There has been a lot of discussion recently amongst bloggers about kit reviews, particularly when kit has been provided free of charge to review. As I do kit reviews I thought I would take this opportunity to put forward my opinion.
My first proper review was in May 2010, when I wrote about the awesome (and still very much in use) Orikaso folding plate / bowl / cup I bought on the recommendation of Backpacking Light. This was quickly followed by a review of the Brasher Supalite II GTX boots I was given by Brasher for Offa’s Dyke (they were brilliant for Offa’s Dyke, but have recently been usurped by my Keen Targhee II shoes). Since April I have been writing reviews of kit given to me by Webtogs. I would also like to do more reviews of the kit I have bought myself, but I never seem to have the time.
One of the arguments against reviews when the item reviewed is provided free of charge is that the reviewer cannot be objective. To an extent this is true – you are bound to have a slight bias towards whoever provided the kit, but you also have bias towards your favourite brands or towards your favourite piece of kit. We all have bias. As long as you are open and upfront to declare any potential grounds for bias then the reader will adjust the weight they give your review accordingly.
The same is true for how long the item was tested / used and in what conditions. As long as you are honest and mention any gaps in your review the reader will take that into account. Let’s not forget that the reader is not basising their decision to buy something just on your review – they will be reading several blogs, official ‘professional’ reviews, and anything else that comes up on Google before making that final decision.
Another viewpoint is that you should only do reviews if you are an expert. I do not agree with this. The term “blogger” covers a large spectrum of people from the near professional to the complete novice. The opinion of a novice is not invalid as long as they went out and tried an item and are honest on what they did and what they thought. Granted a novice does not have enough experience to recommend one product over another, but they are certainly capable of giving their views on how an item performed for them for the activities they do.
Personally I think that as long as you are open on any possible grounds for bias and you are honest in what you did and over how long, to reach your opinion, then there is no harm in anyone reviewing a product.
When I receive something to write a review on, I typically use it for at least a month before writing the review and I try and use it as much as I can in a variety of conditions. Ultimately I am primarily a countryside hiker who occasionally heads to the hills, and I try and reflect that in what I write and how I reach my conclusions. I commit a lot of time and effort to the review process to try and make sure the final review is honest, fair and balanced summary that will help people like me with researching whether to buy a product or not. Kit is a very personal thing, what works for someone does not work for someone else – if you disagree with a review, or have additional information, then write a comment!
The one idea I really like though, which Hendrik mention in his post (credited to Steven Horner), is the idea of living reviews. As bloggers we can go back and update the posts at a later date with more information on how the product performed over a longer period of time. This is something I am going to start doing from now on.
But as a final thought I completely agree with Hendrik: “you don’t need gear to go outdoors”. Just get out there and enjoy the countryside!