Hiking in Finland

Climbing, bikepacking, skiing & packrafting in the north

The Future of Gear Reviews

I am taking a new approach to gear reviews. Remixing some ideas out there, adding my own spice, making my own trail. And because there's been a lot of talk lately about reviews, how they drive traffic; how some bloggers possibly maybe might be biased because they get the gear they write about for free; how some use stock photos; how some write a review after they only walked to the pub and so on; now seems a good time to rethink reviews. Feel free to chip in via the comments, we can make this a community process, and who knows, maybe other bloggers also will adopt the same "ideas" when they review gear.

So thus far my reviews were done so that I used the item in question for a about ten to fourteen days, then went to take a bunch of photos, close-ups, details, me wearing or using the item in question and then sat down and wrote the review. Looking back, my reviews have come a long way - the first review here was of the BushBuddy Ultra and the Tibetian Titanium 1100 pot, versus the last review of the Panasonic Lumix GF2 vs. Sony NEX-5 - A Field Report. Though it is time to rethink the whole thing, use what's good, dismiss what's bad, taking in something new.

Inspiration for this move came from several sources. First there is Iain Harper's article, already over a month old, called "A New Manifesto for Gear Reviewers". Iain was so kind to let me quote him, so here's his list:

1. Function - 25
How does the item work in the field, is it fit for purpose, does it have any major drawbacks in general usage. This section can be broken down into sub sections for different products eg boots (fit, waterproofness, ankle support, cushioning)
2. Features - 15
Does the item have all the necessary features, are any lacking/extraneous/not well implemented or thought through?
3. Technical innovations - 10
New materials or features that genuinely add to an item’s utility. Things it does that competitors don’t or does differently/better.
4. Quality - 10
Is an item well made and likely to last e.g. stitching, seams areas of high wear. Has it lasted well in continued use? For example, I’ve had to send back more than ten bits of gear in the last year due to manufacturing faults.
5. Value for money - 10
Is an item priced reasonably, both in comparison to competitiors and in relation to the points described above?
6. Weight - 10
Is an item an appropriate weight for its function rather than lightweight for the sake of being lightweight? Is the weight likely to have a significant impact on reasonable durability?
7. Recyclability - 5
Is an item made of materials that can be recycled? Does it use recycled fabrics as part of its manufacture?
8. Sustainability of manufacture / supply chain - 5
What is the carbon footprint of the item’s manufacture and shipment to market. Where is it made?
9. Range of sizes - 5
Is the item available in a suitable range of sizes eg varying leg lengths for each waist size
10. Availability in UK - 5
How readily available is the item in the UK? There is nothing more frustrating than reading about a fantastic piece of kit which cannot be found for love or money. (Until recently, Haglöfs was a prime example of this.)

I'm not gonna award points and rank stuff. Gear still is highly subjective - what works for me might not work for you, and vice versa. But this gives a good idea of what to include when writing a review. I reckon Function, Features, Technical Innovations, Quality, Weight, Sustainability and Recyclability are good points I will include. Availability in the times of the internet shouldn't be a problem, as you're reading this right now online (unless a kind person printed this out and sent it via post to you) and there's a good chance that some webstore has the product in question and ships it to your country. I don't think sizes are a big issue either (those really tall folks and those with tiny waists and long legs will disagree). Value For Money is important, but I am not certain yet how to evaluate that (reason being that for some it is no problem to throw down 500€ for a GoreTex jacket, while others will find that lunatic).

The next point is Time. While I often can tell already after a few days if something is great, good or rubbish, I prefer to use an item over a prolonged timeframe to make a valid evaluation. On the other hand one might have a very "hot" item where there's a lot of demand regarding information about it. First Look articles are useful for that audience, because in addition to getting a better look at the item, they can ask questions of the reviewer which she/ he then can answer, before they make a purchase. But is one still so enamored with the item after a few months of usage?

So I take inspiration from Steven Horner's comment on Andy's post about "The Commercialisation of Outdoor Blogging: Integrity and Authenticity?"

Having said all that, I agree with Robin and Alan that a blogger can give a better idea of how a product works over a long period of time. Most print reviewers surely don’t have the time to test each item for months, again unless you are Chris Townsend doing a long walk like the Pacific North West Trail. Unfortunately while bloggers are in a better position to test something long term the company sending the gear probably doesn’t want to wait 6+ months for you to write about it, by then the product will likely of been updated, replaced or dropped.

[Bold is my emphasis] It is so easy to update a blog post, that I believe it makes no sense to write several articles about one item (First Look, Review, Long Term). So from now on my reviews will be "living reviews". There will be one post, which gets updated and edited over time. This will satisfy everyones needs - the one who wants to have a first in-depth look before purchasing an item, to the one who wants a long-term usage review, and also possible suppliers of free gear will find the early exposure positive.

Additionally, I will have a few posts coming which will compare similar items (pants, shirts, jackets, etc.) directly to each other in one post, including some other measurements of comparison - I'm very excited about these as they will be fun and very informative, I think. This will be a bit along the lines of Chris Townsend's comment: I think the key questions are does an item perform as claimed and how does it compare to alternatives. A further point I will include in reviews in the future is a headline called "What others say" which will link to other (trustworthy¹) reviews online, so that you can see what others think about the item in question.

Why do I think this is the way to go? We are online. The internet is a living information source. While a print magazine like TGO Magazine (to name a mag which people think writes high quality reviews), or a "book" á la Andrew Skurka can give a very good look at an item, it is a momentarily picture. You can't interact with it. A living review will showcase the life of an item over months and years, being constantly updated and annexed, and most importantly for you - if you have a question, you can ask me right here and have an answer not much later. It also minimizes the amount of articles, which my minimalist mind likes. Oh yeah, it is free, as well.

Bottomline: This are just my thoughts. My reviews were always intensive work and high quality, and nothing will change in that sense. Still plenty of good photos and the occasional video. And in addition, the living review will allow me and you to see how a product performs over its live cycle. I think that's a good idea, and it does make writing reviews for me again more appealing and fun. Finally, there's a bunch of good gear review bloggers out there, and no one is forced to adhere to any standard - that'd be pretty boring! I plotted down these guidelines for myself, let you in, and now you're free to remix, adopt, rethink or ignore. Because you don't need gear to go outdoors.


¹ Definition of a trustworthy review: The reviewer has trip reports on his blog/ site. Blogs/ sites which only review gear and repeat PR Gibberish are not considered trustworthy for that matter.


How will you keep up-to-date with a Review? I probably will announce on Twitter updates, might sneak the information in The Week In Review, or you could check, very old-fashioned, the Reviews page if you're looking for something.