You know who knows how to make a great jacket? Fjallraven. The quality of their outerwear and lifestyle garments. So when the brand set out to design an eco-friendly shell technology that would still match up to their performance standards, I was interested. Shell technology is one of the most environmentally harmful parts of the outdoor product world, so any attempt to improve here is welcomed. The Keb Eco-Shell is a stellar product move in a positive direction.
Fjallraven Keb Eco-Shell Features:
- Made from stretchy Eco-Shell fabric
- Helmet-compatible hood preserves peripheral vision
- Two-way, fully waterproof zipper with storm flap and leather pull tab
- Two spacious chest pockets with internal hidden bellows
- Two-way side vent zippers
- Hem has adjustable drawcord, cuffs have Velcro
- MSRP: $500
Stay dry, stay green
Shell technology is one of the most environmentally harmful parts of the outdoor world. A report from Patagonia published in 2015 detailed the chemistry of the environmental dimensions of shell jacket impact. The gold standard of durable water repellant (DWR) coating was an 8-carbon fluorocarbon (PFC) molecule that was highly effective at beading water on the surface of the jacket, but had undesirable environmental impacts because it does not break down. This ability of a treatment to bead water on a jacket’s surface is critical; even if the fabric is inherently impregnable to water (small pore size), saturated fabric does not permit breathability (you’ll get wet from your own sweat) and the jacket becomes heavy and clammy. So the trick is to find a treatment that will raise the surface tension of the jacket such that water beads up, is durable, and does not hurt the environment.
Patagonia’s solution was to move to shorter-chain PFCs; Fjallraven has eliminated PFC’s almost completely from their Keb line. There is still some in the waterproof zipper, as it turns out. However, for the bulk of the jacket, the treatment on the fabric is what counts. Fjallraven doesn’t actually have very much information available about their specific PFC-free fabric-impregnating treatment; they do promise that it is still water resistant and works well on the recycled polyester base of their Keb line.
So, the result is a waterproof, breathable, wonderfully stretchy jacket that is *almost* PFC-free (just those pesky zippers). I’ve been using this for mountaineering and some awesome through-hiking across a beautiful summer, and now fall, in the Pacific northwest. Let’s dive into the features.
The foundation of the Keb jacket is its fabric, full stop. One of the best parts about it is that it’s recycled polyester, and yet it’s still highly functional. I particularly like that the fabric has a good degree of inherent stretch. This really helps the jacket move with you as you climb and clamber. The jacket is cut quite long in general, both in the sleeves and the torso, which really improves the jacket’s range-of-motion.
The stats of the Keb jacket are promising. The breathability is 26,000 g/m2/24hours. This refers to the amount of your sweaty vapor that can pass through one square meter of the jacket’s fabric ever day, and this is on the high end of the spectrum meaning that the fabric is very breathable. The water resistivity of the fabric is 30,000 millimeters of water, which is a mindlessly high number since anything above 10,000 is usually considered waterproof. In summary: this jacket is very breathable and totally waterproof. Just as importantly, though, the fabric has a nice handle. In fact it is so soft that it almost feels like a softshell, especially with the inherent stretch. It’s also very quiet.
So we’re working with a good foundation here. Built on top of this are some carefully selected features that are the hallmark of Fjallraven’s design excellence. At the center of the jacket is the two-way waterproof (and PFC-containing!) zip. The zip boasts a big fat Fjallraven-stamped leather pull tab, which is undeniably stylish and also great for grabbing with gloves on. I really like the two-way zip because it means that you can vent from the bottom up, which is really nice and can be a good option if you’re wearing a pack. The jacket can be fastened at the bottom with a sexy Fjallraven snap. Other ventilation options are provided by the pit zips. All zips pull flawlessly.
The Keb is the type of shell that feels like a fortress. For one thing, it’s heavy – it clocks in at around a pound and a half. Not exactly svelte. For another, though, the design of the collar and hood are awesome. The collar is very tall, and when it’s zipped up all the way it offers excellent protection for your chin and neck. The hood is very large and easily accommodates a climbing helmet. Crucially, it also cinches down well on your head thanks to two-way adjustments, meaning that it won’t impede your vision and will track with your head’s movements. The brim also has a reinforced peak to keep its shape in the wind.
All other features work well and complement the jacket. I like that the chest pockets have fitted mesh inserts for phones (or whatever). They are quite roomy and can accommodate a large phone or several bars, and the built-in gusset is low-profile. The hem has a shock cord adjustment, and the long design of the jacket means extra protection for days with blowing wind.
Using the jacket is a delight. It really is the type of gear that makes you feel a little less freaked out about getting caught in a blizzard with icicles forming on your face, because you know that the gear has you covered everywhere else. I really like the long cut of the jacket because it moves with you very well; there’s not hint of constriction, and it ensures that you stay completely covered all the time. The cuffs seal well, the hood seals well, the hem is long and covers your butt. Plus the fairly high-denier face fabric just feels durable. There’s not much to complain about here, except the jacket’s substantial weight.
The only question mark at the end of this review is how durable this jacket will be in the long run. It does have a few marks against it. For one thing, polyester is a less durable fabric than nylon, and the base of the Keb is polyester. For another, the PFC-free treatment used in the Keb is, almost by definition, less durable than the environmentally toxic but highly durable PFC treatments used in the past. However, this is a good thing, it just requires a little more product care. I hope that the entire industry starts to move towards this type of technology.
- Excellent fit, I like the spacious cut
- The fabric is soft and quiet
- Breathability stacks up with the best on the market
- All features work well. I love the big pull tab and big pockets
- PFC-free treatments is the way things need to go
- I’m wary of the long-term durability of the soft polyester face fabric
- 1.5 pounds is more than any jacket needs; only a problem if you want to take it in your pack
The Bottom Line: Fjallraven Keb Eco-Shell
The Keb Eco-Shell rides a brilliant line between technical jacket and lifestyle product, with the chops of a real mountain jacket but the look (and heft!) of a stylish city jacket. Buy it for either and you’ll likely be satisfied. I love that Fjallraven is making such aggressive moves towards more environmentally friendly technologies. Overall, and acknowledging the premium price point – this jacket is a truly premiere product.
Buy now: Available from Backcountry.com