The September 2011 issue of Practical Sailor magazine features our 2011 Gear of the Year roundup. This annual report profiles 10 to 15 products that our editors and staff believe stood out among the dozens and dozens of products we tested during the previous 12 months. As in past years, most of the products earning Gear of the Year designation had previously earned Best Choice designation, meaning that they clearly outperformed every other product in testing.
Most long-time readers are familiar with our ratings categories—Best Choice, Recommended, and Budget Buy—but their significance might not be so obvious to new readers. In fact, we’ve received a number of letters from people asking us to clarify what these ratings mean. So, here it is:
Best Choice: Indicated by a single star on the PS Value Guide table that accompanies most test reports (here's an example); this is a product that meets our highest standards regardless of price. Not only does the product outperform competitors in testing, it has the features and robust construction that make it suitable for offshore sailing. Sailors who are pondering a long-term cruise should consider Best Choice products when provisioning, upgrading, or refitting their boat.
Recommended: Indicated by a checkmark on the PS Value Guide table; this product falls short of the Best Choice product in overall testing, but it excels in one or more evaluation points or has special features that might make it the most desirable for certain types of sailors, or for sailors with certain preferences. An example would be an environmentally friendly bottom paint.
Budget Buy: Indicated by a dollar sign on the PS Value Guide; this is the least expensive product in our test that we would not hesitate to recommend to a reader or friend. The Budget Buy products tend to be a better match for coastal or inland sailors than for offshore sailors, but there have been several cases—particularly in the maintenance category—in which the Budget Buy product is also the Best Choice. Because prices change after each issue goes to press, we encourage readers to compare prices before buying.
If you have any questions about our testing program, ratings system, or have suggestions for future tests, let us know, either by e-mail or in the comment box below.