In Defense of Reviewing Free Gear

Doing gear reviews is often said to be the “bread and butter” of hiking YouTube channels. As a hiking YouTube viewer myself with over two years and 200 videos worth of creator experience under my belt, I can confirm that this is a basic truism. The top videos on most hiking channels are rarely trip videos – it’s usually all about the gear, baby!

But where do YouTubers get all this gear?

The catch-22 in all this is that smaller channels do not generate much (if any) income to buy gear, and you need gear to grow the channel. So, many YouTubers agree to receive free gear from companies wishing to gain exposure through review videos. Some see this as a problem because the obvious expectation from the company is that the review will be positive (some even go so far as to demand positive reviews or pay for good reviews like one unscrupulous company tried to with me – see image below).

So, I get it.

I therefore completely respect the decision some YouTubers have made to turn down sponsorships, paid ads, or free gear for review. It certainly lends an air of objectivity when a reviewer is not compensated in any way by the company that stands to gain from a positive review. In fact some of my favorite YouTube reviewers like Darwin, Dixie, and Luke are quite vocal about this.

On the other hand…

Reviewing gear is expensive – especially if you want to keep up with new products. Folks starting off with smaller channels under the 5 (much less 6!) digit subscriber count usually aren’t making enough YouTube income to keep gear reviews going for very long.

So if we don’t get any free gear we’re kind of in a bind.

What about muh objectivity?

I am not going to pretend it’s easy to give a negative review when some company is kind enough to give you product for free. However, there are ways to deal with this that do not compromise one’s integrity.

First, it’s important to remember that receiving free gear is not the same as getting sponsored or making a paid promotion. If a company simply sends us gear, we do not have to give it a glowing review. That may be the expectation, but it is not one we are obligated to fulfill.

Second, if a product is such that we cannot in good conscience give it a good review, we can simply let the company know rather than making a negative review video. This way we are under no any pressure to create misleading content, and we can also give the company a chance to deal with the issue before a negative review goes out.

This is why I spell out my product review policies.

Any time a company reaches out to me (or vice versa) about providing gear for review, I include a link to a page on this blog that explains my policies. These include things like:

  • I review all gear honestly regardless of how I attain it.
  • If I cannot in good conscience give a positive review, I will contact you privately with my feedback.
  • If sent gear for review, I will disclose that in the review.

I think these policies make it possible for me to be open to receiving free gear while remaining objective as I test it out. So while I appreciate the stance some have taken against receiving free gear for review, I do not think doing so is a universal moral imperative.

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