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

By now you should have selected an item to review.  This is an example of a basic review.  This example is NOT a fill-in-the-blank template and you should clearly understand that while most reviews and reports follow a fairly standard outline, there is no template that you are required to use.  Some people do create their own templates that reflect their style, and you can create your own if you like.

Let's assume that we have selected a flashlight for our review.  The flashlight in the example is a Mag Instruments Maglite Solitaire, which is an item this author has several years of experience with - both on and off the trail.  While we have selected that particular flashlight for our review, all flashlights share similar qualities and are required to perform similar duties on the trail.  With this in mind, you might want to go and look at some reviews of flashlights already on BackpackGearTest.org in order to see what others have included in their reports.  

This is the time to start 'thinking like a tester'.  What does that mean?  Simply to think of the important specifications of the item and all the possible uses you can for an item.  A flashlight, for instance, has - essentially - one function: To provide light.  However, this one function encompasses many uses.  This is true of all gear - even gear where these multiple uses may not be readily apparent.  Let's make a basic list of the uses of flashlights:

  • Basic camp use.
      How is it for finding things in your pack?.
      How is it during night-time nature calls?

  • Reading
      Is the light easy to read by?

  • Night hiking
      Is the light suitable for finding blazes and navigating terrain at night?

  • Signal device
      Is the light suitable for signaling?

There are, of course, more than this, and you will want to think of as many as you can for your item.

A flashlight will also have important specifications.  Some of these specifications will be shared by other gear - size and weight, for instance - and some will be unique to flashlights alone - such as illumination distance.  Let's make a list of specifications:

  • Weight

  • Length

  • Width

  • Battery Type

  • Bulb Burn Time
      (Bulb Life)

  • Battery Burn Time
      (Battery Life)

  • Illumination distance

There may be even more of these.  If you have a headlamp, for instance, you might include the dimensions of the headband strap.  If the light has multiple modes, like bright, dim, or flash modes, you might include the battery burn time for each mode.

So, now that we've thought a little about our item, it's time to start writing the review.  Remember the general outline?  It looks 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

Let's go ahead then, and create a text document that contains the outline, and start filling in some basic information.  To make things easier, the actual report text is in black, and instructional notes are in red.

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

Mag Instruments Maglite Solitaire Flashlight

Biographical information.  Remember the biography you created?  Open it up and paste it here.  If you'll excuse the use of first person for a moment, I will use my actual information and not the John Backpacker example because this will eventually become an actual report.

Reviewer Information

Name: Shane Steinkamp
Age: 33
Gender: Male
Height: 5' 10" (1.8 meters)
Weight: 240 lbs (108 kilos)
Email address: shane@theplacewithnoname.com
City: New Orleans (Metairie)
State: Louisiana 
Country: USA 
Date: October 31, 2002

Backpacking Background: Bit by the wandering bum disease at an early age, I have 10,000 plus miles (16,100 kilometers) of long distance hiking experience. After that I lost track... I have been hiking since age seven or eight, which is about 26 years. I have ranged from the southern tip of Baja to Barrow, Alaska and from coast to coast - although most of my wandering has been done west of the Mississippi river, with frequent trips in Florida. I have experienced all extremes of weather and terrain, with the exception of Antarctic terrain.

Again, don't let a lack of experience discourage you from becoming a tester.  This looks like a lot of experience, and it might be, but it took MANY years to acquire, and eventually you will have a lot of experience too.  Lack of experience does not count against you in most tests.

Now it's time for the product information.  Keep things simple.  While you don't need fancy formatting, you should be neat and complete.  

Product Information

Manufacturer:  Mag Instruments
Year of Manufacture: 1997
URL: http://www.maglite.com/  (Remember that this should be the HOME PAGE of the manufacturer.)
Listed weight with battery: .86 Ounces (24.38 Grams)
Weight as delivered with battery:  .9 Ounces  (25.5 Grams)
Length: 3-3/16 Inches (81 Millimeters)
Width: 1/2 Inch (13 Millimeters)
MSRP: $6.95 (The Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price is optional.)

If you don't have your own scale for weighing delivered weight, you can weigh the item at your local post office where scales are provided for public use.  Small postal scales and small food scales work well, and are available inexpensively.  

Now we should add the specifications specific to flashlights that we listed above.

Battery Type: AAA (Energizer Alkaline included)
Bulb Burn Time (Bulb Life): None listed.  See report body for more information.
Battery Burn Time (Battery Life):  About six hours with Alkaline battery.
Illumination distance: 20 feet.

After the details, the next thing is the Product Description.  Always start with packaging, and what is included in the package including any accessories, then briefly describe the function of the item.  Remember that someone reading your review may never have seen this item before.  If the item is unique or new, they may not even have heard of it before.  Always be clear and thorough.  

The Solitaire comes in a plastic blister pack that includes the flashlight, a battery, and a lanyard with a small key-ring on each end.  The lanyard is about three inches long (7.5 centimeters), and the key-rings are 1/2 inch (13 millimeters) in diameter.  The flashlight body is made of aluminum.

Now describe the function of the light.

The Solitaire uses a single AAA battery.  In fact the Solitaire isn't much bigger than an AAA battery.  The included AAA battery is installed by unscrewing the tail cap and inserting the battery into the body of the flashlight.  A spare bulb is included inside the tail cap.  The flashlight is operated by rotating the head of the flashlight.  The flashlight comes on with a wide beam that focuses more narrowly as you continue to rotate the head of the flashlight.  It will focus down to a very narrow beam.  If you continue to rotate it, the head will unscrew from the barrel, exposing the bulb.  The exposed bulb will remain lit, and provide light like a candle, hence the term 'candle mode'.  The bulb is replaced by removing the head from the barrel and pulling the bulb straight out of its socket.  A new bulb is then inserted, and the head reattached.  This is very easy to do.  

Both the head and the tail cap fit well and water is prevented from entering the light by an O ring at each end. The light is water resistant, but is not protected from water when in 'candle mode' since the bulb and bulb socket are exposed.

Now comes the report body.  Let's look at the outline section for this part:

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.

The problem here is that I have carried a Solitaire for so long that providing descriptions of trips and terrain would be onerous.  In reality, things like geography, terrain, elevation, and precipitation are unimportant relative to flashlights, so detailing such things will not be beneficial for someone thinking about buying this light.  Such environmental variables can be very critical for other pieces of gear, however, and you may need to include them depending on the item you have selected.  If you have selected boots, for instance, for your review, all of those environmental variables are critical.  The only environmental variable that would have an effect on a flashlight is temperature, since cold temperatures tend to decrease battery life.  How do we write the report body then, if we aren't going to follow the outline?  Well, remember to keep it simple but be complete.  We want to give someone who doesn't own this light a very good idea of what it is like and how it works.  This is the place to detail the uses of the item and how it performs.  Here's my version:

I have carried the Solitaire on many trips over a period of several years.  I have found it to be durable and dependable.  It works very well for basic camp use, such as finding things in my pack and short trips away from camp to fetch water or answer the call of nature.  The Solitaire works well as a reading light, and for other short-distance tasks like cooking.  The candle mode provides a wide, low-intensity light that is excellent for use as a lantern inside your tent or tarp.  The Solitaire isn't really well suited to night hiking, or other applications where a lot of light is needed.  It will throw a useable beam about 20 feet (6 Meters), but the light output isn't very good past that distance.  I don't think the Solitaire would function well as a signal light for this reason.  The Solitaire has a lanyard hole in the tail cap, and the lanyard can be attached through this hole.  I have never used the lanyard, so I cannot really comment on its functionality, but the lanyard hole allows you to hang the light inside your tent or tarp and use the candle mode - just be sure not to lose the head.

The Solitaire is advertised as water resistant, but I have found it to be water proof under most circumstances, and an excellent choice for working in wet environments.  I have dropped it in water numerous times, and there has never been a failure.  While the Solitaire has provided me with good service, I have noticed several negative things about the light over time.  Both the tail cap and the head contain a set of steel spring contacts.  Over time, these contacts don't provide good contact and the light can dim or even go out.  The remedy for this is to clean the contacts and from time to time bend them outward to better engage the barrel of the flashlight.  While the bulb life is excellent, I have found that dropping the light onto a hard surface when it is lit will sometimes cause the bulb to blow out.  Lastly, the lens is not scratch resistant, and after a few years it has become so scratched that it looks foggy, and I think that light output has suffered as a result of this.

Now for the summary.

Summary

The Solitaire is an excellent camp light, and is rugged and durable.  With the availability of the new LED lights, with their very long bulb life and long battery burn times, the Solitaire is probably no longer the best choice even for short-distance camp chores.

Things I like:

1.  Durable.
2.  Candle Mode.
3.  Small and Light.

Things I don't like:

1.  Short battery life.
2.  Failure of light due to weak contacts as the light ages.
3.  Lens is not scratch resistant.

That's it!  That's all you need for a basic review, and at this point we could submit it.  In fact, this isn't just an example, it's a real review that you can read here.  Remember, though, that this review is pretty basic and there is a lot more information that could be included, and things that could have been done to test the light.  Here's another version of the same item that includes much more detailed information.  You don't have to go this far, but more information is often better than less.  As always, you should use your best judgment.  The original report is in black, added comments are in navy blue, and instructional notes are in red.

 

Mag Instruments Maglite Solitaire Flashlight

Reviewer Information

Name: Shane Steinkamp
Age: 33
Gender: Male
Height: 5' 10" (1.8 meters)
Weight: 240 lbs (108 kilos)
Email address: shane@theplacewithnoname.com
City: New Orleans (Metairie)
State: Louisiana 
Country: USA 
Date: October 15, 2002

Backpacking Background: Bit by the wandering bum disease at an early age, I have 10,000 plus miles (16,100 kilometers) of long distance hiking experience. After that I lost track... I have been hiking since age seven or eight, which is about 26 years. I have ranged from the southern tip of Baja to Barrow, Alaska and from coast to coast - although most of my wandering has been done west of the Mississippi river, with frequent trips in Florida. I have experienced all extremes of weather and terrain, with the exception of Antarctic terrain.

Product Information

Manufacturer:  Mag Instruments
Year of Manufacture: 1997
URL: http://www.maglite.com/  
Listed weight with battery: .86 Ounces (24.38 Grams)
Weight as delivered with battery:  .9 Ounces  (25.5 Grams)
Length: 3-3/16 Inches (81 Millimeters)
Width: 1/2 Inch (13 Millimeters)
MSRP: $6.95 (The Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price is optional.)

Battery Type: AAA (Energizer Alkaline included)
Bulb Burn Time (Bulb Life): None listed.  See report body for more information.
Battery Burn Time (Battery Life):  About six hours with Alkaline battery.
Illumination distance: 20 feet.

The Solitaire comes in a plastic blister pack that includes the flashlight, a battery, and a lanyard with a small key-ring on each end.  The lanyard is about three inches long (7.5 centimeters), and the key-rings are 1/2 inch (13 millimeters) in diameter.  The flashlight body is made of aluminum.  The Solitaire has the following features:

  • Manufactured in the U.S.A.

  • Limited Lifetime Warranty (10 year warranty in Germany & Sweden).

  • Precision machined high-strength aluminum alloy case with knurled design.

  • Anodized inside and out for improved corrosion resistance and durability.

  • Water and shock resistant.

  • High-intensity adjustable spot-to-flood beam with a twist of the head.

  • High-grade rubber seals.

  • Design balanced optics.

  • Spare lamp safely secured inside the tail cap.

  • Converts quickly to a free standing candle mode.

  • Several colors to choose from.  (Black, Blue, Red, Purple, Silver, Grey)

The Solitaire uses a single AAA battery.  In fact the Solitaire isn't much bigger than an AAA battery. The included AAA battery is installed by unscrewing the tail cap and inserting the battery into the body of the flashlight.  A spare bulb is included inside the tail cap.  The flashlight is operated by rotating the head of the flashlight.  The flashlight comes on with a wide beam that focuses more narrowly as you continue to rotate the head of the flashlight.  It will focus down to a very narrow beam.  If you continue to rotate it, the head will unscrew from the barrel, exposing the bulb.  The exposed bulb will remain lit, and provide light like a candle, hence the term 'candle mode'.  The bulb is replaced by removing the head from the barrel and pulling the bulb straight out of its socket.  A new bulb is then inserted, and the head reattached.  This is very easy to do.  You could continue to describe the function of the light in minute detail, such as how many turns it takes to remove the tail cap and the head - but at some point you will be providing too much information.  Think about what is useful to know, and try to eliminate the minutia.  If in doubt about something, include it, since it's better to have too much information than not enough.

Both the head and the tail cap fit well and water is prevented from entering the light by an O ring at each end. The light is water resistant, but is not protected from water when in 'candle mode' since the bulb and bulb socket are exposed.

I have carried the Solitaire on many trips over a period of several years, and in fact I have several of them as well as other Mag Instruments lights.  I have found them to be durable and dependable.  It works very well for basic camp use, such as finding things in my pack and short trips away from camp to fetch water or answer the call of nature.  The Solitaire works well as a reading light, and for other short-distance tasks like cooking.  The candle mode provides a wide, low-intensity light that is excellent for use as a lantern inside your tent or tarp.  The Solitaire isn't really well suited to night hiking, or other applications where a lot of light is needed.  It will throw a useable beam about 20 feet (6 Meters), but the light output isn't very good past that distance.  I don't think the Solitaire would function well as a signal light for this reason.  The Solitaire has a lanyard hole in the tail cap, and the lanyard can be attached through this hole.  I have never used the lanyard, so I cannot really comment on its functionality, but the lanyard hole allows you to hang the light inside your tent or tarp and use the candle mode - just be sure not to lose the head.

The Solitaire is advertised as water resistant, but I have found it to be water proof under most circumstances, and an excellent choice for working in wet environments.  I have dropped it in water numerous times, and there has never been a failure.  While the Solitaire has provided me with good service, I have noticed several negative things about the light over time.  Both the tail cap and the head contain a set of steel spring contacts.  Over time, these contacts don't provide good contact and the light can dim or even go out.  The remedy for this is to clean the contacts and from time to time bend them outward to better engage the barrel of the flashlight.  While the bulb life is excellent, I have found that dropping the light onto a hard surface when it is lit will sometimes cause the bulb to blow out.  Lastly, the lens is not scratch resistant, and after a few years it has become so scratched that it looks foggy, and I think that light output has suffered as a result of this.

In every case of failure or malfunction, however, Mag Instruments has replaced, free of charge, every light I have ever returned to them.  They even did this in one light where the battery had exploded.

After this, you could begin documenting some times and occasions when the light and its features were particularly useful to you.  Also, if the light failed in some major way, you could detail that, and any response you got from the company about the failure as well.

You can perform some simple tests on the light to test things like battery life.  Insert a new battery and note the time.  Check the light every ten or fifteen minutes and note when the light begins to dim, when it no longer provides useable light, and when it finally goes out.  From here you could begin to submit the light to all kinds of 'torture tests'.  The light is water resistant, so you could put it in a bucket of water for an hour.  You could drop it from various heights and angles.  You could put it through a dish washer, which is a pretty good way to simulate very bad weather conditions.  Want to know if it will survive white water rafting?  Put it in a clothes washer with a load of clothes.  Cold weather environments?  Put it in the freezer.  An interesting test would be to test the light at summer temperatures by seeing how long a battery lasts when the light is warm, then test the battery life with a new battery with the light in the freezer.  These little tests, done with things around the house, are fun and easy.  

Summary

The Solitaire is an excellent camp light, and is rugged and durable.  With the availability of the new LED lights, with their very long bulb life and long battery burn times, the Solitaire is probably no longer the best choice even for short-distance camp chores.

Things I like:

1.  Durable.
2.  Candle Mode.
3.  Small and Light.
4.  Lifetime Warranty 

Things I don't like:

1.  Short battery life.
2.  Failure of light due to weak contacts as the light ages.
3.  Lens is not scratch resistant.

So, there it is.  It can be as basic or as involved as you like.  As an additional note, you can include up to ten pictures or images with your review.  These will not appear in the text version, however, so it isn't necessary to worry about these right now; we'll cover that in the upload section.  Right now it's time to submit your review to the group in plain text format.

You have two options:

Return to the Introduction page or Continue to the next lesson, Submitting the Review.

 



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.

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