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.