It's one o'clock in the morning. The howling mountain winds are battering into our refuge, and threatening to tear it from its very foundations. I've been drifting in and out of sleep for a number of hours now, kept awake by the violent gale that's blowing outside. It's grim up north, and I'm further north than I've ever been before.
Fjällräven have taken us 150km north of the Arctic circle to try out their brand new mountaineering range, the Bergtagen. The range, which features technical mountain clothing as far removed from their hipster Kånken bag as it's possible to get, has been designed "for a life above the tree line." Here in the Tarfala Valley, in the shadow of Sweden's highest mountain Kebnekaise, trees are in short supply so we've definitely come to the right place to see what this kit can do.
The word 'Bertagen' comes from a long-lost Swedish expression that refers to how time spent in the mountains can leave you feeling spellbound, humbled, and changed. The range consists of a base layer, a work layer, a shell layer and an insulation layer. It has been designed in collaboration with an elite test team, including Sweden's first mountain guide Stefan Palm and Fjällräven's outdoor expert Johan Skullman.
On the subject of the range, Johan Skullman says "Mountain expeditions are a large part of Fjällräven’s history. Today, we’re continuing along in this vein with a well-thought-out clothing system that has a whole range of technical solutions. But none of this has come at a cost to our long-term thinking. We will always be true to what we believe in and the environments we want to spend time in."
Waking up during what turned out to be just a brief respite from the wind, our group rouses itself with coffee, pastries, and porridge. While the guides plan the day ahead amongst themselves, clearly quite concerned by what'd be safe in such extreme weather conditions, we listen to talks from a number of the Fjällräven players who've joined us for the adventure. The loud wind peppers these talks with comedic interruptions, but it's great getting an insight from the people who clearly care deeply for the brand and the products that they make.
"As a company, we're proud to have phased out fluorocarbons in 2015," Martin Axelhed, Fjällräven CEO, tells us.
For everyone present, it's obvious that minimising environmental impact and maximising sustainability are central to the brand's approach. This gets underlined by Christine Dolva, Head of Sustainability and someone who's taken a refreshingly hands-on approach with how Fjällräven source their wool, when she says "If you make yourself part of the process and engage with the shearing, and the animal's welfare, and see every aspect of it - you soon learn to appreciate the true value of sustainability."
After listening to an overview of the gear's features, and learning that the garments' reinforcements are made of recycled nylon (there's that sustainability again), we're packing up our 38 litre Fjällräven Kaipak backpack, splitting ourselves into groups of three and four, and heading up to the glaciers with our Swedish Mountain Guides.
I wear the base and shell layers. As a combination they hold up really well, especially when the icy rain starts falling. And boy, does it start falling. The Bergtagen Woolmesh Sweater, for example, is excellent. Soft, warm, with a body-mapping design which brings together three Merino Wool blends for optimised comfort and elite performance; it's a really smart bit of kit that manages to keep me at the right temperature no matter what. The cleverly laid-out wool mesh on the sleeves, sides, and lower torso maximises ventilation superbly.
"Perfect conditions for testing," says our guide Pelle, gesturing at the awful weather, as we walk to the edge of the glacier and start putting on our crampons. I'm inclined to agree with him.
The Eco-Shell Jacket and Trousers, which come in a brilliantly bright shade of "Hoikkado Orange" (that really stands out on icy white backgrounds), protect me from the elements heroically. Waterproof and breathable, with a helmet-compatible hood that doesn't impede your vision, the jacket is difficult to fault. I wear it throughout the day and it keeps me drier than a plate of Sweden's famous rye crisp bread.
"I wear it throughout the day and it keeps me drier than a plate of Sweden’s famous rye crisp bread."
The aramid-based Corylon reinforcements on the jacket and trousers, a material exclusive to Fjällräven, are reassuringly aggressive and can clearly take a beating. I clumsily scuff these areas on my trousers more than once and they bat me away with ease like an end of the day slog-fest by Moeen Ali and Ben Stokes. For very obvious reasons, technical mountaineering clothing needs to be hardwearing and the Bergtagen range is most certainly that.
After the glacier walking is done, without me falling into a crevasse - I hasten to add, we spend the afternoon hiking down to our helicopter pick up about three or four hours away. We fly down to a camping spot at Kieron, spend the night in a tent, before walking the final leg of the Fjällräven Classic to Abisko. Along the way, from mountain glacier to chilly campsite to woodland strolls on the Kungsleden, I try other parts of the Bergtagen range such as the Bergtagen Trousers and the Lite Insulation Jacket. These items both do the business without issue and merely add to the overall impression that Fjällräven really have given a lot of thought to their shift into high mountain activities.
One great example of Fjällräven's considered and authentic approach to the Bergtagen range can be seen in the way it's formed a long-term strategic partnership with The Swedish Mountain Guide Association (aka the 'Svenska Bergsguideorganisationen/SBO' - try saying that on a hangover). As a result of this partnership, Fjällräven will support the education of new SBO mountain guides; providing them with Bergtagen clothing that they can use and test while up in the mountains. SBO will return the favour by providing valuable feedback, sharing their expert knowledge, and supporting events.
Because of the unrivalled success, and world dominating presence, of urban favourite the Kånken I'd be lying if I said I didn't have some niggling doubts before this trip that Fjällräven could be a brand that satisfied both ends of the extreme. I figured that the addressing of technical mountaineering gear, after becoming synonymous with a high-street backpack in recent years, could potentially leave them spread too thin; leading to a dip in product quality. However, I'm happy to report that in the case of the Bergtagen nothing could be further from the truth. It's an excellent, stylish, range that will please those who prefer the Himalayas to Hoxton.
The Kånken's popularity, I realise, can take care of itself; allowing Fjällräven to focus fully on the products that will inspire people to get out and about in the remotest reaches of nature. The Bergtagen range feels authentic, feels exciting, feels like a step in the right direction. It will, as far as this writer is concerned, more than satisfy the needs of people who live for the mountains.
For more information on the brand, pay a visit to the Fjällräven website.