How to Increase Your WAF for Gear Purchases: A Tale of Two Bags

   09.30.13

How to Increase Your WAF for Gear Purchases: A Tale of Two Bags

You know about the Wife Acceptance Factor (WAF), right? It is one of the major sources of guilt for gear folks. If the WAF is low, you feel bad about the purchase. If the WAF is high, it’s like buying gear at a shopping spree. Here is a little story about how to increase the WAF for gear purchases. It focuses on my 18 month battle over a single bag.

Many of us have knives and flashlights on us on a daily basis. They make navigating weird minor challenges easier, and they’re fun to carry. Relatively few people in the general population share our fascination with these two tools, but everyone carries a bag of some kind or another: a backpack, bookbag, purse, briefcase, or something. Bags are virtually universal, but most of them are absolute junk.

My wife is a sack person. She has a sack of toys and a sack of books for our son in the car, a sack for transporting stuff to and from her work, a lunch bag for her and for our son, and her purse. That is her daily carry. A lot of them don’t need to be heavy duty, but some of them should be. She also has a bag in her car packed with our son’s needs. That one should be a heavier duty, better designed item, but it’s not. For a long time, I couldn’t figure out what bothered me about what she carries. Then I figured it out. She actually carries a bunch of sacks. They may be made of canvas or nylon, and some might have zippers, but by and large they are just sacks that are only slightly less disposable than a grocery bag.

I have tried slowly, surely, and with hopefully pleasant nudging, to get her to try a “real” bag in one of her five or six bag slots, but she has been convinced by something I don’t understand that what she has is fine. For the most part, she is right. It makes very little sense to have anything more than a sack for our son’s toys and books; she just needs to have quick access to the contents so she can pass them back during car trips. And the purse, well, I will never understand women’s purses, but suffice it to say that fashion trumps functionality. Those three have to stay. Her work tote is also fairly fashion related, so no touching that one either. Her lunch bag and my son’s lunch bag are fine and aren’t sacks (I helped pick them out). So this leaves the thing that used to be our son’s diaper bag. It is awful.

How awful? Two weeks ago we went on a hike. I wanted to take my Maxpedition Pygmy Falcon II, but I was unable to persuade her to repack it and I didn’t have time to repack it myself.

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Instead we took the backpack we use for our son. It is from Eddie Bauer (That should tell you all you need to know right there). It’s about 15 years old. The zipper looks disgusting, as if it had gingivitis and lost a few teeth. The material is thin and also looks disgusting. There is padding on the back, but it’s thick and spongy. Often, on hikes, it is too soft and things in the pack actually create wear spots. It also sticks to your back like a sweater on a hot day.

The organization of the pack is equally awful. Too many of the compartments are the same size. There is one big compartment and two little ones. Two of them open with the customary half zipper. The third one, the one furthest from your back when the pack is on, splits down the middle. When you’re carrying the pack, opening this compartment is like springing a booby trap. It has two water bottle holders, which were new when the pack was released, but they’re shallow and have no grip. The material is also very springy, meaning the bottles bounce up and down on rough trails, and due to the lack of grip, they pop out once every 500 feet. Finally, and worst of all, the material is so thin and junky that the pack has no rigidity at all. It is basically a plastic grocery bag with thick sweaty foam shoulder straps.

By now I hope it is clear that I hate this bag, that it is a design nightmare. and that I really hope it gets stolen or burns up in a fire or melts into a puddle of plastic on a hot day. I feel it necessary to tell you that this used to be my bag. I bought it 15 years ago. It was okay at the time, especially because, without the Internet, I was unaware of things like Maxpedition or (even better) Tom Bihn. But like so many things in the past 15 years, the wisdom-of-the-crowds effect that the Internet has had on design means that my pack is an outdated relic. I’ve tried to get rid of it many, many times, but my wife always sticks up for it.

But slowly, things have started to change. First, she got to use the two Synapses I tested for Tom Bihn.

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Going from the Eddie Bauer contraption to the Synapse is akin to upgrading from an abacus to a calculator. She loved both of those bags, so much so that she recommended them to my mom.

Over time and many bags, she has slowly come around to seeing the value of a good bag. After a year or so of prodding, I just let the gear do the talking. I am convinced that the gear we like is simply better than what you get without really looking, even if it is not that much more money. Better design comes through, even to a non-gear person.

Last weekend, the switch was complete. After a long hike where I loaded up the PFII before she even noticed, she told me “I like this bag.” Then when we got home, without even saying anything, she chucked the old bag and took the PFII as the diaper/hiking bag. Then, on Monday, she asked me if I had any spare “clippy things” (by that she means the Nite Ize S-biners) as she needed one for her water bottle.

The lessons here are pretty clear. First, show don’t tell. No matter how many times I tried to explain to my wife what was better, letting her use the stuff without me pointing out all of the features like an annoying salesman won her over. Second, good design wins out. After using the PFII and the Bihn bags, my wife realized that they were better than what she had been using. It made her life and her hikes easier. It was more comfortable. They just worked better. Through use, she saw the benefits of good design. Finally, don’t argue with your wife about gear. She is probably smarter than you. And if she is like my wife, she is a little weary of all of the gear. But letting her use this stuff made her less weary. She realized, perhaps in a small way, that all of this research and obsession is really just about making things nicer and easier for only a bit more money. The Eddie Bauer bag was about $70 new. The PFII is probably $20 more at the most.

Hopefully she’ll be a little less skeptical when that next long flat box (which is always a knife) arrives for testing. Probably not, but I can always hope.

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