By Eli Wallace | Photos by Phil Mumford
You’re 14, and you’re outdoorsy. What do you do when you’re trekking through the mountains and your gear is heavy, uneven and generally annoying?
If you’re Åke Nordin in the 1950s, you wait till you get home to Örnsköldsvik, Sweden, and head to your mother’s sewing machine in the basement. And if you’re clever, you walk out with the world’s first framed backpack, made of strong cotton, leather straps and a wooden frame.
After Nordin built his first prototype, he headed on a trip into the far north of Sweden, where he found the backpack both distributed weight more evenly and increased ventilation to his back. The indigenous Sami people wanted in; they asked Nordin to build backpacks and tents for their long treks into the high mountains of the Lapland. The rest is history.
It’s a breezy Tuesday morning when I walk into the Fjällräven (pronounced fyahl-raven) store on the west side of Pearl Street, near the intersection with Eighth. As soon as a few customers wander in, the store becomes convivial, almost like sitting around a campfire; people swap stories and adventure plans, and the air is thick with wanderlust.
Fjällräven came from a desire for gear that worked better, lasted longer and wouldn’t fail. The name, which means “arctic fox” in Swedish, nods to the animal’s adaptability and toughness in its harsh environment. It’s an apt choice of mascot, as the company has stuck to its guns about making serious technical gear without sacrificing usability.
“You won’t see many neons in here,” says Joe Prebich, Fjällräven’s marketing manager. “We don’t chase trends. If you look at our styles, some are the same as they were 50 years ago.”
One of those styles is the Greenland Jacket, the first jacket the company made and one of its most popular. The jacket’s minimal details are due to its intended use: with a backpack. “You don’t want straps getting caught on zippers and chest pockets,” Lara Silven, the store’s manager, explains. The jacket features leather piping on the sleeves and hood, and classic, two-tone styling. A second jacket style, the Raven Jacket, builds on the Greenland Jacket by adding a zip-away hood, plus cinches at the waist and hem.
But don’t mistake these jackets for basic. The G-1000 fabric, a proprietary polyester (65 percent) and cotton (35 percent) blend, is extremely versatile, and Fjällräven uses it in two thirds of its current product line.
“G-1000 comes in different thicknesses,” Silven says while showing me the Keb trousers, which are remarkably light. They are made of G-1000 Eco, the same fabric blend, sourced from organic cotton and recycled polyester. “I see people wearing these on Pearl Street. It ranges from the technical to the everyday.”
Wax & Packs
One of the keys to Fjällräven’s versatility is Greenland Wax, sold in solid bars like soap. Greenland Wax makes G-1000 waterproof, wind resistant, mosquito repellent and UV-blocking. The wax lets consumers tailor the gear to their needs; more wax fights the elements better, while less makes for more breathable gear.
“People get intimidated by the wax, but it’s easy,” says Silven, demonstrating with a bar and a heat gun. “At home, you can use a hairdryer, or heat it up on the campfire.” Once it warms up, she applies the wax to G-1000 and dumps on a glass of water, which promptly beads up. “I used to commute to work on my bike, so I put the wax wherever rain might hit my pack. It just rolls off.”
The packs she’s referring to—possibly the best-known of Fjällräven’s products in the U.S.—include the Rucksack and Kånken styles. “People in Boulder love the Rucksack. It’s an iconic style, modeled after the first bag Åke Nordin made,” Silven says. The Rucksack’s leather straps and heavy-duty G-1000 make it a rugged, durable bag for the West, while the rectangular Kånken is more popular in urban centers and on the East Coast.
The Kånken pack was originally created for Swedish schoolchildren, which shows in its bright colors and relatively small size. “It holds more than you think,” Silven says. The fabric, again, makes all the difference; Vinylon F swells when wet, making the weave tighter and the bag waterproof.
The real mastery behind Fjällräven lies in these hyperfocused details, so it’s no surprise that the company sits at the forefront of the free-range-down movement.
“Sustainability is a pillar of the company,” Prebich says. “We see our business as married to the use of the outdoors, and we aim to reduce our impact with everything we make.” Fjällräven’s Down Promise ensures that all of the company’s down comes from fully traceable sources, something he says the company started doing long before their competitors. “This isn’t green marketing, but the Fjällräven mentality: to build quality into everything we do.
“I think Boulder is the right place for us. We have mountains right outside the door,” Prebich says. “This kind of community understands what we’re doing, and we love being part of that.”
Fjällräven (720-508-8191; www.fjallraven.us) is located at 777 Pearl St., Boulder 80302. It’s open Mon-Sat from 11am-7pm and Sunday 11am-6pm. Metered parking is available on Eighth and Spruce streets.
By Eli Wallace
Photos by Phil Mumford