Following on from my stalking clothing review when I took a load of expensive and well known stalking clothing out on the hill to prove its worth and found it wanting dramatically, I am now ready to report back on a far lesser worn but equally well known brand of clothing that so far has met and exceeded all my expectations.
The Swedish clothing company of FjallRaven has been around over 50 years and specialise in making clothing and outdoor products suitable for the outdoor life that so many residents of the Nordic countries enjoy so they should know a thing or two about it and after nearly 10 months of wearing their garments exclusively I can happily confirm that they do!
Stalking clothing on the whole doesn’t appear to be terribly well thought out, at least not for the UK market and more often than not we have to make do with whatever offerings are thrust upon us often at eye-watering expense. This has most certainly been the case with Harkila products that seem to have everybody convinced that they are the ultimate in stalking clothing, unfortunately last year in Scotland I found them to be a bit on the leaky side and got as wet as an otters pocket despite their £200 price tag. Admittedly some of the Harkila stuff is quite good, mostly the lighter weight trousers, however the boot offerings have also let me down with a six month old pair of the Stalker GTX boots going back after springing a leak. Another down side of the Harkila products is the peculiar European sizing and fit – it would appear that all Scandinavians are tall slim beanpoles whereas in the UK we are little more rounded!
In the autumn of last year, I met up with the UK importer of FjallRaven at the Gloucestershire Gun Company to have a look at some of the newer offerings that were being aimed at the UK market, in particular the trousers. I was already familiar with the brand and already had some of their trousers and shirts as well as a lightweight jacket but, as with Harkila I was disappointed with the fit of the trousers, but a couple of the newer offerings caught my eye and fitted perfectly – finally the Swedes had cottoned onto the fact that here in the UK we drink beer!
On my return from Scotland I popped into the Gloucestershire Gun Company to see the range of FjallRaven products that had been delivered and was delighted to see both of the pairs that I had decided on, the Mufflon and the Karl. With the weather taking a turn for the worse in November last year it was an ideal opportunity to try out the heavier lined Mufflon trousers immediately. They are made from a material FjallRaven call G-1000 a thick poly-cotton that is supposedly tougher than denim yet far more flexible with a liner made from their Hydratic material which is both wind and waterproof as well as breathable and then lined inside with a soft material making them extremely comfortable to wear. Another neat trick that the G-1000 material possesses is that it can be waxed to enhance its durability and waterproofness even more, more on that later.
Within a day or two of starting to wear them I knew that I was onto something. Pretty much year round l I spend my weeks either at the range or in the woods – basically outdoors from dawn till dusk sometimes seven days a week in all weathers, some people think it must be great to do what I do but trust me, day after day of range work coupled with stalking, gralloching, larder work and venison sales begins to wear thin at times especially when the weather turns against us and we still have animals to cull and venison to supply – I well remember the days of recreational stalking, wandering the hedgerows in search of Roe bucks or a wary fallow, just the rifle and binoculars for company, bliss, a far cry from a dozen animals a day with all the associated work! The point being, I need kit I can rely on in all weathers and situations and within a short time of starting to wear them they had impressed me no end. The cold weather started in mid November, it followed us down from Scotland. Within days of leaving the Glen it was cut off with snow closing most of the main highland roads for several months and we were due to get it in the South shortly afterwards and when it arrived it settled for over two months, a perfect test for any garment.
As I made mention of earlier, the outer material of the Mufflon trousers is called G-1000, a tough poly-cotton that can be further enhanced with the addition of a wax made by FjallRaven called Greenland wax, this comes in a small block and is simply rubbed on the product and either ironed in with a cool iron or warmed with a hairdryer – best to get permission off her indoors in either instance – the wax can be washed out quite easily in the washing machine as the trousers are fully machine washable. I decided to wax the material fairly heavily particularly around the knees upwards and on the seat of the trousers, this was in an attempt to further enhance water repellency. Unfortunately I have found to my peril that once the outer material on many so called breathable/waterproof trousers gets wet then it is only a matter of time till it wicks through the liner and you end up damp. With many of the Gore-Tex offerings this involves washing in or spraying an expensive chemical waterproofing agent such as Nikwax into or onto the outer material which soon wears off and then you’re back to square one, however, after a few days in the field it soon became apparent that the Greenland wax impregnates the fibres and does a far better job of keeping water away from the membrane whilst still allowing it to breathe. Once the snow and hard frosts had arrived, wet weather became a thing of the past, the ground froze rock hard, biting winds came from the East and North and the trousers once again proved their worth and proved that the Scandinavians really have got the outdoor clothing market taped. With the biting weather came the need to layer up in order to survive a couple of hours in a high-seat and with the addition of some merino wool Ullfrotte underwear under the Mufflon trousers I had everything I needed, my only concern was what was going to happen when I had a couple of fallow carcasses to extract, would I boil to death and end up soaked to the skin in perspiration only for it to cool dangerously a few minutes later – the answer was no. These are the only trousers I have worn that I can hand on heart say were properly breathable. On a number of occasions I was faced with lengthy drags through deep snow and the trousers performed brilliantly every time, obviously I got a bit warm in woolen long-johns and padded trousers but the wool wicked away the moisture quickly and the trousers did their job perfectly, not once was I left feeling clammy or damp. The trousers continued to impress throughout the long hard winter both in the field and at home, last year I had the quad stolen and decided not to replace it immediately, big mistake – the livestock had no grazing for almost two months and with twenty five hungry Alpacas to feed, the daily chore of humping hay bales and bags of concentrate up the paddocks wasn’t much fun but again it was a good test for the trousers and although the physical exertion left me knackered I was never overheated in the Mufflons’. Along with the physical attributes and just as importantly is the practical design of the trousers, a lot of thought has gone into this, they are well cut, generous in the right places with plenty of pockets including a large bellows pocket on the right leg with a waterproof divider ideal for a mobile phone as well as a knife pocket. There is suede reinforcement at the major wear points, inside the lower leg and around the pockets. Interestingly there is a slit at the knee to enable a thin foam pad (supplied) to be inserted to protect your knees when kneeling. The downsides, as yet none and although some may see the price as a downside I have yet to come across a stalking garment that I can say is worth every penny, these are.
The other trousers I made mention of are the Karl trousers which are a lightweight trouser made out of the same G-1000 material as the Mufflons’ and come in what FjallRaven call a raw length IE. Un-hemmed, not ideal if you have a better half like mine to whom a needle and thread are alien. Being made from G-1000 they can be impregnated with the Greenland wax making them at least showerproof although as yet I have yet to do so. The Karls’ are cut similarly to the Mufflons and are extremely comfortable to wear and once the warmer weather came I virtually lived in mine. My only gripe is the lack of pockets, in particular the phone and knife pocket on the trouser leg although having looked at the latest catalogue it would appear there are some newer models with these included. Another nice touch is that the Karls’ are available in several different colours so if you are a creature of habit like me you can still wear your favourite trousers just in a different colour, plus the more you wear and wash G-1000 the better it becomes.
Having worn the FjallRaven gear for almost a year in some extremely variable conditions including some of the worst winter weather we have seen for many years I can honestly say that there is no other brand on the market that even comes close either from a design, practicality or performance point of view, I have however come across a couple of downsides, firstly, the more I look at the catalogue the more of it I feel I need! Secondly, the stockists and supply are frustrating to say the least, partly to do with the number of items in different configurations they produce and although the rep from Rosker (the UK distributor) is extremely helpful I do feel that they are missing a trick when it comes to the UK stalking market – here is a product that quite simply excels, stands head and shoulders above the more popular brands in every way and yet it is virtually impossible to find, sure there are some internet stockists but these are garments that need to be displayed for punters to try on and feel particularly as there are so many different styles to choose from. At the minute the Mufflons and the Karls are pretty well covering my needs although I have a couple of new models of trousers as well as a heavier jacket on their way to test through the autumn and into the winter and I have every confidence that I will not be disappointed. Over the years I have tried countless stalking garments only to be disappointed with the outcome, with FjallRaven I just don’t seem to be able to pick any faults in the clothing only the stock and supply – trust me I have tried the rest but I am wearing the best.