On the Review Policy page someone recently left me this comment:
Hello Tony, what motivates you to do reviews on items that you do not
keep or use for long periods of time? Why spend all the time on the
I like gear. Doing reviews gives
me a chance to see a lot of stuff and help myself and others make good
decisions on what to buy. I don't keep stuff so there is no sense that I
am giving a good review in exchange for free products. I am going to
write an article on this topic. Thanks for the great question.
This is that article.
The more I thought about this question the more I realized I had a a pretty good answer. Really it comes down to two things: how this happened and why this happened.
First the how. When my son was born almost 4 years ago my fun budget was shrunk from miniscule to nothing. Preparing for a child and all of the attendant costs was daunting and any excess expenses were eliminated. That meant that my budget for gear was zero. The only time I got a piece of gear or a fun gadget was for my birthday or Christmas. The problem with that was, as you know, having people buy you gear without being VERY (and annoyingly) specific is tough. You end up with a bunch of Mag Solitaires and disappointments. I had a pretty good collection at that point so I could sell stuff and buy new stuff, but the gear churn we are all familiar with would end eventually. I needed another way to support my gear habit. I just didn't know what it was yet.
At the same time this was happening, I was refining my research process. I developed a weighted system to buy knives and flashlights that looks very similar to the review systems I use now. It was very complex, it had lots of factors, and it was all in an Exel spreadsheet. It was UBER nerdy. I had used this same method to help my wife and I buy cars and houses. It is one of the things I do.
These two things came together fortuitously. I was selling gear and explaining why I liked it a lot, referencing the scoring system. I would snap a picture and then explain a bit about the item, link to the product page and a review for the potential buyer to see. It was at this point that I realized that this would be handy information to have in one place for anyone to access. I had started a blog for my son and then I realized I could dump all of this information on a blog. There was very little on the Internet in terms of written reviews. There are tons of folks doing YouTube reviews and some a very good, but written reviews are little more challenging. They take some thought and editing (speeling is not my strong suit, I type too fast). So with nothing out there doing what I was looking for and all of this information I had generated internally, I launched the blog.
That's the how.
Now the why. The why is a bit more complex. First, of course, its because I like gear. I like knives and flashlights. I like nice stuff and well designed things. Hell, I even went on a quest for a lunch bag this summer. I also like researching things. When I spend that very precious little money I have on something I want to make sure that it is the right thing. So if you like gear and you like researching, its natural you stumble on gear blogs.
But there was something missing on all of these blogs. I have written about this before, but the scoring system is the heart of the blog. It allows you as a reader to get a quick understanding of how good or bad something is. There are nuances, of course, but in general a score of 17 or better is pretty darn good. But the idea of a scoring system itself comes from the most important magazine of my childhood: EGM. Their scores were the sole determining factor in where all of my paper route money went for a good five to ten years (and yes I had a paper route and I had one for at least 5 years; that happens when you start working at 10). Scoring systems are fundamentally essential for consumers. They help you quantify purchases and since a purchase is, at root, an allocation of a quantifiable resource (money), a scoring system can help people zero in on good value.
Its not just about helping people find value, its also about challenging the prevailing attitudes in the world of gear. There are a set of assumptions about knives and flashlights and backpacks that have dominated the gear world for years. And gear and gear users are worse off for it. Nutnfancy has done a substantial amount of work in challenging the assumptions about the size of a knife. He is right, fundamentally right, about the fact that an EDC knife does not need to be large or heavy to do its job. In fact, I would argue and I have argued that your BETTER OFF with a smaller knife. I also think that the notion that you have to be equipped with a ton of stuff is silly. Be prepared, don't be overwhelmed. Take what you need and leave the rest. Bernard's website influenced me here. Get a few nice, well designed things, pair them with other things in an intelligent way and you will be better off than the guy with the loaded cargo pants and the MOLLE pack. So that is one major reason why--to change assumptions.
I also love good craftsmanship. I do woodworking and I am fascinated by the process of taking an idea and making it real. It is important. It is interesting. And when done well it deserves acclaim. There are gear makers, folks like Jason Hui and Charles Gedraitis, who make things with such care and precision that we are better off for owning these things. We are better off for them existing in the world even if we don't own them. They don't just make life easier, they make objects more interesting. Providing a spotlight for truly great craftsman is something I enjoy immensely.
Finally, there is this sense that things are changing. The Internet has allowed small groups of people spread out all over the world to congregate virtually and pool their money. This means that people can make and sell things that prior to the Internet they never could. Without a way to get the word out to all of these groups of people they could never generate a critical mass of sales to launch a business. To explain by way of example--TAD Gear could never exist without the Internet. I think that in a very small way sites like mine help people connect and draw tighter the bonds of shared interest among all of these small groups of people. The Golden Age of Gear is possible because of sites like mine and Andrew's and Dan's.
I take evaluating gear seriously. I work very hard at it. It has forced me to improve and work on things I am not good at, such as photography and speeling. In a way I feel like one of those first Jazz critics. They were scoffed at by music critics that evaluated classical music, but they loved Jazz and because they took it seriously others did as well. They raised the level of the conversation and that, in turn and over time, improved the quality of the thing being evaluated. That is important to me, not just as a fan and consumer of gear, but as a person that likes to say to friends and family: "Hey, have you seen how helpful these light flashlights can be?"
In the question there is a hint that I am not getting anything out of this or alternatively that I am and I am not disclosing that. I am getting something out of this. Let me make explicit what it is I receive. I get to see and play with a heaping helping of the most awesome kit in the world. That is a pretty big thing, even if I don't get to keep it. Second, I get manufacturers big and small coming to me and asking for my opinion on how to make things better. It helps me and it helps you. We both get better stuff and stuff we like. On occasion, such as with the Aeon Mk. II, I get to buy products that I gave input on and that means I am buying something made for me. Third, I have made a lot of awesome friends--gear bloggers and gear makers alike. These are interesting people with interesting opinions and stories. My life is better for knowing them. I also got a freelance writing gig out of this. I am sure you know, but in case you don't, I write for AllOutdoor.com, a site for and by hardcore enthusiasts. This is not a shill site or a product placement site. We provide what I believe to be some of the best information on the Internet about gear. Look at Aaron Shapiro's work on custom makers. There is nothing like that anywhere else. That gig is something I am proud of and something that pays me. Its not a lot, but it is (full circle now) fun money that I didn't have before. I do occasionally get products through AllOutdoor that I do not return. It is a different venture and one where I do not set the rules, but even there I have given a lot of what I get away.
I have never taken money to write a review. I have never taken a product on condition of a certain score. If I don't think I will like a product I will refuse to take it. I have never changed a score because a manufacturer told me to. I will, as I have stated before, re-evaluate things in case I got them wrong, but I think that is the only fair way to do this.
Why do I do this? Because it is fun and because I want to. And all of the other reasons I listed above. But most importantly I do this because you read it. That's why all writers write.
Oh, and here is my current EDC as complete as I can get it, literally everything I carry:
Quo Vadis Sapa X Academic in Blue
Prometheus Aluminum Alpha Pen
Citizen E760 Ti
Hinderer XM-18 Gen 2 Slicer Grind with Flipper in Latrobe Duratech 20CV
McGizmo Haiku XPG
Big Skinny Wallet