Why I Buy – The Three F’s

Photo: David Morlock Photography | OWL Trip 2010

I came across The Three F’s when I first started working in the Outdoor Industry about 20 years ago. I had only been on the job for a short time and like any new staffer hungry for knowledge I was browsing through old catalogs in the break room.

In the front of an old backpack catalog some guy named “Wayne” used the concept of Fit, Fabrics and Features to walk through his product line. It was a concept that not only clarified the differences between the products in the line but also between other companies.

The Three F’s have been a great tool me. They’re a yardstick that help me decide whether or not I’m going to buy a piece of equipment or apparel and they’re a great method for comparing and understanding outdoor products.

How a product fits is the most important qualifier for me. As a shopper I have a mental checklist of how something should fit me. As a shop employee I’m making mental notes on how this may fit someone else or asking coworkers how the piece fits them.

Part of building that checklist is knowing what a good fit feels like. Things like apparel and outerwear may seem straight forward, but a jacket that’s too big in the torso won’t layer efficiently. Tightness across the shoulders or sleeves that are too short won’t work on a bike or a climb. Too shallow of a rise on those pants? Yeah, no. And something that’s just a little annoying in the store will bug the shit out of me in the long run.

There’s also a category of products where I think consulting an expert is beneficial. I’ve fitted packs and hiking boots for a long time so I’m good there. But if I ever buy a solo canoe I know where I’m going. A road bike or a pair of ski boots and I’m going to ask around to find out who does the best fit consultations.

This step takes a closer look. What is this thing made out of? How was it made? What makes it special? I’m looking for two pieces of information here: Performance and Build Quality. Are the materials going to perform the way I expect for my intended use? Is the construction solid? Is it going to have a respectable lifespan?

Most of the price differences are going to be found here. Yes, jacket X may perform better than jacket Y because it has MoreBetter FairyDust™ (MBFD).  It’s also important to know when MBFD™ isn’t the right tool for the job. Having an encyclopedic knowledge of materials and construction is helpful here but a beginner’s mind accompanied by a helpful guide will suffice.

Features are easy for manufacturers and marketers to call out. If it’s a well designed product it should have what’s important. For me, too many PollyRazzmatazz Doodads™ is a recipe for trouble. But a well done feature can really make a product. It’s a fine line and it takes some experience to recognize what works well.

Friction Free. That’s the goal. The best tool, piece of equipment or apparel is the one that doesn’t get in the way. When I’m doing my thing I don’t even notice it’s there and it works perfectly with everything else in my kit.

At least until it wears out and I find out they don’t make it anymore… Am I right?


David Sweeney has been with Pemba Serves for nearly three years doing Systems and Marketing work. (You’re soaking in it.) He has worked in the Outdoor Industry in a variety of roles since his first gear shop job at the original Erehwon Woodfield store in 1989. He currently resides in an undisclosed location somewhere between Chicago and Madison. He feels blessed and fortunate to work in a great field with such intelligent, talented and good-looking people.


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