Getting into Gear Reviews
Equipment companies rely on reviews to enable users to understand their products and, consequently, make informed choices when selecting equipment or clothes. Peak Mountaineering has been delighted to have worked with many big brands over the last decade and our review service has become highly regarded and increasingly sought after. We thought it might be of interest to share some thoughts on our reasons for offering this service and to explain the ins and outs of equipment reviews. It should also prove useful for anyone looking to get into writing reviews themselves.
How did it all start?
Equipment has always been a key element in us being able to play in the mountains and I expect that anyone reading this also relies heavily on having the right gear for the job. Some of it, like a good hardshell jacket, I would consider to be essential and some, like the very expensive stove top oven we bought when travelling in New Zealand some years ago, is an enhancement to the outdoor experience rather than being a must have.
Each time you use a piece of equipment you are inevitably making judgements about how fit for purpose it is and my inquisitive nature means I always start considering how it could be made better. This also combined, many years ago, with me buying a sewing machine and starting to make up items of my own. I never got anywhere close to producing items that were shop quality, but I did gain some knowledge on what is involved in making functional items.
In addition to this, clients often love to share their thoughts or ask advice about equipment. They look at what their guides are wearing, peruse the options on the equipment lists we send out and have an invested interested in what is out there for their adventures.
Alongside this genuine interest in kit, I also enjoy writing. I like the process and have found that, by taking a laptop or iPad on my travels (I am writing this on my iPad on a flight to Nepal), I can actually make a reasonable amount of time available to write - particularly while away. It is a great way to create content for the website, I love having the chance to investigate and try new equipment and hope the reviews we post help guide outdoor folk in their purchases. Ultimately, I mostly do it because I really like doing it.
How do you get equipment to test?
Building up a good working relationship with manufacturers and the PR companies that represent them takes time, effort and perseverance. They want to know you will do what you claim you’ll do and they want to know you’ll do it fairly and thoroughly. They do value giving products to outdoor professionals because they know it will get a thorough testing and they do want their products to be tested properly but I imagine, if you can make enough of a case, anyone can persuade them to provide something.
They also want to know what exposure you’ll give to their products. This is fair enough. How many people will you reach with your reviews via your website and what is your social media presence? They might also, initially at least, ask about the testing process and often they will want to set a deadline for the review - you will need to stick with those deadlines.
Developing these relationships takes time and effort. It also takes perseverance. You’ll get far more rejections than accepts in the early stages. The companies will also want to test you out as well. Initially, you might persuade them to send a low cost item and, once they have seen what you can produce, they may be willing to send something that costs a little more.
It always helps if you can point them towards other reviews you’ve produced and so it may be worth buying some items to review first or reviewing things you already own. You can then point towards those reviews as examples when you contact them.
It also pays to keep in good communication with the manufacturer or PR company. Let them know when the review goes live and send them a link to it (they WILL read what you write!) and keep them informed if there will be a delay to publication. They will usually be understanding if there is a genuine reason for the delay, but would rather know in advance instead of having to chase you up. I also, if needed, sometimes ask for additional info on products or manufacturing processes - the companies are proud of what they make and will be more than happy to talk to you about it.
Remember, above all else, that you will only be one of many people that are hammering on their door and they have finite marketing budgets and resources available. It has to be worth their while to supply you with items to test.
How does it work when you are given a product to test?
Some people might be in a position where companies will pay them to publish reviews but I don’t know too much about that world. We operate a simple system where companies provide product and, once reviewed, we get to keep it. Very occasionally, with new to market products that are in short supply, we may agree to test an item and then send it back to the company. Most times, however, keeping the product becomes the payment.
The review process
There are a lot of reviews out there and it is a great way to find out about a new product before purchase. The rise of web based reviews has also changed the game massively. It is also clear, when you surf around, that many reviews aren’t particularly in-depth. There has also been criticism levelled at reviewers that may avoid being negative about aspects of a product because they want the company to keep sending items.
Luckily, we live in a competitive climate and almost all products we are sent to test nowadays are great. I very rarely find myself testing a sub standard item. However, I’ve always vowed to be honest with the manufacturers and will say what we think and they almost always respect that. They want to know about any flaws in their items too. You can often say something negative in a constructive way anyway.
It is also important that you test the items in real world conditions and the timescale for that should be flexible. I was recently asked to test and review a waterproof jacket in just a week which felt like far too short a timescale given that the forecast was set to be pretty dry and I would only be out for a few mountain days during that time. I chose to say no to this rather than patch together a snap shot review that wouldn’t test the jacket properly and compromised the standards I want to work to. Sometimes, the best call is to turn the opportunity down.
So, I hope that insight has been useful and I hope you will look towards writing some reviews. It is rewarding, it is a great service to outdoor goers and it is fun. It just takes perseverance, good networking skills and dedication. Good luck!
Posted by Paul