That’s not a review

The internet makes experts of all, that much is certain.   What is less so is how to know which items are worth the time they take to read.  Just going for a walk has become “gear testing.”  This should be condemned for two reasons.  First, it’s bullshit.  Second, it supports the talking before doing acquisitionalism which is a cultural poison; a subject I’ve thoroughly covered this year.   Below I present some suggestions for judgement.


The first principle is personal credibility.  Yes, you can know a lot without being deep in a given activity, and yes, narratives aren’t some peoples forte, but if life and/or preference prevents you from getting out and beating on stuff regularly you shouldn’t be writing gear reviews.  Absent at least mildy compelling and regular direct evidence of your involvement, no one should take you seriously.  The bent of the net requires such skepticism.

A review is predicated on either comparative analysis of a products place within the market, or a historical perspective on how it was developed and why it is worth attention.  Ideally both, though neither have to be especially prominent, or even given many words.  The writer should know a lot more than they’re putting on screen.  Picking over a dozen websites and manufacturer specs on a spreadsheet is a public service, but not a review.

The obvious antecedent to this is that a review is not possible without extensive use.  30 days in the field minimum.  “Unboxings” and the like are important, to get accurate specs for new products if nothing else, but should not be construed as reviews.

A long term review should occur only after a product has been broken, worn out, or used regularly for over a year.  Your attention span can take it.

There are certain products which cannot be reviewed.  50 dollar flip flops would be a salient example; they’re just stupid, and the Form of stupidity is not subject to further comment.  Engaging in such nonsense undoes a lot of good accrued under my first point.

That is all.  Now go forth, break things, and tell us about it.

18 responses to “That’s not a review”

  1. Maybe we need to start doing meta-reviews or reviews of the reviewers.

    1. Damien I totally agree with you – I got halfway through this post and thought about how hysterical (I mean critically important) it would be to have a website that was all reviews of reviewers of outdoor gear… and a robust forum where people got all bent out of shape when others called Bullshit on their favorite reviewers.

      Because of my complete lack of faith in the internet I’m kind of surprised it doesn’t already exist…

      I’m also kind of disappointed D even bothered writing this…

      c’est la vie.

  2. […] Nice article on Bedrock & Paradox by Dave, “That’s not a review” […]

  3. Credibility always shows through to the readers. Bloggers that are credible build large viewerships without trying, and their viewers end up trusting everything the blogger writes. For example, you, Dane at Cold Thistle, Lou & Co at Wildsnow, etc. However, those that just unbox a product, use it for an hour, and then pronounce judgment like they are King Salomon, are taken with a grain of salt (e.g , Gear Junkie). Each to their own.

  4. I agree with you for the most part. However, thirty days is stretching it for reasonable turnaround on a review since the company sends you the stuff to get press, and if you don’t get your review published, the PR people are breathing down your neck like there’s no tomorrow (seriously, one dude sent me five fucking emails in two days INCLUDING a copy of a return receipt email to show me that he knew I’d read his previous email and not responded just yet). You got a free product,. you should do your best to hold up your end of the deal. Harder than most people (most people not having run a gear-based site) realize. A year is way too long for this arrangement. I do notice that big brands (Patagonia) never, ever give me any shit for not doing a review in a particular time frame, but developers of new, crappy gear AND people trying to launch PR firms are terrible about it.

    That said, yes, some gear reviewers are a fucking goddamn joke, wearing something on a two-mile shuffle around a city park in a Midwestern suburb and calling it a “”gear test.” And then having piles of new gear sent to them for “testing!” Dammit, gear world.

    On the other hand, though, a gear review is an opinion, and everyone’s entitled to one. Lou D.’s opinions about some things are totally opposite to my opinions on some things. The dude can’t figure out how to use Dynafits efficiently, and for that he pans the binding and tells people not to use it? Please. But those are opinions, and those are what we have to offer.

    1. Wow. This is the most hubris filled comment I have pretty much ever read. “The Head Geargal” slagging Lou Dawson? Lou’s got waaaaay more cred than you will ever have, and if you don’t agree with him, that’s fine, but to throw out a stupid comment like that? Lame with a capital L.
      Gear reviews pretty much suck anyhow. The net has given punters everywhere the opportunity to be instant “experts”. Gear reviews tend to be just an easy way to fill up blog posts with superfluous verbiage.

      1. And you are?

        Lou himself said he can’t use Dynafits without fumbling. Go forth and read, if you can see around the glow from the expert halo you have placed an those you deem worthy. :rolls eyes:

    2. Fortunately the ground rules laid down for 90% of the capital R reviews I do are much more generous than that. I can’t see doing it any other way. I’m currently polishing up two articles where 90 days was barely enough time to do the project justice.

      1. I think most people can figure out if they like an item within a few legitimate uses. It’s isn’t brain surgery. One can’t comment on durability at that point, but most reviewers, myself included, will go back and comment on anything that comes out with further use. There’s no reason an experienced person can’t use a jacket five times and not be able to review it in some depth. I’ve reviewed stuff I only used once and hated. Or that I used once and loved. At this point I know what I’m looking for and know how to tell when I’ve found it. It really doesn’t have to be more difficult than that.

  5. Nick posted a link to your blog. Wow.

    The snowshoe rabbit is too funny. a 308? If you shoot a rabbit with that at at the correct angle, it’ll gut the rabbit for you, too! LOL

    1. No kidding. I’d love a combo gun (say, .243 and 12 gauge) for taking small game on big game hunts, but the only model which is acceptably light is also very pricey (Blaser). Until then, short range precision shots with a rifle will have to do.

  6. Some shit can be assessed within an abbreviated window of use, while other goods require or lend themselves to a more thorough thrashing over an extended period of time. Let’s also not forget that geographical location and all the idiosyncratic differences of place do matter when discussing gear. A single spring season scrambling around in the desert is going to put a lightweight backpack through the paces far more than an entire year of backpacking in the Bay Area, for example, but both are valid periods of time for an effective review IMO. You seem to forget, or at least didn’t mention, that for every “Dave Chenault” of the outdoor world getting their hands dirty on a consistent basis, by choice, there are 1000x more inconsistent weekend warriors out there dropping coin on gear with a more provisional mindset- “I’m going to need a new tarp for that 5-day trip in the Sierras in August”. As qualified as you think you may be, and in fact are, most outdoor gear consumers probably can’t relate to your experience Dave and/or don’t require a solid year of evaluation to be the impetus for their purchase. This is where generic “reviewers” like the editors of Gear Lab come in and clean up passing off glorified gear smut. I agree completely with your sentiment here, but find your judgement and criteria is a standard that the majority of consumers care very little for. This is the reality I see, but maybe I’m off base. Those that do care? Well, they’re not browsing Outside Magazine’s 2013 Best of Gear to determine their needs, they know what shit works for them.

    1. Excellent points all. The vociferation of my opinions is doubtless based on the extent to which said reviewers ought to know better, and the extent to which he Hiker Mittys of the world get misled by that lack of integrity. And I think OGL usually does a bang up job. Mac should have published that flipflop article on April 1.

    2. I want to offer a countering opinion. As someone with a limited budget for gear, I can’t shell out on a bunch of stuff just to try it or use it for a single trip. I have to look at purchases as investments, so although I don’t have the experience level or access to big wilderness that Dave and other thorough reviewers do, their reviews give me a much better idea about things like flaws and the expected life of a product, even if I never intend to cross the tundra with it. I think you’re probably right that the majority research their purchases less discriminately, but high-caliber adventurers aren’t the only ones benefitting from high-quality reviews.

  7. A majority of gear reviewers are motivated by two stimuli… financial or ego. Gear Reviewers are willing participants trying to make a financial gain in the outdoor industry that everyone loves or said reviewers see gear reviews as a visible way to exhibit and expand their ‘Mountain Cred’… pure ego-fluffing. Very few reviewers write gear reviews as a purely pedantic service. How many gear reviews do we need of a particular piece of gear? Let’s face it, most gear designed and constructed today is built upon a foundation of preexisting gear, already proved successful or not. Durability issues aside, most gear is purely preferential, based mostly, I would assume on fit and application.

    I would much rather read an extensive trip report that in the end might have a brief right up of what gear worked and didn’t in that particular situation. In my mind that would be a more relevant and useful review. Also, an extensive trip report would automatically lend credence to the reviewers ‘mountain cred’ and by extension, take the reviewer and his/her bias out of the review. For example, the Patagonia Ultralight Down Hoody, to see that particular item used in ten different trip reports of different locales one could conclude whether said hoody would be applicable to their kit or not. Separate trip reports by yourself, Luc Mehl, Ike at BPL and myself using the same jacket would definitely prove as useful as, if not more so, than a weekend warrior sitting in a cubicle writing or one person’s 90 day-use review. Essentially, the actual trip defines the success of said product. If the user didn’t notice the piece of equipment on the trip, the gear was successful in design, intention and function. Take the reviewer and his ego out of the review all together.

  8. immedieately I think of all the sawyer mini “reviews” that are out there. The most horrid has to be sticks blog. He takes it from the box, runs some hose water through it and proclaims how amaizing it is. On the other hand I’d like to see a “review” of the uniqlo down gear to see how it fits and such. Some things being online only it’s nice to see in a little more dynamic view. Long term review would be even better.

  9. I’m a big fan of wallet reviews myself.

  10. […] may have given them some shit recently, but a few weeks ago Outdoor Gear Lab atoned for any past sins and then some, with an […]

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