Abeefed-up alternative to the popular Valen, the Valen 4S are medium-nudging-heavyweight softshell trousers, with a nice cut and mountain-oriented tweaks. These rather smart trousers should suit everything from hillwalking and mountaineering to ski touring. I love the fit, and the tough, stretchy fabric, but while they're billed as a 4-season model I'm not convinced any single pair of trousers will do year-round. Sure enough, these are both too thick for summer and a bit lightweight to stand alone in more testing winter conditions. Instead they occupy a versatile middle ground that's well suited to bridge seasons on the UK hills while still dipping more than a toe into winter.
I like them a lot, and will carry on wearing them after this review is published. But they do look expensive when similar trousers are available for less elsewhere.
Weight and build quality
My pair of size Medium weigh 537g. These aren't lightweight trousers, but of course in the mountains a bit of heft is often no bad thing, both in terms of weather protection and product life. The fabric and components all feel sturdy and high quality, and the standard of manufacturing is top-end. The Valen 4S feel like they're made to last.
As with most Jöttnar products, the Valen 4S only come in a men's fit, which is a shame. With a 34 inch waist, a 32 inside leg, and a pretty chunky set of pins, I'm usually a size Large in legwear, but I found these in size L came out both way too loose, and too long. I get better results in a Medium pair, which has a closer and more 'athletic' fit on me, with enough length to keep the top of my boots covered, and sufficient room inside to accommodate thermal leggings (a layer you will definitely be needing if it's cold).
I'm no fan of baggy trousers, which get in the way when you're moving, and flap about in the wind, so I'm keen on the slightly tighter cut. As an added advantage, they partner nicely with gaiters since there isn't much excess fabric to billow out (a pet hate of mine - shallow I know).
Though they're close-fitting, I've got full freedom of movement in the Valen 4S - helped in part by the stretch. The cut of the leg is tailored for mobility, while the large diamond gusset in the crotch helps with high steps, bridging etc.
Coming high enough to keep out draughts and eliminate the risk of builder's bum, but not so high that it feels like you're wearing bibs, the waist features a soft fleece band inside, giving luxurious next-to-skin comfort. While the sewn-in low-profile webbing belt is all I need to keep them up, there are small loops for braces should you wish to add some.
At a weight of 220g/m² the softshell fabric used here is, as I've suggested, perhaps best categorised as borderline midweight/heavyweight. I've worn thicker softshell legwear.
The lightly brushed inner face provides some insulation, but for all my winter days in them so far I have been pleased to be wearing leggings underneath. On the move in less-than-awful conditions this combination is fine even if it's breezy and sub-zero. Though it doesn't feel particularly burly, I've actually found the fabric surprisingly wind resistant. For very cold and stormy weather, or long winter belays, however, I would want something more substantial, or at least add overtrousers to the Valen 4S/leggings combo.
It may not offer loads of insulation, but the fabric seems well chosen for general mountain use in less frigid conditions. Comprising 91% Nylon, it's durable enough to stand up to climbing or scrambling, while its 9% Spandex gives a good amount of stretch. With a DWR finish, it stands up to light moisture or snow, and feels quick drying too.
For use with crampons Jöttnar have added large Kevlar kick patches at the inside ankle. The fact that this stuff is also used in stab vests and the like should give you an idea what to expect: it's seriously robust, and I doubt crampons are going to make much of a mark. Compared to the softshell fabric it is very rigid, and since it doesn't drape in the same way I find a big fold tends to develop along the hard upper edge of the patch. I'm not sure this effect quite constitutes a trip or a snag hazard, but it does spoil the clean lines around the ankle. Something a little less uncompromisingly ballistic might have been a better match for the main fabric, while still offering enough protection from a clumsy crampon.
Two zipped hand pockets are provided, with a fleecy side for maximum snugness. There's also a single zipped rear pocket, and an additional pocket on one thigh. Mesh-lined, this can be left open to double as an impromptu vent; it also features a small loop for clipping a lanyard (perhaps a ski pass? I've no idea what else you might want to secure here). Since I rarely if ever use any trouser pockets, the thigh pocket in particular is wasted on me, especially since anything in it tends to knock around your kneecap. I'm sure some people like all the pockets they can get.
To accommodate footwear from light summer boots or approach shoes, through winter mountain boots, to ski boots, the Valen 4S have a zipped gusset in the lower leg. This takes the fit at the ankle from spacious to extremely spacious. Unzipped, I can't imagine there being any issue swallowing chunky touring boots. I don't need to unzip at all for my B3 boots, and there's a drawcord to pull it all in closer should you be wearing something less bulky - though perhaps an extra press stud might have been a neater way to achieve this.
Especially given the price, it's a shame that no zip-out internal snow gaiter is provided here. I find these a really useful feature on more mountain-oriented softshell trousers - which in other respects the Valen 4S are - as they allow you to get away without additional over-gaiters a lot of the time. Anything that spares me having to wear full gaiters is a good thing.
Ethics and environment
Jöttnar advertise no ethical or environmental credentials on their website.
Tough, stretchy, and really well cut, the Valen 4S have a premium feel, and good attention to detail. Whether walking, mountaineering or climbing, these midweight softshell trousers are well suited to autumn and spring on the hills, and competently cross over into winter if you're OK to layer up in colder, stormier conditions. The price is steep, but they do seem made to last.
Valen 4S is a durable, technical and lightly insulated softshell pant built for climbing and mountaineering in mixed conditions. Based on the popular Valens, the new 4S variant features Kevlar™ instep protectors, a toughened grade of softshell fabric, hem volume adjustors to accommodate approach shoes, mountain or touring boots, as well as brace attachment points, a thigh pocket and a secure integrated waist belt.
The articulated patterning, 4-way stretch and gusseted crotch provide excellent freedom of movement. Lightweight sueded pocket liners help with hand warmth on colder days and the Durable Water Repellent finish protects against light showers. Each cuff features twin eyelets for optional stirrup attachment as well as a low-profile internal drawcord for cinching.
- Sizes: S-XXL (men's only)
- Weight: 537g size M (our weight)
- Fabric: 91% Nylon, 9% Spandex softshell: 220g/m²
- Low profile glove compatible leg hem draw cords to cinch around boot
- Twin zipped hip pockets with sueded pocket liners
- Single zipped thigh pocket with internal lanyard anchor loop
- Single rear pocket
- YKK® zips throughout with glove compatible zip pullers
- Soft fleece internal waistband
- Soft fleece hand warmer pockets
- Kevlar™ reinforced instep protectors
- Zipped gusset at hem to accommodate various boot volumes