Fjallraven Keb Trousers Review
Although Fjallraven is a long established brand known for offering high quality clothing and related equipment, I have to admit that in all my years in the outdoors this is the first time I have used any of their products. There is no particular reason for this except that I have always seen their focus to be a more traditional market focussed on 'country sports' and beloved of bushcraft folk. Would there be something in their range more suited to mountaineering and maybe even climbing? The word from Fjallraven was that I should give their Keb trousers a shot......
Fjallraven market the Keb as a technically advanced trekking trouser and initial inspection reveals the trousers to have many interesting features and beautifully crafted construction.
The first thing you notice is that two fabrics are used to make the trouser body. The front of the legs (up to the upper thigh) features Fjallraven's technically advanced G1000 Eco fabric which is a very durable polycotton material while the waistband and back of the legs is made from a stretchy polyamide material. The G1000 Eco is also used on the backside area, around the ankles and the knees are reinforced too. It is an interesting combination and I wondered how these contrasting fabrics would perform.
The waist fastening is a double button closure and there are belt loops. There are also 2 thigh pockets and two patch style pockets on the front of the legs. The leg pockets are a gusseted construction allowing a large amount of storage and they close with 2 press studs. One also has a zipper closure and the other has a stretchy inner mesh pocket that can house things like a mobile phone, GPS or compass. Along each leg there are long venting zips (one on the upper thigh and one on the lower leg) and the ankles have a press stud closure allowing them to be narrowed.
They are certainly feature rich trousers and the workmanship is impeccable. The stitching is like a work of art and there is further reinforcing stitching at high wear areas. The zips and fittings are high quality and the design detail is clearly extremely well thought out. Having said that, the Keb's are a trouser retailing at around £180 and so you would expect something special.
Despite being impressed, I couldn't immediately be sure if they would fit into the kind of activities I do. They are different to any other trousers I have used before although, with the exception of the 2 large leg pockets, I figured they weren't dissimilar in usage range to a softshell pant. The only way to find out if they suited my needs was really to give them a go.
Fjallraven define the Keb as a trouser designed for 'alpine trekking that requires climbing' so it was certainly in their design brief for them to suit mixed mountain activities. I have now used them in a variety of situations from walking and climbing in the Peak District to scrambling in Snowdonia. They have completed a multi day trek in mixed conditions in Peru and I have recently worn them skiing in the Alps. They have had a good selection of use in very varied conditions.
The trousers feel heavy when you first pick them up (the 32" pair I received weigh 620 grams) but the clever cut means they seem to disappear when you put them on. Fjallraven have pre shaped the knees and the addition of stretchy fabrics in all the right places ensures the Keb's allow complete freedom of movement. They also benefit from a crotch gusset so stepping high isn't a problem. I would describe the fit as relaxed but not baggy and because Fjallraven offer a good range of sizes and a couple of leg lengths it should be possible to find the right fit for you. Get the right size and I guarantee these trousers will feel great.
If you select one of the two tone colour scheme options then the distinction between the stretchy Polyamide fabric and the G1000 Eco Polycotton fabric is visually very noticeable. I went just for black although the difference between the 2 fabrics is still evident.
G1000 Eco is a fabric that has become synonymous with Fjallraven and they use it extensively in their range. It feels very durable and indeed, with all the use I have given it so far, it has proved to be so. As mentioned earlier it is used on the front of the legs, the backside and around the ankles - all the high wear areas. There is even additional fabric added as reinforcement to the knee. These trousers are built to last.
The fabric is also highly water resistant and can be reproofed with a special wax Fjallraven market. It feels weird to be waxing a pair of trousers for outdoor use and yet the fabric has definitely proved to be extremely weather resistant. It is also an easy job to do and it somehow feels quite therapeutic to be waxing your pants! It is also quite liberating to not have to pull over trousers on and off regularly and, as I've become more confident in the performance of G1000 Eco, I have pushed its boundaries further and further. On a recent ski trip I used them for several days with just a lightweight pair of baselayer pants underneath and got to really like their comfort, flexibility and performance.
The downside to the use of water resistant fabrics is potentially a loss of breathability. This is certainly the case, and if you are working hard you will start to feel moisture build up inside. Fjallraven have aimed to counter this by adding ventilation zips from hem to knee and above the knee to the upper thigh. These zips work brilliantly and I haven't found, in the activities completed so far, that I have needed to get anywhere close to unzipping them completely. Usually I've just unzipped a section of the upper leg and you immediately feel the difference.
I have used trousers with this style of leg vent before and usually they have a mesh backing. There is no mesh on the Keb and so you need to be prepared for flashing a lot of leg if they are fully open. I'm also not sure this system would work so well if you were climbing in the Keb's, but I think generally in Alpine style climbing the biggest energy expenditure is on the walk in and so this shouldn't be such as issue.
A strange (for an Alpine pant at least) feature are the 2 large thigh pockets. I find a leg pocket or two really useful on outdoor trousers for storing a phone, map or compass, but these are usually positioned on the side of the leg. My initial thoughts were that the pockets would get in the way and maybe also they would restrict movement when wearing a harness. I have found neither to a problem and, once used to them, the pockets have actually proved to be very useful. They do get, potentially, quite bulky when full and so I wouldn't use them for stashing lots of stuff when climbing or scrambling, but for hillwalking they are especially useful. The addition of a stretchy mesh pocket inside also feels reassuring if you've stashed your phone or something vital in there.
The hip pockets have plenty of capacity and don't get in the way (unless full of stuff) when wearing a harness. At the opposite end Fjallraven have added fasteners which allow adjustment of the hem. I have mostly left these fully open but they offer flexibility if, for example, you wanted to cinch them tight to keep snow out. They close with a durable press stud fastening.
Fjallraven have applied modern design thinking to a traditional garment and I really like the result. The Keb's won't suit hot weather activities (although the vent zips add some climate control) but for colder weather work they are great. You can certainly climb or scramble in these but they won't tend to be the option I choose for that - I still see them primarily as a great cool weather trekking pant.
The use of contrasting fabrics means that, although you won't be able to avoid reaching for the Goretex over trousers at times, they can be worn in a broad range of conditions. The fabrics also make the Keb's extremely durable. They are very expensive but you'll undoubtedly be handing them down to your children!
The design details all work extremely well. I am still coming to terms with having a pair of patch pockets on my thighs, but I can't deny they come in very useful for storing all kinds of nik naks. The vents are great and all the other design features show great attention to detail.
I have grown to love the Keb's for certain activities and, if they suit your requirements, I would definitely say they are worth the weighty investment. Fjallraven have created a garment that retains their roots and yet opens up options to a much broader range of users. I really hope they will continue to tweak their offerings to add more options for mountaineers and climbers.
Posted by Paul
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