In the twenty or so year’s I’ve been working in the outdoors, outdoor gear products have proliferated. There are so many tents, jackets, stoves and ‘useful’ gadgets on the market it’s hard to see them all, let alone choose which one you want to buy.
Just one reason outdoor gear reviews have become so popular.
Back in the days when ‘influencer‘ wasn’t a global marketing term (or a dirty word), my first gear review for Two Blondes Walking extolled the virtues of merino wool, it was very tongue in cheek, mostly generic and didn’t include a link to a brand. Roll on ten years and I still opt for merino most mornings but now I sometimes get paid to write gear reviews.
Which explains why my office is currently stuffed full of two-person tents.
I feel it only fair here to point out that although gear reviews are fun to research and create, writing them doesn’t necessarily produce a livable income, even for an established outdoor writer. If you’re doing it properly, the review research alone takes a fair amount of time and writing up all the technical details takes concentration.
But these days gear reviews are one element of my outdoor writing income.
How to write an outdoor gear review
Why are gear reviews important?
How long is it since you bought something without finding an online review about it? Quite a while I guess but gear reviews aren’t just important to brands because they showcase a product. Here are three more reasons brands like to include gear reviews on their websites.
- Gear reviews, especially ones from expert consumers, build trust
- A reviewed product is more likely to sell well than one without a review
- Having gear reviews on a website can improve search ranking
But it isn’t just brands who like reviews,lots of consumers enjoy reading them too. Here’s why I think that is.
- For the inexperienced, buying outdoor gear can be confusing
- Gear reviews often explain technical language
- Seeing people like ourselves using gear can be encouraging
Which different types of gear review are there?
The online platforms for outdoor gear reviews are almost endless. We’ve all seen social media and YouTube reviews but as well as sitting there and on a brand’s own website, you might find gear reviews on community review sites like Trustpilot or subscription sites like Which?
Before you start writing your own gear reviews, it’s a good idea to read some different examples on a variety of sites. Some will be ultra technical, others will be more chatty, a few will be direct copies of supplier website information but what the consumer is really looking for is a gear review they feel they can trust.
Below are some of the different types of outdoor equipment reviews you can find online.
- Professional reviews written by industry experts
- Customer reviews written by people who have bought and used a product
- Blogger reviews written by (hopefully) expert influencers
- Affiliate reviews written by paid (possibly expert) influencers
- Reviews written by artificial intelligence
Do people actually trust outdoor gear reviews?
That’s a really good question and the answer is changing all the time.
These days most people understand that a small proportion of influencers get paid to promote outdoor gear and that a larger proportion receive gear in exchange for a review. In both these cases UK Advertising Standards require the influencer to be open and honest about the situation, using language such as ‘advertising feature’ or ‘ad feature’ instead of ambiguous terms such as ‘gifted by’ or ‘in association with’.
It could be however be argued that trust is more likely to be about a consumer’s perceived relationship with a particular writer than that writer’s recompense. If you’ve followed and admired someone’s approach to your favourite activity, it perhaps makes sense to trust what they say about gear.
Of course, not all reviews are influencer led. Many magazines and online platforms post gear reviews written by industry experts who know their stuff because they know those reviews will be of interest to their readership.
Ultimately whether a reader or viewer trusts a review is up to them. As a writer however it’s important to be honest about your findings. Your recognised future integrity depends on it.
Honesty though doesn’t always come easily, especially if you’re writing in exchange for gear or money. When I write reviews I try to put myself in the place of outdoor advisor. If the gear I’m reviewing will do the job it is intended to do, I say so. If not, well I explain why and exactly what it might be suitable for.
Not all gear reviewers take the same approach.
How much testing do you need to do to write a gear review?
In an ideal world all reviewers would test the outdoor gear they’re reviewing over a few months in a variety of conditions but deadlines, weather conditions and the words, ‘we’ll need you to return this one’ can mean this isn’t always possible.
Well, have you ever pitched a tent without getting it muddy?
Experience can often help. If you’ve walked in lots of pairs of walking boots and know how water can get in, which points are likely to become uncomfortable, how to test grip, and what a sturdy boot looks like, you can form a pretty good impression after one decent day walk (with a stream or puddles).
Some outdoor gear items are more easy to review than others, you can sleep on sleeping mattresses and cook on stoves in your garden. But testing crampons without ice and snow or tents without rain and wind can be problematic.
During a recent set of tent reviews I had nine to deal with so did the bulk of the writing whilst they were pitched in my lounge. But I was also really pleased to be able to take some of them wild camping, as well as test all nine together on the same windy, wet campsite, which gave me the opportunity to observe their performance over a number of hours.
Even that didn’t give me the true picture of how well those tents would stand up to ongoing stresses like UV damage, less careful usage or a really busy camping season.
Although there was one I would have been happy to keep and test forever.
In other words, the answer to the question, ‘How much testing should you do for a gear review?’ is as much down to your circumstances as your integrity. If you’re confident you can give a realistic and reliable impression without throwing the gear through super-rugged scenarios, go ahead and write. If you feel unsure, it’s time to get rolling in the mud to give the kit a really hard time.
Just be mindful of cleaning tasks if you’ve got to send it back!
How much detail should you add to an outdoor gear review?
When it comes to gear reviews, there’s a delicate balance between too much information and not enough. Unfortunately for us writers, that balance depends on the reader’s preference rather than our own. Here are my top tips for making sure your reviews fall on the side of ‘informative’ rather than ‘geeky’.
- Read lots of different types of reviews before you start.
- Understand the needs of your audience and client.
- Decide what you think the most important information is.
- Set up a template to make sure you cover everything.
- Remove some of the waffle by reading your finished review out loud.
What should you include in a gear review?
The first thing to remember when deciding what to include in an outdoor gear review is not to repeat verbatim what the manufacturer has already said. You also need to make sure your writing falls down on the right side of that rather subjective term, ‘geeky’.
You will want to include some of the manufacturer’s information, for example weight in gear that’s going to be carried or waterproofing in kit that needs to keep the rain out but there will also be a level of detail which might result in confusion, and you definitely want to avoid that.
If you’re wondering whether or not to include a piece of information in your outdoor gear review, ask yourself the following questions.
- Will your audience appreciate knowing this?
- Does your word count allocation allow for its inclusion?
- Has your client made a specific request for this information?
- Does it provide the right level of technical know-how?
- Is providing this information a matter of safety?
Which writing style should you choose for your outdoor gear review?
If you’re writing a gear review for your own website or social channels, you’ll know your audience and be able to develop your own style but if you’re being paid to write the reviews, your client or the brand may have some very clear style ideas.
Different styles can meet different objectives so it can help to be clear about these before you start.
- Keyword heavy reviews can have a positive impact on SEO.
- Friendly, chatty reviews can build your relationship with an audience.
- Technical reviews can demonstrate your expertise.
- Experience based reviews can sell an idea (and therefore gear).
- Over positive reviews can sound insincere and off-putting.
Of course we’re back to balance here. As well as telling the story of a piece of gear during a particular adventure, your client might want you to include a few keywords and mention some technical details. Or they might not.
One thing I can tell you is that the more gear reviews you write, the better you’ll be at getting the style right.
How can you get work writing gear reviews?
If you love getting outside, you probably also love your outdoor gear; mainly because it hopefully keeps you dry but also because it gives you something to chat about in the pub. Writing outdoor gear reviews is a great way of keeping up with trends but don’t expect it to make you rich or provide you with exactly the piece of kit you need at the moment you need it.
Over my gear review writing career I’ve reviewed more pairs of walking boots than anything else. To date none of these have been paid reviews but most of them have resulted in a free pair of boots. That means that anyone I know with size 7 feet has done rather well, as have any outdoor education stores I’ve been involved with.
It’s taken over ten years to get the point where I’m being paid to write gear reviews but I’m more than happy to share my tips if you want to try and reach those dizzy (but damp) heights yourself.
- Start by reviewing, on your own website, gear you’ve bought yourself.
- Don’t forget to tag brands and publications as you share your reviews.
- Don’t limit your writing to gear reviews, tell adventure stories too.
- Keep blogging and reviewing to build up your reputation and audience.
- Contact a few smaller brands with specific gear testing ideas.
- Use the keywords ‘gear review’ and ‘outdoor gear’ in your writing.
- Offer your review services pro bono to a few publications.
- Wait for someone to notice you!
I know, that last one isn’t very helpful but my experience suggests that, when it comes to writing jobs, persistence and patience work hand in hand. The more you persist at building your website and social following, the more your reputation will grow and the more attractive you’ll become to brands and publications.
It’s a bit like writing a resume. ‘I’ve hammocked in New Zealand, campervan road-tripped around Northern Norway and taught expedition skills in the UK’ sounds a lot more attractive than, ‘I like tents’.
But I do like tents.
I like them a lot.
Which is why I’m loving this aspect of my outdoor writing career.