Gear reviews are probably my main use of the internet by now. I’m guessing this is a problem for any gear head, and outdoor gear heads are not any different. We want to upgrade, replace, change, have another or just-in-case kit for anything, so we read reviews. We read reviews from small one person blogs, from big retailers, from magazines or even just a Facebook comment. All to get another perspective on that next bit of kit. It doesn’t matter if it is a $5 gas canister or $750 high end sleeping bag – we read about them all the time. But are those reviews any good? Can they actually harm our ability to make a true assessment? Any review out there (in the big world of the web) must always be taken with a grain of salt. The reason for this are many and will be dependant on what kind of a site it is that offers the review.For instance:
- Retailer’s blogs will try and sell a specific item or brand
- Small private review sites might lack the experience, or are doing a completely different activity than you
- Magazines tend to be sponsored, or they get the item for free, which reduces the full criticizing on the value of a product
- Many reviews don’t go into too much depth to make the review easier to read and so don’t provide the full service
Luckily for us, there are quite a few sites that do nothing but gear reviews for us to enjoy. But, even here we might find a problem. An excellent article about the limitations of gear reviews was published by Blister Gear Review, a site that focuses on ski and mountain biking. The article, called Thoroughness vs. Usefulness by Jonathan Ellsworth, examines the problem with writing a good review – how much information is too much? Where do you stop reviewing? The article is a great read for anyone who ends up reading many gear reviews, no matter in which world of interest. From that I can give the following recommendations to get the most from the reviews and picking the right gear:
- Find speciality sites – they are more than enough out there, so pick 2-3 per interest (skiing, climbing, hiking etc.)
- Check if the site is trying to sell to you. And add that to the equation.
- Try and find reviews that have more information and break it down to sections – you can always read just what is important to you
- Start with the bottom line – find the last paragraph and look for a conclusion – maybe the product is a complete bust?
- Search for “out of the box” reviews and multi-use reviews. Compare the 2 to see if the product lives up to the hype
- Some times you’ll just need to buy that piece of kit and the review won’t help – just get it and go out!
At the end of the day we need to separate our odd enjoyment of dreaming (and reading) about gear and the stuff we actually need to go outdoors. Don’t let that “one more thing and I’m ready” bit of gear to stop you going and enjoying the outdoors. Unless it is a vital piece of safety gear, sometimes just getting a simple and cheap option will get you there, and you can always upgrade when you have a few more outings under your belt. What bit of gear is stopping you from going outdoors now? Let me know in the comments, and we can review if it is really necessary.