The Fjällräven Karl (men’s version)/Karla (women’s version) are probably one of the more basic models offered amongst their 46 varieties of trouser on sale at time of writing. The Karls themselves come in 5 different varieties, including a zip-off style and lined winter variant. For the purposes of this review, however, we are looking at the basic Karla (women’s) version. This is what Fjällräven have to say:
Karl is an outdoor trousers series that can be used anywhere, such as while hiking in the mountains or at your summer cabin. This model is made of durable G-1000® Silent fabric and has a brushed finish. The trousers have a low waist and regular fit. Pre-shaped knees and raw length. Two side pockets, two back pockets, one large leg pocket for maps and one smaller pocket for multi tools. Raw length at the leg ends allows you to adjust the length of the legs exactly as you wish.
Fjällräven is a company that uses a lot of propriety fabrics: lead amongst them is their G-1000, a 65% polyester, 35% cotton blend. It comes is a variety of different flavours including the G-1000 Silent that is used in the Karl. Their marketing blurb styles the G-1000 Silent as:
…a brushed version of the original fabric and is soft and quiet. The brushed finish weakens the fabric somewhat, but in return the garment does not rustle, which is practical for hunting and game preservation. It is also well-suited for clothing that will be worn as much at work as in wild terrain.
The fabric is certainly soft to wear and comparable to nicely worn in jeans, although not as thick. It’s uncoated, tightly woven, and after being wet through the fabric does have a tendency to become stiffer as it drys. Fjällräven has wax available for purchase if you want to increase the water repellency of your garments, however we’ve never used it. Fjällräven claims that the material is mosquito proof, and this is something we can’t deny, having worn them throughout a Scandinavian summer, although this sort of thing is almost impossible to quantify. Being relatively thin, these trousers are fairly lightweight, and there are no added patches or reinforcements, however this comes at, perhaps, the cost of being less durable. The following tears in the knees were caused by a work-related scrape, and we imagine that most trousers would have suffered similarly. Nonetheless, the single layered material makes patching and repair relatively easy, assuming you can be bothered. We don’t see this as an issue with these trousers – they are positioned as a trekking trousers rather than a tough workhorse, and what you lose in material strength you gain in comfort and breathability.
As a final note, even gentle washing seems to age these trousers very quickly – although this is a mainly cosmetic observation, one might feel that they quickly become too shabby to be worn away from walking and hiking.
The fit is described as regular, and we have nothing to add to that – the seams are straight and the hems square. Obviously fit is a very personal thing, but we found that even when the seat (arse) fitted properly, the waist was loose. Fjällräven does say that they are a low-waist trousers, and this is also something we agree with, but this feature perhaps makes them less suitable for women with an hour-glass figure (Not owning a men’s pair, we can’t comment on the men’s cut). Probably because of this body shape issue, we also find them to be a little restrictive of movement in the upper half of the trousers, although the pre-bent knees do re-address the balance. All this really highlights is the importance of trying them on first – bear in the mind that the traditional Scandinavian body shape is not necessarily your body shape.
Finally, these trousers come in what Fjällräven calls raw length. All this means, is that the bottom hems on the legs are unfinished allowing you to tailor them individually. Although this allows you to custom fit these trousers, and makes it less of on issue finding a waist-leg length compromise for those of who don’t have ‘tailor-dummy’ perfect proportions, if your sewing machine skills aren’t up to scratch or you don’t have access to a tailor then this could be a bit of an annoyance.
The pockets on Fjällräven trousers are almost ubiquitous in their nature – there are a number of pockets aimed at storing a variety of objects and placement differs on each leg. The hip pockets are nice and deep and lined with what feels like a slightly lighter material than G-1000. They are suitably wide for their target use. The seat pockets are a little more disappointing: although, with the press-stud closure, they appear to be easily accessible the actual pocket opening is considerably smaller that the seam to seam measurement of the pocket itself. The internal dimensions of the pocket are ~12.5 cm (5 in), large enough to take an average wallet, but the opening to the pocket is only ~10cm (4 in). Perhaps the difference in measurements in reality makes little difference to its use, but the result is a detail that restricts functionality of a basic pocket for (seemingly) no reason.
Other pockets include a bellows-type thigh pocket on the right leg. Fortunately this does not suffer from the above problem and is wonderfully spacious with internal dimensions of ~17x17cm (a bit less than 7x7in). The left leg contains a zippered pocket (presumably the ‘map’ pocket) and a smaller ‘multi-tool’ pockets (~5x11cm). All pockets are fastening with a single pop-stud (snap fastener), apart from the map pocket which has a plastic YKK zipper. Returning to the issues of fit, the pockets don’t give you as much space as you might want if you have curvy hips.
The durability of the trousers in general seems to be OK, however we have noticed that the crotch seams has started to split. All other seams on the garments are fine.
Fjällräven is a company that is generally highly regarded in outdoor circles across Europe. Although there has been some discussion ( e.g. this BushcraftUK thread) on the quality control of their garments, based on this product we don’t think there are any real issues. Whilst the QC discussion will doubtless roll on ad infinitum, if you’re in any doubt go and look at things first hand and make up your own mind if you feel that strongly about the issue. They are certainly not the most expensive option out there and perform solidly within their place in the market, but personally we would expect a bit more from these considering the price. Curvy women should certainly consider alternatives, and trying them on is a must.
Would I buy them again: No
(This review is based on trousers bought in mid-2012. If you get the chance, always view products first hand, as some features may have been updated or modified.)
Being quite popular, Fjällräven trousers are probably one of the most widely available brands assuming you are looking in the right places. You may, however, find that some retailers only stock a few of the more well known varieties in older models if they haven’t had the demand they expected. In the UK,
Mountain Fox is probably the most complete online retailer UPDATE May 2014: Mountain Fox appear to have ceased trading – try Nordic Outdoor or Tamarack Outdoors, who will probably be happy to order in anything they don’t stock, or some of the bigger chain retailers like Cotswold stock some of their more popular products. In the US, fjallraven.us have the complete catalogue. The Fjällräven website has a list of other retail locations, but folk in mainland Europe will probably find them in their local outdoor store.