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

 

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Rab Firewall Pants Review

Introduction

Nobody I know likes (to buy) rain trousers. I wholeheartedly agree with that sentiment. Most of the time they are pretty much dead weight in your pack and, unlike hardshell jackets, they only become useful in the most persistent or heavy showers out there.

On the other hand, hiking or trekking in the rain can be quite a nice experience, but only if you are properly prepared and protected. And even in changeable weather you obviously need proper protection if you’re staying out longer – especially if you are camping out.

Rab Firewall Pants Front View.jpg

To be honest, I’ve put off investing in a pair of proper rain pants for a very long time. They were always on the list, but with limited cash flow (or, you know, more ‘important’ pieces of gear to buy…) they were never on the top. However, as I am planning more and more alpine activities in the near future, the need for proper full body weather protection grew, so I decided to finally cross this one off the list.

During the decision making process I had a number of demands. As I want to wear them only when they are necessary, long zippers, preferably full length ones, were top of the list. Pre-shaped knees, assisting in comfort while ascending and descending, were a close second. Third, weight. As it will likely spend most of its time in my pack, I want my rain gear to be light and packable. However, fourth, it needs to be able to handle a reasonable amount of abuse as well. Life in the mountains can be rough, as you probably know. Last, but certainly not least, was price. I am willing to shell out cash for quality gear, but as I planned to use these pants as little as possible, there were limits.

After some deliberation, trying, and shortlisting, I settled on the Rab Firewall Pants. I’ll tell you why.

Construction

Rab is quite well known for its down jackets. Its insulation layers and sleeping bags have seen use in various mountainous regions throughout the company’s 36-year existence. These are known to be excellently designed and produced pieces, and that quality carries over to a lot of Rab’s other gear as well. As one can expect in a 3-Layer shell product, all seams have been taped to ensure no water can seep through stitches. The three-quarter-length zippers are YKK Aquaguard, meaning they are waterproof and durable without the need for an outside storm cover (which means less bulk).

Rab Firewall Pants Taped Seams.JPG

The main material is Pertex Shield+, a 3-Layer shell material that is slightly stretchy, allowing for a very good range of motion. It has a rip-stop face and, as usual, a protective inner layer to shield the membrane from the most corrosive influences of salt and acid coming out of the human body in the form of sweat. The inside also is slightly brushed so it feels somewhat comfortably next-to-skin, which is a nice bonus considering a lot of rain gear, especially the more affordable trousers, are not a pleasure to wear without layers underneath.

I particularly like the careful way the functional details (more on those later) are married to the main material. For example, rivets are popped through the places where draw cords are coming out of their sleeves, ensuring durability. The same amount of attention has gone to some of the other small details, in various ways.

Features

Rain pants come in all shapes, sizes and weights – just like rain jackets. They can be over- or under-featured, or simply too heavy for your intended use. An example: Fjällräven, one of my favorite outdoor brands, has their full-featured hardshell Keb Eco-Shell Trousers. It’s a pretty awesome shell pant as long as you are wearing it – at 660 grams, it is quite a heavy one to put in your pack and carry around just in case. Some other pants are super lightweight, such as Salomon’s Gore-Tex Active Shell Pant. But that one lacks zippers on the side, making it impossible to don and doff without taking your shoes off – a big no-no when you’re in the mountains and the weather changes suddenly.

The trick, then, is to find a pair of rain trousers with just the features you need, no more, no less. The Rab Firewall Pant pulls this off (at least for me). It has a simple, adjustable draw cord waist adjuster on the inside of the elasticated gripper waistband. The side zips have three pullers, so you can create a custom length vent port on any particular height, or access pockets on the pants you are wearing underneath.

Rab Firewall Pants Threeway Aquaguard Zipper.jpg

The leg endings are adjustable, and have metal buttons so they stay closed at all times. Having just the necessities keeps weight down: these trousers weigh around 330 grams (exact weight dependent on size obviously) and pack down to absolutely nothing. Considering all the features and the quality of the material, that’s great – especially considering they’re not too steep in price.

Fit

For a pair of pants designed to be worn over other garments, these are quite tight. I wear size 29-30 waist jeans so I was expecting to fit either size small or medium for this. I got the mediums in the end, due to the fact that the smalls were quite tight around my thighs when worn with a pair of hiking trousers underneath. Now, I do have large upper legs for my waist size so if you’re somewhat more in proportion, your mileage may vary… Length is pretty much spot on, maybe a tad too long. But I think that’s due to me sizing up from a Small to a Medium when lengthwise I’m not the biggest guy around.

Details

There’s three I haven’t mentioned yet, all of which are nice but not strictly necessary, although they barely add weight so what the hell. All logos and letterings reflect light, which is nice considering the pants are black almost throughout. I make a point of wearing at least one brightly colored item of clothing at all times when I am in the mountains to remain visible no matter what happens so the reflective lettering is a nice touch but nothing more. Second, all the adjustment cords are bright red. This makes them stand out from the otherwise black look of the trousers so they are really noticeable, easy when the weather is bad. Last, each leg ending has two small loops on the inside to pull some cord under your boots. Neat, but kind of a hassle.

Rab Firewall Pants Adjustable Leg Ending.JPG

Rab Firewall Pants Gripper Waistband.JPG

Usage

I bought the Rab Firewall Pants before summer, making sure I had them before going on a climbing trip to the German Alps in Bavaria. I took them with me, but the weather was simply too good. Then again, due to their minimal weight and packing volume, they were not in the way either.

Last week, we had fifteen hours of continuous rain in Amsterdam, my hometown. Now, most people don’t see this as an inviting strolling opportunity, but to me it was the first time I got to try these trousers our for real. They performed as expected, keeping me dry from the outside while breathing reasonably well. To be honest, in any waterproof item, no matter how breathable, you are going to build up a sweat – it is imperative to wear quick drying performance base or mid layers at all times. That’s no different with these ones.

Could they have been better? Sure. There are two things I am missing. Full-length zippers would have been nice, but the three-quarter ones do the job almost as well. And a boot hook to replace the cumbersome loops currently sewn into the leg endings would make life easier if you want to prevent them to ride up (which, with high-top footwear, they don’t really do anyway). Otherwise, for EUR 169,95, these are pretty great lightweight rain pants.

Rab Firewall Pants Boot Loops.JPG

Pros

Long, waterproof zippers with three pullers

Simple draw cord adjusters at waist and leg endings

Pre-shaped knees

Lightweight

3-Layer Stretch main material

Reasonably priced

Cons

Zippers are not full-length

No proper boot hook

Overall

For the price, the Rab Firewall Pants are really great rain trousers. They do their job as well as can be expected, and most functional details are well thought out and executed. Due to their low weight and small pack size, they are not in the way when they are unnecessary (which, to be honest, is most of the time).

Rab Firewall Pants Button Leg Ending.JPG

The only few things that Rab could improve upon are the zippers (which would have been better if they were full-length) and the boot hook system, which would be better if it were an actual hook, as in the Fjällräven Keb or Vidda Pro Trousers. This would barely increase weight, but it would greatly improve usability. Nevertheless, I would advise to buy these if you’re looking for packable and comfortable rain trousers at not too high a price.

Further reading

https://rab.equipment/eu/mens/pants/firewall-pants

 

Footwear Frenzy PT 2: Hanwag Friction GTX

Overview

During one of my prep sessions for a recent winter trekking trip to Skuleskogen National Park in Sweden I discovered that my waterproof trekking boots were as waterproof as a cheese grater. Fair enough, in my army years they really took a beating and I guess that was to be expected after five years of heavy use. Nevertheless, wet feet in cold environments can cause so many horrible problems that I really needed to invest in new boots. Because I want to do proper mountain work in the near future I opted to widen my range of outdoor footwear with a slightly heavier pair of boots. Boots I could take on alpine excursions, without being to stiff for difficult treks.

The middle ground between these two would be a good C or light D category boot. These are stiff, crampon compatible boots that still have a little bit of sole flexibility in them, so you can also use them for trekking through difficult terrain, preferably off-trail.

There is a particular boot in this category I have wanted to try for a while, but they seemed to be out of stock – they are due for an update. As luck would have it, my size suddenly popped back up into stock so I seized the opportunity and ordered them.

I’m talking about the Hanwag Friction GTX. Hanwag is a very traditional German boot maker. They are well known for their old-school double-stitched boots (where the sole is literally stitched to the upper using two rows of very heavy stitching, making these models almost indestructible). Hanwag also make very well thought out modern trekking and mountaineering boots though. The Friction GTX is such a boot. On top of being a well-made piece of equipment, I also like the look of this particular version.

 

Construction

C- or D-category boots are usually quite heavy and well made, which can be expected from boots costing upwards of 300 Euros. Construction wise it’s pretty much par for the course here as well, but Hanwag have really gone out of their way to make these as light as possible, without compromising usability in difficult and demanding terrain.

Where a lot of D-category boots consist of suede or rawhide leather, Hanwag has opted to make the Friction’s partially, in less exposed areas, out of Cordura and synthetic materials. Also, they have opted to let D-ring style lace eyelets on the lower part of the shoe go, instead choosing to have the laces go through Cordura eyelets sewn into the material. This has upsides and downsides. An obvious pro is less metal in the boot, saving weight. Another one is less metal rubbing onto either your feet or the Gore-Tex waterproof membrane, enhancing expected lifetime. Normally, boots start to soak through earliest at the metal eyelets. An obvious downside is that Cordura is easier to wear down than metal. However, due to the Click-Clamp lacelock system installed halfway down the laces, wear-and-tear on the Cordura eyelets is reduced to a minimum. Well-done Hanwag!

Hanwag Friction GTX Click-Clamp.JPG

Stitching is quality throughout, with two rows of stitching on high-wear areas, for example at crampon brace zones. The materials used are beefy as well, with a thick layer of rawhide leather covering most of the boots. This stuff will definitely stand up to abuse!

Features

Like most, if not all, boots in this category the Friction GTX comes with a high rubber brim around the upper, protecting the leather from scree and rock, and moisture. The outsole is beefy, with a Vibram Dolomite profile, providing grip on anything but ice. One annoying thing is that this wears down rather quickly, especially with use on tarmac. This, however, can be expected, as the shoes are so stiff that they don’t flex much during walking. The tarmac is tougher than Vibram rubber compounds so it wins that battle, regretfully. This problem is less noticeable in the Friction’s natural habitat – mountainous, mixed and difficult terrain.

Hanwag Friction GTX Vibram Dolomite.jpg

Hanwag Friction GTX Rubber Brim.jpg

The Friction GTX is equipped with a brace point for crampons on the front and the back, so in theory it should be possible to step into pretty much any model. Do make sure that yours fit before buying a pair though!

Hanwag Friction GTX Crampon Front.JPG

Insulation wise they’re far from the warmest boots, but I wouldn’t say that they are suitable for just about any summer outing either. I would say they are good enough for temperate climates, where temperatures can range from anything from -10 Celsius to about 15 to 20 Celsius. Insoles make a lot of difference here, though. I used them with a felt insole we tested for Woolpower. It was nice for winter use, but way too warm for 15 Celsius and above.

I especially like the Click-clamp lace-lock system halfway up the boot. This ensures that you can adjust the forefoot part of the laces to your liking and don’t have to fiddle around with that part of your laces every time you put them on. This saves valuable time and energy, especially in difficult terrain and weather. If you have a high forefoot, like I do, this also ensures that you can create enough space there without compromising on heel lock, because you can still pull the rest of the laces in really tightly.

 Hanwag Friction GTX Crampon Back.jpg

Fit

The Friction’s have a normal, if slightly roomy, fit. This is mostly done to accommodate foot swelling in warm weather and double-socking in cold weather. I have found that these boots are most comfortable while double socking with one thin and one thick sock. This creates an extra cushion, as these shoes are quite stiff and hard without it. This might be an individual issue, but if I only wear one sock I get a sore point at my left big-toe joint. That is quite peculiar, but totally manageable. The fit is also carefully worked through to make sure the boots stay comfortable during long crampon use.

Details

Most of these I have already mentioned, although some are worth going through. The boots are equipped with ventilation holes on the shaft, assisting with dumping excess heat (as much as possible though, these are obviously and understandably still covered by the Gore-Tex liner). They also feature multiple pull-tabs to assist donning and doffing: two on the tongue and one on the back of the shaft. The leather heel cap is protected by highly durable PU-coated leather, so crampon locks will cause less damage in the long run. All of these features make these Hanwag boots very durable and very usable. As for durability: all Hanwag boots feature a cemented construction, enabling resoling and prolonging their lifetime. The Friction GTX is no exception. This really makes them worth investing in and essential to maintain properly.

Usage

So far I have used them in difficult terrain in Sweden and tarmac in the Netherlands. I will not put them through much tarmac use anymore as that puts them up for a resoling job way sooner than my wallet would like – that said, for a D/C Category mountaineering boot they’re not half bad on the road.

During a winter trek in Skuleskogen, Sweden they were in their proper element. Scrambling up hills, navigating snowy and icy trails, plodding through bush… They have saved me from nasty falls multiple times. The Vibram Dolomite outsoles are beasts, providing grip on pretty much anything but ice. Wherever the trails were more like ice-covered slip-and-slides (all the time, more or less…), the Friction’s basically just became tanks, making sure I could traverse alternative routes over rock, snow and scree – it was awesome.

In June I will take them with me on a Via Ferrata trip to Germany. I hope they will perform as admirably there as they did in Sweden.

Pros

Built to last

Bright red – instantly recognizable

Grippy on anything but ice

Reasonably warm but not ridiculously so

Stiff but comfortable

High protective brim

Resolable

Click-clamp lace locks ensure custom fit

Cons

Vibram wears down quickly on tarmac

Only really comfortable with thick or double socks

Overall

So far I really like these boots. For such a stiff boot the Hanwag Friction GTX still feels quite comfortable while walking in flat or slightly angled terrain, but they can handle the rough stuff as well. Thanks to the Click-clamp lacing system the fit is somewhat customizable and it saves the lace eyelets as well. They also play nice with various crampons and gaiters. The outsoles are replaceable and have traction on pretty much anything except icy trails and ice-covered rocks. The look is nice and bright, and the technical details make them stand out. All in all a very well rounded boot suitable for difficult treks and entry-level alpine excursions.

Hanwag Friction GTX Overview.jpg

One caveat though: due to the fact that Hanwag is about to release an update this particular version will be difficult to get. The revised version will be slightly different in look, and will feature Hanwag’s Alpine Wide fit, which features a wider toebox to accommodate wider feet and to enable the use of thicker socks. If that’s your thing you might want to wait for a couple of months!

Further reading

http://www.hanwag.com/friction-gtxr

http://scottishmountaineer.com/hanwag-friction-gtx-boot-review/

 

 

 

 

Footwear Frenzy: Salomon Quest 4D Forces Review

Overview

As any other gear junkie I have given up the hope of ever finding that one pair of shoes capable of doing it all. A Jack-of-all-trades does not exist. Your low-cuts will be unable to go into rough or wet terrain; your trekking boots will be unnecessarily heavy and stiff on tarmac or easy trails; and your backpack will become uncomfortably heavy while wearing shoes with too little arch and ankle support. Then there’s the never-ending discussion of waterproof vs. water-repellent – and then I’m not even mentioning mountaineering boots.

I work for an outdoor company and served in the military before that and therefore I have collected my fair share of outdoor footwear throughout the years. I own two pairs of low-cuts, two pairs of mids and two pairs of high-cut trekking boots. None of these are up for anything, and only one pair comes remotely close.

That would be the Salomon Quest 4D Forces. Designed as a full-mission profile boot for military use in warm and dry climates, this boot has a lightweight construction, while still being relatively high-cut and offering enough rigidity and torsional strength for a wide variety of terrain and loads. Its look and build are slightly more aggressive and sporty than many of its German competitors, which has some advantages and disadvantages – but more about that later.

Construction

The main components of the upper are rubber, suede leather and 1000D Cordura. The sole is made from a sandwich of rubber layers, mostly molded EVA and Contagrip outsole material. In the upper, the suede leather and Cordura work together to create a surprisingly water-repellent outer layer. Hiking through very wet terrain in Abisko, Sweden, I was genuinely surprised with the time it took for my feet to get slightly wet. Granted, I was wearing waterproof gaiters at the time but these did not cover the lower front part of my feet. And the lack of Gore-Tex or full leather upper also made sure that my feet could ventilate excess heat and moisture effectively – meaning they were dry relatively fast.

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The sole is sturdy enough to give support and stability on rocky terrain, but flexible enough to be comfortable. The molded EVA and Contagrip outsole give a large amount of suspension without going soft.

Now, there’s one main drawback to how Salomon and many other lightweight bootmakers make their footwear, and that is the lack of cemented construction. This is a very traditional and labor-intensive (and thus expensive) way of constructing boots in such a way that the upper is a completely separate part of the boot. This means that the sole can be replaced, giving the boot longer life and a better fit. With the Quest 4D, this is not possible and that is a true shame. Once the outsole has been used up, it is time to buy new ones and depending on the amount of use that might be quite fast, especially if you happen to be in the military.

Features

There are some important differences between the Forces and regular version of the Quest 4D, as military use often asks for specific details. The lace hooks have been replaced with loops. This ensures no wires, ropes or lines can snag into the boot’s laces – important during fast roping, parachuting or rappelling. The outsole has been slightly altered to make such activities easier. The mesh polyester on the regular version has been replaced with 1000D Cordura, a tougher and more water-resistant nylon variant.

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Other than that it has the same bells and whistles as most other trekking boots. A gusseted tongue, shaft loops to make donning and doffing easier, a rubber toecap to protect the leather against rock and scree, lace locks – and exceptional grip.

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Two features are relatively unique: they’re lightweight and flexible, while being relatively stable. These truly are get-up-and-go and almost as easy to wear in as a pair of running shoes. This is interesting because usually this means that large or heavy backpacks can become uncomfortable and problems with knees and ankles are bound to pop up sooner or later. I’m sure that above a certain weight that will also happen with these boots, but I was surprised at how well they got along with my 15kg backpack in rough Swedish terrain while ascending and descending.

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Fit

These boots have a normal, maybe slightly roomy, fit. My feet are slightly wider than average and with most brands I’m between UK 8 and 9, meaning I usually need an 8,5. I have owned a pair of Salomon boots before, which I got in 8,5. Those turned out slightly too small so I sold them. I got the Quest 4D in a size 9 and so far that seems to be spot on for me. My heels are locked in place and my toes have enough wiggle room without sliding sideways or forward. One thing I will say about the fit: the shaft is very aggressive. After only one day of use I decided to stop using the highest lace loops because I could feel my shins hurting. Skipping them solved that issue. Shin issues aren’t funny and should be avoided at all costs.

Details

Most details have already been mentioned. The most important reason for me to get these was the fact that they are more or less the only full-mission profile boots without Gore-Tex that Salomon makes. Gore-Tex has its drawbacks. It’s waterproof but that often comes at a price, especially in dry and warm weather, as the membrane’s air permeability only allows for so much water vapor to go through. I wanted lightweight and flexible, yet sturdy boots for summer use in the mountains. The fact that these are spacer mesh lined instead of waterproof is great. And when your feet do get wet, they ventilate well enough to quickly walk them dry.

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Usage

So far I have used these on day hikes, training rounds with intermediate-sized packs and a short overnight camping trek in Sweden. They performed well enough on all occasions, although I think they will truly shine during a summer cabin-to-cabin trek in the Alps, which my girlfriend and me will undertake next month. While I was positively surprised with how well they managed wet and rough terrain in Abisko, I would take a heavier boot for a longer trek there. They would offer slightly more stability and durable comfort than these Salomons do, even though they surprised me in the way they were able to handle themselves given the rough and uneven terrain 250 kilometers into the polar circle.

Pros

Lightweight yet sturdy

Flexible

Comfortable

Breathable yet surprisingly water-resistant

Snag-free lace loops

Strong outsole with grip on rough terrain

Ankle support

Cons

Outsoles cannot be replaced

Aggressive cut on the shaft

Lace loops and lacelock system take some time to get used to

Overall

These are a great pair of boots for those looking for shoes strong enough to tackle rough terrain every once in a while, but also like speed and agility. I would not recommend them for full-on mountain trekking but with an intermediate size (say 40-50 liters) pack in summer time or otherwise dry weather these will work great. They offer ankle support, flexibility and ventilation while being reasonably water-resistant and quick drying. A definite recommendation if they suit your needs. They are also available in a Gore-Tex version if you need waterproof boots.

Further reading

http://www.salomon.com/us/product/quest-4d-forces.html?article=381595

http://www.leafgear.com/en/salomon-quest-4d-forces.html

 

My new favorite jacket: Arc’teryx Acto MX Hoodie

Introduction

A little over a year ago one of my coworkers offered to sell one of his jackets to me and, being quite the gearwhore, I almost immediately said yes without giving it much thought. I like dead bird stuff. Don’t we all?

However, there was one not so small thing bugging me about this particular model from the outset: Sleeve length was spot on but the hem width was a little too much (should I do more squats?) Recently though, I bit the bullet and took it to a tailor I knew I could trust. After a bit of an argument – he didn’t particularly like cutting into the taping – he agreed to tailor the hem to my size so I could wear this baby without harsh winds cooling me down. An extra plus is that it looks so much better now!

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So, now that I’ve been wearing this jacket extensively I thought I should give it a proper overview. It’s an old model by now but Arc’teryx offers quite a few jackets which are similar in terms of functionality, fit and style so I thought I’d write one up anyway.

Construction

There are few outdoor brands that rival Arc’teryx in terms of sheer attention to detail and quality control throughout. Flatlocked and taped seams make this jacket look clean on the outside and in, and make it extremely comfortable to wear, with or without pack. The ends on both the sleeves and the bottom of the jacket are finished with a thin line of grey fabric, which seems to be glued on – no stitching visible.

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The face fabric is 100% nylon with a very thin layer of grid fleece on the inside, giving the jacket just a tad of warmth and a high degree of wind resistance and breathability. The fleece’s composition (96% polyester and 4% spandex) gives the jacket its slight stretch. Due to the taped seams it’s tough for chilling winds to creep through – although they don’t make the jacket waterproof or fully windproof. Don’t mistake this for a Gore-Tex jacket! That’s not to say it doesn’t shed water – it’s exceptionally water-resistant. Since picking it up from the tailor I haven’t put on another shell jacket, and I have not been soaked once – and let me tell you that it has seen some rain in that month! This is to be expected: MX stands for Mixed Weather; meaning garments from that range should be able to cope with changing circumstances. Even then, I have never worn a soft-shell more capable of repelling water than this one. And it is still breathable like a fleece!

True to Arc’teryx form, all features and details (more on those later) are carefully designed so they don’t interfere or stand out, making for a clean look and clutter-free jacket.

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Features

This jacket has been designed with climbing and trekking in mind. That means it’s a very clean jacket with only a handful of well-designed features useful for those activities. It’s a short jacket, just barely touching the hips – although it’s slightly longer in the back than at the front. It won’t interfere with a climbing harness or with a rucksack hip-belt, more so due to the fact that it does not have hand pockets. It only has two spacious Napoleon pockets on either side of the main zipper. These will hold your essentials such as maps, compass, GPS devices or gloves and other cold-weather accessories.

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The hood is spacious and adjustable so that it can be made to follow your head movements. The cut is generous enough for a helmet but I’m not a climber myself so I haven’t tried so far. It also has a brim stiff enough to block wind and rain while still providing ample peripheral vision. The drawstrings are minimal, saving weight and clutter.

The zipper pullers are large enough to grab them while wearing thin or waterproof gloves, but I suspect winter gloves and especially mitts might give some problems. Then again, you’d probably be wearing a different coat in such weather conditions.

Fit

The fit can be summarized in one word: generous. Granted, I’m not a big guy but with 1,78m at 70kg the sleeve length is spot on. However, the body size originally was a little… big, hence the trip to the tailor. Now it sits perfectly on my hips with more than enough room to layer up underneath. The shoulder width is still a bit excessive but this also creates freedom of movement and room for layers without becoming annoying in the armpits so I’ll just say it’s a double-edged sword. Luckily, the cut is not annoying while wearing a pack (which I do almost every single day). Sometimes, a generous cut leaves too much excess fabric in the armpits, which bungles up while wearing a backpack or load-bearing equipment. This has not happened so far, which is good.

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Details

As far as functional trekking and outdoor jackets go, this is a very clean and minimalistic one so its details are few but well placed. No Velcro sleeve cuff adjusters here, just a slightly stretchy ending just tight enough to block winds but wide enough for thin gloves when needed. The Napoleon pockets have a mesh inner, so they can double as core ventilation ports when necessary. The main drawstrings of the hood lead to the inside so they don’t clutter the outside of the jacket. Finally, the zipper is designed to allow opening with one hand. That means it doesn’t lock very well in its fully closed position, which is annoying to some but a godsend to others (cyclists and climbers mostly) – don’t be afraid; it doesn’t come down on its own.  

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Usage

Being a shell jacket its primary purpose is to block the elements. It does so very well: it’s extremely resistant to moisture for a non-laminated jacket and it’s a quite capable windblocker. Due to the grid fleece on the inside it is able to give some warmth but don’t expect the world: due to circumstances I have worn this in a stationary position in cold, wet and windy conditions (+/- 5 degrees Celsius, not compensated for wind-chill) with just a tee underneath and it wasn’t pleasant… The upside was that even then I remained dry, meaning it is able to shed water even when worn directly on the skin. I intend to use it quite a bit this year: it has been the only (and I do mean only) shell jacket I’ve worn the last month in extremely varying conditions including quite heavy rain, and it hasn’t let me down once. It positively surprised me on a number of occasions, which is good. Its real test will come later this year, when I intend to go cabin trekking in the Slovenian Alps.

 

Pros

Beautifully simple

Attention to detail

Quite windproof

Extremely water-resistant

Well-placed details

Adjustable and roomy hood

 

Cons

Original fit off for me

No internal drawstring at hem

 

Overall

Overall this is a great jacket with only one major drawback that might not even be an issue for other people – its fit. After a bit of customization it has been greatly improved and now it’s one of my favorite jackets. Even more than my Fjällräven Keb Jacket it’s a jacket suitable for almost any situation and weather condition. Its water-repellent ability is the best I’ve ever seen in a non-waterproof jacket, and due to the taping the seams don’t diminish that. It has a nice clean look, which delivers on the streets as well as in the mountains. Thanks to a minimal amount of very well placed and thought-out details it performs extremely well without a large amount of clutter.

 

Further reading

www.arcteryx.com

http://www.backcountry.com/arcteryx-acto-mx-hooded-fleece-jacket-mens

http://thegemsstock.com/arcteryx-acto-mx-hoody-review