A Review: Fjällräven Karl Hiking Trousers
I don’t believe in handing companies my hard-earned cash when they don’t deserve it. A couple decades ago (shit, I’m old) you kind of just had to rely on word-of-mouth and take a business’ message to heart. Then the Internet came. For most products, I can simply do an Amazon search and immediately sift out the good from the bad by rating. What if they paid for fake reviews? Not a problem. Some guy or gal on YouTube reviewed it. Or there’s probably an obscure subreddit completely dedicated to that type of product.
The point is, as a minimalist who rarely makes an impulse purchase, I research the hell out of pretty much everything I buy before I buy it. However, there are exceptions. I have a short list of companies who have never let me down, consistently make amazing products, and are transparent in their supply chain. Fjällräven is one of those companies. It's pronounced "f-yell-reh-ven", in case you were wondering. I think I've had their Karl trousers for almost a year and a half now already, and unfortunately I'm afraid I've already deflated all of the suspense on what my verdict is going to be. They're amazing!
The G-1000 wonder fabric
A blend of 65% cotton and 35% nylon doesn't sound that impressive, especially when the number one rule of outdoor gear is that "cotton is rotten". It's very true that wearing cotton on a hike is typically going to get very sweaty, takes forever to dry, and will not keep you warm when wet. However, that 35% nylon changes things completely and makes G-1000 far more hardwearing than either cotton or nylon alone. When used together, both fabrics make the material water resistant, wind proof, breathable, and UV safe. That said, if you get caught in a downpour, they will soak through. That's why Fjällräven has made Greenland wax to complement the fabric and strengthen it even more against rain and wind. Even without the wax, the fabric feels stiff and durable without sacrificing ease of movement. Sitting down on rocks and walking through brush have failed to leave a mark. Although I haven't seen this on their website, it seems that the fabric is very resistant to stains as well, having had a few inevitable spills here and there on cramped flights.
Good for trails and planes
Let's have a little rundown of where these bad boys have taken me so far: through two winters of -20°F temperatures in Northeast China, an 8-mile trek in rainy Suffolk, England, multiple hikes in the Blue Ridge Mountains, and on several long haul flights between China, England, and America. I think I even wore them to class a few times when I was still teaching in China - couldn't get away with that here, maybe, but anything goes in the Middle Kingdom. They performed admirably in all of those situations. I've never been too hot in them on the trail in the summer and even the harsh, icy Dongbei winds failed to shake my resolve. They were actually great in the classroom because the legs are pre-shaped and the length is raw (unhemmed), allowing you a greater range of mobility than most trousers. Unless I need to be more presentable than normal, these are the only trousers that I will wear on flights. The comfort can't be beat, and multiple pockets allow for easy access to all of the airport necessities, something I'll touch on more later.
Hiking trousers that don’t look like hiking trousers
All too often, hiking and travel-specific clothing teeters on a dangerous precipice with the technical look on one side and the yawning abyss of "dad clothes" on the other. Why so many companies think it needs to be one or the other is beyond me. The Karl trousers do look slightly technical, but I have no shame wearing them out in public like I would with some zip-off khakis. I've said it before and I'll say it again: Swedes know how to create great functionality without sacrificing form. Fjällräven lives up to this legacy with a utilitarian product that is stylish enough to wear out to lunch (in my opinion, anyway). The cotton blend is definitely a contributing factor to this because it makes them look more "normal" as trousers whereas you know something's up almost immediately when you see pure nylon trousers. The Karl trousers' design encapsulates the modern traveler on the go.
Pockets, pockets everywhere
If you've ever traveled through any major world city, then you understand the reality of pickpocketing. Chinese pickpockets are even using tongs these days to reach into their victims' pockets and handbags. The best way to avoid being robbed is to not give these cretins a chance in the first place. The Karl trousers have 7 pockets, all of which either have a zipper or flap that can be buttoned. If you make sure your items are in these pockets, you want be losing anything. These pockets are also very useful on the trail. The right leg has a large button pocket for a map, notebook, or easily accessible munchies. The left leg has a zippered pocket with more padding for a phone or other valuable item as well as small buttoned pocket for a knife. This is great for hikers that don't want to stop for every little thing they need to get out of their backpack.
This is a solid piece of kit. All I can really fault them for is the excessive length due to the unhemmed legs. I have to cuff them a few times so they're not dragging on the floor, which honestly isn't really that big of a deal since I cuff most of my trousers anyway. The takeaway is that the Karl trousers are hardwearing and perfect for individuals that want to buy something once that will give them years of use. They're comfortable. The pre-shaped legs and low waist allow these trousers to move naturally with your body, perfect for sitting on planes or climbing through a boulder field. Finally, they look good. If you run into someone you know while wearing them in your favorite coffee shop, you won't feel like you have some explaining to do. Overall, Fjällräven deliver yet again on a product that will sure your adventures well.
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