Lightweight is (not always) the best weight

I’m sorry it’s been a bit quiet here in the last few months, but I have my reasons (good, positive ones for the most part…).

In May I went to Montenegro with my girlfriend and did some wonderful day hikes around some of the mountain ranges in this beautifully diverse little country. I definitely want to return there some day to explore some of them a bit more, and for longer. I have the feeling some of the ranges would present some fun climbing and mountaineering in the early summer season, especially Komovi and Prokletije (the latter we regretfully did not have time to visit). My dream would be to trek in, make a base camp and go nuts for a few days. Now to find the time…

Montenegro Komovi Panorama

In July I went to Austria to attend an introductory mountaineering course organized by the Dutch alpine society NKBV. I was lucky enough to be able to attend their combined course and alpine tour. This enabled us to really take the time to drill certain crevasse rescue techniques – both self-rescue and buddy rescue. This two-week period was a great learning experience and it has definitely left me yearning for more, even though some of the vistas were of… debatable quality…

Wildspitze Summit.jpg

And last but certainly not least, in August I participated in Fjällräven Classic Sweden, a week-long trekking festival in Lappland, held each year. This really is a community event and a great introduction to trekking for those new to the activity and a really fun event for those already familiar with hauling their home on their backs (which includes yours truly obviously).

Fjällräven Classic Kebnekaise.jpg

For those familiar with trekking in rough conditions, it is not the biggest challenge ever, although the fickle arctic summer weather and the exposed terrain can make it tough nonetheless. Outside of the context of Fjällräven Classic I would never advice anybody to take their first multi-day trekking trip into Northern Sweden as the weather and terrain can and will make it very unpleasant indeed, and might make a beginner very uncomfortable if not downright unsafe.

Now, especially my two weeks in Austria have taught me a thing or two. Aside from the obvious complicated hauling systems and rope techniques (which I will have to repeat a million times more to truly master), the one take-away for me was the importance of low packing volume of gear – especially in summer.

North Face Summit Series Alpine 50 Fully Loaded.jpg

Especially in the alps, though, I underestimated the amount of time certain pieces of gear spend in your pack: harness, wind jacket and rain jacket only came out very sporadically. This is more or less obvious for the latter two, but my harness was a chunky Black Diamond sport climbing harness. Really comfy to rappel in, belay in or just hang into, but during glacier travel and especially when in my pack, it was big and heavy and, when worn, cumbersome to combine with a backpack belt.

Which led into an orientation into ski mountaineering harnesses. I eventually picked up an ‘old’ orange Black Diamond Couloir, which I was able to find for a fair price new at retail. It’s one of the last ones of these produced in 2015, so theoretically usable until 2025 – which is longer than the practical lifespan of a harness anyway. It’s 1/3rd the pack size of my sport harness, and about half the weight. Quite an improvement, and I really dig the bright orange color.

Another space saver is a proper windbreaker jacket. Softshells are really comfy and versatile but when the weather forecast calls for mostly sunny weather they do take up a lot of pack space – although I still prefer them when there is a big chance of changeable weather.

When wind is the main issue, the Patagonia Houdini Jacket is truly a magic trick. Weighing 100 grams and stuffing into a built-in pocket smaller than a big banana, this jacket is windproof and is capable of shedding some precipitation as well, all while remaining quite breathable. Its small weight and pack size means that it is about five times as space efficient as a traditional softshell. But when you combine it with a thin fleece, it is about as functional.

Then there is the issue of actual waterproofs. Superlight rain gear is available nowadays from as light a weight as 170 grams for a jacket. But the tricky thing is that sometimes your rain gear gets used with a heavy backpack (especially when you’re bivouacking, trekking, or setting up and operating from a base camp of sorts). My Fjällräven Bergtagen Eco-Shell Jacket is a wonderful piece of waterproof-breathable wear for heavy-use situations. It is also of acceptable weight for those summer days when rain isn’t in the forecast and it will spend 90% of its time in your 50-liter alpine pack. The only thing it doesn’t do very well is being part of a superlight summer kit. My kit dream is to be able to do a technical, cabin-to-cabin alpine trek with a 30L-ish pack. Doable, but only when everything packs down tiny. However, I still want it to be full featured, ie. helmet-compatible hood, 3-layer laminate, large pockets that are usable while wearing harness and/or pack belt, vent zips, and, most importantly, not feel like a plastic bag.

Now, I originally planned to postpone this purchase a little, as 3-layer hardshells can go up in price quite a bit, especially when they need to be lightweight. But it being sales season for most of the big retail chains over here means that I was able to pick up a Mammut Masao Light HS Hooded Jacket for a bargain. This jacket seems to have all the bells and whistles I need for about 3/5th the weight and size of my Bergtagen – perfect for lightweight summer alpine trips. I haven’t read any extensive reviews online either so I’ll write one up as soon as I have put it to use a bit. However, I still think I will take my Fjällräven hardshell on mini expedition style trips, long treks, and when the forecast is less favorable – or plain bad.

So I went on a tiny spending spree… Looks to be money well spent though, as I’ll use all of these items on future trips and adventures and I can mix and match all of these pieces of gear depending on my needs.

Now, time to plan the next mountain adventure!

 

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Fjällräven Bergtagen Eco-Shell Jacket Review

Overview

Fjällräven has been making quality gear for over sixty years now, but one relatively recent addition to their line-up is properly waterproof high-performance gear. While waterproof apparel has been in their collection for quite some years, 2015 saw the introduction of a revolutionary new material: Eco-Shell (or, technically, Eco-Shell 2.0: They already released a previous version in 2011). Why this material is so ground-breaking is a question I will return to later.

When Eco-Shell 2.0 first came out I tried the Keb Eco-Shell Jacket for a while. I liked it in terms of fit and feel, but to me it had one major drawback: My climbing helmet barely fit underneath the hood. Fjällräven claims that a helmet should fit but I just did not have enough room for movement – quite annoying when you’re pushing uphill. I sold it after about half a year of use and switched to one of Fjällräven’s main competitors: Arc’teryx. Until recently, their hood design was unrivalled. I say ‘until recently’ because the Swedish crazies from Övik came up with the Bergtagen Collection: a concept built for technical mountaineering, alpinism and back-country skiing. Anxious to find out if this system of clothing is all that it is cracked up to be? Please read on…

Fjallraven Bergtagen Eco-Shell Jacket Helmet Compatible Hood.jpg

Construction

As I’ve come to expect from the Swedes, the construction is technically top notch but straightforward. Where some brands can go a bit overboard with features, Fjällräven tends to be simpler and more barebones in their approach, especially with their technical apparel.

Let’s start with having a look at the major identifier of this jacket: The main material (bear with me here…).

As I’ve said before, Eco-Shell is quite the revolution in the outdoor industry. Where most waterproof-breathable apparel throughout the market is made from Gore-Tex or some sort of copy of that American powerhouse, Eco-Shell is different, especially in Version 2.0.

Gore-Tex advertises with the slogan ‘Guaranteed to Keep You Dry’. Rightly so. Their materials are inherently waterproof because the microporous membrane does not let water through from the outside. Now, Gore-Tex (or any other microporous membrane really) remains breathable because the material contains microscopic pores – hence the name. These pores essentially are super-small holes in the material that let water vapour through from the inside, preventing the quick build-up of sweat and heat.

Gore-Tex is made from stretched PTFE, short for Polytetrafluoroethylene (you can forget that and call it Teflon). You’re likely to be familiar with this: it’s used around the house in tape form to waterproof faucets and showerheads.

In most garments, it is laminated to a polyamide outside and in most cases a protective inside coating as well (hence the industry mumbo-jumbo about 2, 2,5 and 3-layer clothing). Then, the face material gets a durable water-repellent coating made from PFC (perfluorocarbons). This makes water bead off of rain jackets. This construction has essentially remained the same since the material’s invention in the sixties and seventies. Of course, the layers have become thinner, stronger and more breathable. But the main concept has remained the same.

While it works reasonably well in temperate to cold conditions, this set-up has one major drawback: it totally destroys the environment. Most Gore-Tex or Gore-Tex copycat clothing consists of multiple textile materials (polyester, polyamide, PTFE and sometimes more). This makes them virtually impossible to re-cycle. Furthermore, Teflon production involves numerous extremely harmful chemicals, which can lead to cancer if not properly worked with. To add insult to injury, PFC-made DWR’s are harmful to nature because they take an extremely long time to break down and are poisonous to small animals and, because they linger and build up, the rest of the food chain.

Then there is the inherent technical drawback of microporous membranes: because they are basically a super-thin plastic layer with tiny holes they are susceptible to wear-and-tear and their breathability is limited.

Eco-Shell 2.0, especially the 3-layer variant, avoids most of these issues. While Eco-Shell 1.0 essentially was a 100% polyester microporous membrane with a PFC-free coating (which already is a lot better than PTFE membranes coated with PFC’s), Eco-Shell 2.0 improves upon the first edition in a couple of important ways.

Number one is the basic technology used: Eco-Shell 2.0 is a hydrophilic membrane. That means that it is actively sucking away excess moisture from the skin. This makes it much more breathable than a microporous membrane. Whereas microporous membranes rely on mechanical transportation of water vapour, hydrophilic membranes chemically suck it away from the inside out. The difference is very noticeable when working hard or when the temperature rises.

Number two is that Eco-Shell is a mono-material: the entire garment is made from partly recycled polyester (details such as zipper runners excluded). This already was the case with Eco-Shell 1.0, but not so much for most other waterproof-breathables. Mono-materials are easier to recycle than garments in which multiple types of plastic need to be separated before melting them down. Also, polyester membranes tend to be stronger and therefore longer lasting than PTFE membranes.

Number three is the total lack of PFC DWR. Fjällräven works with DWR’s with a shorter carbon-chain. This makes them significantly less harmful. Granted, most brands are currently ditching PFC’s. That’s a good thing. The only drawback is that PFC’s are extremely water-repellent, and PFC-free DWR’s thus need to be replenished more often.

Number four is a CSR-related choice made by Fjällräven to climate-compensate production and transportation of Eco-Shell, meaning that it is completely CO2-neutral when it ends up in the customer’s wardrobe.

Last but not least, polyamide-reinforced PTFE membranes tend to feel like wrinkly and noisy plastic bags. This is because the membrane needs plenty of reinforcement to remain reasonably durable. Normally this is done by adding a layer of polyamide in a thickness dictated by how strong the garment needs to be.  Eco-Shell apparel uses polyester instead. Polyester is much stronger, more pliable and softer, and hence not nearly as loud when moving around. It is also easier to recycle, as mentioned before. It is heavier than Teflon and polyamide though, so that comes at a small weight penalty.

To me, Eco-Shell is a major improvement over most other waterproof-breathable materials. Now let’s discuss why the Bergtagen Eco-Shell is such an improvement upon all the other Eco-Shell jackets in the Fjällräven line-up.

Features

First up: the hood. Whereas Fjällräven’s other shell jackets feature hoods designed with hikers and trekkers in mind, the Bergtagen Eco-Shell’s hood has been designed for one purpose only: to fit a mountaineer’s helmet with room to spare. In many ways, it is very similar to Arc’teryx’s Stormhood design: it is two-way adjustable, very roomy and has a laminated brim. However, there also are some major differences: the collar is higher, meaning that it offers more protection from harsh winds. Also, the entire front is lined with microfleece for a soft feel and warmth.

Fjallraven Bergtagen Eco-Shell Jacket Helmet Compatible Hood Adjustable.jpg

Second, it is made from 3-Layer Eco-Shell RipStop fabric, meaning that the outside material is a lot harder-wearing than the Keb or Abisko Eco-Shells. Furthermore, it features elbow patches made from Corylon, an Aramid-based fabric developed in-house by Fjällräven to be immensely strong yet very pliable.

Fjallraven Bergtagen Eco-Shell Jacket Corylon Elbow Reinforcements.jpg

The third major difference between this one and the rest of the Eco-Shell line-up: zippers. Bergtagen products feature very tough zippers, laminated ones on the Eco-Shells to make them waterproof. Also, they feature innovative pullers to make them easier to manipulate with gloves on. In fairness, they are a bit bulky but the large pullers are a big advantage in bad weather.

Fjallraven Bergtagen Eco-Shell Jacket Front Pockets.jpg

Other than that, the features are pretty similar to the Keb Eco-Shell Jacket and most other high-quality shells: two pockets on the front with roomy inside pockets for GPS or phone, Velcro-adjustable sleeves and a draw cord-adjustable hem. Large ventilation zippers on the side prevent overheating.

 

A few omissions make it clear this is a more hard-core jacket: no sleeve pocket (why would you need a ski pass in the back-country?), no cord hole for your headphones, and no inside pocket. You’ll only hear the wind howling in this one. Due to the fact that it is tougher, it is also a little bit heavier than the Keb Eco-Shell – but the weight penalty is barely noticeable: about 30 grams in a similar size.

Fit

Roomy but articulate. A thin down jacket will easily fit underneath but it is not bulky when only wearing a t-shirt. Fjällräven jackets tend to be roomy. If you know your sizing with their stuff you can stick to your normal size but if you’re new to the brand you might want to size down. The hem is quite long, which is nice in bad weather as it offers ample wind and moisture protection, and protects fleeces and down or synthetic layers from moisture. The sleeves are long, as is generally the case in climbing oriented jackets. It’s a necessity for me as I have rather long arms for my overall height.

Fjallraven Bergtagen Eco-Shell Jacket Size Tag.jpg

Details

Fjällräven is a brand with its own quirks and design philosophy. This is most apparent in general things such as colour choice (compared to most household outdoor brands their palette is quite subdued) and in some of the design details. For example, while most brands tend to go with pit zips to offer extra ventilation, Fjällräven is steadily banning this from their line-up, instead opting for core ventilation zips placed along the entire side of their shell jackets. This has a number of advantages: one, it offers better ventilation as your body generates most of its heat at the core. Two, they are not blocked by backpacks, whereas pit zips tend to be closed off by shoulder straps, and three, they can double as access to the pockets of midlayers worn underneath. This makes hand pockets on the outside unnecessary, reducing bulk and weight.

Fjallraven Bergtagen Eco-Shell Jacket Vent Zips.jpg

Another quirk is their obsession with double zippers. It’s hard to find a jacket without a zipper that can open from the bottom up. This is annoying and nice at the same time: annoying because they can be a little finicky to close, nice because it makes for an extra ventilation option. It also necessitates the push button at the hem to make sure it does not open up by itself.

Fjallraven Bergtagen Eco-Shell Jacket Double Zipper Bottom Push Button.jpg

Other than that, some things stand out: the mesh pockets inside the chest pockets are roomy, roomier than on the brand’s other shell choices. The hem drawstring does not have a garage, making sure it can be adjusted easily on the fly while wearing a backpack or harness (but also making it more noticeable and a snag hazard). The best detail in my opinion is that the Velcro tabs on the sleeve cuffs are sewn into the material, as opposed to the industry standard of a strip of Velcro sewn onto the sleeve. This helps make them longer lasting, and might prevent the build-up of snow on the tab in heavy weather.

Fjallraven Bergtagen Eco-Shell Jacket Hem Draw Cord.jpg

Furthermore, what makes Bergtagen unique in the Fjällräven line-up is the incorporation of RECCO reflectors into the garments. This enables Search and Rescue teams to detect the wearer via a small and flexible metal strip sewn into the material.

Fjallraven Bergtagen Eco-Shell Jacket Cuffs Velcro.jpg 

Usage

To be honest, so far I’ve only used this jacket around town, riding my bicycle to and from work in various weather conditions ranging from cloudy to continuous rain and sleet (biking through precipitation, especially sleet, is a good way to test a shell though: it increases the pressure on the material).

It does breathe much better than most other shell materials during the same activity, and most details work as advertised. The hood is roomy but adjusts well when not wearing a helmet, you can easily manipulate the zippers while wearing gloves and the pockets provide ample room for large phones, GPS and other necessities. Most importantly, the jacket is completely waterproof but breathes very well in most if not all cases. I’m looking forward to stress testing this jacket next Alpine season.

 

Pros

Tough 3-Layer RipStop face fabric

RECCO

Pliable and soft

Recyclable

PFC-free DWR

Completely waterproof

Very breathable

Hard-wearing reinforcements

Large zipper pullers

Large side zips

Spacious pockets

Roomy, fully helmet-compatible hood

Cons

PFC-free coatings are less water-resistant

Hem draw cords need to be tucked in manually

Just one slit for a headphone cord would have been a nice touch

Overall

If you need a hardwearing and exceptionally breathable hardshell jacket for back-country and alpine adventures year-round, and still want it to be somewhat good looking in daily life: look no further. This jacket has all the bells and whistles you might want – and none that you don’t. It will protect you from the elements no matter the circumstances, and will do so with room to spare for a helmet and necessary layers.  Fjällräven also makes a women’s version, obviously. Follow the links below for more information.

fjallraven-bergtagen-eco-shell-jacket-recco-label.jpg

With a recommended retail price of 579,95 Euros, it comes with a hefty price tag. But then, most of the jackets in this category are that expensive, if not more so. Design, construction and the materials used make them pricy – no compromises are made in terms of functionality. More than with any other type of gear, rainwear is you-get-what-you-pay-for. The Fjällraven Bergtagen Eco-Shell Jacket is, however, built to last, with careful attention to detail and the environment.

Further reading

https://www.fjallraven.com/bergtagen-eco-shell-jacket

 

https://www.fjallraven.com/bergtagen-eco-shell-jacket-w

 

The Importance of a Good Mid Layer

 Fall is approaching quickly and that means plummeting temperatures. In order to have fun outdoors in cooler and wetter climates, clothing becomes all the more important. Although almost no single piece of clothing is more important than the other, one garment is paramount to your outdoor adventure: the mid layer.

While a very warm winter jacket or parka is a good solution for everyday use, it’s less so for strenuous outdoor activities in colder temperatures because most of them are designed to keep you warm while sitting still or while engaging in low-cardio activities. If your activities are a bit more strenuous (say, tour skiing, mountaineering, trekking or walking in the mountains) they will be incredibly hot and heavy – heat stroke style. This is where the layering principle comes in, and the mid layer is an important part of that.

Basically, the mid layer is the layer you put on while resting, or sitting still for extended periods of time. Ideally, it is able to warm you up quickly and retain heat effectively. Together with the base layer, to wick away moisture and offer next-to-skin comfort, and an outer layer, to keep out wind, rain or snow – and in extreme circumstances a reinforcement layer for additional heat or weather protection – it provides you with a system of clothing adaptable to almost any situation.

So, what do these mid layers look like? They come in various shapes and sizes, each with its own pros and cons. One might be warmer than the other, while the other could be better able to cope with moisture, for example. There are two main groups of mid layers: sweaters and puffies, each with a number of sub groups. We’ll look at all of these in turn and close with a look at their combined usage. Let’s look at sweaters first.

Sweaters

Sweaters, or pullovers or jumpers, as they are known in some parts of the world, are fairly straightforward pieces of clothing. They come in various thicknesses and materials. The two most widely seen nowadays are wool sweaters and fleeces. They both come in a number of form factors: with or without hood, with half zips or with full zips, or as plain sweaters without any of those features. In essence, they all do the same: they retain heat within the weaving of the fabric and by creating an extra layer of air between the user and the garment. However, they do so with varying results.

Wool is a very natural fabric, with some excellent and less excellent qualities. On the upside, it is a very good insulator and a very durable fabric. Furthermore, it is naturally moisture wicking, resulting in a highly breathable garment. Also, it is still capable to retain a great amount of heat even when damp or wet. It is a favorite among survival enthusiasts because it is very resistant to fire as well.

However, it also is relatively heavy, and gets more so when wet – also, it takes forever to dry (do not let your wool garment dry in a badly ventilated space, as that could result in a severe case of mildew). Some people might find the texture of wool annoying next to the skin, resulting in an itching sensation (very fine weaving or certain types of wool such as Merino alleviate this somewhat, resulting in excellent base layer fabrics). Overall, wool is a great fabric with some less awesome characteristics. It is great for certain types of users, such as survivalists. But for mountaineers or trekkers its downsides might push them over the edge.

Fleeces provide somewhat of a mirror image to wool. Traditionally, fleeces used to be 100 per cent synthetic, in most cases polyester. Polyester fabrics are light and hard wearing. The major downside to polyester is that it might be a bit difficult to keep fresh and clean due to its washing restrictions and the fact that bacteria seem to be quite fond of it. Also, traditional fleeces are somewhat boring and ugly due to its reliance on a soft and uneven surface to retain heat.

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Modern day fleeces look a lot better, with innovations such as Powerstretch, Polartec and polyester/wool/elastane blends creating better looking surfaces with more comfort and better heat retention abilities.

The major upsides to synthetic fleeces are that they are lightweight, comfortable and quick drying. Also, they retain a lot of heat even when wet. The major downsides however, are that some (especially cheaper or thicker weave polyester fabrics) might be less able to wick away body vapor and moisture resulting in a sweaty feeling, and that they are very susceptible to fire, being 100 per cent synthetic.

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Due to these characteristics, fleeces are very suitable for strenuous outdoor activities such as trekking or mountaineering, but might be less suitable for bushcrafters, survivalists and camp fire enthusiasts…

Footnote: obviously, there are also cotton sweaters. These are very comfortable. However, for serious outdoor activities involving sleeping in the outdoors I seriously recommend you shun these. Cotton takes forever to dry and offers very little warmth when wet. It’s not unusual to suffer serious hypothermia because of the use of cotton base- or mid layers. Cotton kills. 

Puffy Jackets or vests

Air is the best insulator known to man – or any other species for that matter. It’s why polar bears, huskies and polar foxes all have a thick winter fur. The thick layer of air this creates is what makes them capable to cope with extreme cold.

Humans don’t have this ability, but we have come close to creating something as good as (if not better than) those arctic naturals. Puffy apparel relies on a large pocket of air within the garment itself to retain heat. That is why they look so ridiculously large and why the extreme versions of such jackets make us look like marshmallow men.

In essence, puffy jackets come in two varieties: loft-filled versions, and down-filled versions. Similar to the various materials used for sweaters, they come with their own pros and cons, which makes them ideal for certain circumstances, while being less so for others.

Although down comes in various grades of quality it is hands down the lowest weight/highest warmth insulator available (pun only noticed after writing). It is incredibly light and comfortable to wear (depending on the inner fabric of the jacket, which is usually some form of polyamide known as Pertex Quantum). It’s like putting on a good sleeping bag but still being able to, you know, do stuff. You barely notice it being there but it creates incredible amounts of heat.

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Down has one major, and I do mean major, negative point: it is rubbish when it gets wet. Moisture makes the down fibers and feathers needed for the pockets of air cluster close together, which makes it lose nearly all its insulating ability. Also, like wool, it takes ages to dry. This harnesses the potential to ruin an otherwise awesome outdoor season such as autumn. Down is great in the dead of winter when cold is much dryer than during the fall months. Puffy down jackets are in their element when the snow starts falling, not when the rain is pouring. However,  a down vest can be a great reinforcement layer over a fleece when autumn slowly starts to change into winter. Just remember to keep it dry.

Loft puffy jackets, again, form somewhat of a counterpoint to down puffy jackets. They are not nearly as warm or as light as down-filled jackets, but they do offer the ability to retain heat even when damp and they also dry a lot quicker. Also, they are more affordable. This is why most outdoor brands, from The North Face to Arc’teryx and Fjällräven to Patagonia, have some form of loft-filled jackets, each with their own name of filling, but all relying on the same principle: synthetic polyester down emulators. It looks different from down on the inside. It’s very similar to cotton candy instead of goose feathers.

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The fact that it’s much more similar to such a fiber is also what creates its major pro: it cannot cluster when wet. It also creates its major con: much more actual stuff is needed to create its insulating effect, resulting in a larger package and a heavier garment than a down equivalent. This is why these types of jackets are often thinner and more geared towards autumn (when temperatures are higher than in the dead of winter) than their down counterparts. Again, these are great for severe usage due to their ability to retain heat when wet, especially in wet and cool climates. They are less suitable for severe usage in dry, extremely cold climates, although they can work in such climates when combined with a down-filled vest as reinforcement, to heat the body core.

Combined Usage

While each mid layer is great for their intended use, they can also be combined to get the most out of them.

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While sweaters and fleeces serve as great mid layers in the warmer months of the years (in which they are mostly only used as a layer to put on while resting or during the evening by the cabin or tent) they could actually be needed to keep the body warm during strenuous winter activities. While tour skiing, or on snow shoeing hikes, you start coolly, because the body core heats up quickly resulting in less clothing needed to keep warm. However, warmer layers are needed to keep warm during rest stops: enter down jackets or vests. These are then often pulled on over fleeces.

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By combining various mid- or reinforcement layers, you never run the risk of heat stroke or hypothermia due to either heat, cold, or moisture. Just remember to adjust clothing accordingly the moment you get cold or hot.

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Also, it is paramount to protect your clothing from the elements. Use a proper shell garment (either water resistant or waterproof, depending on weather; for a discussion on these see one of my earlier posts) to protect the clothing you are wearing, and pack your clothing properly into your backpack when not in use, preferably in a waterproof pack bag to keep rain or snow out. This will result in much better times spent outdoors!

Further Reading and Watching

http://leaf.arcteryx.com/product.aspx?language=EN&gender=mens&category=Mid_Layer&model=Atom-LT-Hoody-LEAF

http://www.mammut.ch/store/BX/en_BX/B2C-Category/Men/Jackets-and-Vests/Insulation-Jackets/Mercury-Jacket-Men/p/1010-14940-5535

http://www.fjallraven.com/pak-down-vest-34395

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NubocNM6Gag

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

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

Having a taste: Fjällräven Classic 2015

 So obviously it has been a little quiet here for a while… That is, however, with a very good reason. My employer saw fit to dispatch me, and a few of my colleagues to Abisko in Northern Sweden, to show some of our new products and colors for Fall/Winter 2015 to the finishers of one of the world’s most beautiful long-distance treks: The annual Fjällräven Classic.

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Running a long 110KM from Nikkaluokta to Abisko, the Fjällräven Classic follows a part of the well-known King’s Trail in Swedish Lappland. For many it is an introduction to long-distance trekking, to others it is just practice. Nevertheless, it is safe to say that it is not an easy road. Trails with large and small stones and rocks make sure the walkers need to think about where to put their feet and the absence of huts or cabins means that camping out is the way to go, so participants need quite a large and heavy pack to make the multiple-day walk enjoyable and comfortable – although some people prefer to do it trail-running in less than 24 hours, most trekkers do it in three to five days.

Personally, walking the Classic is definitely on my to-do-list, but I was there to work – kind of.

Being there was first and foremost about tasting the atmosphere of Northern Sweden. About talking to people, whether they were passers-by, long-time trekking enthusiasts, newcomers, other Fjällräven employees of every part of the company, and to existing or prospective customers – in short, it was a networking event set to the backdrop of one of the most impressive and beautiful areas in Europe, maybe even the world.

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Luckily we also had time to get out there. The surroundings of the Abisko Tourist Station are some of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen: Wild rivers, large lakes, and long-stretched plains, hills and mountains – even a very scenic sauna down by a lake which we were lucky enough to get to use. Although we didn’t have the time to get far enough away from civilization to get that typical sense of vastness and solitude I associate with long-distance trekking, it was awesome and beautiful nonetheless.

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I would definitely love to visit the place in my actual spare time once or twice again: once just to finish the Classic and again to enjoy the surroundings on my own or with a close group of friends. If you ever have the time to go, please do. It’s up North, so even in summer months you need to take the necessary stuff to enjoy the outdoors even when it’s a little colder. During the darker months, you can also get a good view of the Northern Lights. Getting there is not very straightforward (we had to fly from Amsterdam to Stockholm and change to a domestic flight to Kiruna, and drive for an hour and a half) but it was totally worth it!

Further reading

 http://www.fjallraven.com/classic

http://www.svenskaturistforeningen.se/en/Discover-Sweden/Facilities-and-activities/Lappland/Fjallstationer/STF-Mountain-station-Abisko/

http://www.visitabisko.com