Our Rating System & Standards Explained
Our ultimate goal is to help you optimize your travel experience. We want to make purchasing decisions easier for you, and we want your final decision—whatever it may be—to work well for you. Why? Because we’ve been there. We know how confusing, time-consuming, and frustrating this stuff can be. That is why we’ve created a rating system that can handle everything from a toothbrush to a backpack while boiling the good, the bad, the weird, and the awesome down into one convenient number.
Our rating system has been designed to give you the lay of the land when it comes to all this “stuff,” so you can quickly figure out what the best gear around is. And we’ll be the first to tell you that it is completely influenced by our expert team and editorial process. We’re not saying you’ll agree with us 100% of the time, but we’re also telling you that brands NEVER have the ability to pay for a higher rating. We think it’s best this way.
This system is our opinion, and a higher number might not always mean the product in question is better for YOU. That’s what we love about reviewing gear—we’re happy to provide as much detail as possible in our reviews, but it’s up to you to assess and make that final decision yourself. At the end of the day, your 9.4 may be someone else’s 7.6, and that’s fine.
We do, however, use our expertise, experience, and rigorous testing to give the best, most honest rating and review possible for every item we test. We truly hope we can help you decide what to get and what to skip!
What the numbers mean
So much info compressed into a tiny number!
We generally try to avoid reviewing products in this range because it tends to not be the best use of our time or yours. If something falls in this range, we either thought it was going to be good or it was a popular product we just had to test—either way, we ended up incredibly disappointed.
These products are a disappointment. We were likely expecting something more, but ended up with something poor. This is like having an airline lose your luggage—you were expecting a pretty normal outcome, but got the exact opposite. They had one job!
Meh. These products will probably get the job done, but we really can’t recommend them—there are better options out there. This is the equivalent of being forced to take a 20-hour bus ride into Nepal… You'll probably get there in one piece, but there are just objectively better—and safer—options out there.
This tends to be the threshold for which we would recommend a product. Something we don’t think is great, but it might work for you and your specific use-case. Kind of like when your older brother “gifted” you his rust-bucket sedan with 200k miles on it… Sure, it’ll get you from A to B—and you’re thankful, of course—but it’s not exactly what you were hoping for.
Now we’re getting somewhere! These products are a solid baseline—if a product gets a 7+ rating, there’s a good chance we use it on a fairly regular basis. It's like when you get that first row in economy class… The extra legroom is fantastic and you're really quite pleased with your situation—honestly!—but in the back of your mind, you know you're just one row away from first class.
These products really impress us. They’re intelligently designed, well crafted, and provide an excellent user experience. You know those products that are really hyped up, and then you finally get one in your hands and you’re like, “Whoa. I get it. I get the hype.”? That’s the kind of stuff that generally goes here. You've made it to first class and it was everything you were hoping for.
These products are a rare find. They possess incredible qualities, provide an unbelievable value, and are an absolute joy to use. They’re so good that you’ll feel the need to tell people you’ve just met about them, whether they want to hear it or not. Not only do we use these products daily, but using them might just be the best part of our day! (Are we really that boring?)
This score range is nearly impossible to achieve based on the rating system we’ve created. If we get enough of these, we might as well just shut down our website because it’s truly the best gear around and our job here is done.
How we arrive at those numbers
We rate all the items we review on a 100 point scale. Each product is rated in 10 categories on a scale from 1 to 10. (FYI: That adds up to 100 points total! Math and stuff.)
We are looking for high-quality, durable, and notable materials. We like to imagine disassembling the product (whether it’s a toothbrush, battery bank, or backpack), and assessing the individual materials used to create the product—both on quality and how logical the choice of materials is for the intended use-case of the product.
Example: The Outlier Ultrafine Merino T-Shirt scores high here—the Merino Wool is some of the highest quality we’ve found to date, and it surpasses other, similar t-shirts on the market. It’s also one of the best fabrics you could pick for a travel t-shirt.
We assess how well a product is put together. We test the stitching on fabrics, welds, and other permanent attachment points to make sure they’re up to our standards. We consider any and all loose threads, blemishes, and other defects that are visible on arrival. We assess whether or not the craftsmanship promised in sexy marketing photos matches the actual quality of the product in our hands.
Example: The Trakke Storr scores high here. Crafted in small, handmade batches in Scotland, every detail is meticulously crafted, checked, and re-checked before heading out of their small, bespoke factory to the consumer.
Durability Over Time
We assess how well the the product has held up (or will hold up) over time, using the initial usage quality plus our predictions (we’re experts on this stuff) as a baseline, while also comparing the durability over time to similar products in the industry. We test products as long and as frequently as possible, and guarantee that anything we’re reviewing has been tested for at least 2 weeks. A lot of problems in a short period of time equates to a low score, while a small amount of problems over a long period of time equates to a high score.
Example: The GORUCK GR2 scores high here. After daily testing on a 2-year trip around the world, it has held its ground and then some. The materials come together, they’re well crafted, and the pack is designed to military specs.
We assess whether or not the product has the features necessary to accomplish its goal in the best way possible. We also consider the usefulness of those features and compare them to other, similar products that may solve the same problem in a better way.
Example: The Humangear GoToob+ scores high here. When you think of a toiletry bottle, “features” don’t really come to mind. But not only does this product have all the features a toiletry bottle requires for success, it has additional features we haven’t seen anywhere else—from the self regulating valve, to a labelling system, to a loop lock that also functions as a place to hang them from.
We assess the amount of effort put into the overall blueprint, schematics, and layout of the product, ensuring everything holistically comes together for a great experience. We love to see innovative ideas that push the industry forward and consider anything unique, inventive, and notable about the overall design of the product.
Example: The Peak Design Travel Backpack scores high here. With an innovative harness hiding system, multiple compression modes, and modular storage versatility all wrapped into a clean, low profile aesthetic—every inch of this pack is thought through down to the last detail.
Real World Usage
We test how the features and design come together in the real world. We determine whether all the components of the product come together to create a joyful, easy experience or a frustrating one. We ensure the product actually solves the problem it’s designed to solve, and does it in an effortless and ergonomic way.
Example: The Outdoor Research Helium II Jacket scores high here. This rain jacket just works. Plus, the added benefit of it being compressible and lightweight make for a great user experience. When you’re using it, it keeps you dry. When you’re not using it, you can compress it, stow it away, and forget it’s even there.
We ensure that the price of the product justifies the value it provides. This doesn’t necessarily mean “cheap.” We’re looking for products that function well for their intended use-case and will last a long time given their price point. For instance, you’re better off buying a $400 product that works really well and will last 10 years, versus four $100 products that will each last a year.
Example: The Kikkerland Universal Travel Adapter scores high here. It’s just about everything you want in an outlet converter—it converts nearly every outlet, has a small form factor, and is lightweight & durable—all at an excellent price point compared to similar adapters.
We assess the value the product brings to our lives, including frequency of use, desire to use it, and how well it solves a problem. To help determine this score, we like to ask ourselves whether we would buy the product again if we lost it. If the answer is yes, it clearly provides a lot of value to our lives.
Example: The Buff USA Wool Buff scores high here. This product can be used in many different use-cases and climates. It’s multifunctional and is a great addition to any kit with a tiny weight penalty, small form factor, and many use-cases across the board. We’d totally buy it again.
We rate the company as a whole, from their customer experience, to their warranty—if verifiably tested by us, using fake aliases—to their community and the way they conduct themselves. We also take into account the company's mission, their environmental policies, and how they treat their workers—along with any other relevant factors that are removed from the product itself.
Example: Patagonia scores high here. They have a loyal following, a warranty that actually works (verified by us), and they help solve environmental problems at a global level. They’ve also got a pretty sweet Instagram feed.
Editor’s note: You might be thinking that we’re covering a lot in one category here… you’re correct. We like to stay focused on the physical product as much as possible, and therefore we’ve purposefully packed all this stuff into one category so that it doesn’t have a massive influence on the overall rating. If you’re traveling in a remote village in Thailand, a solid warranty and great customer service won’t do you much good when the main zipper breaks on your backpack. We’d prefer a backpack that doesn’t break in the first place.
We use our expertise and experience to encompass a general rating for the product. We also consider any specifics to the product that don’t necessarily fit into any of the other rating categories.
Example: The Roost Laptop Stand 2.0 scores high here. There’s something special about an ultra-portable laptop stand that demonstrates some very high innovation for the industry. It’s well crafted, well designed, and the quality materials come together for an excellent experience most of us never want to travel without again.