Product Review Policy
… or Did you blag that Dáithí ?
I like my outdoor hobbies and sports. And I have a few: All of those summer and winter mountaineering pastimes in the Alps, Pyrénees, Jotunheimen and elsewhere. Then back in Britain, there’s the town and country rambling, long distance and hill-walking. In Ireland there’s also the sailing, cycling, kayaking and more.
I have great friends to enjoy them with too. But every now and then I’ll be wearing something fresh, or pull a new piece of kit out of a pocket or a sack, and there will be the inevitable: Did you blag that Dáithí? These days I’m well rehearsed and usually have some smart reply at the ready.
But it’s a legitimate question to put to a journalist and product reviewer. And it deserves an honest response. Here then is my answer. My personal review policy.
Why do I review products on Best Walks?
Like everything else, product reviews vary in quality. Ranging from the thorough and brutally honest to the cursory, casual and borne of the need for the publisher to earn revenue. So rule number one: Not all reviews are created equal.
And as a walker, backpacker and mountaineer, over the years, I’ve fallen victim and trusted reviews that turned out not to have my best interests at heart. And it’s cost me a hard-earned income – and sometimes more. Like the time my watch/altimeter froze on Mont Blanc. I’ve also discovered some heavily berated products to be perfect gems. Rule number two: Let the buyer beware.
I have a voice. An opinion about what I need out on the mountain. About how things should be expected to perform and the balance between utility and cost. Rule number three: You are your own best judge. I provide at least some of the information you need to make that judgement. Based on sharing the same passion about the outdoors as you. And using the product for real.
Keeping me honest
You’re the boss. I don’t just have a compulsion to write, I want to be read. In my career as a writer, organisations have produced as many as 250,000 copies, and more, of books and brochures that I have written and co-written. It’s my equivalent of wanting fame. I want my words to be read. I want to attract you and other readers, and I want to give you interesting, engaging and valuable quality content, to keep you coming back. That’s what keeps me honest.
How do I choose a product for review
It’s a very clear process. It has three stages. And it has a budget.
- I identify a need/want: This could be something, for example, that I want as a solo backpacker; or when I’m mountaineering with my photographer Natasha Isabelle. Or it might be something that you want. That is I put myself in the position of some of my readers. Look at their needs, wants, likes/dislikes and budget (often by talking with some of them that I know). We’ll make a list of what it needs to do, what characteristics it needs to have. And they’ll help me set a budget.
- I research the options: Then as thoroughly as possible I conduct my research into the products available, I read specs on the internet. Maybe email or phone the manufacturer as a potential customer. I visit stores and look at the products, I get feedback from sales assistants, other walkers & campers, and pick up opinions from social media. I even consider carefully if it’s something I could make myself.
- I make a choice: After careful consideration I choose one or more products that I think will do the job. Often there are two or three that look to be suitable. There is a lot of competition in the outdoor industry now. So such matters as environmental policy will impact on the first choice.
So I have chosen this example product, as though I were going to buy it myself – which I may actually do. I’ve used all the information and criteria available to me and come up with what I think is the best option available. And on Best Walks, I have yet to review a product that has not been chosen by this process.
At this point I make contact with the manufacturer, or their distributor or both. And request a sample review copy, and offer a return date. Sometimes they will tell me return is not necessary. This is a key reason I need to be sure this is a product I am going to believe in, am going to want to use. Writing disparagingly about something that I’ve been “given” can be very difficult, even for the most skilled reviewer. And let’s be honest, if I don’t believe in it, I won’t trust it on the mountain, and I won’t want to carry it or to use it – ever. So what’s the point in taking it as a “gift” – it just damages my reputation and my integrity.
If review examples are not available, and I will be able to use the product in future, I request an example at reduced cost. This almost always means that I will not be able sell-on the product after review, which is why I also work to a budget to finance my reviews.
So I’m wearing, carrying, using brand names like Berghaus, Opinel, Suunto, Salewa, Zamberlan, Vargo Outdoors, Mountain Equipment, Dubarry, Kelly Kettle and Harvey Maps into, and in, the outdoors. Not because they were “blagged”, but because they are products I believe in, trust and want to recommend to others engaged in similar activities to me.
Sometimes the manufacturer will offer me an alternative or offer a product unsolicited. Inevitably this runs counter to the three stages I’ve outlined above, and to date, I have never accepted an alternative or unsolicited product for review. If that day comes it will produce a different kind of review and I will alert you, my readers, to that.
It should be clear from this explanation, that the professional discount I receive in the acquisition or purchase of any product that I then review, is far outweighed by the cost of taking the product into the field, trying it, testing it and then writing and publishing the review.
And it should also be clear that you will not find me endorsing a product or encouraging you to purchase unless it is something I have tried tested, and rely upon myself – and at the right price.
My promise to you, my readers, is simple: I will continue to try to bring you honest reviews of products and services which have satisfied my personal expectations and standards.
Thank you & best regards,
You can email me here or send to david @ bestwalks.org