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…

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

 

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Griffin Technology Survivor All Terrain Case For iPhone 5/5s

Toughness for Roughness

Overview

When you’re out in the mountains or in the field, the risks to your precious pieces of high-tech wizardry multiply a thousand-fold. Prone to shattering its glass screen in classrooms, bars and on bathroom floors and what not, the average modern-day smartphone is not built to withstand extreme abuse. Luck would have it that legions of third-party developers and manufacturers have understood the need for tough, thick and protective cases for smartphones and other delicate technology. One such producer is Griffin, and they have established themselves on this market with the Survivor series. Its All Terrain variant is like a Kevlar vest for your phone.

Construction and Design

The Survivor All Terrain case is constructed out of plastic, silicone and foam, all built and molded to comply with military standards. It wraps around your phone in a three-step way. First, you slide your phone in a plastic hardshell. The first couple of times this might take a little bit of time and effort as you’re afraid to damage your phone’s pretty exterior. In the almost two years I have been using this case, that has never happened though. Second, you wrap the thick silicone bumper around the hardshell. This provides the largest part of the case’s protection. Thicker pads of silicone on the edges and sides make sure that the most impact-sensitive areas are well protected. Last up is the screen protector, which is a click-on piece of plastic the size of the phone itself. This makes sure your phone does not get wet or dirty. The materials used are tough enough so they don’t lose their protective capability, but they are also moldable enough so they easily wrap around your phone. The plastic used for the hardshell is bendable but not liable to break. The silicone used for the bumper is pliable and stretchable, but incredibly tough so it doesn’t tear when applying force. The screen protector is simple enough and not entirely scratch resistant, but then getting scratched so your phone isn’t is exactly its job. When you already have a screen protector on your phone, chances are the touchscreen might become a bit less responsive.

Features

Most importantly, you’re not going to lose any of your phone’s features. All ports and buttons are available through foldaway pieces of silicone or push-through buttons. The hardshell contains two pieces of foam to maximise padding for the phone, and a flip-away camera port so you’re still able to take pictures (as most people do when they’re trekking or climbing in the mountains!). Point of annoyance: the camera protector is sometimes hard to open, especially with freshly clipped nails…

Being able to connect your headphones as well is a very important feature, as nothing beats listening to your favorite song watching a sunset in the outdoors. The port though, is rather narrow so some headphone jacks might not fit. My JBL headphones are not a problem though. While the case offers all-round protection and water-resistance, I wouldn’t take it swimming or take it to the shower. Rain is not a problem. Well, maybe a torrential rain would be. But your average European storm is not. iPhone 5s users, such as myself, might sometimes need to get used to entering their access code, as the home button is completely encased and only reachable through the silicone push-through button.

Usage

Due to the massive amount of protection this case offers, its size is, well… massive. You need big pockets to be able to store this big boy. Therefore, I only use it when I go into the field or the outdoors, as then I’m wearing outdoor- or camouflage trousers with roomy pockets anyway. For those wanting to own a phone case with just enough protection and being able to fit it in a jeans pocket, Griffin released the Survivor Skin. This is basically a silicone version of the innards of the All Terrain. I liked my All Terrain so much that I bought the Skin as well and I have been using it almost every day since. Together they are the only two cases I ever need for my phone. They even dictated my choice for the iPhone 5s instead of the 6 the last time I had to buy a new phone (aside from the 6 being way too large for my girlish hands…).

Too long, didn’t read? Here’s the short version!

Pros

Incredibly tough

All-round protection

Almost all features of the phone remain usable

Built to last

Pretty in its own way

Use your iPhone as a beach ball! (Kidding)

Cons

Massive size

Touch ID unusable

Camera cover sometimes hard to remove

Some headphone plugs might not fit

Touchscreen slightly less responsive

Not entirely waterproof

Overall

While this is an awesome case, it really is only meant for extreme usage. This is not something you want to have around your phone all day, every day. Nevertheless, for those days you want to be able to throw your phone down a mountain without it breaking, this is a great case. I’m quite happy with it and use it when necessary.

Further Reading

https://store.griffintechnology.com/iphone-5/survivor-iphone5

https://store.griffintechnology.com/iphone-5/survivor-skin-for-iphone-5

Arc’teryx LEAF Atom LT Hoody Gen 2 Review

A focus on long-term usability

Overview

As an airsofter, outdoor enthusiast, and as an individual who likes nice-looking clothing, finding something that fills all those requirements is often a challenge. While there’s more than enough high-end camouflage clothing and even more flashy-colored outdoor stuff, Arc’teryx, and especially its Law Enforcement and Armed Forces division, really knows how to make stuff that looks good on the street, is non-reflective in the field and is highly usable while out in the wild. I finally bit the bullet about eight months ago and spent 210 euros on this baby. Fair enough, it’s not cheap. But then again, you get what you pay for.

Features

The Atom LT, in both the civvie and LEAF version, is a highly versatile synthetically insulated jacket with a 60g/m2 Coreloft filling. This makes it just warm enough for spring and autumn use on its own. Both sides and armpit areas are constructed from Polartec fleece instead of windproof material, which creates a highly breathable area in crucial locations. The hood, while having only one drawstring, has a slightly roomy fit. Its insulated filling makes it highly capable of retaining body heat, which is great when stationary in colder conditions.

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One of the most important design decisions Arc’teryx made with the Atom LT is to incorporate drawstrings on the hem. This is where the LEAF version really differs from the civvie version. While the civvie version only has one draw adjuster, which is not secured in such a way that it points up, the LEAF version has two, and they are not hanging out from under the jacket. This is a very nice, very well designed detail. Another such indispensible feature is the stretch fabric used for the elastic sleeve cuffs. While perfectly capable of closing off your arms from cold winds, they are never too tight. The fabric used for the outer layer is not waterproof, but it is treated to be slightly water-repellent. Take care when washing, as some detergents will be detrimental to this capability.

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Construction

While being extremely lightweight, I’m still amazed by how tough this jacket is. The stitching is top notch and the outer fabric is not liable to pile, as most fleece material, for example, is. The zipper, while being next to weightless, is strong and responsive. It only very rarely gets caught in the fabric. One issue I have with it is that it tends to run down an inch or so from its top position while in use. Not a really serious problem though.

The fabric is reinforced with rip-stop pieces of polyester on sensitive areas such as the inner pockets and hand pockets and most importantly around the elastic hem drawstring. I have seen enough non-reinforced polyester and/or Gore-Tex jackets to know this is a game-changer in terms of durability. Overall, this is one hell of a tough midlayer. Important to note is that I wouldn’t use it as an outer layer in the bush. I wouldn’t think this fabric is tough enough to withstand bramble thorns, for example.

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Fit

I’m 1,78m at 73kg with a slightly muscular physique and a Medium has a slightly roomy fit for me. Not too baggy though. This is great, because as I have mentioned before, on its own this jacket is perfect for spring and autumn use. In the dead of winter I really do need a good warm fleece underneath and a hardshell jacket on top to keep me warm and, more importantly, dry. Length-wise it just about touches my hips, which is also great as this keeps it from peeking out from under most of my shell jackets. However, most of my fleeces and sweaters are slightly longer which is kind of a bummer as this makes it slightly less usable as a fashion piece outer layer – the operative word being slightly! As said before, the hood offers enough room for the hood of a fleece worn underneath, also great for winter use. Its brim is fairly small so the user will be able to retain as much body heat as possible.

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Details

Some of the details mentioned before are specific to the LEAF version. One other such detail is the holes provided on the inner pockets through which communication equipment wires can be led in order to create a snag-free outer layer. This is a great detail for LEOs or soldiers, but for the average civilian user it is not that important. Of course, you could use it for your headphones. Another nice touch is that the usual reflective Frog Skeleton Arc’teryx logo is replaced with a non-reflective one, as remaining invisible is often important to the intended user.

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Usage

As said before, I use this jacket for virtually everything. It’s great as a mid- or reinforcement layer during the winter months, or as a stand-alone garment on chilly spring days or evenings. Furthermore, its subdued looks make it an extremely nice-looking puffy jacket which does not  make you like a marshmallow. This one is usable in the outdoors, on the city streets and out in the field while airsofting. I have used it almost every day since I bought it and it doesn’t have any signs of wear and tear to show for it.

Time for the bottom line!

Good

Extremely versatile

Good subdued looks

Very well-designed

Top-notch construction

Usable details

Lightweight and packable

Could be better

Fairly expensive

Zipper could use a stronger closing

Hood could use more adjustment possibilities

Overall

Would I recommend this jacket to anyone in the market for a nice-looking and durable midlayer? Yes, yes, a hundred times yes. This is one of my top purchases from 2014 and I intend to enjoy the hell out of it for years to come, whatever the environment and use. Buy if you have the money.

Where to buy

I ordered mine through http://www.leafgear.com, which is a Dutch distributor. Their service and delivery is top notch. But various other webshops, most notably in the UK and US, also sell Arc’teryx LEAF items. While the civilian versions are widely available through outdoor retail stores, LEAF items are generally a niche business for specialised stores.

Further reading

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