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traditional backpacking
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eric chan
(bearbreeder) - F
traditional backpacking on 11/13/2010 15:53:42 MST Print View

$350 waxed jackets, "expedition" 600 fill down jackets for $750, $200 dollar "vintage" russacks, $500 dollar 7 lb packs, etc ...

blast to the past !!!

retro yuppiness at its best

Step inside the Fjallraven Store at 262 Mott Street in New York City and you enter a time warp where wool pants, waxed jackets, and backpacks with leather straps and metal buckles adorn the walls. Fjallraven — pronounced “Fee-Yell-Raven” — means arctic fox in Swedish, and the brand has roots in the country’s northerly regions where snow piles deep and polar gales blast from Valhalla and other points past the Arctic Circle.

Fjallraven was founded in Sweden 50 years ago. It is a widely-recognized name in its home country, where school kids for a couple generations have slung on the company’s boxy Kanken backpacks. Parkas, bags, and outdoors clothing are staples in the line.

The flagship New York store, which I visited last week, is a basement space with white walls and an Army-surplus feel. Gear is arranged on shelves and hung on the walls, including Fjallraven products and items from other niche brands. There are few electronics, a lack of known outdoors brands and, except for the chopping axes, almost nothing that is “cutting edge.”

Indeed, the Fjallraven aesthetic and the store in general is in drastic juxtaposition to almost every other product and current theme in the outdoors industry. The company makes jackets for ice fishing and polar treks. The clothing has a traditional outdoors look that your dad or grandpa might have worn. Fjallraven eschews Gore-Tex in favor of iron-on wax! Indeed, the company sells blocks of wax, which can be melted with an iron and rubbed into the fabric of a jacket to make it waterproof.

Fjallraven jacket and iron-on waterproofing wax
The products are not cheap, either. The Fjallraven Arktis Parka — a down-insulated piece made for, among other activities, ice fishing — costs $775. It has a hood with synthetic fur and is marketed with features including a breast pocket “large enough to hold a thermos.” The Norr Shirt, $125, is a cotton flannel button-up with a decorative yoke and two chest pockets with flaps.

In New York, the Fjallraven store feels like an anachronism amongst its neighboring boutiques on trendy Mott Street. The staffer that helped me out, Maria, had a Swedish accent and an enthusiasm toward the Fjallraven brand, which she says has been present in her life since she was a child.

Clearly, the company is riding the retro or vintage wave with its idiosyncratic line. The look is pure and classic 1960s and ’70s design, like an LL Bean catalog page from decades back. It conjures nostalgia and warm fuzzy feelings to anyone who grew up camping and hiking in similar gear. Mott Street is a good venue for a brand where authenticity can blend with fashion, plus, perhaps, a dash of subtle irony tossed in on the side.

To me, that’s what Fjallraven is — neat and fun, but not likely the products I’d pick for anything more than casual hiking and camping. At the store, Maria attempted to sell me on the concept of polyester/cotton fabric blends, waxed jackets, and boxy little backpacks. I do love traditional and crafty products where they make sense. But this winter I am going to have to stick with my modern-day backpacks as well as Gore-Tex instead of wax and an iron to rub it on, no matter how cold it gets outside.

Scott Truong

Locale: Vancouver, BC
Dude.. on 11/14/2010 02:18:20 MST Print View

You've been in Vancouver too long.. should be desensitized by now. Got to turn the other cheek with the yuppies, man. It'll eat you alive.

It's the Main Street hipsters we should lay the hate on.


"..where snow piles deep and polar gales blast from Valhalla" is a fine sentence.

Miguel Arboleda
(butuki) - MLife

Locale: Kanto Plain, Japan
Re: traditional backpacking on 11/14/2010 05:25:32 MST Print View

Actually up in the Arctic when it's really cold (when you will not encounter anything above freezing) very breathable cotton shells are often preferred to many of the modern materials. Stegner and quite a few others chose cotton anoraks over gore-tex because it doesn't cause condensation build-up, which is life-threatening in the Arctic. This, from Garrett and Alexandra Conover in their book, "A Snow Walker's Companion": For wind, you need a tightly woven or coated fabric, and it need not be heavy. The best but least available option is to have an anorak and wind pants made from the four-ounce Egyptian cotton that tents are made of. This cloth is completely breathable yet stops wind.

Gore-Tex, nylon, and coated-nylon all stop wind admirably, but none are breathable in a practical sense. The two varieties of nylon don't breathe at all. And although Gore=Tex and any of the other "breathable" laminates technically "breathe", they do no do so fast enough during exertion and in effect behave as a vapor barrier. Proof of this is the layer of frost that coats the inside of these materials whenever they are used as wind protection in winter. Fortunately this is not a problem since your layering system underneath the wind shell will keep the frost at enough of a distance to preserve your comfort even if a layer gets slightly damp. Most of the frost can be shaken out of the garment before entering the tent, and there the heat of the stove will quickly evaporate the rest. The only measurable inconvenience is that these garments need drying time and space, whereas cotton wind shells do not collect moisture in the first place.

A lot of Fjäll Räven clothing is designed for Arctic conditions and works very well for the environment it comes from. They do also make Gore-Tex garments. They take a different approach to the slick, always changing hype of most of the fashionable brands of today, preferring to look at history and what has worked for a very long time. They're similar to Hilleberg in that way, not being swayed much by the latest fads. Which is something that I, too, respect a lot.

David Loome
(DavidLoome) - F

Locale: American Southwest
wow on 11/18/2010 22:20:06 MST Print View

This all sounds like a VERY expensive Halloween costume.

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: traditional backpacking on 11/18/2010 22:38:57 MST Print View

Filson has been making such clothing and packs since the 19th Century and continues to do so today in Seattle. Their company store is near the Safeco Field baseball stadium.

Their "tin" hats of oiled cotton are the only competition to the Tilley hats, IMHO. See

Filson Tin Hat

Edited by dwambaugh on 11/18/2010 22:41:26 MST.

Miguel Arboleda
(butuki) - MLife

Locale: Kanto Plain, Japan
Re: traditional backpacking on 12/04/2010 17:43:36 MST Print View

Dale, I didn't notice this until today. Really nice looking hat. I used to have some Filson hats and wool pants years ago, but they long ago were left behind in the States. I collect hats so when I see something like this I get kind of starry-eyed. I bet it would make a great backpacking hat.

I used to use a waxed-cotton Barbour Moorland rain jacket for all my country strolls. I still think it is the best breathable, fully waterproof jacket I own, but it is very heavy, the wax gets on everything when it is warmer, and can be quite chilly when cold (the wax does not insulate well) unless you have a good thick wool sweater underneath. I actually prefer the process of warming up the wax, applying it with my fingers, and slowly reproofing the jacket, in much the same way that I used to love reproofing my leather boots. There's something satisfactory about renewing and maintaining gear that you lovingly keep for many years. Something feels very wrong with throwing gear away like we do these days.

Robert Cowman
(rcowman) - F

Locale: Canadian Rockies
Canada goose on 12/04/2010 18:00:41 MST Print View

they're using old school shell fabrics. more demand for those here than TNF or Arc teryx.

Jason Klass
(jasonklass) - F

Locale: Parker, CO
Old School Gear on 12/05/2010 09:34:03 MST Print View

I have had a Barbour waxed cotton jacket for years and while it's great for daily use. For hiking though, I'll stick to modern, breathable materials.