Outdoor Gear Review: Fjällräven Keb Jacket

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Full disclaimer: I currently work for Fjällräven as a sales advisor. However, that does not mean critique is a foul word in my book.

Overview

Named after Kebnekaise, Sweden’s highest mountain, the Keb series of garments is Fjällräven’s most technical line of clothing. It is meant for demanding treks in high mountain regions, and as such focuses on freedom of movement, ventilation, a high degree of comfort and the ability to deal with almost any weather. The Keb Family, as almost any other family in the Fjällräven collection, is designed to be used as a system of garments, with the inclusion of base, mid, reinforcement and outer layers. This jacket is meant to be used as an outer shell for active outdoors activities such as trekking in the mountains, or mountaineering in dry but demanding weather.

Construction

As most Fjällräven jackets are, the Keb is largely constructed out of G-1000, the company’s tough and durable 65-35 per cent polyester-cotton blend. While often understood as a Gore-Tex alternative, G-1000 is not actually completely waterproof. While its wind- and water-resistance can be improved upon by applying Greenland Wax (which is a soap-like substance made from paraffin and beeswax), you’ll still need a hardshell or poncho for those torrential rains, while it will suit you well for anything from a light drizzle to a short shower. The upside to this is that G-1000’s ventilation is unparalleled and that its durability is incredible, meaning that you won’t destroy your precious hardshell with a heavy backpack when you don’t actually need that 30K water column jacket because of unexpectedly good weather.

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A very large part of the Keb Jacket is made from four-way stretch material, mostly on the sleeves and the back. This adds extra freedom of movement and ventilation at places where you need them most. This stretch also covers a part of the front, although Fjällräven was smart enough to make this only cover the outside of the front pockets, meaning the user still enjoys the benefit of G-1000’s weather-repellant abilities on the entire front side.

As far as stitching goes, this is where you’ll notice that this is still a human’s job… For those obsessed with small imperfections that might be a deal breaker as some of the end stitching might show some loose threads. These are mostly leftovers from production, however, and cutting them loose should not result in any major unraveling or breaking. As you might expect from such a major outdoor equipment manufacturer, Fjällräven has quite a well-organized and generous warranty policy so any imperfections and major malfunctions should be dealt with.

Features

Feature-wise this is one of the most well rounded jackets I have ever used. Its hood, for example, might come across as ridiculously large the first time you put it on. But then you discover all the Velcro and draw-cords used for adjustment and it becomes one of the best collars cum storm hoods ever. It is fully and snugly adjustable so it follows any head movements to the tee. No more lost peripheral vision! Also, it is large enough to fit a helmet, or if you’re like me, the hood(s) of one or several mid layers, without it feeling stuffed. Also, due to the large collar, the tunnel hood acts as a snow deflector due to the few centimeters of space between the brim and the user’s face.

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Other smart features are the stretch panels covering the chest pockets, so they are incredibly expandable. They are roomy enough to fit items such as GPS devices, gloves or other cold gear as it is, but with the stretch the jacket makes sure they don’t bother the user while they’re full of useful items.

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As you might expect from a jacket like this, it has an elastic draw cord at the hem to make it sit nice and snug on the hips. This ensures no wind will come through to cool the wearer down. I have this one in permanent use due to the fit of the jacket, which brings us to the next point.

Fit

While I am, as most people, tempted to buy a jacket which looks super nice and tailored to my body, that actually is a costly mistake with most outer shell jackets, whether they are hard- or softshells (unless of course, you have a money tree growing in your back yard). Per definition, such jackets are designed to be used as a system garment, meaning the user has to have enough leftover space for a base and mid layer – in extreme circumstances even a reinforcement layer. Nowadays, most insulation layers are filled with either down or loft fibers, which means they rely on the principle of air pockets. This means the user needs extra space to hold on to that precious warm air. With a tight-fitting jacket, the user will smother the mid layer, ruining its insulating effect – meaning he or she will eventually have a very cold body core.

So much for theory.

In practice, this means that I have opted for one size larger than I would have chosen from a fashion standpoint. I chose a Medium. It still looks quite nice on my shoulders, but on the main body it looks a tad bulky when I’m wearing just a t-shirt underneath. But this is more than just a summer jacket. I want to be able to wear this year-round. That means being able to pull this over a thick sweater or even bulkier loft or down jacket. And then, all of a sudden, that Small becomes incredibly tight and weird looking, while the Medium is super comfy.

From a functionality and insulation standpoint, extra space is a necessity.

Details

Always the simplicity enthusiasts, Fjällräven has opted to keep this jacket as undetailed as possible. Of course, there’s the usual, such as the hood draw cords, which are integrated in a subtle and clean way. Another one is the (apparent) lack of hand pockets, which I personally think is not a lacking feature but a feature in and of itself, because a smart user will notice that the ventilation zippers at the sides (core ventilation instead of arm pit ventilation) double as a way to access the pockets on any mid layer worn under the jacket. Hand pockets are inaccessible when wearing a heavy pack or climbing equipment anyway, and this construction helps keep the weight and bulk of the jacket down.

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On the left sleeve there’s another pocket one could use for stuff such as GPS devices or flashlights I guess. I personally tend to keep as much gear in my trousers as possible because I want to be able to switch from a soft- to a hardshell jacket as quickly as possible when the weather turns and having a large amount of small items in my jacket pockets makes this impossible so I doubt I’ll use it much.

Usage

Since obtaining this jacket about a month ago I have used it almost every single day. For me, it perfectly fulfills the role of an everyday jacket suitable for most weather conditions. While some might think that it looks a little too sporty and hardcore (it does), I actually like that look – a lot.

G-1000 makes sure I’m good for most weather conditions, meaning my extremely expensive rain jacket will only come off the hanger when actually needed (resulting in a longer lifespan!). I am looking forward to testing this jacket in a proper outdoor situation very soon. Next month I will take it to a weeklong trip to Ireland. To be sure, of course I will also pack a hardshell. Lord knows I’ll probably need it (but don’t tell my girlfriend…).

Pros

Very good-looking

Natural feel

Simple

Well-adjustable tunnel hood

Freedom of movement

Durable material

Well-ventilated

Weather protection on exposed areas

Cons

Stitching details are off here and there

Tunnel hood is extremely large

Hem draw cords have no vertical orientation

Stretch not as weather resistant as G-1000

Overall

All in all this is one of my new every-day favorites, which, for me, works as well on the streets as it does in the mountains. It’s adjustable in all the right places, and well thought through with some very useful features and details. It offers just the right amount of weather protection to be useful on almost every day short of those featuring Biblical precipitation. Its cut is tight enough to be good looking without mid-layers, but generous enough to wear them when necessary and do so comfortably.

It does have some features and details that some people might find annoying, such as the overly generous tunnel hood. While this used to be an issue for me, after a month of use it no longer bothers me and I have grown to like it quite a lot due to its excellent double function as a very wind resistant collar.

I do, however, have a small issue with two details, one being the stitching details and the other being the hem draw cords. The cords could have been stowed away a little more elegantly. But this is nothing a small knot can’t fix. The stitching details do not negatively affect the functionality of the jacket in any way. It’s just something which, when done better, would have elevated the jacket from a very good looking, to an extremely good looking jacket.

All in all, I really like this jacket and it only has some very minor caveats. Buy when you’re not a stitching-obsessed person, and you’re looking for a very good general purpose, technical trekking jacket!

Further reading

http://www.fjallraven.com/keb-jacket

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wTwmJIgAlGQ

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