The Bergelmir jacket and Vanir salopette are two of those baseline-type of items of clothing that every winter mountaineer needs. When the weather is at its worse, you need clothing that seals out moisture and wind in order to let insulation layers below do their work. You also need the same shell layer to be permeable to the sweat we all produce when doing physical activity. Without that ability to breath, the shell layer traps perspiration and again soon the insulation layers below will stop functioning as they should.
In this fundamental role as a breathable shell layer the Bergelmir and Vanir work admirably.
Additionally they have been designed to do this whilst you climb – including all the arm stretching, trunk twisting, leg splitting and knee bending silliness that hard winter climbing seems to involve. Badly designed clothing actively works against you climbing at your best. You get too cold in it, or too hot, too wet, you can't bend your knees easily, or hang off an ice tool without the sleeves pulling out of your gloves or the hem pulling out of your harness. The Bergelmir and Vanir don't do any of those annoying or things.
Jöttnar says that they would not have made shell clothing had NeoShell not been available – they feel that its breathability is significantly ahead of the competition and as a company they have had great cooperation with Polartec, makers of NeoShell, combining the membrane with a face nylon to make the perfect material for them. The fabric feels in the hand both smooth and tough. It is not particularly lightweight but the clothing, built on elegant, simple designs, does not feel heavyweight. Nevertheless it seem tough; I've chimneyed, hooked sharp tools over my shoulders, fallen off a mixed climb (which involved a few metres of slithering down rough granite), and fallen hard on my bum when optimistically trying to walk down a steep icy path in cross country ski boots which, as road cyclists can probably empathize, are completely lethal when not clipped into skis! In each case, after brushing off any dust, the NeoShell revealed not even a scuff.
The Bergelmir and the Vanir are not cheap items, but you can see that from the start Jöttnar is starting with a top quality material. I've written before on UKC about how I feel NeoShell's air-permeable nature needs to be thought about differently, and the Jöttnar NeoShell gear has not changed my mind on this. You can sense the air-permeability of the fabric in certain situations, and I'm not sure if the reason is physics or psychology but it is more noticeable when your body has been at rest (getting out of a car into a cold windy environment) than when you are active (hiking in the jacket). It would be interesting to investigate whether perspiration moving outward through the membrane somehow blocks air molecule being forced inwards, although this is pure conjecture and the difference may well be psychological. I also don't want to make this out to be a huge problem either, but it does feel different from traditional waterproof-breathable fabrics. NeoShell may not be completely windproof but from using the Jöttnar kit all day in the mountains, it definitely seems windproof enough.
The flip side of NeoShell's air-permeability is, theoretically at least, improved breathability over the non-air permeable competitor fabrics. I find it very hard to quantify breathability just in use – it is so variable because the conditions inside and outside a jacket can vary so much. In certain conditions I can feel dampness inside the jacket whilst doing hard exercise, but in other conditions no sweat seems to build up. The chest pockets are waterproof meaning there is double the layer of NeoShell over the torso. Add in the Neoshell chest section of the Vanir salopette covering your midriff (the back is a breathable stretch panel), plus anything you stuff into the various pockets there, and it is not surprising that when I get a good sweat on, it is here I tend to notice some condensation. Nevertheless I wore the Vanir salopettes for a whole day; hiking up the steep slopes from the Llanberis boulders to the North Ridge of Crib Goch then on round the Snowdon horseshoe without getting sweaty legs. This included sun and sweat slogging up from the pass, icy winds and snowy weather along the ridge, turning to sleet and rain dropping down and over Lliwedd. My legs stayed comfortable; warm but not sweaty, through the day and I didn't even use the side zips for ventilation when slogging up the 900 mtrs from the pass to Grib Goch's summit. So overall the system seems to deal with the difficult changeable, mountain weather of the UK (temperatures either side of zero, precipitation and wind) well, but it also gives excellent all day comfort when worn for ice climbing in temperatures consistently below freezing.
Again, quantifying breathability (and, in relation to this, waterproofness), in a non-laboratory environment is very, very hard. Don't expect miracles in difficult conditions; I've purposely done some misery-hiking in the jacket (hill walks of a few hours in continuous rain or sleet; temperatures between about +4 and +1, hood generally up) and found damp spots on my layers below after; on the chest and under rucksack straps. Considering how soaked the outer jacket was I'm surprised it wasn't damper inside, as breathability should decreases when the outer is wet, but NeoShell does have a lower hydrostatic head than it's main competitor so there is some possibility that pressure (a shoulder strap for instance) could lead to water being pushed through. Nevertheless the Bergelmir and Vanir kept me comfortable in these rather minging conditions and of course the colder it gets, the better NeoShell breathes and the Bergelmir/Vanir are, after all, designed for the winter mountains.
The design of both pieces is typified by functionality and clean lines. The Bergelmir is a relatively simple jacket clearly designed to be used with harness a lot of the time. It has two large chest pockets accessed through napoleon pockets. You can shove plenty into these: a folded back OS map easily fits or bulky gloves for instance although of course this will spoil the nice sleek lines of the jacket! There are no pit-zips nor other pockets, keeping weight and bulk down, but there is an excellently designed hood, clearly made to go over any helmets but with volume reducers making it ok to use without. The hood adjustors at the front work OK, but are a bit more fiddly to use than those on some other jackets. This is one of the very few minor points where I think Jöttnar could improve the design still; another being that the cord-locks that tighten the hem-drawcord seem to slip when tight, particularly when is wet. On the other (positive) hand, the zips are worth mentioning. Top of the range waterproof zips mean you don't need bulky storm-flaps and the like; and I've found they both work smoothly at -20 and seem completely waterproof in driving rain.
I think the Bergelmir's fit favours the broad chested/wide shouldered, the medium is plenty big enough for me (42 inch chest) including with some layers underneath; not all mediums are this generous. The Vanir salopettes I particularly like. The medium fits me well; they are trim without being tight on my cyclist's thighs and non-scrawny bum. The stretch in the material means high knee lifts when climbing are no problem. The ankles in particular are neat and tidy – they have large kevlar reinforced kick patches on the inside, drawcords at the ankle and a very usable internal gaiter.
They are just great to climb in; full protection but no excess material flapping around to catch a crampon on.
I did wonder about the sizing of the gaiters a little: the bottoms of the legs, as noted above, are slim suggesting that Jöttnar are looking primarily at climbers with lower volume boots as opposed to freeride or touring skiers with big, high boots. But the gaiter easily goes around my more bullky double boots (La Sportiva Baruntse) and is a little loose on my normal light ice climbing boots (La Sportiva Trango Extreme). With elastic under the foot and the laces clip holding the gaiter down, they do form a decent seal against snow and mud but with single boots now by far the norm for winter climbing I think it could be slighty tighter.
VIDEO: Toby Archer tests the Bergelmir Jacket and Vanir Salopette
Jöttnar have decided to only put zips on from the ankle to thigh. They decided that it was more important that there was no zip rubbing or bunching below your harness leg loops or waist belt, than for it to be possible to put the salopettes on without taking off boots and crampons. The zips as they are already make excellent vents for hot days and this, in addition to the good breathability of NeoShell, makes me think its a good design decision.
The Vanir is primarily a winter item, and it has 'wear-all-day-comfort' so I don't miss being able to put them on in the field. Jöttnar also decided not to try and engineer some zip solution to allow for all toilet eventualities without taking your harness off. For a very few this issue might be the reason not to buy the Vanir, but most of us can probably arrange our day so that this particular form of 'pit stop' is taken before we harness up, and a lighter, stronger, more reliable and waterproof salopette is the result of that trade-off.
There is one zipped thigh pocket on the left. I really missed not having one on each side, particularly with the jacket having no hand-warmer pockets, I realised I do put my hands in my trouser pockets sometimes. I found myself unconsciously unzipping the top of the full length zip on the right looking for a hand pocket. I would lobby Jöttnar to add a second pocket on future version, along with a brighter colour version – red or yellow perhaps – but beyond these little things, the Vanir is superb.
Together the Bergelmir and the Vanir make an impressive suit of armour against horrible weather. They are a pleasure to climb in, offering great protection from the elements allied to complete freedom of movement to swing, kick and high-step.
When used in conjunction with Jöttnar's excellent mid-layer, the Alfar, and belay jacket, the Fjörm, they become a formidable system against the harshest of winter conditions. Overall, this is serious kit equal to the most serious of weather.
About Toby Archer
Toby is based in Finland. He describes himself as: "a writer and researcher specialising in international security politics; finally no longer a PhD student; hopeless but enthusiastic climber; part-time gear reviewer; keen multi-role cyclist; idealist and cynic"
Climbing keeps him from getting too depressed about politics. He blogs about both at: