Recently GearJunkie’s Editor-in-Chief, Adam Ruggiero, came to Asheville, NC, and our team had the pleasure of grabbing some cold beverages at a local brewery to talk with him about life in general, the current state of the world, and of course, gear testing.
As outdoor public relations professionals, we work daily with editors like Adam to ensure our clients’ products are being considered for roundups, reviews, and gear guides in the industry’s top publications and sites. And although we work with these folks all the time, it was fun and insightful for us to hear from Adam about what it’s like on the other side – to be the one receiving our pitches, managing all the gear testing, and being wooed by agencies (such as ours) to go on media trips or attend events. After his visit, we were inspired to reach out to several editors we often work with from Outside, Backpacker, and more to ask them if this gear editor gig is really as amazing as it sounds. Turns out, it is…
GearJunkie‘s Editor in Chief, Adam Ruggiero
What gear did you most recently test for an article? RMU Tailgate Locker 2.0.
Most recent article you’ve written? Best Rain Jackets
How about the most underrated piece of gear you’ve ever tested/reviewed? Fire Gloves – hands down, the most used and underrated piece of gear I’ve ever owned. I move fire logs around like a champion — and everyone looks at me like I have three heads when I bust these out. But inevitably, they all ask to use them at some point.
Have you ever gone on a media/gear testing trip? Yep
What is the most brag-worthy trip you’ve been on? Tokyo w/ KEEN (most incredible city I’ve seen), France w/ Decathlon (beautiful and an amazing brand mostly unknown in U.S.), OR Peru w/ Columbia (hiked the Inca trail).
Most disastrous? Hahahahaha — Hiking into Bryce Canyon right before it closed due to flash flooding. Then we hiked out to a “glampsite” to relax — at which point, during the night, tornadoes ripped through within 5-10 miles. Collapsed our communal pole tent — It was honestly so much fun!
Everyone believes that a gear tester has the best job in the world – all that free gear, getting outdoors to test gear all day, every day, going on amazing gear testing trips and being wooed by brands and PR reps. So let’s get honest, what’s it really like?
That’s not untrue — it really isn’t. And it’s not lost on me how amazing my job is — I think about this a lot. As best as I can, I really don’t take it for granted — love every part of it. Even the parts I don’t love, I love.
But, what I think is overlooked is how much work it is. Don’t get me wrong, it is media trips, it is visiting brands and talking to CEOs and designers, and it is receiving the best damn gear out there to test. But it’s also knowing how to test that gear — what to look for, how to test it, where and when to try it out, what questions to ask PR reps. It’s emails to coordinate everything and update everyone on whether or not you’ll publish. It’s knowing how to write a review.
Honestly, almost no one really cares about what you think of a jacket or snowboard. They do care if you know how to relate what you did with it to what they COULD do with it. Readers need to trust what you’re saying, then they need to learn from what you’re saying, and to make all of that work, they need you to be at least a little entertaining.
Outside Magazine‘s Associate Gear Editor, Ariella Gintzler
I only write and test gear for Outside. I run our bi-annual Buyer’s Guides and edit stories for the web. Formerly, I worked (and tested gear for) Trail Runner magazine.
What gear did you most recently test for an article? Currently, I’m testing trail-running and climbing gear for our 2021 Summer Buyer’s Guide. That includes ropes, harnesses, shoes, apparel, hydration vests, and accessories like sunglasses and watches.
What’s the most underrated piece of gear you’ve ever tested/reviewed? In general, I think running shorts are underrated. They’re one of the most universal pieces of running equipment, and almost every major outdoor apparel company makes them and makes them well. Most of them have similar specs: lightweight material, a wide flat waistband, a pocket or two. So, it’s easy to pick a pair and be happy. But finding a pair that actually fits you perfectly can be surprisingly hard. It’s a totally subjective affair, especially for women, since our bodies come in such a variety of shapes and sizes. It’s hard to describe the difference it makes wearing a pair of shorts that’s exactly as tight or loose as you want it to be, in all the right places. Oh, and pockets! I run a lot on trails, and I really can’t go back to wearing shorts that don’t have at least one pocket—preferably more—laid out in such a way that you can fill up on snacks, keys, and headphones without everything bouncing all over the place. Most running shorts are good. A perfect pair is underrated.
Have you ever gone on a media/gear testing trip? What is the most brag-worthy trip you’ve been on? Most disastrous? The best media trip I’ve been on was to Chamonix to test trail-running shoes and spectate a big mountain race—the Marathon Du Mont Blanc. We stayed in a chateau, ate an insane amount of fondu, ran some amazing trails, watched an exciting race, and went paragliding. On that same trip, the airline lost my luggage, so I was without clean clothes for the first 24 hours. That’s honestly the most disastrous thing to happen to me on a media trip, which is to say I’ve been pretty lucky.
People believe that a gear tester has the best job in the world – all that free gear, getting outdoors to test gear all day, every day, going on amazing gear testing trips, and being wooed by brands and PR reps. So let’s get honest, what’s it really like?
Without a doubt, being a gear tester is a very fun job. You get to see tons of cutting edge product before it ever hits the market. But my favorite part is actually just getting to try a ton of different products to figure out what I actually like—what kind of running shoe midsole, what kind of backpack fit, what kind of shell material, what weight of jacket insulation. You can try on 10 jackets in a store, but being able to have those same 10 jackets at home for a year and try them out in all conditions allows you to really get to know your own preferences in a way you wouldn’t otherwise. That’s a huge privilege. It’s also what gives us the knowledge and context to provide good information to our readers! The advice in our reviews doesn’t just come from a few weeks or months of testing those specific products but from years of testing thousands of products and developing an internal gear index of sorts.
Of course, it’s also a lot of work. Oftentimes, gear testing forces you to get out the door even on days when you might want or need a day of rest. For something like the Buyer’s Guide, we test a ton of gear, and all that gear takes time and miles to get through. It’s tiring!
There’s also a mental side to gear testing. On one hand, gear editors like me get to go for a trail run or a morning skin and call it work. On the other hand, all of a sudden, going outside becomes work. I’m a generalist—I do lots of different outdoor activities—so it can sometimes be challenging when gear testing dictates the sport I have to do on a certain day. If I’m writing a story about running gear, I may have to go for a run eight days in a row, even if I really want to climb one of those days. That’s really a very small problem to have. Most of the time, I can’t believe how lucky I am. Other times, I just have to put away all the new gear, take out my old beat up kit, and enjoy a day outside that doesn’t involve taking mental notes or going out of my way to hit certain kinds of terrain so I can test a specific feature on a pair of shoes.
Really, the downsides are very minor. It’s honestly a very fun job!
BACKPACKER’s Gear Editor, Eli Bernstein
What gear did you test most recently for an article (that isn’t embargoed): We just published our Fall/Winter Gear Guide, and one of my favorite products in it was the Osprey Soelden 32. It’s a ski touring pack that’s comfortable, keeps everything at your easy disposal for a safe day in the backcountry, and can handle a lot of weight without getting too cumbersome.
What’s the most underrated piece of gear you’ve ever tested/reviewed? Either the UCO Switch knife/spork combo utensil or a compact camp stool from Hillsound. Sometimes, it’s the little things that make all the difference for comfort in the backcountry.
What is the most brag-worthy trip you’ve been on? I’ve been on a bunch of media and gear-testing trips, almost all of them awesome. Some highlights include a three-day backpack into Wyoming’s Wind River Range—probably the most beautiful place I’ve been in the United States—and a week spent backcountry skiing on a remote icefield in Banff National Park, Alberta.
Freelancer for Business Insider, Emily Reed
These days I’m a freelance writer for Business Insider, but I’ve worked in-house for Outside Magazine and GearJunkie in the past.
What’s the last gear you tested for an article you’re writing? I’m currently testing backpacking sleeping bags, intermediate mountain bikes, hiking GPS devices, and beginner skiing gear. You don’t want to know what my gear room looks like right now!
What is the most underrated piece of gear you’ve ever tested/reviewed? After four years of testing and reviewing gear for my job, the best equipment is something that makes getting outside easier and more efficient. The $15 Ruffwear Trail Runner dog bowl is simple—a single layer of coated polyester holds your pup’s water without leaks and then folds up into its own pocket when you’re done. It weighs 0.8-ounces and comes with me on trail runs, days at the crag, and on mountain bike rides. If you have a dog, this is a must-have piece of gear.
Have you ever gone on a media/gear testing trip? What is the most brag-worthy trip you’ve been on? Surprisingly, while working in-house at various publications we didn’t get the opportunity to travel as much as you think we would. With a small staff responsible for making a print issue and upholding online content, we were mostly chained to our desks for 40-50 hours a week. Sometimes the clouds part, the stars align, and you are granted a PR trip as a respite from the workweek. One of my favorite trips to date was a media trip to Point Reyes National Seashore for a 3-day backpacking trip with Vasque and Osprey. I met some of the best people in the industry who continue to support me to this day. Now that I’m freelancing, I’m looking forward to a post-COVID world where we can start gathering as an industry and testing gear together in the wild.
People believe that a gear tester has the best job in the world – all that free gear, getting outdoors to test gear all day, every day, going on amazing gear testing trips, and being wooed by brands and PR reps. So let’s get honest, what’s it really like? So many emails. Coordinating gear to test for articles sometimes takes months to prepare and there’s a lot of back and forth with brands on what’s new for the season and what they actually have available to seed for testing. I’m often conducting testing for 4-6 articles at a time so organization is a must. I rely heavily on Google Sheets to keep track of what I need to call in, take out to test, testing notes, and what needs to be sent back to who and when. Physical gear storage gets to be an issue quick—my partner is a saint for dealing with an overflowing gear room and garage (but they do get loads of free gear, so they can’t complain too much).