Winter in Scotland is perhaps the hardest place in the world to dress for. Winter climbing is particularly difficult because it mixes high levels of physical exertion with standing around, often in conditions hovering around freezing. I’ve made a few experiments with legwear for winter climbing but my experiments now seem to be over, thanks to a new British brand. Enter Jöttnar.
Jöttnar is a new brand which stocks its stuff in just a couple of UK retailers and in their own online store. Unlike so many established brands they don’t do t-shirts, jeans, hoodies, or casual ‘Aprés’ products with 500 % mark-up, leaving you looking like a brand billboard for the privilege. However, that doesn’t make Jöttnar a cheap do. Far from it: Jöttnar has come straight onto the market with a shell jacket that costs £450 and other products at top-dollar (these salopettes retail at £350). That’s either really brave or really stupid. Brave because they’re suddenly up there with Arc’teryx, Patagonia and Haglofs on the price front (all companies with big marketing budgets and a lot of experience); stupid because if the products are not exceptional then they’re going to go bust. They have a small Pro Team with whom they develop products and one name in particular stood out for me: Mike Pescod, a guide based in Fort William. He’d previously been sponsored by Arc’teryx, and the fact that he’d switched partners was unlikely to mean he was going for a lesser product. The UK-centric nature of their products (Scottish winter climbing a major part of their blurb) and the backing of a UK climber who, as a guide, will be out there day-in, day-out, made their products look very tempting to me (as it happens, I actually saw him at Aonach Mor this week, though did not say anything as that would have made me look like a stalker). The website’s black and white photos were absolutely stunning and the whole look of it made me want to buy their stuff. As I have never owned a pair of bibs, and with winter looming, I thought I’d dive in and get a pair of their Vanir salopettes. That turned out to be a good idea.
I broke my Golden Rule and went for a pair without trying them on (the nearest stockist that I could find was miles and miles away). I contacted Jöttnar and they recommended I got a pair of size medium (I am waist 30˝, chest 39˝, height 5’11.5˝, which put me between sizes). Barely before I’d finished placing my order it had arrived with a hand-written note, postcards, an awesome catalogue, and all in a custom delivery bag. Neat. By this point, if the product’s finishing is not perfect, then they’ve set themselves up for a fall. I need not have worried.
The finishing on these things is superb. It’s right up there with Arc’teryx (in my mind, the best finished products out there).
The stitching is exceptional and the attention to detail amazing. I stuck them on immediately and the fit was genuinely outstanding.
These are not designed for fat knackers, but for people who actually go outside. You’ve a fair lot of adjustment options with hem draw-cord, waist belt and braces, and it didn’t take me long to get it right. However, I was then worried they were too long for me, as the bottoms dangled on the floor. However, on go the boots and then the fit makes sense. This is great, as this is a pair of trousers made with big mountain boots in mind. The length was perfect, and the inbuilt gaiters sealed well round the boots. The gaiters are designed to clip over your boots with a laces hook, and additionally there are holes to stick tat through and then thread under your boots. The gaiters are also removable. The pockets are completely brilliant: for a start, there aren’t ten of them. I hate trousers with shedloads of pockets, and here you get one good-sized sealed one on your left hip (water-resistant zip, though it seems to be waterproof, and the pocket is lined so waterproof to the inside), and two on the bib (lined with stretch mesh for venting, maximum breathability, and keeping stuff warm: perfect). This stuff is designed 100 % for use on the hill: the bibs don’t feel perfect when sitting down, nor when you’re barefoot, but get outside and suddenly everything makes perfect sense.
The bibs are made of Polartec Neoshell, a fabric regarded as amongst the most breathable waterproof fabrics out there. I’ve not got past experience with it, but this stuff is stretchy, reassuringly stiff, and very durable. The crampon patches are massive and very strong indeed.
When it comes to winter I’d normally wear a pair of Mountain Equipment G2 trousers that I’ve had for years and got second hand for cheap. I like them because for 90 % of the time they are ideal: warm, fairly breathable, tough, and stretchy. The problem is if it’s tipping it down then they just don’t hold out the water and you’re forced to don the overtrousers. Thermals + thick soft shells + overtrousers makes for boil-in-the-bag legs, and if you’re on the Ben’s walk in then you’re going to sweat your balls off, only for them to shrivel up and die when the sweat freezes on you later. I’m not a fan of wearing waterproofs all the time (see this post) because they’re expensive, easy to damage, overkill, and limited in breathability, but with legwear in winter, wearing something waterproof gives you such a reassuring buffer that if conditions are not ideal and it’s hovering around freezing with snowmelt, rain, and drippy ice about, then you are not going to get wet. As legs are low in sensory bits compared to, say, the torso or head, a bit of extra sweat is generally not much of an issue.
On the hill
I wore these for five days over the last week when up near Fort William.
They went out in 65+ mph winds, in torrential rain, full-blown whiteouts, river crossings, up Munros, and up a couple of climbs. They were pretty close to perfect.
I wore them over either a pair of Helly Hansen polypro longjohns or a pair of TNF woollen ones in temperatures between -4 °C to +10 °C (ish).
The fit: I couldn’t get over how good this was: no more crampon snags for me! I’ve hardly got the best footwork in the world but not once did I snag a crampon, and the slim leg fit allows you to see your feet perfectly. These are designed for climbing so aren’t like flares with huge ski-boot-orientated hems. Despite the close fit I got perfect freedom of movement.
The fabrics: the Neoshell was amazingly good. There’s not a mark on it, despite tramping across heather, through a gorse bush, generally scraping it around on ridges, and clobbering it a few times with the ice axe. The DWR is still beading like new despite about 40 hours of heavy wear. The Neoshell is seriously breathable: not once did I feel too hot or too sweaty. Bibs give you a lot of venting options and have really opened my eyes to use of baselayers in really cold weather: a bib covers your core very effectively, keeping you warm while allowing you to pump the heat out of your arms and shoulders, which don’t feel the cold in the same way, meaning a baselayer alone can be warm enough in a lot of situations. The back-bib, where sweat could easily accumulate under a rucksack, is thin stretchy fabric with no DWR treatment, allowing for maximum wicking. I remained completely dry every single day, despite a couple of the days being out in continuous rain. Oh Scotland, how I love you…
The features: the pockets are great. Wet hats, wet gloves, etc. can all pile into the hip pocket, and camera, food or compass can go in the chest pockets. The side-zips never snag and are completely watertight. The gaiter is extremely effective, though on long walks it did eventually pull up on occasion (usually with my smaller B2 boots, rather than my B3s). When it’s on the seal is pretty-much impermeable, as proven when I stepped in a river up to mid-shin and came out dry. For serious powder-bashing a bit of cord under the boot may be a good idea, but unfortunately this isn’t supplied with the trouser. There’s nice reflective logos on front and back of the trouser.
Downsides? 1) It would be nice for these to be available in colours other than black, but owing to the new nature of the company they probably can’t afford to gamble on bright purple trousers just yet. 2) An inevitable bummer of bibs is that you look like a fisherman. 3) It would be nice for cord to be included to put through the holes in the gaiter. 4) The zip pullers on the full length zipper and the left hip pocket are identical, and on a couple of occasions when reaching for food when belaying I ended up unzipping my trousers rather than grabbing my food… It would be nice if they were different shapes to tell them apart when unsighted. 5) It’s not easy to try them on – there’s not that many stockists out there. 6) They are not cheap. £350 is the price of a week in the Alps!
This is a British brand completely new to the industry and they’ve come in with a few key products. If these salopettes are anything to go then they’re here to the stay. Jöttnar deserves serious plaudits for going right in there and mixing with the big boys from the off. By the end of my week away these salopettes had gone through the wringer and had come out gleaming and unscathed. Comfortable, protective, fantastic fit and features. They are staggeringly good, and might well be the best pair of trousers I’ve ever bought. That’s ‘5 stars’ from me, then, and the winter leg-wear problem sorted..