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Quality of review - feedback requested

Hopefully we've all read Alicia's post on what the TS expectations are for a good review.  In a more recent topic there was a bit of differing opinion from those of us in the peanut gallery regarding when a review should be done, and what the expectations are.  Much of the opinions seemed in-line with Alicia's post, though some (even a moderator) seemed like they were MUCH more critical about what they feel needs to be done for reviews here at TS.  Based on some of that more critical feedback (especially the moderator), I'm doing less reviews but am making the effort to add more depth.

After reading the thoughts in that last topic, I was still left with the question of when a review should be done.  Personally I think a review is a good thing if you have anything utilitarian to share at all... really, just that simple.  I won't vote up a review that tells me they don't like the color, but it would be helpful to know that a hat is hot pink, rather than the red you'd see on the manufacturer's website. (I actually had this issue - the hot pink hat got returned)    :)

So now I have a situation, and what better way to explore my "when to review?" question than a specific example?  Case in point, I did a review on some Merrell boots some time back that didn't seem to get received too well. I have to think that was at least partially because I hadn't given them too much use at that point, but who knows.  As the weather improves, I've been getting more trail miles and I thought I'd do a side-by-side review of a new pair of inov-8 trail shoes with my Merrells.  The inov-8 shoes proved to be as grippy as their reputation suggests (like WOW, really), but after two trips and 17 miles I just couldn't wear them anymore.  After two trips it doesn't seem like that qualifies for what folks around here are looking for.  Without launching into a full review here, I can tell you that inov-8 shoes have a fit issue with at least certain types of foot shapes.  As I continued on with the trail miles, I stopped using the inov-8 shoes and just focused on the Merrells.  The Merrells now have almost 50 trail miles on them and about 12,000 feet of ascent.  It's clear which one of these two are better in my book.  Thanks to REI for taking back the inov-8 shoes.

I just updated the Merrell boot review to reflect what I've learned.  Check it out and let me know what you think or if you have questions.

For this topic, my question is: would you all like to hear from me about the inov-8 shoes or not?  If I was considering purchasing a pair of inov-8 shoes, I'd like to read a dissenting opinion.  However, it seems (from the last topic on this subject) that two trips and 17 miles may not be enough experience to qualify for a review.

Please weigh in: what do you think?

A negative review may not please the manufacturer (witness my review of the QuietStove device). But it is useful for the readers. We do not do reviews on Trailspace to make the manufacturers happy, like the magazine reviewers do and certain other websites. "Truth in Advertising" may not be universal, but "Truth in Trailspace Reviews" is where Trailspace gets its reputation as a dependable source.

This is exactly why those of us in the Trailspace Gear Review Corps are so adamant about "happy talk" and "I opened the package and the product is fantastically great" reviews. Tell it like it is good points, excellent achievements, warts, and all. That does not mean go out of your way to find flaws and downvote gear for the sake of downvoting. But if a piece of gear fails, doesn't live up to its claims, or fits only certain body shapes, note that. No piece of gear is perfect, and no piece of gear is all bad (well, let me take that back - I have gotten some gear with my own cash that was abominable and had the store or manufacturer refuse to take it back). The QuietStove cap did indeed drop the noise level of the XGK by 30 dB (which is a huge amount - from front row of the rock band concert to normal quiet-room conversation) - the good. But at the same time, the bad was (1) it cost more than buying a brand new stove with the same or lesser noise level, effectively doubling your investment and (2) it significantly lengthened the boil time. To me, the sacrifices were far too great, resulting in my giving it 3 stars. The review, by the way, got voted as a Killer Review.

If the problem with your boots was that they did not fit your foot shape (technically called the "last"), then this is a good thing for people to know. This is, in fact, one of the critical things about boots (and packs). Not everyone has the same foot shape. Each bootmaker has its own last (rather, a range of lasts for the different sizes, men vs women, etc). Italian boots generally have a different last than German boots, than US-made work boots, than dress shoes, etc. What boots do fit your foot (I gather that Merrell does fit you)? Knowing that the inov-8 does not fit will alert people who fit Merrells to avoid that boot, while people who fit the inov-8 will be alerted to be cautious about Merrells.

Main thing is a thorough, complete, in-depth review. Test the gear in a wide a range of conditions as possible (boots should be hiked on flat trails, steep trails, rocky trails, dusty trails, wet muddy trails, in snow, off trail in rocky terrain, maybe scrambling up talus slopes, carrying a heavy pack, etc). You can't test a 4-season tent by using it on night mid-summer on a clear sunny day, and you can't test a wind-shirt (like the Patagonia Houdini) in a downpour (it is intended to be a windbreaker, not a rain shell). You can't test a headlamp by taking it out of the box and looking at it - you have to go hiking with it at night in the woods and hills for at least a few miles and you have to turn it on to max brightness and time how long the batteries last (and include what kind of batteries you used in the write-up).

Great advice, Bill S.

That's a very useful response Bill.  Thank you.

Herdingcats, I've done a few reviews around TS. I also have read nearly every review posted since January 1.

Here are my thoughts:

1. Give me a useful review that shows me you have used the product and can speak to whether or not others should buy it. How long it has been used depends on the product.

  • If you wear shoes for 17 miles and they're crap, that is good enough for me.
  • If you tell me shoes are awesome after 17 miles, that's not good enough. I need to know how these will hold up over time.

Here's one of my reviews in that criteria: https://www.trailspace.com/gear/nite-ize/figure-9-tent-line-kit/#review27167 No, it's not a "Killer Review." In this case it doesn't have to be. The item broke on its first use. How much more testing does it need?

2. Give me pictures describing what you are talking about. My eyes tend to glaze over on long paragraphs. I prefer short paragraphs, bullet points, & headers, with lots & lots of pics. https://www.trailspace.com/gear/trangia/27-8-ulha/#review28643

3. The reviews I discount show no effort. Someone wrote a few lines to get into a Trailspace contest. (On Amazon, I DESPISE the "I bought this for my nephew who likes to camp, and I know he's going to love it. 5 stars!") https://www.trailspace.com/gear/ozark-trail/tent/#review14320

All-in-all, I think you have written some very good reviews, HC. Better than some of my first ones (which I'm slowly editing). I try to post one review every week, because I enjoy doing it. Some of those reviews are better than others, but if someone doesn't like my review, I'm not going to lose any sleep over it.

Keep posting! Include pictures! :)

@G00SE - As usual your insights are outstanding.  Thanks very much for that great detail.

@HerdingCats: thanks for starting this thread. It's been helpful for me as a newbie to Trailspace.

@Bill S and Goose: because of your insights on this thread, I've re-read my reviews and did some needed editing. I wrote my first review 5 days ago and I was so excited to write more reviews that I compromised the quality. I've gone back and added finer detail and included helpful photos thanks to you two. If you happened to read my Osprey Atmos 65 review earlier this week, I invite you to give the updated review a peak. https://www.trailspace.com/gear/osprey/atmos-65/#review31004

Or the one I did for the REI Kingdom 4, but that needs some additional photos yet of the issues I allude to: https://www.trailspace.com/gear/rei/kingdom-4-tent/#review31020

Thanks all. I look forward to learning more and hopefully getting better with each review.

Good points all!

I would have a hard time improving on G00SE's comments.

One thing I liked a lot about herdingcats' Merrell Mix Master Tuff Mid Waterproof review is the summary, right at the front:

This is great entry-level footwear for ultralight and minimalist beginners.

One sentence gives me a lot of information immediately. I appreciate detail in reviews, but more detail doesn't necessarily require more words. herdincats' review is both brief and detailed. It's got a summary up front, relevant headings, and uses "active voice." "Passive voice" is a big source of extra words in reviews. It crops up in sentences like:

"The stove was found to preform adequately at the task of boiling water." (passive voice)

"The stove boiled water in 3 minutes." (active voice, with detail, and less words!)

OH NO SETH! I feel like the judge just told me to keep it pithy! HA! I like your comparison of active and passive voice and getting to the point of what you are saying!

I'm still monitoring this thread, so please keep it coming.  I'm very much enjoying what I'm reading here so far.

Thanks to all of you for your valued thoughts and suggestions here.

Unless I've reason to otherwise, I'm saving all my reviews for the end of the season this year - it's a guaranteed way of publishing reviews that've seen substantial "trail time." A lot of what I'm using now relies on other components as part of a system: can't really review the parts without being able to review the whole.

Taking a different approach this year - I've drafted a template outlining the purchase, initial impression, basic specs, set-up/break-down, first use, and long-term use, etc.

A "short answer" approach, opposed to an "essay."

As much as words are appreciated, I always love seeing pictures because A.) gear will look and react completely different in the field (opposed to an indoor photo studio), B.) it's a foolproof way of demonstrating proper use and knowledge of the equipment, and C.) it's an easier way of communicating things which may prove difficult to describe with words alone.

One thing I did start adding last year (and the beginning of this) was specific trip information: where, when, and what the weather/conditions were. Again, like pictures, an easy way to verify the amount or duration of use.

I'm certainly guilty of using passive voice more than I should.  Appropriately, most my organizational philosophy for my reviews comes from my legal writing class!

Great post, Bill. " Italian boots generally have a different last than German boots, than US-made work boots, than dress shoes, etc.", which is why I am oddly stuck loving French boots. :-)

"frog feet", eh Erich? well everybody's feet are different (even everybody's right foot is different from their left foot) {8=>D


Seriously, though, I do have some excellent French-made gear. My now-ancient Terray duvet still works well in moderately cold weather, after 50 years (got it from Snell Sports in Chamonix)

Yes, though my ancestors are German, I have a wide toe and a very narrow heel, so my Super Guides fit me like no other boot I've ever had.

On the subject of reviews, I think it is helpful to address the designed user and yourself. A description of your particular style, even for a particular trip is very helpful. I am sometimes an ultra  lighter when I do solo overnight hikes. More often, I am on long canoe expeditions. I primarily paddle rivers, for instance, so a bent shaft paddle isn't going to be in my quiver. 

These are important things to keep in mind...give a brief description of your style, the designed purpose if possible, before you get into the body of the review.

Though I love the fit of my Super Guides, I will always put as a caveat, that I have frog feet and others might find them uncomfortable.

July 31, 2021
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