Nothing combats the coldest days of winter quite as well as a high-quality sweater. Buy the right one—one made from high-quality merino wool, which insulates you even when it’s wet and wicks sweat away when things get clammy—and you enter into a years-long relationship that delivers equal measures of performance and style. These seven sweaters aren’t cheap, so think them as an investment, one that will pay off kindly, whether you’re skiing, hiking, drinking hot toddies by the fire, or wandering the streets of some foreign, snow-blown city.
1. Dale of Norway Lillehammer, $229; 2. Obermeyer Hemsadal, $199; 3. Vintage Velos Vittoria Wool Trainer, $229; 4. Icebreaker Aura, $250; 5. Fjallraven Ovik, $160; 6. Smartwool Isto, $160; 7. Kuhl Downhill Racer, $135.
Nathan Borchelt is a gear-obsessed travel writer and adventurer whose collection of shoes, backpacks, jackets, bags, and other “essential” detritus has long-outgrown his one-bedroom apartment (and his wife’s patience).
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Dale of Norway's retro flair isn't just an affectation. The Norwegian apparel company has been at it since 1879. But the Lillehammer offers a slightly more modern aesthetic. This official sweater of the 2016 Youth Olympic Games takes its inspiration from the Olympic sweater for the 1994 Lillehammer Games, an all merino wool piece that nods to the bold patterns of old, but doesn't scream vintage.
Dale of Norway
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A pioneer in alpine apparel since 1947, Obermeyer embraces its roots with the Hemsedal, a quarter-zip rib-knit all-merino sweater with a bold jacquard pattern, a slightly svelte fit, and a mock neck. The Aspen-based company's "powder rule"—if six inches of fresh snow falls overnight, the employees get the morning off to ski—also assures that this sweater will perform admirably on the slopes as well as off.
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This sweater is based on an amateur cycling team jersey from Rome in the 1950s—despite bold red color, wearing it almost feels like you stepped out of some vitage black-and-white photo, which is pretty awesome. It's made of Italian-spun merino, with a 20-cm metal zipper and an embroidered graphic on the front and back.
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Consider this the modern equivalent of the classic ski sweater, with bold horizontal graphics underneath the traditional diagonal pattern, and a patch of solid color running up its turtleneck top. The addition of 30-perecent acrylic to the merino gives it a snug, comfortable fit, and the ribbed cuffs and hem add a bit of extra warmth.
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The Ovik is an instant classic wool sweater, with a comfortable round neck and ragland sleeves with reinforced elbows, ribbed edging and the cuffs and hem, and a handful of color options.
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This sporty sweater is unabashedly modern, with an off-center collar zipper that reveals a splash of colorful stripes to match the graphic on the upper left sleeve. The merino-nylon-acrylic Isto boasts a wide rib upper, double-layer collar and cuffs, and ragland sleeves.
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As its name implies, the Downhill Racer was designed with skiers in mind. The thumb loops add a bit of additional protection against the flying snow, the high color has a quarter zip to help dial in the ideal temp, and the merino wool delivers all the performance features you need for a day on the slopes. The sleeves have a five-panel construction, and the bold stripes are made with a tighter knit to increase durability.