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As always, we're looking at the Keela Scuffer Trousers from the point of view of long distance trekking over tough terrain.
Test subject: Waist 33", Inside Leg 30", Height: 5ft 8"
Test item: Size = Medium, Short Leg
Kit Tests: Winter
Disclaimer: None required (item not provided by manufacturer)
|Materials: Stretch-Tec Advance (Nylon / Polyester / Elastane)||65% / 24% / 11%|
|Treatments: DWR (in this case Dirt and Water-Repellant)||-|
|Weight (Size Medium, Short)||533g|
|Product Sizing Reference: 33" Waist, 30" Inside Leg =||Medium, Short|
Introduction: You can't always get what you want ...
"But if you try sometimes, you just might find you get what you need"
That line from the Rolling Stones pretty much sums up Scramble's search for the ideal Winter trekking trousers. We want it all, and we're not getting it. But we are getting what we need. Here's why:
Hybrid Climbing / Trekking Trousers
One of the things we require of Winter trekking trousers is the ability to fasten (or clasp in some way) the ankle hem around the boot. Unless you're always on a path, you're going to find yourself (especially in Winter) walking through marsh and bog, and/or stepping on crusty stuff that looked solid until you disappeared into a black liquid mess (3.5 feet is my personal best surprise submersion). If the trousers are fastened to the ankle, they act like partial gaiters and don't ride up, and if you make like a Wildebeest startled by a croc, you can often escape without any water getting into your boots. If your boots are waterproof, it's no fun in freezing conditions having water trapped inside them.
Why not just wear gaiters?
Gaiters are fine if you have them with you, and if you have them on, i.e. you know you're going to be stepping into boggy mush; sometimes however, it can be a surprise. In addition, many gaiters (especially lightweight ones) don't provide a complete seal at the boot. When plunged into bogs, water will be squeezed up that gap between gaiter and boot. If one's trousers clasp the boot, this will help prevent that water getting inside the boot. Furthermore, gaiters may be a luxury (dependent on pack weight) and waterproof and trekking trousers that properly clasp a boot certainly mitigate their necessity.
So, we only consider cold weather trousers that have some kind of clasping / cinching fastener at the ankle.
Very often specialist mountaineering trousers, don't have this feature since they don't require it. Instead they are tapered at the ankle, since billowing fabric could snag on crampons, gear, rocks etc. However, climbing trousers often provide very good protection at the ankles, knees and seat. Since we're sometimes in the valleys and sometimes on the peaks, sometimes clambering through endless bog and sometimes scrambling up mountains, we want a pair of cold weather trousers that can handle it all. We want a hybrid climbing / trekking trouser.
The closest things we've come across to date, are Keela's Scuffer trousers. They're good, certainly, but they aren't perfect by any means.
What we need and what we want
Here's Scramble's wish list, let's see how much of what we want, we actually get with the Scuffers:
- A tough, wind resistant, yet breathable and stretchy fabric (so movement is unconstrained, especially when climbing)
- Comfortable when soaking wet and quick to dry
- A fit that is neither baggy nor too constrained (and a choice of leg lengths to ensure a good fit)
- Added protection in key areas (crampon compatible, plus knee and, if possible, water-resistant seat reinforcements)
- The ability to clamp around a boot (some kind of ankle fastening)
- Long zip from knee to ankle (easy to get off and on)
- Two zipped hand pockets and at least one thigh pocket
Fit and Fabric (1, 2 and 3)
Material (1, 2)
The Scuffers are made of a nylon, polyster, elastane mix which they call their Stretch-Tec Advance softshell fabric and which Keela state is "wind resistant yet highly breathable with an inner texturised finish to help wick away moisture". All of which is fair enough. They are indeed breathable, so much so that I'd question the need for venting features (more on this later). They provide a good degree of wind resistance, and having worn them down to -10 C (+ wind chill), they perform very well in low temperatures and bracing wind. The winds on the last Winter test were violent (I was blown over numerous times across the peaks) and the Scuffers performed superbly, so no complaints there at all. The Scuffers are certainly tough but also nicely stretchy and I've yet to perform a movement sufficiently yogic to have encountered resistance.
So, in terms of materials used, I can't really fault the Scuffers. They perform and wear very well. Not only that but they seem to be self cleaning! The pic below is Day 2 (of Scramble's Winter kit test 2017), the first picture (above) was taken much later on Day 6 (the Scuffers look nearly new!).
Keela do state that their "unique" DWR is "dirt and water repellant". After 7 days of almost continuous rain, hail and snow, I didn't really notice the water repellancy, but certainly the dirt got rinsed away. The Scuffer Trousers got soaked, along with everything else, however they remained comfortable even when saturated, and dried out very quickly during the scarce dry intervals.
In terms of fit, the Scuffers do very well (see first image above). They are neither baggy nor too constrained and at no point have I found myself bemoaning their cut, fit or comfort. Keela's Short Leg equates to a 29" inner leg. I wear them with boots (Altberg Bergens) and have a 30" inner leg - for me, the fit is bang on. If anything, Keela tend to size large, so where I'm a large with Rab (33" waist), I'm a medium with Keela.
So far so good ...
What we want: Added protection in key areas (crampon compatible, plus knee and, if possible, water-resistant seat reinforcements).
Here's where we start getting just what we need. The Keela Scuffers have welt panels on the inside leg at the ankle, to protect against crampons. These are made of a very tough material and work well, no complaints here.
Unlike Keela's OP Trousers, and many of the heavier climbing softshell trousers, the Scuffers don't have reinforcement panels at the knee - we think they should have (half a point docked for function).
The Scuffers do have a reinforced seat, but it's only a thicker fabric reinforcement (more of a nod to protection) which doesn't have any additional water-resistance. It's okay, but could be better. If you sit down on damp rocks, your arse will get wet.
So here the Scuffers are okay, certainly not bad, but could be better.
Ankle fastening / boot clamping & Zip (5 and 6)
Keela have gone for an interesting design here. Many brands, such as Montane and Fjallraven use a button snap fastener at the ankles on some of their trousers. Keela have gone with a velcro fastening tab. What's perplexing is that once they'd decided on a sensible dimension for their tab, they decided to stitch in a thin velcro strip suitable for a wrist fastener, but your lower legs / boots take a pounding, while your wrists ... not so much.
As I've mentioned before, Keela are an infuriating company. Companies like Rab, Bergans of Norway, Montane, Mountain Equipment often get the small things just right (attention to detail and all that), Keela get the main stuff right and then seem to get bored and make strange decisions that result in them getting the little things just wrong.
On the right, is Keela's stock image of the Scuffer's nice long ankle zip. But look at the velcro strip (click image to enlarge):
The first thing I did when I got the new test pair of Scuffers, was stitch in some heavy duty hook and loop over the top of their "micro" strip, using the full dimensions of their tab. As it was obvious to anyone with an imagination, that in the middle of nowhere, in freezing temperatures, you don't want to be precisely aligning velco hooks to loops. Additionally, you don't want this fastener coming loose and flapping around when you're wearing crampons.
Fortunately, and the only positive here, is that it's very easy to stitch in some hook and loop over Keela's (you don't need to remove their velcro). But this shouldn't be necessary.
Furthermore, it's not as if Keela's design team are unfamiliar with such solutions. They only needed to copy their own Lightning Trousers. One function point deducted for negligence.
No problem here. The Scuffers have a nice long zip that runs from the top of the calf to the ankle. It's a good zip; doesn't snag and the Scuffers are very easy to get off and put on.
Pockets & Vents (7)
Perhaps Keela wanted their Scuffers to explore seasons they weren't ideally suited for, I don't know, but they decided that over-heating in the leg department was going to be an issue, and their solution was two meshed backed zippered vents. This, at first, seems a welcome additional feature, until you realise that they've come at the expense of one or two thigh pockets. Keela's HW OP softshell trousers don't have vents, but do have two very nice thigh pockets. Their intended customers are people in the services including mountain rescue personnel. Presumably, these types don't complain about hot legs, but do need places to put stuff.
The vents are handy (in theory), especially when wearing waterproof trousers over the Scuffers, but in practice, I forgot they were there, which suggests that leg overheating was not front and centre of my concerns while walking or climbing up mountains. It also shows that, as Keela claim, the Scuffer's Stretch-Tec Advance fabric is very breathable. So perhaps the vents aren't required?.
Mountain Equipment's Mission Pant (see below) features venting zips and a low profile thigh pocket, so it shows that both are possible. If I had to choose between vents and thigh pockets, you guessed it, I'll have my pockets thank you. What doesn't make this a deal breaker, at least for me, is that because they are a Winter trouser, it's highly likely that the wearer is also wearing a jacket with pockets and so the missing thigh pocket(s) can be substituted for. Not a deal breaker, but another point deducted for function.
The Scuffers have two zipped hip / hand pockets, the right one has a useful inner security pocket (also zipped), useful for keys and other valuables (pictured right).
The Death Zone
Some of the features missing in Keela's Scuffers are present in their OP trousers; thigh pockets and knee reinforcements. However, the OP trousers use extremely poor quality shock-cord on the two third cinch at the ankle hem. It was so poor, I ended up replacing it with paracord. Since their trousers all feature sturdy and long zips, one need only tie the cord and then, closing the zip clasps the ankle hem to the boot - but not as well as the Scuffers. Furthermore, sticthing in velcro is simple, replacing shock cord on a cinched hem with a zip requires tailoring, and thus we couldn't recommend such a product.
Rather like the death-zone in mountaineering (where the effects of high altitude on humans become critical), Keela are approaching the death zone in terms of competitive pricing. At £75 for the Scuffers and £80 for their OP softshell trousers, they're pushing through the clouds and approaching the pricing peaks of mountain brands like Rab, Mountain Equipment and Montane; Keela's minor failings may cease to be so forgiveable; and unless such failings are rectified customers may well opt to pay that dwindling extra for a better all-round product.
Below are a couple of products, that if Keela's prices keep rising, their Scuffers will have to get in the ring with.
Conclusion & Rating
... you get what you need
There's enough right about Keela's Scuffer trousers: the fit, the material, the ankle adjustments (once customised) and welt panels, the zips, hip pockets and belt. But there's also enough wrong with them to keep us in the market for a better option. If you've got this far into our review and know of a pair of softshell trousers that will satisfy our wants as well as our needs (see wish list above), then please contact us via the footer and let us know.
Keela's Scuffers do all the main things well; they're tough, stretchy and very durable. They'll protect you from harsh wind, biting cold, scree and bog alike. Now if they could add a thigh pocket, knee reinforcements, and beef up the velcro ankle tab we could start raving about them. In the meantime, Keela's Scuffers, in spite of their failings, are still Scramble's top pick in our Cold Weather Softshell Trouser category.
Rating (out of 10)
* The value score is derived from two factors:
1) Competitive Market Price (CMP). This represents our judgement of a competitive online price point if we were to stock the item. e.g. if we feel we would need to sell an item at 40% off (i.e. 60% of its full RRP) to be competitive, then our CMP score will be 6/10.
2) Customer Value Price (CVP). We then make an honest appraisal of the maximum price we would be willing to pay for the item (and we're mean). So if we'd pay 80% of its RRP our CVP score would be 8/10.
We then average the two scores to get our final value score, which in our example would be 7/10.
Last Updated: 18/04/17