Knitted wool hats can get stuffed.

I realise I’m going out on a limb here, stating the unutterable, voicing the opinion that dare not be muttered, yet standing up for the freezing man in face of popular opinion. You just know I’m about to go off all half-cocked now, right? So, knitted wool hats. What a load of crap! Apart from hiding your bad hair day, what have they ever given you? Why do you even wear a knitted hat? Because it makes you look cool? If you’re anything like me, you’ll wear a hat when it’s cold outside, and if it’s not cold you’ll let your noggin go commando. Wind in your hair, or breeze across your scalp as the case may be, and all the merrier for it.

Knitted wool technology is quite basic and functional. It provides space for air to sit still and insulate. Which is entirely fine, but the key word is “sit still”, as the moment the air starts moving the insulating properties go out the window. The same goes for woolly jumpers as well. You need a layer to stop the air moving about, in the form of an anorak or maybe a hood. Yet that pesky knitted wool hat has nowt of the sort.

Not that I mind the look of a nice woolly hat, I do like the look of knitted wool.There are near infinite variations in colours, geometric designs and styles of knitting, so there is something for everyone, be it a child in the playground, a teenage barista or a dad walking the dog.  From a design perspective it’s spot on, giving off the heritage, artisan vibe in a big way. Especially if they are hand knitted, from proper wool, by your loved one or even someones granny. Much less so if they are machine-made in a low cost country from some dubious mix of wool-like fibres.

The question on my mind though is whether the traditional knitted wool hat can be fixed.  Have the massive flaw removed. Made to work. Three possible solutions come to mind:

  1. Cover the outside with a windproof fabric. Might as well make it waterproof as well, while we’re at it. Maybe some waxed cotton? The immediate downside is that while that lovely still air will be protected, we have lost the “look” of the hat.
  2. Cover the inside with some warm and windproof fabric. The advantage here is that it will still look like a knitted hat, but it will be warmer. Of course, the knitted wool will basically be non-functional. The lining needs to be as flexible as the knit though.
  3. Use a very much more dense knit, or even use felting to keep the wind out. The denser knit will mean less air can be held though and felting again reduces the stretchiness of the end result.
  4. Dip the hat in a bucket of lard or whale blubber to toughen it up. This also has the advantage of making it more waterproof. The downside is that you will be asked, not so politely, not to engage in social events.

Maybe there is no way of fixing the knitted wool hat, though I do wonder if maybe the fisherman of old had some sort of trick? Or is there some other hat option that might be considered? I will confess that while cycling I wear a more mountaineering type of hat, basically windproof and almost uninsulated. This does a remarkable job, but looks beyond terrible. I do also have a machine knitted hat with a fleece lining, but this falls foul of the “one size” problem, where unless you have a tiny head it fits more like a kippah…

It’s 2016 and humanity has made huge advances in science, engineering and technology. Granted, we’ve also created reality-tv, food “products” and cartoon politicians, but still, all this cleverness has to amount to something, surely?

What do you suggest?


  • Jonny two hats 20/11/2016 at 10:46

    Amusing article. In fact you could be called a knit wit.
    Wool hats good for a winter walk when it’s dry.heat will escape through bonce and the wool traps this heat keeping head warm but breathing at same good in wet at all.
    Ears too benefit, they are very vascular and will warm themselves if kept out of wind and severe cold.
    Jonny two hats

    • nick 20/11/2016 at 10:48

      Top marks for a fine play on words, Jonny. I think we are in agreement about wool hats being a fine idea as long as they are kept out of the wind.

  • clyde 20/11/2016 at 11:37

    I love a hat me… love em ?

  • Paul 20/11/2016 at 13:12

    I do like a woolen cap or beanie. AND here in Wales Cardiff it don’t get cold enough to criticize even a cheap mixed wool piece.

    Good article though nic.


    • nick 20/11/2016 at 14:52

      Thanks, Paul. I take you are more into vanity hattery? 🙂

  • Brandon 20/11/2016 at 16:39

    I’d like an official WDD investigation into the recent trend/hipster/faux-workwear phenomenon of wearing wool knit hats rolled up above the ears. It drives me crazy. Basically the entire point of the hat is to prevent frostbite to your ears in very cold weather, apart from keeping your head warmer… It’s the functional equivalent and equal aesthetic ridiculousness of wearing clip on suspenders with a belt or something, in my eyes.

  • Anita E 20/11/2016 at 16:44

    Love you Nick! I can say this I’m a woman. But I don’t agree. I live in UpState New York in the mountains in a windy valley. I wear wool hats/caps. When its about 40 F (4.44 C), I will wear the poly but for warmth AND breatheability (?) wool is it for me. I look for them in the thrift shops where rich folks clothes have landed (I thoroughly wash them. I assure you. No yuck gentle men.) I have one cap that is double wool, never a breeze bother me. I do have a computer geek pointy tip ear flap colorful airy one. I tie the ear flaps up and I’m good to go.

    I have a point here. When moving I get hot. I want air flow and wool does keep in the heat. Wool also naturally repeals water up until a point. At least it wicks it away. So if your sweating, the air dries you. If its raining or snowing, your warm air dries it. At least that has been my experience.

    Of course, you can wear the cap/hat until it absorbs your oils to the point where…. I guess you can see where I’m going with that.

    Maybe Nick your caps are too old and the wool is worn out. I suggest new with some spandex in them.

    • nick 21/11/2016 at 17:06

      I’m sure the clever chaps at Ricksons have made a woolly hat that looks exactly like a traditonal naval woolly hat, only incredibly warmer 🙂 Does it keep the wind out?

  • Darryl 21/11/2016 at 17:03

    Why wear a wool hat in the first place? Far better to enjoy the cosiness of a good quality sheepskin trapper hat – preferably with flaps tied up on top of head; making you both warmer and taller!

    • nick 21/11/2016 at 17:04

      Indeed! Yet when did you last see one for sale?

  • Neil G 21/11/2016 at 18:08

    I’m thinking the solution might be to not live in Norway. A wool blend knitted hat works a treat in the southern end of UK most of the time. And, as you point out, if it gets very wet you pull your hood up.

    • nick 21/11/2016 at 18:56

      A pragmatic, though dramatic, solution to the problem. Is there such a thing as seeking asylum due to frozen ears?

      • Neil G 22/11/2016 at 00:48

        There is a school of history that suggests this was why the Vikings sailed south…

  • Brian in Alberta 22/11/2016 at 16:21

    Here’s what you need Nick:

    And for the record – a good wool hat works for me well down in the negative temps.

    • nick 26/11/2016 at 17:17

      Wool hats depend on wind and when cycling I go fast 🙂 Good tip on the RCMP hat, I have a quite similar one from Fjallraven that I use on the coldest days.

  • David 06/01/2017 at 12:03

    Top article which says it all. I have 2 hats. First a hand knitted Fair Isle (from Fair Isle itself) wool beanie hat. Love it. Lots of nice comments as well. But – no good in wind and terribly itchy. I also have a Jack Wolfskin beanie which has a gore windstopper lining and a wool mix exterior. This one doesn’t come anywhere near the Fair Isle in terms of look but it keeps my ears and head warm and the wind out. I always wear this one. I am always on the lookout for a wool hat which looks good – with a windstopper lining.

    • nick 06/01/2017 at 12:32

      Thanks for the kind feedback, David. Good to hear I’m not the only chap with this seemingly simple requirement!

  • Peter K 23/03/2018 at 16:56

    I have a wool hat (we call it a toque in Canada) with a fleece lining inside. Keeps the wind out quite effectively.
    Great for walking to transit in winter. I use a hat that breathes well for more strenuous winter activities.

    • nick 23/03/2018 at 17:50

      A fleece lining certainly helps! Hard to find here though.


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