Fjällräven is a brand known for producing tough gear with traditional styling... at a price – but it probably isn't at the front of the queue for many when it comes to modern alpine legwear. Will the Keb trousers, with their functional athletic cut and stretchy fabrics change that? I was keen to find out.
My trial use has been a good mix of upland walking with clients of one type or another, bashing around in undergrowth and dense forests, a bit of scrambling and a few Welsh multi-pitch mountain routes.
"The Kebs are neither the lightest nor the most affordable trousers, by a long long way, but there isn't much else on the market that combines their true ruggedness with a decent degree of flexibility and comfort for long technical mountain days"
I've got big thighs. That often means that I either have to go for trousers a waist size or two above what I need when looking for climbing kecks, or choose something stretchy. Apparently scrambling in Ronhills is still frowned upon by the professional outdoor community, so I normally go for something with softshell fabric and enough 'give' for my gargantuan hocks. With their spacious fit and built-in stretch panels, the Kebs ticked the big legs box straight away.
To help with free movement there is a notable sculpting in the cut of the knee panels and seat. The aforementioned mega-thighs have been left unrestricted and I've found the tailoring is suited to moving through difficult and 'character-building' terrain on vegetated crags in Mid Wales.
If you don't mind the slightly clunky old fashioned styling they also don't look half bad – and the range of colours is certainly diverse (I quite fancy the yellow ones…). Don't assume that they're only for bear-sized humans either. I worked as a location scout for a German outdoor clothing retailer this summer, picking locations in Snowdonia for them to shoot photos for their Autumn/Winter catalogues. The Fjällräven Kebs were one of the products featured, and their alpinist-shaped male model had little to complain about in fit. There are two leg lengths available with 5cm between the Regular and Long versions; the Keb also comes in a women's specific version.
The length (Long version) is bang on for me (6'2") and any mountaineering gymnastics have been limited by my flexibility and not the shape of my britches. They work well with a harness, too, the leg straps settling nicely above the thigh pockets.
I've owned a few pairs of Fjällräven trousers over the years and they're all still alive and kicking after weeks of being unwashed in forests and on remote overseas trips, or being dragged over jagged rocks on some Scottish hillside. There are a few abrasions and cuts in the fabric, but true to Fjällräven's reputation for build quality, the stitching and overall integrity remains rock solid.
The Kebs are so far living up to the legend of their predecessors. I have given them quite a hard life over this summer (weekly use and without taking much care of them) and the most obvious sign of that so far is a rough cut on one of the thigh pockets (caught on a piece of jagged metal on a bridge somewhere) and some very light pilling on the stretch fabric inside of the leg.
One of the first things you notice about them is the two-tone effect of the different fabrics. The knees, thighs, seat and lower leg section are the familiar Fjällräven G-1000 Eco, a heavyweight poly/cotton fabric for the areas of the trouser that are likely to see the highest wear. This stuff is bombproof, but quite thick and heavy for year-round use. It can also be treated to help make it more weather proof (more on that below). The rest is comprised of a stretchy softshell-like fabric, a polyamide/polyester/elastane mix that really helps with freedom of movement. In order to eliminate chafing, there's also a fabric panel where you would expect the inner seams to be - a nice thoughtful touch.
It's clear that some considerable thought has gone into the design and layout of these trousers, and so far it's worked for me. A plethora of pockets on the hips and thighs fall naturally where I want them, with deep hip pockets that won't readily spill their contents, and accommodating thigh pockets, closed by pop studs on one side and a zipper on the other. There is no sign of the axe pocket as found on some other ranges from the same manufacturer – but for bushcraft type activities there is a space for knee pads under the outer knee fabric (a bit niche for most UK mountain nusers?). The inside of the ankle is reinforced against abrasion, too, which might be particularly welcome if you're wearing crampons.
Ventilation zips on the outside of the knees (without any of the netting gusset as seen on many other mountaineering trousers) and on the calf help get rid of the heat, and tough adjustment straps at the ankle allow for adjustment without too much spare fabric. A robust hook (which admittedly took me nearly a fortnight of use to actually notice) clips to the laces and prevents the lower cuff riding up. The waist is fairly high, with chunky belt loops to help keep it in place if you need them.
However, this is a review and not an advert so I have to pick out a few things to balance out my very good impression of them so far. The first is the G-1000 Eco fabric. It's very tough and only used in the places where it's really needed, but in the rain it does soak up the water and hold onto it, and takes a little longer to dry than most modern fabrics. I feel I must stress that this can be vastly improved by proofing the fabric with Fjällräven's Greenland wax (available separately). But let's face it, not everyone wants to spend time every so often treating their trousers with wax simply in order for them to come closer to the level of water repellent performance that you might expect with no maintenance on a typical synthetic softshell. For anyone unfamiliar with the wax thing, this short video from Fjällräven explains all:
The other thing worth mentioning is that they're pretty warm. The ventilation zips do their job but I still felt that the fabric itself is just a little too warm for the average British summer mountain day. I do expect to be wearing them snowshoeing in Scotland this winter though – but not until I've waxed them.
The Kebs are neither the lightest nor (at a whopping £185) the most affordable trousers, by a long long way, but there isn't much else on the market that combines their true ruggedness with a decent degree of flexibility and comfort for long technical mountain days. If you want to count every gram you'll probably go for something else, but that 'something else' will most likely be defeated if the approach involves bashing through the kind of undergrowth that you find in some corners. Fjällräven are still king of tough, heavyweight mountain and trekking legwear. But Kebs can put in a bit of climbing performance too - the best of both worlds?
Technically advanced trekking trousers with optimised fit and carefully planned details. Intended for alpine trekking that requires climbing - where mobility is just as important as durability and protection from sharp stones, etc. For this purpose the rear and knees are pre-shaped and have extra strong seams. The trousers also have durable G-1000® Eco at the rear, front of the legs, the knees and on the inside bottom of the legs, where there is also a second layer of fabric for reinforcement against wear from hiking boots. The seam on the inside of the thigh has been moved and replaced by a connecting fabric panel to reduce the risk of chafing and wear. A zippered ventilation opening from knee to hip and along the calf releases excess heat. The trouser fly is also extended to enable extra ventilation. Two leg pockets with pocket cover flap, one with a zip and one with a mesh pocket inside for bits and bobs. High hand pockets hold their contents even when sitting down. Strap adjustment with button fastening at trouser end plus hook to secure to ski boot or hiking boot.
- Outer material: G-1000® Eco: 65% polyester, 35% cotton, G-1000® HeavyDuty Eco: 65% polyester, 35% cotton, Stretch: 63% Polyamide, 26% Polyester, 11% Elastane
- Sizes: men 44-60 (roughly 29-42"); women 34-48 (roughly 26-37")
- Weight: 625g size 48
- Concept: Trekking
- Leg ending: Fixed length
- Elastic waist: No
- Non Textile Parts of Animal Origin: Yes
- Knife pocket: Yes
- Map pocket: Yes
- Leg-type: Full Leg
- Stretch panels: No
- Waist: Mid Waist
- Reinforcements: Yes
- Safety pocket: No
- Pre-shaped knees: Yes
- Fit: Regular
For more info see: fjallraven.co.uk
About Richard Prideaux
Richard Prideaux is the owner of established North Wales outdoor skills training and activity business Original Outdoors. He spends on average one night per week sleeping in a forest, up a mountain or on a beach somewhere in the UK and further afield and the rest of the time teaching navigation, foraging, tracking and other wilderness skills.
For more info see originaloutdoors.co.uk
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