Review: Fjallraven Keb Gaiter Pants

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Fjallraven is a Swedish company that makes outdoor apparel and gear. While their best known product is the somewhat “hipster” Kanken day pack, they actually produce a full line-up of highly technical products. While I have not actually laid hands on one of their tents, they look like a dead ringer for Hilleberg tents, which are in my opinion the best in the business for serious cold weather expeditions.

Fjallraven makes some dynamite outdoor pants, but they are “old school” in many ways. They eschew Gore-Tex and other high tech fabrics for something called G-1000 – essentially a robust cotton with a slicker outside than your average t-shirt. The advantage of G-1000 comes from it’s breathability. Bottom line – cotton breathes well. Yet in the outdoors, some waterproofing or at least resistance is often needed. Fjallraven does this by promoting and producing something called Greenland Wax, which is an environmentally friendly paraffin. Waxing is simple – rub it onto the areas where water resistance is desired and then iron it in. Want more waterproofing? Put on more wax. Want less? Use less – or even no – wax. This method is cool because one can customize garments. I’ve always found certain areas of clothing get more wet than others – the shoulders, the bottom of the coat, the thighs, the butt, etc. Fjallraven says you can melt in your wax with your camp stove or over an open fire for field application. This method sounds slightly terrifying, but seeing how these pants are produced by Vikings I can see how they would recommend that.

The waxed cotton theory could be ideal for spring and fall in the Rockies. I do find that their pants are a little too warm in the dead of summer, which might have something to do with their origin – they are from Scandinavia where 90° days are rare. Also, I’m not sure I’d trust the wax as my only waterproofing solution in a super wet climate like Alaska, Norway or the Hoh Rainforest…for those locales I’d prefer Gore-Tex active or something to the like. That said, I need to test that and report back. It rains a lot in Sweden and these are the pant of choice for the outdoors over there. Theoretically using these in very wet conditions seems flawed – but theory and practical use don’t always mesh.  More on this topic as I get it.

Back to the Keb Gaiter Pants. These are probably Fjallraven’s most technical hiking/mountaineering pants. They feature G-1000 in all the areas where reinforcement is needed – the thighs, bottom of legs, etc, and a stretchy material on the more motion driven areas, like the butt and inner thighs. They work well and provide a great range of motion.

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These are zip-off pants. Zip offs are high in functionality and absolutely the pits in fashion. Is there anything more dorky than a zip-off? Well, believe it or not, Fjallraven did a good job with these. They don’t really look like zip-offs – they “almost” look cool. Compared to offerings from Outdoor Research and Kuhl…well, they are downright stylish! I chose the U.N Blue color, which looks spiffy. The only problem is my normal hiking ski shirt and hat are also blue, so it’s not hard to go out their looking like a smurf!

While they are maybe only quasi stylish, there is nothing quasi about the functionality. They are simply an awesome Colorado pant for the high country. Start the morning off in the cold with the pants fully intact, and when it warms up, zip ’em off and have a nice pair of shorts. My only complaint with the zip-off function is the seam near the knees is a little uncomfortable when they are in pant mode. Not bad, but they are not pajamas. I have sensitive skin and little things like that bug me, so for most it probably wouldn’t be a problem.

As I mentioned, G-1000 is a warm material, but fortunately these pants have a long, almost seductive outer thigh zip. This is a nice interim as the day is warming up (or you are exerting more effort) but it’s not warm enough yet for shorts. The ability to control the thermostat in the Keb Gaiter Pant is the best I’ve ever seen on any pant.

Another feature of these pants – that I admittedly have not used, is you can make them full-on Gaiters when they are zipped off. The lower part has a latch to connect to laces and the upper part of it has a draw strong cord to synch it over the calf. If one is serious about using this feature I would recommend attaching a little cord to the existing eyelets at the bottom of the cuff to create a strap under the boot.

The pockets on Fjallraven pants are the best I’ve ever seen. They are large and on the thigh, perfect for a camera, map, compass, food, dog leash, etc. This is one of the best features on the Keb Gaiter Pants.

Fjallraven sizing weird weird. They use a European system that is detailed on their website. Basically, I wear a 31 in the U.S. pants and a 46 in Fjallravens. I have a 32 inch inseam and the pants are the long version – they also come in regular. The long length seems to work well for me. They fit very well, although I must say they are a little snug around the butt. My wife loves it, but it’s a big difference from North American fits. It seems to be a trait on most Fjallraven pants, especially the Keb models. It’s odd, because the waist is perfect, if not even a little loose. I wear a belt with them, but I’m honestly not sure I need to. The fit is highly functional…it’s just different.

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I’ve been using the pants for about a month now on hikes in Indian Peaks wilderness. I pushed them a little bit by using them for a backcountry spring ski as well. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the cuff fit just about perfectly over my Dyanfit TLT-6 boots. There was no loose fabric to catch a crampon on…always a nice thing on steep snow climbs. Note however, that this doesn’t seem to work with the regular Keb (non-gaiter version). My wife has a pair of those and they do not fit over her TLT-5’s. This could be a size thing too…my boot is a 27.5 and hers is a 22.5. Best to test them out in the shop if you hope to use them for this application.

While I’ve only had them a month, durability seems outstanding. There is no piling or tearing or any tell-tale signs of wear. I also notice they dry very quickly…there is something to this G-1000 stuff. One application where materials like G-1000 works great is mid-winter nordic ski touring. Water proofing is nearly a non-issue in these conditions, but breathability is a big issue, especially if you move fast or run warm. I’m not sure I’d use the gaiter version for nordic ski touring – I doubt I’d ever want the zip-off function when it is 5° F in January – but I’d have zero hesitation using the standard Keb pant for a tour on the Asnes Nansens.

I’m a fan of these pants. I love the versatility, the look and the durability. I also think Fjallraven has a cool, environmentally friendly story. I’m going to give them 4.5 stars out of five, with the little deduction being a result of the tight fit around the butt. I’d say I could lose some weight, but I don’t have much to lose! They are a great option for somebody who wants a classic hiking pant with lots of versatility. For cold mornings and hot days they are hard to beat! And as the temperature gets a little colder in mid-August and beyond, I think they’ll be even better. They are not cheap – they retail for $225 – but I suspect the durability and functionality could make them an outdoor wardrobe staple for a decade. There are not too many outdoor pants out there that I can say that about, and the cost is actually comparative. While not cheap, they are a good value.

More info: http://www.fjallraven.us/products/keb-gaiter-trousers

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