Interim Guide

A guide to writing between Survival Guide and Bylaws updates

Version 0.3.9 — 15 November 2009

  1. Introduction
  2. Style Manual and Topical Discussion


This document, while unofficial, is intended to reflect the current state of editing at We recognize that the Survival Guide and Bylaws are updated infrequently, and that it may be helpful to share current policies with the membership in an easily-navigated format.

Therefore we present the Interim Guide, which is divided into two sections. The first section contains an alphabetical list of topic areas and discussion. Each topic is dated and contains a summary of the current policy. The second section is presented as a checklist to use before uploading Owner Reviews or Test Reports to the site.

Again, use of these tools is not mandatory. They are presented as an aid to writing and editing reports. We will modify them as time goes on, to reflect the changing needs of This document does not replace the Survival Guide, Bylaws, or other documentation.

Addendum of 26 September 2009: Since writing the Interim Guide, the powers that be decided I needed to put my money where my mouth was, and they made me the Documentation Moderator. That means I'm in charge of fixing the issues I've mentioned here, too. Much of what follows in this document will eventually be rolled into the official documentation. Thanks for your patience, and for the care you show to -- Hollis

If something in this Guide was useful, please let me know! If you're still uncertain about something, or if my writing muddied the waters instead of clarifying them, please say so. If there's something you think should be part of this Guide, let me know! I can be reached at backpackgeartest moderator at holliseaster dot com, as long as you take out "moderator" from that address!

Thanks for reading!
Hollis Easter, Documentation Moderator

Style Manual and Topical Discussion


One of the basic principles of, the need for accountability underpins the editing process. Every statement made on is tied to the author's name; readers can contact the author to ask questions. reports and reviews are based on observed facts, not suppositions. See also Projection. (November 2008)

Additions to Long-Term Reports

There are occasions where it is necessary, perhaps because a particular aspect of gear use could not be addressed due to weather conditions, to make additions or alterations to the Long-Term Report. We encourage testers to add follow-up addenda to their reports, and have created a procedure to allow them.

The accepted protocol is as follows: (October 2009)

The official name of the organization is, not BackpackGearTest or BGT. Please write it accordingly. We may still use the other forms in unofficial communications, but the long form is the one that should be used in Test Reports. (September 2009)


Tester biographies should not exceed 100 words. They must be placed at the top of the report or review, along with personal data about the writer (such as height, weight, shoe size, or other relevant pieces of information), before discussion of the gear.

Tester biographies should also incorporate some words that give the reader a sense of the writer's backpacking style, e.g. "ultra-light", "lightweight", "Harley Hawg with the kitchen sink", etc. This may include actual pack weights if the writer desires and space permits, although a simple descriptive term is also acceptable. (November 2008)

Comma Separators in Numbers

Writers must be consistent in their use of numerical separators (the comma or other character in numbers like '13,000'). We recommend using a separator to enhance clarity, especially for numbers of five or more digits, but do not any longer require it. When editing reports and reviews, the recommendation to use a comma separator now merits a Comment, not an EDIT or Edit. However, internal consistency of use is still required, and will be EDITed accordingly.

Please note that this constitutes a change from the 0609 revision of the Bylaws. (November 2008)


Unit conversions are required for all measurements in reports, except as listed below. Writers should present all measurements in appropriate Imperial and metric units.

Use standard unit conversions on all liquid measures; you may omit them when describing containers whose volume is 32 fl oz (1 liter). When presenting highly specialized measurements like fabric denier, no conversion is needed.

When quoting a block of text (such as a feature list) from a manufacturer's product materials, it isn't necessary to provide conversions, although it is still permissible. If a block of text includes data with units, we recommend pulling out that data and adding it to the Product Information section, with appropriate conversions. When discussing or presenting manufacturers' claims in the report context, please provide unit conversions.

When numbers are approximate, the conversions should also be approximate, following significant figures custom. If I mention camping at about 700 feet elevation, the number is already an approximation, and it's best to present it as about 200 meters even though 700 feet is 213 meters.

When in doubt, adding a conversion is never wrong. (November 2009)

Dates of Reports

Writers must put the date of submission at the top of all Owner Reviews and Test Reports. Test Reports must include dates at the top of the Report and at the beginning of the relevant sections (IR, FR, LTR). Many writers choose to provide a list of report sections, with dates, as a table of contents using hypertext links within the document. For example:

Initial Report - 1 January 2008
Field Report - 4 March 2008
Long-Term Report - 2 May 2008
Addendum - 5 November 2008

The hypertext link is not a requirement, but we recommend its use.

Users of Report Writer Version 1 are exempt from this requirement because the software doesn't allow the new method. (November 2008)

Days of Use Sentences

It is recommended that writers include a sentence enumerating their days of field use in Owner Reviews, Field Reports, and Long-Term Reports.

We understand that it may be necessary to estimate the days of use for Owner Reviews, since relatively few people keep careful records of field use prior to joining In this case, include sentences like "I've used the WonderWidget over 50 times" or "I've used the WonderWidget at least 10 times a year over the last 5 years".

Approximations of field use should never appear in Test Reports.

See also Field Use. (November 2008)

Field Use

Acceptable field use is, like certain kinds of free speech, occasionally difficult to define. As a general guideline, requires significant field experience gained while using the gear in its intended manner. This includes a requirement that testers use gear for the equivalent of two nights during each of the Field Report and Long-Term Report phases, for a cumulative total of at least five nights during the entire test period.

A certain amount of common sense is assumed here. Some kinds of gear tend to be used only in daylight hours, so it may be appropriate to focus more heavily on day hiking. When discussing boots, days of hiking may matter more than nights. Some kinds of gear are carried in case certain circumstances arise but may never be used (rain gear and avalanche beacons come to mind); one can hardly hold the tester responsible for picking good weather or failing to be caught in a snow slide.

However, we expect testers to do their best to secure and report on actual field usage. In the rain gear example, if it's been a season of drought and I've carried but never used the rain gear, I should try to get out hiking if it does rain. Make an effort. If it proves impossible to get any field use in, contact the test's Moderator and ask for guidance. It is also appropriate, after a test ends, to post an addendum detailing further experience.

We mention that field experience must be gained while using the gear in its intended manner. This is, again, common sense: use it the way the manufacturer wants you to. If you also want to report on a different approach, do so as long as it doesn't damage the gear. However, we need you to talk about the intended usage. For a simple example, imagine that I'm testing a pair of trekking poles. They work really well to raise the edges of my hammock tarp, which helps give me a better view. That's great, and is a worthy addition to my report. However, I also need to talk about using the trekking poles while walking, and comment on how they work for that.

Backyard testing is important, especially for safety-related gear. However, it is not sufficient for a test report, and will not be counted toward the minimum number of nights.

A closing note: most of us have been in the experience of needing to write a report based on less field use than we'd like. Life intervenes sometimes. It's very important to be up-front about this with your Monitor and Moderator, and to ask for help when you need it. Finally: don't ever lie about the amount of field use you've given a piece of gear. That's a mistake a tester gets to make only once.

See also Days of Use Sentences. (December 2008)

Goals of Editing

Editing is an integral part of's process, and is required for everything posted to the website. No tester is exempt from editing, no matter how experienced; this iron-clad policy helps us maintain our high standards.

There are many kinds of edits, conveyed in a number of forms (although most Editors and Monitors) use "EDIT/Edit/Comment" form. Edits may cover mechanical questions of syntax, grammar, or factual inaccuracies, or they may concern larger issues of use, projection, clarity, and the like. Very little is off-limits for an editor, so we offer the following guidelines for editing.

The over-riding requirement in any editing is to ensure that the text is easily comprehensible and accurate, and that the meaning is clear for the reader. Editing should bring a text into line with all the relevant standards.

Personal style is commonly raised in discussions about editing. It isn't the goal of the editing process to make all reports and reviews sound identical, and we welcome the diversity of voice that our writers bring to Once again, clarity of meaning is our goal. Where style impedes understanding, it should be changed; where it merely flavors a text, it should be left. (December 2008)

Likes/Dislikes Sections

Many writers choose to fulfil the requirement for a summary statement by including a list of Likes and Dislikes at the end of their reviews. This is not required, although it is recommended. See also Summary. (November 2008)


Gear photographs are required in all Test Reports and Owner Reviews. An exception is made for first-time writers, who are allowed to submit their first reviews without photographs.

Use of stock photography from manufacturers is allowed provided proper attribution is given, but users are reminded that careful photography is one of the strong points of, and that a photograph taken by the writer is often better than one from a manufacturer's press kit. When using stock photographs, be sure to save them to your computer and upload them directly into your report; do not link the images from another website. Stock photographs must also include a visible attribution such as "Image courtesy of"; Javascript mouse-overs or HTML title attributes are not sufficient.

Photographs must be sized appropriately so that they work with the website system. We recommend that you keep photos less than 600 pixels wide, and will not allow those wider than 800 pixels. All photographs must have ALT text included in the image tag.

It's important to have appropriately-sized photographs in order to comply with the current Minimum Screen Resolution rules. As of September 2009, the maximum file size is 200 kilobytes.

Test Reports are considered incomplete without the inclusion of photographs. (September 2009)

Prices reviews and reports must include Manufacturer Suggested Retail Prices (MSRPs). MSRPs must be taken either from the manufacturer's website or from a price tag on the item. If no price is available, write "MSRP: None available". (November 2008)


Projection is's term for making a claim based on supposition rather than on observed fact. It is considered poor form, and is not allowed in reports and reviews.

Projection can take many forms. The easiest to avoid involves words like "you", "your", etc. Try not to use them! If I'm writing about my backpack, and I say that you can easily fit your Scottish bagpipes into it, am I telling the truth? Do you play bagpipes? I can't guarantee that you do, so my statement isn't accurate. What I mean is that I can fit my Scottish bagpipes into my backpack, and that's what I should write.

Another form of projection involves predicting what the gear will do in the future. There's some room for debate on this point, but it's often best to avoid future projection entirely. "The hinge is so flimsy that I'm sure it will break soon" is inappropriate, and could be better written as "The hinge seems flimsy and is already showing signs of wear, leaving me concerned about its durability."

The bottom line is that projection, in any form, violates the Accountability principle. Avoid it. (November 2008)

Reviewing vs. Testing

A word about language: we use "review" and the related words to refer to Owner Reviews, and "test" et al. for Test Series. Don't refer to "testing" an item for which you've written an Owner Review. (December 2008)

Screen Resolution that all reports be correctly formatted when viewed at a minimum screen resolution of 1024 x 768 pixels. We no longer require that reports work at 800 x 600 pixels resolution, feeling that few people browse in that mode.

Please bear in mind that the largest factor in screen resolution tends to be photographs in the reports. Please see that section for the rules about photograph size.

If you'd like to see how your reports look in various resolutions, take a look at . (November 2009)

Shipping Information

Do not include information about shipping in reports. gear is usually provided through channels that are not available to readers, so our shipping information adds little to the value of the report. Readers don't need to know whether the item was delivered by UPS or FedEx or trained carrier pigeon, or whether the shipping box was brown or pink (unless that happens to be the way it is sold in stores). This is a change from previous policy.

An exception can come when dealing with smaller manufacturers who deal by mail order and ship directly to customers. In this case, since our interaction is similar to what the reader might find, it may be appropriate to describe the shipping information. Contact your Monitor and Moderator if you aren't sure.

We need you to confirm that the item was received in good order, and to describe any noteworthy manufacturer-specific packaging (blister packs, etc.) or hang tags, etc. "It came in a clear plastic bag" isn't noteworthy; "I opened the camera case and found that WidgetWorld had included a free digital camera" is. It's often appropriate to mention text from the manufacturer's packaging in a relevant section of the Initial Report. (December 2008)

State and Province Names

Spell out the names of states and provinces whenever they are used in a report. "New York", not "NY"; "Victoria", not "VIC"; "Québec", not QC. (December 2008)

Summary Statements requires that all reports include summary statements. These needn't be in any particular format, so long as they present a synoptic view of the gear. Many writers choose to include a Likes/Dislikes section as part of meeting this requirement. (November 2008)

Testing Plans

Although Testing Plans have historically been required in reports, the Publisher and Editors feel that they have grown out of control to the point where they sometimes replace the reporting of actual information. Therefore, their use is discouraged. At some point in the future, they will probably be removed entirely.

Testing Plans are still required in applications, and are optional-but-discouraged everywhere else. (November 2008)

Thanking or Manufacturers

Many testers choose to include a closing statement thanking and the manufacturer for the opportunity to test the gear. This is good form, but is not in any way required. (December 2008)

URLs requires a working hypertext link that points to the manufacturer's top-level site. Links must be valid and must point to the manufacturer, not to a gear-specific page or distributor's site. This cuts down on the need to validate links once reports are uploaded, since manufacturers tend to keep the same domain names over time.

Suppose I am writing about the WidgetWorks SuperGadget. WidgetWorks ( and the SuperGadget ( both exist as valid web sites. Which should I pick?

I'll never go wrong by choosing the WidgetWorks site, since it's the manufacturer's site. The SuperGadget site may be acceptable, but I'll need to check something. When I type in and let the page load, is the address listed in my browser still ""? If so, it's acceptable to use this site. But if it has redirected to something like "", I should use the WidgetWorks site. When in doubt, just use the manufacturer's site.

Internal links are permitted if the writer wishes to add a table of contents to help readers find later sections of the report (IR, FR, LTR), etc. See also Dates.

As of this writing, internal links to other reports on are not allowed, because reviews are periodically reviewed and may be removed, breaking the link.

External links are not permitted except for links to the manufacturer's web site as listed above. The visible portion of the link may include or omit the "http://" and closing "/" according the writer's preference. (November 2008)


"Velcro" is acceptable when the manufacturer has made it clear that the gear is made using Velcro-brand fasteners. Otherwise, use "hook-and-loop fasteners", "hook and loop closures", "rip and stick panels" or similar language. (November 2008)

Water Bottles

When reporting on 1 L (32 fl oz) water containers, it is appropriate to leave out the unit conversion and quote whatever the manufacturer uses, as both terms are considered "standard". (November 2008)