In search of the perfect winter legwear Dan Bailey tests a combination of softshell and hardshell trousers from Jöttnar.
Whether I've been out hillwalking, climbing, or just sledging with the kids, for much of this winter I've been wearing Jöttnar trousers. Not one, but two pairs: the Vanir LT waterproof shell, and Vali softshell. As a brand built on high-end technical mountain performance Jöttnar have a lot to live up to. So do their trousers measure up?
Vanir LT shell trousers
"From climbing and hillwalking to ski touring and alpine fun, they're spot on for serious winter use in Scotland and beyond"
For the Vanir LT Jöttnar have used Polartec NeoShell, a popular fabric that offers superb levels of breathability. Having used them in a range of conditions through this winter, both when climbing and on long hot walk-ins, my anecdotal unscientific conclusion is that the fabric performs as well as anything I've worn. I've got hot but I've not once noticed being sweaty. NeoShell achieves its breathability by being air permeable. As a result some users report being able to feel the wind through it, albeit only when it's very windy. Even on wild days I can't say I've noticed, but then this is probably harder to detect in trousers than it might be in a jacket. With its 10,000mm hydrostatic head NeoShell is of course fully waterproof, something I've been glad of more than once this season.
The fabric has a lovely soft feel, more softshell-like than your average waterproof shell, and although that shouldn't matter the lack of crisp-packet-crinklyness with every step does predispose me towards these trousers. A subtle stretch in the fabric aids freedom of movement, though I think the cut has more to do with that (see below). The durability seems more than adequate for your average UK winter climber too, but just to be sure Jöttnar have made it double layer in high-wear areas on the bum, and from the knees down to the ankles. Do you have to be cruising grade VII+ to pull off the garish green colour? It depends whether or not you think I've got away with it in the photos here. I've grown to love the colour, which hits you between the eyes in photos, but if these seem a bit showy they also come in cool blue and the traditionalist's favourite (and photographer's nightmare) black. Of course far more important than the colour is the build quality: and I've no complaints here, it is top notch.
Finally the weight: At just under 700g (size L on my kitchen scales) the Vanir LT could certainly be lighter, but for the durability and protection they offer I really can't say that bothers me. The only time it's proved remotely an issue is when I'm carrying them yet pretty certain that they aren't actually going to be used. In this situation, and it does happen once in a while even in a Scottish winter, a lighter pair of just-in-case overtrousers would be preferable.
These trousers are adapted from Jöttnar's existing Vanir salopette (LT = "lowered torso"), and though as a result they offer a little less overall coverage than a salopette I've found the high-cut waistline still affords plenty of protection, particularly at the back. There's no danger of a space opening up between jacket and overtrousers, and even in wilder weather I haven't once wished I were reviewing the salopette version. To me the LTs seem perfect for Scottish winter, especially given that there's less material to carry when you're not wearing them. A very well-tailored articulated cut at the knees and a diamond-shaped crotch panel give excellent freedom of movement, so climbing is unhindered. While they've a neat profile without excessive bagginess to catch the wind, there's still enough room inside for under layers. My fairly large thighs are sometimes too much for overtrousers, but in these I find leg lift is unrestricted. Size L feels spot on for my 34-inch waist / 34 inside leg.
In order, say Jöttnar, to 'stop short of harness pressure points' the leg zips are 3/4 length (actually more like 6/7). For me this is plenty of zip; I've never understood why some overtrousers can be completely opened from the waist down. The leg zips are of the water resistant YKK variety, with the standard two zippers to allow for easy venting. Zips at the sides and fly are all backed with an internal strip in case any water does manage to penetrate (not a problem I've yet had), while the fly also secures with robust twin poppers. I don't tend to use pockets on waterproof trousers, but if you did feel the need for storage - or somewhere to keep your hands - the two hip pockets have plenty of room. The zips for these are lighter weight than elsewhere, but also water resistant.
Crampon-resistant kevlar kick patches at the ankle are of a decent size, so even if you're as clumsy as me you should be able to avoid tearing holes in yourself. To help further protect against damage, elastic drawcords in the hem let you pull the trousers in snug around the ankles: surely all mountain overtrousers should have these (amazingly some don't). You get a closer fit still from the internal detachable elasticated gaiters, which come in two sets sized to fit over climbing boots and ski boots respectively. It's great to have both options, and these gaiters are very effective too, securing to the boot with a lace hook so there's no chance of them riding up. Despite being out in a variety of conditions from unpleasant winter wetness to deep snow, I've not bothered with additional gaiters once with the Vanir LTs. You have to be wearing them to feel the benefit, of course; if they're in your pack on the walk-in then it's open season on wet boots.
Up top there's an integral webbing belt sewn into the elasticated waist band. In addition, belt and braces if you will, the Vanir LTs also come with a set of stretchy braces. Here is my one real (if small) issue with these trousers. I find the braces straps a little on the thin side, with a tendency to slip down off the shoulders as the day progresses no matter how I adjust them. As a solution I've bodged a little extra buckle to hold the two straps together higher up between the shoulder blades, a five minute duct tape modification which works well. Perhaps it's just me, but at £300 a pair otherwise minor details like this seem somehow more important. Good news is that Jöttnar tell us these are being improved for next year.
From climbing and hillwalking to ski touring and alpine fun, if you're in the market for some decent overtrousers then Jöttnar's Vanir LT are a really solid choice. Well-built, superbly cut, with a sensible list of features and a high performing fabric - yes you're paying top whack for them, but then you're getting a lot of trouser for your money. Of course lighter models exist, but they are not going to be as bombproof. Spot on for serious winter use in Scotland and beyond.
Fabric 3 layer Polartec NeoShell stretch
Weight 692g (my weight; size L; Incl braces)
Technical data Fabric weight: 168g/m² Hydrostatic head: 10,000mm minimum Air permeability: 0.5ft²/min/ft²
What Jöttnar say:
'New for 2016, based on our class leading Vanir salopette, Vanir LT (Lowered Torso) is a fully featured, men’s winter mountaineering pant constructed from proven Polartec® NeoShell®.'
'With articulated and reinforced knees, two sets of shapable zip-out gaiters sized for ski and climbing boots, harness-friendly ¾ length water repellent side zips and full-sized Kevlar™ instep protectors, the Vanir LT climbing pant is already the choice of mountain rescue teams working in the harshest conditions, as well as international mountain guides and ski mountaineers. It delivers true breathability, stretch and robustness in a lightweight, versatile and fully waterproof package.'
For more info and to buy see the Jöttnar Website
Vali softshell trousers
"Well-tailored mountain trousers with a sensible list of features, the Vali are a good versatile choice for three season cragging, hillwalking and summer alpinism. Perhaps a bit less so for Scottish winter climbing"
The Vali's Schoeller soft shell fabric is both lightweight and very stretchy, giving them a nice unrestricted feel for climbing. It's not the trousers that limit my ability to bridge or throw a leg up high so much as my own flexibility. The fabric's dry treatment shrugs off a light shower and copes well with the general dampness of a typical winter climbing or hillwalking day (there's been plenty of sub-optimal weather for me so far this season), and if they do get wet then they tend to dry out quickly. This fabric seems to breathe well too, so whenever I've been steaming uphill sweaty legs haven't been an issue. Breeze is kept at bay to an extent, but there are definitely limits here. To me the fabric feels light for a pair of trousers billed, in part, for winter climbing. Ideally in a Scottish hoolie I'd like a little more beef. On cold days I've been routinely backing up with a pair of thermal leggings underneath, while windy weather has seen me reaching for the overtrousers a bit sooner than I might have. On the plus side the low weight of the material makes them well suited to quite a range of UK seasonal conditions, and I can see myself wearing these for hillwalking and climbing in spring, autumn and on cooler summer days. They'd be spot on for the Alps in summer too.
Tailoring is fairly close, which I like in a mountain trouser, neither hipster-tight nor hip hop-baggy. To ensure freedom of movement there's no need for billows of excess material if you've got a decent cut, and Jöttnar have managed this very well. There's no diamond-shaped crotch panel - something you'll often see on mountain legwear - but I can't say I've missed it. The articulated pre-bent knees are excellent.
Inside you get a brushed waist band for sweat absorption, loops for braces, twin poppers at the fly and an integral webbing belt with a low-profile plastic fastener. One thing lacking here is a belt loop to secure the webbing tail. On the plus side the waist is neatly tailored to slip easily and comfortably under a harness.
With two roomy hip pockets and two equally big ones at the rear there's plenty of storage. All have mesh linings for venting. On one hip there's a little bonus valuables pocket, and though that's probably a pocket too far for me personally, it would be a safe place to stash your car keys (surely a rucksack is better though?). Zipped mesh-backed vents on each thigh help get the air circulating when you're working hard, something I have definitely appreciated. All zips are made by industry leader YKK, and have glove-friendly cord pull tabs.
For durability you get two layers of fabric on the knees and seat, and while it's the same lightweight Schoeller rather than something tougher I think you'd be unlikely to wear a hole in both layers. In addition a hardwearing instep patch offers protection from wayward crampon points. If you're anything like me that's an essential feature; if anything it could be a little bigger.
A zipped ankle gusset turns the Valis into cool flares (am I showing my age?), helping them fit over bulkier boots. Conversely you can tighten it all up snugly with an elastic drawcord in the hem.
Well-tailored mountain trousers with a sensible list of features, the Vali are a good versatile choice for three season cragging, hillwalking and summer alpinism. As stand-alone legwear for a Scottish winter they're nice on a warm uphill walk-in, but less so on a windy summit or long cold belay, where they could ideally do with being a little thicker. At this time of year I'd generally back them up with a base layer, and when it's cold and windy you do need to add overtrousers on top. However their lightweight fabric is quick drying, breathable and very stretchy.
Fabric Schoeller stretch fabric with 3XDRY treatment for water repellency and breathability
Weight 505g (size L, my weight)
Technical data Fabric weight: 120g/m² Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF): 30+
What Jöttnar say:
'New for 2016, Váli is a richly-featured versatile softshell mountain pant using water repellent material developed by proven Swiss fabric technologists, Schoeller®.'
'The 3XDRY® treatment repels light moisture and dirt from the outside whilst rapidly transporting perspiration from the inside, which also makes these pants incredibly quick-drying. Packed with multiple pocket and ventilation options, double-lined in the seat and knees for improved abrasion resistance, lightly insulated and with the inherent stretch of softshell. The Váli mountaineering pant is the perfect partner for alpinism, winter climbing, cragging on cold days and mountain travel at altitude.'
For more info and to buy see the Jottnar website
|£130.00. Great range of Jottnar always in stock.|
See this product at the Joe Brown - Snowdonia shop
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