Types of Gear Reviews We Publish
UPDATE 19.Feb.2019: These guidelines have been revised – individual product reviews will be classified as either First Looks reviews or standard (performance) gear reviews based on real-world experience. We’ve dropped the distinction between SpotLite and Performance reviews.
Backpackinglight.com publishes two types of gear reviews:
- First Looks Review (600+ words, 3+ photos) – a gear review meant to introduce the reader to new or otherwise untested gear. Typically involves little field testing, but maybe some use on a day hike, quick overnighter, backyard, kitchen counter / garage bench testing, etc.
- Standard Gear Review (1,500+ words, 7+ photos) – backpackinglight.com’s hallmark gear review article. They are characterized by thoroughness and comprehensiveness. Performance Reviews reflect the reviewer’s authority that they have evaluated this gear thoroughly in multi-day backcountry environments. Gear that has been sufficiently evaluated are eligible to receive a Backpackinglight.com Gear Review Rating.
What to Include in a Gear Review
A Gear Review should include the following sections:
|First Looks Review||Standard Review|
|Review based primarily on||features, specifications, and preliminary experience with product||Extended field experience with product|
|Features & Specifications||YES||YES|
|Description of Field Testing||no||YES|
|Product Strengths & Limitations||YES||YES|
|Word/Photo Count||600+ words, 3+ photos||1,200+ words, 7+ photos|
|Honoraria (Typical)||$25 - $75+||$50 - $150+|
Download the Gear Review Template here: HTML
For the purpose of this tutorial, please refer to the Patagonia M10 Anorak Review, a performance review written by Ryan Jordan, as a reference standard.
- First Looks Reviews: $25
- Standard Reviews: $50
- Honoraria bonuses of $25-$100+ are paid for standard reviews that involve one or more of the following:
- Quantitative test results obtained by the reviewer that compares the reviewed product to one or more competing products;
- A video summary of the review;
- Comprehensive background discussions of innovative technologies or materials relevant to the product being reviewed.
- Honoraria bonuses of $25-$100+ are paid for standard reviews that involve one or more of the following:
Solicited reviews typically result in higher negotiated honoraria.
The purpose of the Introduction is to clearly let the reader know what the product is and why it might be important to them.
- Be clear, concise and objective. Your Introduction should not contain superfluous prose or wandering thoughts, or any of your subjective evaluations. If the reader cannot understand what the article is about and why it might be useful to them in the very first sentence, then you are wasting their time.
- The Introduction to the review should highlight the following in concise detail:
- First Paragraph: Describe the product and why it might be important for the ultralight backpacker (e.g., usage context).
- Second Paragraph: Describe the unique features that distinguish this product and make it different from other products in its weight class.
- Write the Introduction last, after the rest of the article is written. Once you’ve become intimate with your product analysis, it will be much easier to identify what facts are most important to include in the Introduction.
- The length of the Introduction should be 50-100 words.
- Include a manufacturer’s stock image at the end of the introduction, with a photo credit to the manufacturer.
Features and Specifications
Features vs. Specifications: Specifications describe technical, measurable things such as fabric specs, dimensions, weight, zipper sizes, etc. Features describe functions. Don’t confuse the two and refer to manufacturer websites to ensure their accuracy.
- If the list of features and specifications combined are longer than seven total items and there are at least three of each type, separate them into their own sections.
- Lists should be bulleted.
- For a specifications list, note the size of the item if relevant (e.g., for apparel).
- Include both manufacturer-claimed weight and your verified weight of the item in the specifications list.
- Include both English and SI units for all specifications.
The purpose of the Review Context section is to answer the question: What do you believe are the most important performance criteria for evaluating an item in this category, in the context of ultralight backcountry travel?
- Your subjective opinions are OK here, there’s no one right or wrong way to look at things, and the reader wants to know the framework in which you are reviewing this item; they don’t want to be told what their framework should or shouldn’t be.
- The length of the Review Context Section should be 50-200 words – enough to explain it, but not so much that you lose the casual reader.
Description of Field Testing
The purpose of this section is to establish the authority that you have tested this gear adequately enough to write a performance review.
- A Standard Review embodies a sense of comprehensiveness. If it doesn’t, then the gear review should be considered for a First Looks Review.
- Your field testing should include a wide variety of environmental and/or geographical conditions.
- Your field testing should justify that you’ve evaluated this gear over the long term – several multi-day backpacking trips, several seasons, etc.
- Your field testing should indicate that the gear being reviewed has been compared side by side to other similar pieces of gear in the same weight class / category.
- Be as detailed as possible about the range of environmental conditions, geographic descriptions of the test areas, the types and lengths of the trips you took, etc.
- Include one or more photos of the gear being used in the field.
- The length of this section should be as follows:
- First Looks Review: 50-100 words, one or more photos required.
- Standard Review: 100-500 words, one or more photos required.
The purpose of this section is to identify the specific criteria on which you evaluated the product and its performance, and then discuss how the product met that criteria.
- Introduce this section by listing the review criteria.
- Discuss each criterion under subheadings.
- You’ll make performance claims here. Make sure they are justifiable!
Product Strengths & Limitations
The purpose of the Product Strengths and Limitations section(s) is to summarize the most notable results from your Performance Assessment.
- Typically, these are separated into their own sections and include at least three items in each list.
- For strengths, focus on performance that sets this product apart from its competition.
- For limitations, focus on performance shortfalls that should have been better in the context of the testing performed, and/or features that may limit the product’s versatility or applicability for ultralight backpacking.
The purpose of the Compared To… section is to provide the reader with the important context that addresses how the gear you are reviewing compares to its competition. This section greatly helps establish your authority as a reviewer. If you know the market and are acutely aware of the competition, then the reader will trust your review more.
- Identify only appropriate competitors: gear that has a similar feature set and/or gear that is in a similar weight class.
- Identify both strengths and limitations of the gear you are reviewing vs. the competition.
- Include stock or field photos of the competition, and/or photos of the gear you are reviewing side by side with the competition.
- For First Looks Reviews, please include one or more products for comparison, and make sure that one is your product’s closest competition.
- For Standard Reviews, include 3 or more products for comparison, so you are able to establish sufficient authority that your review considers this product in context with its competition.
Here’s your chance to be creative! The purpose of the Commentary section is to give the reader some insight into how you make decisions about how to choose gear. Tell a story with your commentary!
- Some questions you might consider asking and answering in your commentary:
- Will this gear replace another piece of gear in my kit, and why?
- How can this gear’s performance be maximized into alternative environments, contexts, etc.?
- Can this gear be modified to improve performance and/or reduce weight?
- Be creative, these are just a few ideas!
- Break up long blocks of text with descriptive subheadings as needed.
- Photos are encouraged in this section, use them with descriptive captions to help tell your story here.
The Review Rating (Standard Reviews Only)
- Please refer to Gear Review Ratings as a reference.
- For a Performance Review, assign your rating based on the criteria on the Gear Review Ratings page – Highly Recommended, Recommended, Above Average, Average, or Below Average.
- Write a 100+ word summary explaining your review rating.
- Your summary must maintain the highest standards of objectivity and claims substantiation, and accurately reflect what you discovered in your Performance Assessment, what was communicated in the Product Strengths and Weaknesses, and how your reviewed gear compared to other items in its weight and/or feature class – and especially, relative to whatever the Gold Standard piece of equipment is in this product class.
- If you gave it a rating lower than Highly Recommended, describe why.
Please write a disclosure statement so we can comply with FTC requirements for sponsored content. In your disclosure, answer the following questions:
- Did you receive this gear at a discount, or for free, from the manufacturer or manufacturer’s agent (e.g., PR firm); or did you purchase it from a retailer?
- If you did receive it at a discount or for free, did the entity providing the gear to you place any requirements on you for product review, social media mentions, or any other type of publicity?
- Do you have any affiliation with the manufacturer or its agents as a sponsor, ambassador, affiliate, employee, contractor, or other that might be construed as a potential conflict of interest?
- Summarize this information as concisely as possible in a short narrative.
Public or Members-Only?
Generally, First Looks Reviews are available to the public. Performance Reviews are sometimes designated as members-only articles. We will make much of the review public, but the Performance Assessment, Strengths, Limitations, and Reviewer Commentary will remain accessible only to Premium and Unlimited Members.
The decision to make an article public or members-only is solely up to the publisher and cannot be negotiated between a reviewer and a manufacturer.
Final Notes for Gear Review Authors
- Ruthless eliminate adjectives that reflect nondescript hyperbole. Words like “good”, “a lot”, “excellent”, “awesome” – these don’t really say much of anything objective. Describe carefully, and intentionally.
- Objectivity rules when you are making any type of performance claim. Be careful how you word your claim, and back it up.
- Don’t be snarky or mean or callous when criticizing, or you’ll lose credibility with the readers and the gear manufacturer. If criticism can’t be carefully enough written in a way that is valuable for the reader or the manufacturer, then don’t bother including it.
- Don’t make assumptions about manufacturer motivations when their product doesn’t meet your expectations. Question judgment, not motivation.