From high-performance technical fleece to cushy apres and style pieces, the wool sweater has become a must-have in every guy’s winter wardrobe. Check out our list of the best wool sweaters.
We used to associate wool sweaters with being trapped in itchy, sweaty, bulky hotboxes that we had to endure until our parents finally let us take them off. In the years since, weaving techniques and treatments have turned these wearable saunas into soft, breathable, premium garments. We even found a GORE-TEX layered sweater designed for use as a top layer when skiing.
Most wool varieties come from sheep (especially the lauded merino), but others come from goats, alpaca, even the occasional muskox. Super-soft cashmere was once reserved for the upper class, but now many cashmere sweaters are priced to fit in many closets. For the outdoorsman, merino wool has sweat-wicking and quick-drying properties that rival synthetic materials. As a bonus, merino is naturally stink-proof.
Whether you’re looking for a gift for a loved one or some cozy self-love, there are dozens of sweaters with a variety of price points that are perfect for any situation. We’ve endured dozens of hours of cozy testing to find the best options on this list. So get a fire going, pour a hot cup of cocoa, and check out our list of the best wool sweaters of 2021.
The Best Men’s Wool Sweaters of 2021
If you want to be ready for anything, Triple Aught Design’s Praetorian Hoodie ($215) should be your go-to. Made with 100% merino wool, the high-quality Praetorian sports a streamlined fit with plenty of stretch. The weave is dense and responsive, with thicker material at the elbows for added durability.
We’ve tested this hoodie for weeks on trails, roads, and backcountry without it stretching out, pilling, or showing any wear other than an occasional loose thread. The slim fit makes it easy to layer and provides plenty of freedom of movement. Also, details like thumb loops for easy layering (and a touch of extra warmth) and a generous hood that fits over a beanie or helmet help make the Praetorian a standout.
This hoodie has been through multiday backpacking trips in the Olympic Range without picking up body odor, wading through dense brush in British Columbia without tearing, and ice climbing in Chamonix without overheating. Safe to say it’s our go-to.
The Praetorian’s ability to stay warm when wet, vent heat, dry quickly, and look good in a cafe makes it a sweater you pack for every occasion — especially when you don’t know what to expect.
- Style: Full-zip hoodie
- Material: Merino wool
- Features: Extremely durable and versatile, slim fit
Founded in 1863, Portland, Oregon-based Pendleton Woolen Mills is one of the most revered purveyors of tweed, flannel, and wool apparel. Now in its sixth generation of family ownership, Pendleton’s Original Westerley sweater ($239) became a pop culture icon with its prominent role in the legendary Coen brothers film “The Big Lebowski.” The sweater originally debuted in 1972 but has been resurrected by popular demand.
For fans of the movie, the feeling of wearing The Dude’s sweater just adds to the appeal. It’s a versatile, cozy piece of menswear that can double as a conversation-starter. Wearing it around town, the sweater garners appreciative nods from movie buffs.
Icon status aside, the Westerley is an immaculately knit, heavy wool sweater with great fit and feel. The lambswool material is warm, and the dense knit gives it the soothing feel of a weighted blanket. The styling is truly timeless, looking as great now as it did 50 years ago. Even wearers who’ve never seen the movie will appreciate the Westerley’s combination of style and comfort.
- Style: Full-zip cardigan
- Material: 100% lambswool
- Features: It really ties the room together, pairs well with a White Russian on the rocks
If you’re looking at buying cashmere but don’t want to empty your bank account to do it, the Recycled Cashmere Crewneck from Patagonia ($199) is the way to go. It has all the feel of cashmere but with half the price tag.
Cashmere is made from the undercoat of Kashmir goats. This undercoat fiber is very fine, producing an extremely soft feel. Due to the low yield of fibers per goat, cashmere wool is very pricey and highly sought after. Because of this demand, overbreeding of Kashmir goats has wreaked havoc on the Mongolian region where they live. The sheer number of goats in the area has decimated plant life. This contributes to the desertification of the region.
To combat this, Patagonia is making recycled cashmere apparel using pre-consumer scraps from European factories. These scraps are blended with a small amount of virgin wool. The result is a sweater that has the fit and feel of cashmere with a fraction of the environmental impact (not to mention a fraction of the price).
- Style: Crewneck pullover
- Material: 95% recycled cashmere, 5% wool
- Features: Low price (for cashmere), recycled wool
An amazing blend of old-school style and materials with high-tech modern materials, Spyder’s Legacy Half Zip ($449) lives up to its name. The Jacquard print and high collar call back to your favorite ’80s ski movies (“Hot Dog,” anyone?), but the waterproof and windproof fabrics take you into the future.
Let’s start with the exterior: The merino wool outer layer provides warmth and dries quickly. Plus, there’s no ignoring that amazing pattern. Inside, the sweater is lined with waterproof GORE fabric on the shoulders and neck. The rest of the sweater is lined with GORE-TEX INFINIUM material to make it windproof and water-resistant, all while keeping the sweater breathable. Waterproof zippers on the pockets and front contribute to the Legacy’s waterproofing.
The resulting sweater is a terrific marriage of an outer layer and a midlayer — as protective on the slopes as it is comfy in the lodge at the end of the day.
- Style: High-neck half-zip pullover
- Material: Merino wool, GORE-TEX
- Features: Waterproof and windproof, doubles as an outer shell
Well-known for its outstanding outdoor apparel, the icebreaker Cool-Lite Merino Utility Explore Crewe Sweater ($160) takes New Zealand Company’s trail tech to in-town garments. This sweater is a 50-50 blend of merino wool and TENCEL, a wood-based fiber that adds softness and moisture-wicking properties.
Featuring a classic style, the Utility Explore Crewe is great for wearing around town. The merino-and-TENCEL blend feels extremely soft, and the crewneck sweater’s breathability ensures that it won’t become a hotbox if the weather warms up.
Not only that, but icebreaker’s clothing is shockingly odor-resistant. We’ve worn icebreaker apparel for days on end without any foul smells. This comes in handy on long trips where you’ll be wearing your clothes over and over again. The combination of form and function in the Utility Explore Crewe makes it an ideal piece to throw in a duffel for a weeklong trip.
- Style: Pullover crew neck
- Material: Merino wool, TENCEL wood fibers
- Features: Stylish, odor-resistant
A great blend of form and function, Fjallraven’s Greenland Re-Wool Sweater ($165) uses recycled wool blended with polyamide in a 3-to-1 ratio. This combines the feel and comfort of wool with the durability and stretch of synthetic material. The resulting garment is a soft, warm sweater that’s resistant to wear, pilling, and stretching out.
We’ve worn the Greenland Re-wool sweater on hikes with a pack on mornings that started cold but heated up as the day wore on. The cardigan was warm and cozy at the start of the hike, and even the sweat spots stayed warm when we started to perspire. As the day heated up, the sweater channeled away sweat and dried quickly. When we were done, there was no visible pilling of material, and the sweater showed very little wear from pack rubbing.
What’s more, the cardigan looks great. Its style makes it work just as well out to dinner or drinks as it does on the trail.
- Style: High-neck zip cardigan
- Material: 70% recycled wool, 25% polyamide, 5% other fibers
- Features: 2-way zip, recycled wool
If you’ve got deep pockets and you want a sweater that’s more well-traveled than you are, the Lawrence Cashmere Sweater from Gabriela Hearst ($2,100) is the one.
Hearst’s private family ranch is the source of the wool and cashmere for these high-end garments. The Lawrence is hand-knit by Uruguayan artisans through the Manos del Uruguay organization. This nonprofit helps improve the quality of life for rural Uruguayan women by providing jobs. This means not only providing income but also independence through skills that have been handed down for generations.
So yes, this is a pricey piece of apparel. But each sweater is filled with more than just luxuriously soft and warm cashmere wool. Each sweater is an extension of history, handcrafted via techniques that have been perfected and passed down over hundreds of years. If you’ve got the money for it, this crewneck sweater allows you to contribute to the well-being of people a continent away.
- Style: Crewneck pullover
- Material: Cashmere wool
- Features: Super-thick cashmere yarns, unique hand-crafted knit
The only entrant on this list made with alpaca wool, the All-Paca Fleece Hoodie ($153) from Appalachian Gear Company is a perfect choice for outdoor activity. Built with backpacking and hiking in mind, the All-Paca sports tough seams and a knit structure designed for durability under a pack. Also, the quick-drying wool will evaporate sweat quickly when you take your pack off for a quick breather.
Why use alpaca wool? Besides the fact that the animals are adorable, alpaca wool fibers have a smoother surface than merino wool, so they feel less prickly than merino. In addition, they have a higher tensile strength than merino, so these hoodies are built to last.
The fibers are also more water-resistant without a loss of breathability. This means it dries faster and insulates better when wet. If your definition of doing laundry is dunking your clothes in a creek, wringing it out, and hanging it to dry, this is the hoodie for you.
- Style: Pullover hoodie
- Material: Alpaca wool
- Features: Very breathable, sweat-wicking, quick-drying
Buyer’s Guide: Types of Wool and Their Benefits
There are many varieties of wool coming from a wide range of animals. This variety ensures that there are wools for myriad applications, but it also adds confusion when it comes to buying a sweater. We’ve taken a few of the most common (or interesting) wools and given them a brief look to give you an idea of which type is right for you.
As its name suggests, lambswool comes from the first shearing of a young sheep. This usually takes place when the animal is around 7 months old. The resulting wool is exceptionally smooth and fine, resulting in a notably soft feel. This softness makes it ideal for next-to-skin uses, like hats and gloves. Its hypoallergenic properties and resistance to dust mites also make lambswool great for bedding.
Highly regarded for its breathability and sweat-wicking properties, merino wool is sheared from merino sheep. The fibers are very soft as well, which makes merino ideal for base layers and running apparel. This wool is also known for its ability to resist body odor, which makes it great for multiday trips and stage races.
Merino wool sweaters are often on the pricier side. This is due to the scouring process required to remove the grease in the material. This scouring entails washing the wool in chemicals to remove the grease, resulting in roughly half of the initial wool.
These South American camelids produce hollow fibers, which makes alpaca wool a great lightweight insulator. Not only is it lighter and warmer than sheep’s wool, but alpaca wool is also extremely soft. It’s comparable to cashmere in softness, but it’s quite a bit stronger. Alpaca’s excellent breathability and quick-drying properties make it an ideal material for insulative midlayers.
Sheared from sheep from Scotland’s Shetland Islands, this wool is thicker and coarser than other wools. Shetland sheep live in a colder climate, which results in the unique properties of this wool. You can find this wool in tweeds and Fair Isle sweaters, like Pendleton’s Original Westerley.
Most of this wool comes from Bactrian camels, which are generally found in Mongolia, China, and Russia. Rather than being sheared, it’s collected when the camels molt. The wool’s hollow fibers are finer and longer than sheep’s wool. This makes it about as soft as cashmere. Most often, the wool is kept in its natural color, a pleasing golden brown.
This wool is shorn from the undercoats of cashmere goats at the beginning of molting season. This undercoat yields exceptionally fine fibers and produces the super-soft sweaters and apparel cashmere is known for.
Cashmere is also known for its high price due to the low yield per goat. Because this wool is exclusively from the undercoat, a single sweater requires shearing several goats.
Despite the name, Angora wool isn’t sheared from Angora goats. (Shearing Angora goats results in a material called mohair.) It comes from Angora rabbits, which is so cool we had to include it here.
These fibers are the lightest and warmest we’ve worn thanks to their smooth, hollow fibers. If you’ve ever petted a bunny, you’ll have an idea of how soft this is. But this softness comes with some caveats.
First, Angora sweaters are prone to matting and pilling, so Angora fiber is generally mixed with other fibers to enhance durability. Second, that fineness requires breeders to comb the rabbits daily. While it’s probably great for the rabbits and a job we’d gladly apply for, it adds to the wool’s substantial price.
What Is the Best Wool for Sweaters?
Because different wools have different properties, it all depends on what you want from your sweater. If softness is your priority, look to cashmere, mohair, Angora, and lambswool. If you’re looking for durability, look to Shetland wool and alpaca.
For athletic purposes, you’ll need wool that can manage heat and sweat. Alpaca and merino are both highly regarded for their ability to vent excess heat and dry quickly, which makes them ideal for running, hiking, and other activities. Additionally, they’re odor-resistant, so they can be worn for multiple days or workouts without needing a wash.
Merino vs. Synthetic: Which Is Better?
Merino wool and synthetics are both well-known for their uses in the outdoor and fitness arenas. Both are very effective at wicking away sweat and venting excess heat, but there are a few notable differences.
Merino is excellent for its ability to stay warm even when wet. It’s highly breathable, soft to the touch, and highly odor-resistant.
On the other hand, wool is often much pricier than synthetic materials. And synthetics tend to be more durable and last longer than wool (unless the wool is bolstered with synthetic material). Some types of wool, such as alpaca, are more durable than others and can result in apparel that’s closer to synthetics in terms of toughness.
But synthetic materials soak out quicker when you sweat, can get downright chilly when wet, and are not known for their ability to repel odor. In fact, it seems like they attract odor and hold on for all it’s worth.
For us, the smell factor alone tips the scales toward wool. And when you add the ability to stay warm when wet, the softness, and the sheer variety of options available, wool is definitely our choice material.
Is Merino Wool Better Than Lambswool?
Lambswool is taken from the first shearing of a lamb, resulting in soft, fine wool. However, because it can be taken from any sheep, the micron count can vary quite a bit and is often not stated. A smaller micron measurement means finer and softer wool. Merino wool is considered very fine, which means the fibers are smaller than 24 microns in diameter.
For an everyday sweater, this isn’t as much of an issue. For travel, adventure, and outdoor purposes, merino is ideal. It has an excellent warmth-to-weight ratio, dries quickly, and retains warmth even when wet in cold weather.
Merino is more versatile than lambswool and can be useful in a wider range of activities. If you want to be ready for anything, merino wool is the way to go.
Can I Wash My Sweaters in the Washing Machine?
It depends on the type of sweater. The agitator in a washing machine can ruin the knit of a sweater and can greatly reduce the life of the wool. And always avoid hot water and dryers, as heat will shrink the garment.
The best way to find out how to clean your sweater is to check the sweater’s tag for cleaning instructions.
If your sweater is machine-washable, do this:
- Turn your sweater inside out and wash it with like colors. Close all zippers, if any.
- Use a mild soap or wool detergent. Do not use bleaches or fabric softeners.
- Lay flat to dry. If you’re drying it outside, make sure it’s in the shade.
If your sweater is dry-clean-only, you can probably handwash it. Here’s how:
- Fill a clean sink, tub, or another basin with cold water, then add a bit of mild soap or wool detergent.
- Dip your sweater in and out of the water until it’s soaked, then gently agitate it in the water. If there are any soiled spots, rub those spots softly with your fingers.
- When it’s clean, drain the tub and refill it with cold water. Dip and redip the sweater in the water until it’s soap-free.
- To dry it, lay it on a towel, then roll up the towel, and squeeze it to remove the water. Move it to a drier part of the towel, repeat until the sweater stops dripping, then lay it out flat to dry. As above, if you lay it out outside, make sure it stays out of the sun.
Have a favorite wool sweater? Let us know in the comments, and we’ll check it out for future updates to this article.