Another Friday Repost of something initially posted in 2018. If gear sites can repost the same article every year around the holidays, so can I, Or once again every five years. Here is why these Top Ten Gear Lists (Mostly) Suck.
“Do not be in a hurry to spend money on new inventions. Every year there is put upon the market some patent knapsack, folding stove, cooking-utensil, or camp trunk and cot combined; and there are always for sale patent knives, forks, and spoons all in one, drinking-cups, folding portfolios, and marvels of tools. Let them all alone” – How to Camp Out by John Mead Gould, 1877
Top Ten Gear Lists are among the most shared and viral content for backpacking and outdoor pursuits.
People love ’em because it is about gear. Content creators love ’em because people buy crap from their website. And these listicles seemingly make the whole outdoor community go around.
Publish enough of them, have them get shared a lot, and the content creator becomes an expert because they share popular articles in an easy-to-digest form.
The Top Ten Lists are the “sickly sweet fruit punch that washed down the cheap birthday cake from the grocery store” of the outdoor world.
Sure, these food items seem reasonable at first on the palate. But then you realize you just consumed empty calories. And you eventually understand that this food is OK for a guilty pleasure once in a while but not something you want too much of in the long run. And the calories you consume too much don’t help you at all.
So, yes, Top Ten Gear Listicles are popular. But they mostly suck, just like that cheap birthday cake and fruit punch.
Here’s my utterly opinionated take on why I think so… Naturally, there are ten reasons. Of course.
- What the heck is the best gear of any type? I’ve discussed this concept before. Feel free to reread it. Go ahead. The TL;DR version is that there are too many variables to give The Best GearTM. What is the best for a group of gear testers at a magazine or a person’s blog may not be the best for you. I’m on the short side, look like Gimli’s distant Mediterranean cousin, and tend to pack minimally. What I think is The Best GearTM may not be the best for you. I can tell you why a piece of gear works for me and my reasons, but I hesitate to say it is The Best GearTM.
- The Top Ten Best Widgets lists assume that there is one item suitable for all situations. A sub-1 lb pack that is 35 liters and comfortably carries three days of food is perfect for high mileage days on the Appalachian Trail with its frequent road crossings, resupply, and well-maintained trail. Is it best for the Sierra High Route or the Hayduke? One tool is not going to do it all in every situation.
- Good reviews take a season or more of thorough use. Sure, an experienced person can give initial impressions. But a good review means the author put the piece of gear through the paces over many months. I will trust a review more from someone who tests out two or three packs over a year than someone who puts out a top ten list a few months into a year.
- On a similar theme, no one person can adequately test gear for that amount in a short period. How can a person give you the Top Ten Best Widgets of 2018 when it is only March or June? Even the most ardent outdoor person does not have time to thoroughly test ten widgets in six months. Never mind, three months.
- What makes the site an authority? Posting many gear reviews does not make a person an experienced outdoor person. It typically means they buy or have given them a lot of gear. Look at their experience level. Are they out every chance they can? Or are their “reviews” backyard setups?
- Tests done by a team to get the top ten best widgets are a little better, but they are still just a limited experience. See above about What exactly is the best????
- Top Ten Widget Listicles are often a reflection of advertisers or sponsors. Some people, magazines, or gear websites can give honest and thorough reviews of who gives them the gear or pays them. But be wary of Top Ten Widget listings that happen to reflect sponsors or advertisers.
- Polls that aggregate results are somewhat better but are more reflective of marketing. In other words, just because many people use the XYZ Pack on the Appalachian Trail, that does not mean it is the best pack. It just means it happens to be the most popular pack available at the most popular outdoor retailer for backpackers: REI. Does the most popular pack at REI mean it is the best pack for you?
- The Top Ten Widget Listicles are almost always clickbait with no substantial content. It is written strictly to drive traffic and generate revenue. Nothing is wrong with wanting to make money off a person’s talent, knowledge, or abilities. It is what makes the world go around afterall. Heck, I generate a (very!) modest amount of money from this website, too. But when the content is blatantly designed to be the equivalent of online junk food, what use is the article, really?
Compare this YouTube video.
To this one:
Both YouTube channels advertise, have sponsors, and make money off their passions. But Screenprism does an in-depth analysis of movies and television. Which videos are more valuable to someone who wants to dive into film? (A plug for Screenprism. Excellent YouTube video channel if you enjoy movies or television). The Top Ten List can be a launching pad but not the final destination. That applies to movies…or backpacking gear.
- The Top Ten Widget Listicles often feel like Moses handing down the law from on high. An expert tells you these top ten widgets are good! They must be the best! Go buy ’em! Nonsense. If the Top Ten Widget lists have any value, it is a launching point, as mentioned above. Possibly. Maybe. But do more research.
So here is my completely biased and opinionated take on Why Top 10 Gear Lists (Mainly) Suck.
Sure. These lists can be entertaining at times and make a quick read. And I’ll grudgingly accept that perhaps they can help narrow down some choices.
But do you want to purchase a $300 tent based on the equivalent of eating only cheap birthday cake?
Have a balanced meal instead. Research, read reputable sources, think about what you are using this item for when you are outdoors, and then buy the item. You and your finances will be thankful.