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HOW TO BECOME A GEAR TESTER IN THREE EASY STEPS
STEP 2, LESSON 2-A
WRITING THE REVIEW
INITIAL CONSIDERATIONS

First, you do NOT need to be an English Major to write good reviews and reports.  You don't even need to be an English Lieutenant.  You DO need to organize your report in a way that will be easy to follow, and you should carefully edit your report for spelling, grammar, and completeness.  If you have trouble in any of these areas, help is available to you, but we'll talk about that later - so don't worry.

The first thing to do is to select an item to test.  For your owner reviews, you should choose an item that you have had significant experience with, and the best thing would be your favorite piece of gear.  You should have owned and used the gear long enough to be able to comment on its durability. For the review to be useful to other backpackers, it should still be available in the stores. Avoid gear which has been off the market for more than a year.  

If you are a raw newbie, and you have no experience at all, then you are actually in an ideal position to test gear.  Why?  Because you don't have any preconceived notions or prejudices; you just don't have any experience, and that's something that can easily be fixed:  Go backpacking.  Other people just starting out as backpackers will find your reviews valuable, because they don't have any experience either.  If the piece of gear that you review was easy for you to use, it will probably be easy for them to use - and the converse is also true.  Of course, a lot of testing can occur right in your own back yard, but you will want to have some actual trail experience with the item.   So, if you have no experience to speak of, read a few reviews on BackpackGearTest, and talk to other backpackers about their gear, then start buying some of your own.  When you get a new piece of gear, start writing your review right away.  What is it like right out of the box?  Is it easy for you to figure out and use?  What are your expectations?  Once you have acquired some experience with the item, write a little more.  Write about your actual experience with the item, and how it performed for you.  Once you have used it for awhile, write down your final views on the item and submit your review.

If you are an experienced backpacker, then you probably know everything you need to know about all your gear in order to write a good review.  Just remember that the item you pick to do your review about should relate to backpacking.  When in doubt as to whether or not the item is germane to the subject, look for reviews on similar items.  If you don't find any, contact a moderator directly for approval before you write your review.

So, have you selected your item?  Well, if you haven't, get busy!  Below, we're going to give you an example of a basic review.  But to make the process easier, you may want to use the FREE BackpackGearTest Report Writer. Check it out.

You should remember that this review is very basic, and should not be considered a fill-in-the-blank template.  While most reports follow a fairly standard outline, there is no template that you are required to use.  Some people do create their own templates, and you can create your own if you like.  Your review should be unique and reflect your own personal style.  You should try to write reviews and reports that you would like to read.  If you have trouble coming up with your own style, read some of the reviews and reports already on BackpackGearTest.org for inspiration.  

There are just a few rules and minimum standards you should be aware of before we begin.  While this may seem daunting, don't let it turn you away.  If you take it step by step, it is very logical and easy to do.  If you graduated the third grade, you aren't going to have any trouble.  If you ever get stuck, help is available.

The general outline looks something like this:

  1. Name of item being tested prominently displayed at top of page.

  2. Biographical information

  3. Product information
    a.  Manufacturer
    b. Year of manufacture
    c. URL of top level manufacturer's web site, NOT the item at the site.
    d. Listed weight
    e. Weight as delivered.
    f.  Product description.

  4. Field information
    a. Location or locations where the test was conducted
    b. Description of location (geography, terrain, elevation, etc.)
    c. Weather conditions (temperature, precipitation, etc.)
    d. Short, comprehensive description of your trip or trips while testing the item, including how the item performed on the trip, or in the case of multiple trips, on each trip.

  5. Summary

Remember, this outline is very basic, and while you should generally follow it, it is by no means all-inclusive.  The body of the report may include any additional factual information you are able to provide about the item being tested. This will often be dependent on the item being tested.  A cook pot, for instance, has volume, but a hiking pole does not.  You may also include your opinions about a piece of gear. If you had expectations from company advertising or word of mouth, you should report whether or not the item lives up to expectations and why or why not.  This is where it's important to 'think like a tester'.  If you were thinking about buying this item, what would you want to know about it in order to determine if it is right for you?  Don't just quote the product description and hype on the packaging.  We aren't very interested in product claims; we are interested in how the product worked for you under actual trail conditions.

Your review is NOT required to be positive. Reviews of poorly performing or designed gear are just as important as reviews of outstanding gear. Outdoorsy people sometimes depend on their gear for their very lives, and everyone needs to know if a piece of gear does not perform adequately.  All statements you make, whether positive or negative should be supported with details.  If an item breaks or fails, for instance, you should state the circumstances and causes of the breakage or failure.  If an item performs better than expected, give specific examples of its performance.  To balance your report, consider both the positives and the negatives as you write your report.  Try to come up with at least three things you really like about the gear.  Even if the item does not work out the way you expected, does it have features that you like? Conversely, try to come up with at least three things that you do not like about the gear. These could be features you hate, you merely find annoying, or even just ways that you think the gear could be improved.  Don't be afraid to nit-pick.  Some people include these positives and negatives in the summary section of their reviews.  

Sometimes a piece of gear IS almost perfect, but you should again 'think like a tester'.  You should consider how an item might perform under different circumstances.  If you are testing wire tent stakes in rocky ground for instance, they will probably work well.  You should also think, however, how these wire stakes would perform in sandy or soft soils - which is probably not well.  So try it out in soft soil and then report on how it did. Remember that something that may be obvious to you may not be obvious to someone else. But please avoid guessing how the stakes would do in sandy soil. That kind of "projection" is not nearly as useful as reporting on what really does happen when you are using the gear while backpacking. 

Remember to review the gear, not the retailer. Except in cases where the retailer is the manufacturer, or the retailer plays a major role in the acquisition of the item such as when a footbed needs custom fitting, the item should be reviewed, not your experience with the retailer. The majority of the people reading your review will not be going to the same place you went to get your gear.  You may include the Manufacturer's suggested retail price in your review, if applicable.  If you bought the item on sale, the sale price isn't going to be useful in most cases.

If you had contact with the manufacturer, please describe that contact and whether it was a positive or negative experience. If you had problems with the manufacturer, tell us about your experience. Tell us when you contacted them, who you spoke with, and what was said by both parties. We are interested both in companies that stand behind their gear and those that do not. If a manufacturer went that extra mile for you, tell us about it. If they refused to back their product we want to know that too. You will probably be asked by the people on this list to back up your claims so be ready to do so.

If you have an improvement to the product to propose or a problem with it that needs solving, give details as to what and why.  Manufactures often read the reports, and some have made changes to their products based on suggestions found in owner reviews and test reports.  You DO have a voice.

If you have images to share, there are guidelines for that too, and we'll cover that later.  Lastly, common courtesy is required at all times. Reports with inappropriate comments or images will be deleted and the author of such a report will be banned from the group.  This is a 'family' group, and you should use common sense.

As a final note, you report doesn't have to be boring.  A report that is both easy and fun to read is much  more desirable than one that just gives a bunch of statistics and then says whether or not you liked the item.  

You now have two options:

Return to the Introduction page or Continue to the next lesson - Writing the Review, Part 2.



Product tested and reviewed in each Formal Test Report has been provided free of charge by the manufacturer to BackpackGearTest.org. Upon completion of the Test Series the writer is permitted to keep the product. Owner Reviews are based on product owned by the reviewer personally unless otherwise noted.

If you are an avid backpacker, we are always looking for enthusiastic, quality reviewers. Apply here to be a gear tester.


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