Reviewers Paid: $142.00
The Arthur Beale Erebus Boat Neck Pullover is an old school heavyweight wool sweater for cold weather. It’s made from unbleached, undyed black Welsh mountain wool that still smells like sheep. With the lanolin not bleached out, the sweater smells like sheep, tends to repel water, and also feels like unprocessed wool—it’s pretty scratchy. This sweater’s weight and bulk would limit appeal for backpacking, but it’s very nice for cold weather day hikes either on its own or under a shell.
- Very warm
- Keeps you warm when damp
- Natural fiber
- Heavy and bulky
- Scratchy, minimally processed wool
Polyester fleece jackets and pullovers first became available as warm insulating layers when I was a teenager. In the pre-fleece era, wool was the insulating layer of choice for being outside in sometimes cruddy weather. Wool sweaters and button-down shirts were a regular companion on any non-summer hiking trip when I was growing up, and the most preferred option, for me, were sweaters with the natural oils intact—I wore out an oiled ragg wool sweater or three. They smelled like sheep but did a great job repelling water and keeping people warm in cold, damp conditions.
Considering the impact that fleece has on the environment, and the desire to not look like I just returned from the trails all the time, I sometimes look for natural fiber alternatives. It’s not unusual for me to opt for an old Shetland or lambswool sweater as a warm mid-layer on a hike or to grab a thicker Icelandic, Irish or Norwegian wool sweater for colder day hikes. (There are also good technical wool options—I have an athletic cut Ibex hoody that’s like a front zip hoody sweatshirt, except made from merino wool. There are other similar merino wool options. Another intriguing option is the yak wool athletic cut sweaters from Kora).
This Arthur Beale boat neck sweater is a throwback. It has a particularly thick, bulky knit that allows air to pass through easily, but it feels thicker and heavier than any other sweater I own. (My size XXL, the largest size available, weighs 3.3 pounds!) The wool comes from black Welsh mountain sheep who live and graze in the mountains in Wales, where winters are long, cold, and wet. The wool is relatively coarse, and therefore fairly scratchy. It is not dyed, bleached or scoured, all standard steps in processing wool, so it retains an unusual amount of the natural lanolin that lends wool its water-repellant properties.
Arthur Beale has been making yachting and winter expedition equipment since the 1500s. It’s located in the UK. Lesson learned from ordering anything from the UK or the rest of Europe is that it’s smart to size up for most clothing, and that’s definitely true for sweaters. I normally wear a size 46/XL in US sizing but ordered this in XXL. The fit through the torso and sleeves is generous, with room to wear a thick base layer underneath. The sleeves are a tad long for me, so I roll them up.
The boat neck is well-sized—not too loose or tight. The store sells roll-neck sweaters with a different weave, but made from the same wool, if that’s an appealing alternative.
This is now the warmest sweater I own, with the caveat that the weave, while thick and extremely warm under an outer shell layer, allows air to pass through a fair bit easier than some tighter-knit wool tops I own. A couple mornings ago, I pulled on a wind shell over the sweater because a relatively raw, low 30s day with a decent breeze had me feeling chilly. Under a shell or on its own on a day that’s not too breezy, it’s extremely warm.
Because the wool is fairly scratchy, I wear this over zip neck or mock turtleneck base layers. It would not be a great option for anyone who doesn’t like scratchy wool, and it’s not ideal to wear with crew neck base layers.
WATER REPELLENCY/WET WEATHER
Obviously not a rain shell, but like synthetic fleece, oiled wool keeps you warm, even when it’s damp or wet. This is more suited for keeping you warm in wet weather than most sweaters because the wool has so much lanolin in it. If it gets wet, take it off, shake it out, and put it back on, basically.
USE FOR HIKING
I have only used this sweater for day hikes and doing less aerobic stuff in the cold. It’s very tough to justify carrying over 3 pounds of wool in a pack, and it is very bulky, takes up a lot of space. Sweaters do a nice job regulating your core temperature, but unless a sweater zips or buttons in the front, you lose the ability to vent a lot of heat fast by unzipping.
HOW I HAVE USED IT
I have worn this sweater on a number of cold hikes over the past months, intentionally opting for the sweater instead of various fleece jackets. Unless it’s fairly windy, this is best used at or below freezing, and there have been a few hikes, harder uphills, where I got pretty warm in it. I have stuck to trails and would probably hesitate to wear this as an outer layer for off-trail because the wool could snag.
I have also worn it on many walks with the dog, other non-hiking errands, and a number of "socially distant" gatherings while sitting outside on local back porches—a symptom of the times, I guess.
Big plus? In addition to providing nice warmth and function, it's a very different look from fleece—less technical, a lot better-looking in my opinion.
The sweater arrived from the UK with a five meter strand of wool—to mend the sweater. The wool is so minimally processed that there were a few tiny stray strands of "stuff" (grass? straw?) woven in. It has a little shoulder patch from the supplier, and because it’s a boat neck, it doesn’t really have a back or a front.
Not so much fun—even with a promotional/seasonal price, the cost of this plus international shipping made it fairly pricy.
This is really more of a crossover layer—you can hike in it in cold weather, and it’s probably a great layer for cold weather yachting (which I don’t do), but I’m just as inclined to wear it around town and socially.
Day hikes, walks with the dog, errands, "hanging out"
Source: bought it new
Price Paid: $142