Types of Gear Reviews We Publish
Backpackinglight.com publishes three types of gear reviews:
- Flash Review (600+ words, 1+ photos) – a gear review meant to introduce the reader to a new or otherwise untested gear. Typically involves little field testing, but maybe some use on a day hike, backyard, kitchen counter / garage bench testing, etc.
- Spotlite Review (1200+ words, 3+ photos) – a gear review that involves field testing on at least one multi-day backcountry trip.
- Performance Review (2500+ words, 7+ photos) – backpackinglight.com’s hallmark gear article. They are characterized by thoroughness and comprehensiveness. Performance Reviews reflect the reviewer’s authority that they have evaluated this gear thoroughly in a wide variety of multi-day backcountry environments, seasons, etc. Performance Reviews of 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:
- Introduction (required for all review types)
- Features & Specifications (required for all review types)
- Review Context (do not include in Flash Reviews, required for Spotlite & Performance Reviews)
- Description of Field Testing (do not include in Flash Reviews, required for Spotlite & Performance Reviews)
- Performance Assessment (do not include in Flash Reviews, required for Spotlite & Performance Reviews)
- Criteria 1
- Criteria 2
- Criteria 3
- Product Strengths & Limitations (optional for Flash Reviews, required for Spotlite & Performance Reviews)
- Compared To… (optional for Flash Reviews, 1+ comparisons required for Spotlite Reviews, 3+ comparisons required for Performance Reviews)
- Product 1
- Product 2
- Product 3
- Commentary (required for all review types)
- Review Rating (do not include for Flash and Spotlite Reviews, required for Performance Reviews)
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.
We generally pay $25+ honoraria to authors for unsolicited Flash Reviews, $50+ for unsolicited Spotlite Reviews, and $100+ for unsolicited Performance Reviews, to reflect the substantial differences in the effort required to research, test, and analyze gear performance for each type of review. Solicited reviews may (or may not) 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 Performance Review embodies a sense of comprehensiveness. If it doesn’t, then the gear review should be considered either a Flash or Spotlite 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:
- Flash Review: 50-100 words, no photo required (not required for a Flash Review)
- SpotLite Review: 50-100 words, one photo required.
- Performance 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 criteria 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 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.
- This section isn’t required (but you’re welcome to add it) for Flash Reviews.
- For Spotlite Reviews, please include one or more products for comparison, and make sure that one is your product’s closest competition.
- For Performance 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 (Performance 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, Flash Reviews are available to the public. Spotlite Reviews may be public or available only to Premium and Unlimited Members – the decision is made on a case-by-case basis depending on the type of gear being reviewed and the length of the review.
Performance Reviews are nearly always 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 any 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.