you in regards to being in the backcountry solo in let's say early February(I get the "you're nuts" all the time) but that doesn't necessarily mean that these folks do not research products such as a new car, a clothes dryer, so on and so forth when they are in the market. Many people read reviews and although reviews are different from product category to product category there are similarities in regards to what makes a solid review exactly that...

     ...a solid review.

Another pro of sharing your reviews and experiences is that you may very well introduce someone to a new activity that may have very well not been on their radar in the past. Your review/experience may spark a curiosity that leads to a lifetime of happy memories for not only them but also their family as well. 

I have actually had this happen to me personally on more than one occasion.

My neighbor for instance is quite intrigued by everything outdoors and all it took was a little conversation with me explaining why I love what I do. 

Now he loves it too. 

Ya know, I have been here for a few years now. I have seen friendships generated, coordinated trips planned, awesome reviews posted, and not too mention enough helpful knowledge from our community members that it would take one individual a few lifetimes to acquire. 

Why not take a second, punch a few keys, click the ol' mouse, and share away?

The pros most certainly outweigh the cons.

 

Alicia MacLeay (Alicia)
TRAILSPACE STAFF
471 reviewer rep
2,916 forum posts
June 18, 2013 at 2:52 p.m. (EDT)

Thanks for all of these thoughtful remarks, Rick.

Not only have you and fellow members shared loads of outdoor experience and opinions with the Trailspace community, you've helped reach out and grow the outdoor community. I'm always glad to hear about people who were helped or encouraged by fellow community members. I think that makes the outdoor community, and Trailspace, special.

Thanks!

Rick-Pittsburgh
1,633 reviewer rep
3,962 forum posts
June 18, 2013 at 3:24 p.m. (EDT)

Alicia said:

Thanks for all of these thoughtful remarks, Rick.

It has(and will continue to be) my pleasure Alicia to be a part of this awesome community.

Thanks to all of you for the knowledge that you all have given me over the years...

...I learn a lil more everyday and will continue to do my best to give a lil back.  

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