The Wool Beanie: Best Cold Weather Hats With Historical Scandinavian Design
— By Katie Godec
Throwing it back all the way to the days of the Vikings, the modern knit cap we commonly refer to as a wool beanie in the US, tuque in parts of Canada, mössa in Sweden, and topplue in Norwegian has survived the test of time. We can collaboratively thank the arrival of ancient knitting techniques in Scandinavia around the 17th century for the warm, durable wool beanie design used across the globe en masse.
Combine that with a long history of sheep herding, felting, and spinning yarn and you will find that the modern Scandinavian wool beanie is a classic winter apparel must-have with a proven track record of warmth and cold climate performance dating back over 1000 years. Join us on a journey back in time as we review some of the original wool beanie designs and two knit hats by outdoor apparel company ALDRI SUR.
Norwegian 'topplue' and Askeladden
Norway is famous for many things, one of the most notable being fanciful Scandinavian folklore and fairytales. Askeladden (in English - the Ash Lad) can be found prancing around in his iconic red cap whilst tricking trolls and generally stirring up mischief.
It is likely that Askeladden's wool beanie (topplue) was made of Old Norwegian wool (one of the most ancient domestic sheep breeds still present in Europe). Wool is famously used in outdoor apparel for its moisture wicking properties and fantastic (and efficient!) ability to insulate.
History of Old Norwegian wool
According to Norwegian Arts Org, the Old Norwegian (sheep's) wool is 33 – 36 microns wide and 80 – 120 millimeters long, making it perfect for a range of applications from combing, felting and hand knitting to spinning into yarn. Due to the cold climate conditions in which the sheep are raised and a lack of "processing" with chemicals, the Old Norwegian wool is coarse and bulky with "a high degree of resilience." This wool is completely clean and biodegradable (an IDEAL combo for a naturally warm and durable wool beanie).
We get a lot of questions about the "why" behind prioritizing wool in outdoor apparel. We've covered the molecular structure of the wool hair follicle, contributing to ease of processing wool into yarn, but we have NOT explained how this magical follicle keeps your head warm (or cold in warm weather, more on this later...)
The Why behind wool beanies
As promised, let's dive in a little further on the topic of why this material makes one heck of a wool beanie. Close your eyes and imagine three absolute MUSTS you expect out of clothing you wear while hiking and traveling in cold outdoor climates (you really didn't need to close your eyes to imagine those, but it is fun to try LOL!) We bet that at the top of your list was 1) warmth 2) long-lasting 3) packable. Surprise, surprise: wool to the rescue!
Aldri Sur founder Katie Godec packed along a knitted wool beanie above the Arctic Circle to Abisko, Sweden. There she traversed 110km to a small village called Nikkaluokta. Along this legendary trail (the Kungsleden or King's Trail), she encountered rapidly changing weather. Within a single 24 hour period there was sunshine, cloud cover, 30mph winds, rain, hail, and snow. But thanks to the reliable construction of her wool beanie, long-lasting, packable warmth was always within arm's reach.
Defining warmth, long-lasting, and packable
Wool is warm. But so are other textiles. Cotton, for example, has a thermal conductivity of .040 (the lower the number, the warmer you will be). Icelandic wool's thermal conductivity rating, however, is .019. A few textile properties need to be factored into this equation. The thicker the material, the finer the weave, the warmer the material. And as mentioned previously, wool's molecular structure wicks moisture away from the skin. Cotton on the other hand will keep the majority of the moisture near the body, reducing its "warming efficiency."
Wool is long-lasting. A woolen fibre can bend over 20,000 times before it breaks! Cotton breaks at a rate 7 times faster than this (better luck next time cotton). If treated with care, your wool knitwear could theoretically last a lifetime. And your wool beanie is no different. Each hat is an investment piece that can travel across continents, seasons, and decades.
Wool is packable. The natural elasticity of wool allows it to hold its shape unlike other textiles (cough cough Cotton.....). This means that stowing away your wool beanie or other wool knitwear in small nooks and crannies won't misshape the hat. And unless you are attempting to pack along a XXXL quadruple layered Icelandic wool parka, the relative weight of wool is light. Some items using ultralight merino wool are some of the softest, lightest items available to adventurers, through hikers, ultra runners, and outdoors lovers alike.
Check out the 2021 Aldri Sur knitted wool beanies below. Happy trails.
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