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A Note on SectionHiker’s Product Reviews, Gear Raffles and Reader Polls

I like reviewing backpacking gear, in part because it gives me an excellent excuse to go backpacking and day hiking a few days per week. But I’m very picky about the gear I review because it has to be useful for the objectives, route conditions, and weather that I expect to encounter on my trips, since I insist on using the gear I test and review before writing about it.

I guess what I’m saying is that there are many hiking and backpacking products that I’ll never get around to reviewing because they’re irrelevant for the types of trips I take or because I simply don’t have time to take them on trips.

You wouldn’t know it, but I turn down offers from manufacturers who want me to review their gear every day because it doesn’t suit my needs. A lot of it is simply commoditized junk like the loudest portable speakers, bluetooth grilling thermometers, EDC knives and tools, portable battery packs and solar panels, and snack food churned out by Kickstarter wannabes who need a business plan and just want free PR. I don’t clutter Section Hiker up with that crap.

Most of the gear that is reviewed is stuff I buy myself or specific items that I ask manufacturers to send me that I can put to use in the places and conditions I hike in. (Sometimes they let me keep it and sometimes they just loan it to me and I have to return it.) But I’m not interested in testing and reviewing gear that I can’t use. My time is too precious to waste, if you know what I mean.

That’s where all of the Section Hiker Reader Polls and Raffles I host come into play.

I view the readers who frequent Section Hiker as a community, quite a nice and courteous one as a matter of fact, which people like to visit because they can get friendly and helpful advice and information from me or other readers. I know I benefit immensely from the comment threads and interaction on the site because I learn a lot about from others about gear, techniques and locales that I don’t know much about.

The Warbonnet Blackbird Hammock Review I published this week is a good example. Earlier this year, I decided that I needed to try out backpacking hammocks (again) for hiking the southern half of the Appalachian Trail where it’s tough to find good camp sites. I got in touch with a few Section Hiker regulars who lent me gear, answered my questions, and brought me rapidly up to speed and up to date, since I’ve used a hammock shelter in the past. Four months of product testing on trips and I have a good grasp of the strengths and weaknesses of hammocks in the conditions I need them for,

Section Hiker’s Reader Polls and Raffles (which are simply incented reader polls), provide an avenue for readers to share their opinions and what they know with each other and me, about gear that I am not expert with or hiking and backpacking techniques/conditions that I can’t write authoritatively about. I am not the only expert hiker on Section Hiker, not by a long shot, and my polls and raffles are a place where readers can share their questions and expertise with one another.

The results of these reader polls and raffles are also used to tally the annual SectionHiker’s Readers’ Choice Awards which reflect our community’s top gear picks and choices. This is one of primary information sources I use to collate this information.

I also use Section Hiker’s raffles to help get rid of the sample gear I get from manufacturers. I have a house full of stuff and I am happy to give away the free gear that manufacturers send me since it would remain unused and just clutter up my house.

I also think it’s wrong to sell free product samples you get from manufacturers, including sponsors, but that’s just my opinion. Unlike many other online gear review sites, I don’t charge manufacturers to have their gear reviewed on Section Hiker or give advertising discounts to them in exchange for review gear. That raises to many conflict-of-interest questions about reviewer objectivity in my mind and is one of the chief reasons I don’t participate in sponsorship programs any more. Selling free gear samples also has tax implications that I’d rather not complicate my life with, and so the only gear that I sell is personal gear that I’ve purchased with my money, since that can’t be taxed.

Finally, some bloggers think that they have to give a manufacturer a glowing review if they get a free product from them. I don’t. If a product is awful, a bad value, or flawed in some way, you’ll get my true evaluation of it. My loyalties lie with my readers. Period. Gear manufacturers know this and it’s the chief reason I get free product samples from many manufacturers. If you get a good review on Section Hiker, you’ve earned it.


  1. Awesome post! It’s really neat to hear your motivations and logic spelled out. I know I’ve often looked to your blog for gear reviews and tips on gear I didn’t even know existed. It’s good to know honesty is your priority. Thanks!

  2. After reading this blog on a regular basis, it was pretty clear to me that you weren’t the type of guy who would simply write glowing reviews in order to rack up affiliate sales. Your love of hiking and your willingness to share and educate your readers shines through in a big way. Your site is a shining example of how people who earn income through affiliate sales should conduct themselves. No need to cheat or lie to people. Just provide your readers with interesting, enjoyable content. And if you can educate and entertain them along the way, you’ve hit a home run. Without question, you’ve done this in a big way.

    Thanks for taking the time to confirm what most of us already know – that this is a top flight site operated by a top flight individual.

  3. This is the reason that Section Hiker is the website I recommend to new hikers when they ask me where they can learn about gear. I know it has been a tremendous help to me.

  4. Thank you for your unbiased reviews, the reason I read and share your blog!

  5. Thanks for all of the help you’ve provided, keep up the good work

  6. Section Hiker is my go-to website when I’m trying to figure out what kind of new gear to get. Thanks for explaining why.

  7. I’ve enrolled many friends in SH precisely because its an honest place. Thanks for the warbonnet review.

  8. I bought the Exped Lightning Pack based on your review, and glad I did. The only advice I didn’t follow was buying the 60. I went with the 45 instead.

  9. I love the honesty and objectivity that goes into your gear analysis. No one wants to be misled.

    Keep up the great reviews!


  10. Much appreciated Phil.

  11. I appreciate the honesty in your posts and trust your opinions. Thank you for taking time to help us all out with your reviews

  12. Integrity is a beautiful thing.

  13. Philip I almost always agree with your reviews(great mind’s think alike). Keep doing it just like you are. People need to know the negatives as well as the positives before they spend a fortune on a piece of equipment. My hat is off to you and all you do.

  14. Philip, your integrity and honesty is something we always knew

  15. Hi Philip,

    I appreciate your unbiased reviews and figured you stopped being a GG ambassador partly to show you were not biased.

    I also appreciate that you won’t review items you aren’t going to use. However your statement turned and sorta suggested that the stuff you don’t review is crap. I don’t think you meant that. Clearly you are asked to review crap that is useless to anyone as well as quality items from goods companies that don’t fit your needs. It would be interesting to get a peek at the latter category.

    It is great to see in depth quality reviews, especially for cottage industry gear, with comparisons to gear you’ve reviewed before. That’s what I find best at section hiker and a couple other sites. Keep up the good work.

    • I don’t get that many inbound offers to review gear (except the crap I mentioned) because I have a lot of established relationships with brands. They tell me what they’re working on and what’s new and let me choose what I want to review, But more often than not, I choose items that have already been on the market for a year or more and that I consider affordable by my readers, rather than chasing the latest shiny object. I don’t want to be a “news” site full of fluff announcements about the latest do-dad. I prefer writing substance.

      As for the cottages, I spent most of my pre-blogger professional life developing new products in very small companies and like working with them to help them hone their product ideas to provide more value to their customers. I do this for fun and because I learn a lot in the process. It’s really helped develop my product review skills and given me a lot of insight into materials selection and the economics of manufacturing for smaller gear companies.

      As for why I stopped being an ambassador for Gossamer Gear and Railriders. I wanted to work freely with other brands without having to justify my impartiality, but I was also burned out on working with them and wanted to sample the gear world more widely again. That was a good move.

      But I also have really mixed feelings about gear sponsorships. While they benefit the hikers that receive them, they hurt consumers when the sponsor pressures the recipients to publicly endorse their products en masse on blogs and social media. I find the practice most distasteful and figured I’d lead the pack by refusing all sponsorships from now on. That’s my opinion only. Getting free gear can help a lot of people, but it goes bad when there are online public relations obligations tied to it.

  16. Thanks for not pushing gear or reviews on stuff that no one is going to use. I’ve always enjoyed your honest review of gear.

  17. As an accountant, I have to add a caveat to your statement about not paying tax on the sale of items for personal use. If you were to sell a personal belonging for more than you originally paid for it, you are technically required to report the difference as a capital gain (income) on your tax return. Since most items are sold for less than their original purchase price, they generally cannot be taxed as you accurately stated. Please pardon my nitpicking.

    On a more earnest note, I greatly appreciate your reviews and have often taken them into consideration in making my own gear choices. I have always believed your reviews to be unbiased and have never had any reason to think otherwise. Please keep doing what you’re doing.

    • Thanks for that clarification Matt. Luckily I don’t have any collector’s items (yet) and sell my used gear at a hefty discount.

    • HI, Matt: As a fellow accountant, I think it’s fair that we disclose the definition of our profession: “Accountants are the troops who go in after the battle is lost to bayonet the wounded.” :)

  18. Thank you for your honesty and integrity. These are character traits I value the most. It is missed, and needed IMHO. I visit you site everyday because of that, and also my need, and desire to learn how I may do things better.

    I appreciate what you do and not blowing smoke.

    Keep up the good work!!!!

  19. I really appreciate your reviews. In fact, when I need new gear, you the first places I go to find out about good, light weight gear. Why? Because I trust you and I know that you care about the hiking community and are honest. Thank you!

  20. … and this is why your blog is one of my favorite blogs these days. I respect and enjoy reading your reviews, even when it’s for stuff I don’t use, and I am happy you are not going for every single new and shiny thing.

  21. I’ve learned a bunch from your reviews since I know you’re going to “tell it like it is”. I’ve also found out about a number of other useful products from the comments of readers of your blog. This has been a very useful (and sometimes expensive–but don’t tell my wife) resource for me. Keep it up!

    One of these days we’ll get to meet in person… and you’ll find out how slow an old Grandpa can hike!

  22. Thanks for your honesty! I have definitely come to trust your insights, and now it is clear why!

  23. thank you for you statement and your usual Honesty. As you probably have guessed over time I loathe Marketing Maggots in the realm of Backpacking Gear…Your Posts remind me of Mr. Rodale who started a number of Magazines back in the 60’s and 70’s two of which I was one of the original 300 subscribers too. In ther area of Backpacking a voice was needed to wade through all the Merchandizers Baloney to get at the truth amongst all the claims….Mr. Rodale did that… Mr Rodale would take the equipment apart, either verbally or physically and take it out and test it, back then the BS factor came in the most on the Products Claimed Weight..So Mr. Rodale would Publish the Alleged Weight as claimed by the Manufacturer and the Actual Weight as by his own Postal Scales. Advertisers and Merchandisers DID NOT LIKE THAT AT ALL.Some withdrew their advertising dollars and advertised in other upcoming Magazines that were less caring about real and fantasy of the Marketing world…… Some items had as much as 4 pounds difference in Claims..Another area was Breatheable and Waterproof. Sadly he passed on and those who took over for him after he died did not carry on in the same traditions and well have suffered for it… In todays world of marketing maggots they try to CONTROL the content and I hear threaten withholding advertising in your vehicle or publications.. So it is refreshing to argue and banter and point out issues and such to someone like yourself who has to almost fight to keep their Individualism and Integrity for the minute you cross over, I think a lot of readers will go somewhere else…….thank you for doing what you do….. And yes anything over the price of $150.00 IS NOT AFFORDABLE…and that was one of Mr. Rodales peeves as well.. The marketing maggot trying to convince people $350 was very affordable,,,it is nowhere near being affordable… This year I will have been Backpacking for 50 years….

  24. This is why your blog is the standard by which all other hiking blogs are measured!

  25. Thank you! Your integrity and principle centered perspective is refreshing.

  26. I’ve mentioned it before but your integrity is one of the main reasons why I frequent your site. Keep up the good work.

  27. Thank you for your honesty and kindness in your gear reviews and raffles.

    I’m not sure how much extra gear you actually have lying around you house, but I imagine it might be a lot. You mentioned the Section Hiker community, which is quite apparent in reading the user comments and seeing many familiar names again and again. This raised a thought. I understand you live in the greater Boston area, have you ever considered hosting a meet-and-greet gathering to promote face to face interaction amongst your readers (and perhaps gear giveaways)? I recently attended the REI garage sale, found some great deals, and felt like something like a gear swap meet/ meet and greet might be perfect for your reader community. I understand your reader community stretches far and wide, not just in New England, so I can understand hesitancy to do something like that so as to not exclude non-New Englanders. Just a thought I had and figured I’d share.

    Keep up the great work.

  28. I second or eighteenth all of the above comments. I appreciate not only your objectivity but also, as a writer, I appreciate the work you put into making the blog a good read.

  29. After about 16 months of following your articles and reading the comments, I’ve learned and changed so much in my approach that I haven’t done in the 26 years prior. You don’t feed us bull, there is always someone who can answer just about any question imaginable…

    Guess what I’m trying to say is please keep on doing such outstanding work and thanks for everything

  30. Philip,

    Outdoor men and women who use reviews to assist them in their search for gear need to know two things, themselves and the person reviewing the gear. When people know their limits and they know how those limits apply to the reviewers experience, they can safely use that information to make an informed decision. I know when you state something will keep YOU warm to 30 degrees it will keep ME warm only to 50 degrees, maybe 45 degrees.

    I have a hard time staying warm so I test my gear ahead of time. Through this testing I have come to know most of my limits. I know I can apply this knowledge of myself against your experiences because you’re consistent and you’re not sandbagging for a manufacturer.

    You also allow your site to be a format to start dialog about products or issues and while not everyone agrees with each other, you get excited when that dialog happens. Because of your values, I have been able to put together a kit with gear that I have confidence in and keeps me safe at my level of tolerance.

  31. You just validated why I never miss a post. Thank you for your passion and honesty.

  32. Like all of the others have said, I truly appreciate your honesty and approach to gear reviews. There are too many others that base their reviews on what they can get out of it and not what is best for all those who read them.

  33. Mr. Werner, Section Hiker is the very best site out there! As a contributor to the forum I enjoy your thoughts and ideas as well as all the other contributors. Although I only respond to equipment I use, reading all the reviews is very informative and enjoyable to me. Thanks so much for Section Hiker.

  34. Phil is the man love your trail reviews

  35. Thanks for your time and honest gear evaluation process!

  36. Thanks Phillip! These are some of the reasons I keep coming back to your blogs and reviews. I am relatively new to backpacking and I learn a lot here – both from you – and also from all the people who contribute their thoughtful comments and experiences.

  37. Great to know. This is 100% the best backpacking blog/website on the internet. Keep up the good work.

  38. stand up guy hope to meet you on trail some day

  39. You’re a class act Phillip. Great work keep it up.

  40. I’m new to the site — and really appreciating it!! — but have questions about the raffle process. I just entered one by commenting as requested, but are the winners on the results page listed most recent first or last? Will the winner be notified by email or need to keep an eye on the page? Thanks, and off to explore the site some more… :-)

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