“The only sponsor I have is the Salvation Army, a place I can get clothes cheap.”
– Dick Griffith, “father of packrafting” and legendary Alaska backcountry adventurer
In general, having the right type of gear and knowing how to use it is much more important than having the latest and greatest new products. Still, gear plays a big role in outdoor safety and comfort, and anyone can attest that talking about gear (whether praising, critiquing, or cursing) is one of the most spirited veins of trail conversation. The purpose of my Reviews page is to help you make informed choices about specific products, and more importantly to encourage critical thinking about your gear and how to use it best.
Common Problems with Product Reviews
Below are a few of the most common problems I’ve identified with outdoor product reviews.
- Inadequate use. Many reviews seem to be written after the product has been unboxed and tried on in the office, ridden down a couple bumpy trails, or paddled around a lake for an hour. Inadequate testing means the review can’t capture the product’s performance under varied conditions or its durability. Virtually all product photos show the product brand-new, which is the least helpful condition under which to see it.
- Conflicts of interest. In this past, this was mostly a problem with reviews by magazines and other commercial enterprises, which depend on maintaining good relationships with product manufacturers for advertising. More recently, companies have begun sending free or discounted products to ordinary consumers in exchange for “free and unbiased reviews”, which of course aren’t.
- Recitation of marketing hype. Outdoor gear manufacturers are notorious for making excessive claims, perhaps because they know that many customers won’t be putting those claims to the test. For those who rely on their gear in remote places however, inaccurate claims about gear can lead to discomfort or even some level of danger. Many reviews recite marketing terms and recycle product descriptions, rather than perform real-world testing.
- Fake reviews. This is primarily a problem with short, unverifiable user-supplied reviews, such as those on Amazon. Nobody knows how many user-submitted online reviews are fake, but estimates range between 30 and 60%.
Reviews on Winterbear
In light of the problems sketched out above, I’ve tried to take a little different approach to standard product reviews here on Winterbear.
- All product reviews are written entirely by me with no input from the product maker.
- All reviewed products are purchased independently with no agreement of any kind between myself and the product maker. Winterbear does not include any sponsored reviews or reviews of sponsored, discounted-for-review, or similarly promoted products. In cases where product makers sponsor(ed) me or have provided sponsored products for expeditions I’ve been a part of, I don’t review sponsored products on Winterbear and I wait a full two years before reviewing any product from that maker.
- I only review products that I’ve used for an extended period of time, in a variety of conditions appropriate to test the product.
- All media on review pages (photos, videos, etc.) depicts the exact product being reviewed and shows the product in (or after) use–sometimes heavy use.
- Though I welcome disagreement, I won’t alter a critique that I believe is valid unless I’ve made a objective factual error (for example, listing an incorrect weight for a product, etc.).
- I sometimes contact product makers with questions or to tell them about a problem I’ve encountered with their products. In these communications I try to be as honest and straightforward as possible, and never demand free repairs or replacements. When contacting companies I never identify myself as a reviewer/writer. This allows me to provide less biased information about a company’s reponsiveness.
If you have any questions about my reviews or would like to make a comment or correction, please feel free to get in touch!