I did it! I remade my all-time, absolute favorite sweater after eight years of travel, adventures and thousands of hiked miles: Welcome, my new Grey Strokkur!
Pattern: Strokkur by Ysolda Teague
Size Made: 35 1/2"
- MC: Light Grey Heather (7 balls)
- CC: Black Heather, White (1 each)
I first made Strokkur in 2013 and it quickly became my favorite sweater. I have taken this sweater with me everywhere. It’s been on so many trips around the world, as well as countless hikes and backpacking trips.
I'm going to wax poetic for a while on why this is the perfect option and--more importantly--the perfect yarn for hiking, camping, and backpacking in particular. Here are some of the amazing properties of Lopi yarn, which I have personally put to the test over the last eight years of adventures with my first Strokkur:
1) It holds up well to wear and use better than any yarn I’ve worked with. When I look at these detailed photos of my old Strokkur (which has been worn countless times in the last 8 years and put through the wringer), it looks almost as good as the day I finished it. Eventually, there were holes worn in the elbows and the underarms where the most friction and wear was concentrated. (There is also a big hole in the forearm that my cat recently added, which prompted this whole re-knit).
However, when you consider how often I wore this with a heavy backpack, putting extra stress on the shoulders, underarms and back, it’s incredible how well it has held up. I've sweat in it as I worked hard climbing mountains and hiking in snow and yet, even with all that movement and agitation, the knitting never felted. Even when I wore it with a raincoat on top while hiking (creating an ideal felting environment), the Lopi still held up beautifully. This yarn is truly incredible, like nothing else I could dream of.
2) It doesn't retain odors within the fiber. If you need to bring one sweater on a long trip and won't have time/access to be able to wash it, this yarn should be your go-to. Of course, this is true of almost any untreated wool and not necessarily unique to Lopi, which is why I prefer wool clothing to synthetic or cotton for my sometimes sweaty, and always un-showered outdoor adventures--whether it's summer or winter. I've worn this on a 10-day backpacking trip and when everything else smelled worse than you can imagine, my Strokkur sweater smelled completely neutral. You probably don't want to hear this, but I only wash it maybe two times/year. What is this magic??
3) It's really warm and water-resistant. Like, REALLY warm. All wool is warm and great at temperature regulation--we wool-loving knitters know that! That said, Icelandic wool is extra special. Icelandic sheep have adapted to Iceland's particularly damp and harsh climate over the last 1,000 years after they were brought to the island by vikings. They have a unique dual-coat that helps keep them warm and dry. The top layer, called “tog”, is composed of long, wiry hairs that provide a waterproof shell, while the bottom layer, “þel (pronounced “thel”), is a downy fluff for insulating warmth. You could separate the two layers to make a very soft yarn from just the downy undercoat, but then you'd be missing out on that water-resistant, hardy top layer!
The good folks who create Lopi yarn over at Istex blend the two layers together for the Lopi family of yarns (Einband, Plutolopi, Lettilopi, and Alafosslopi) making especially hardy, warm and water-resistant yarns. Icelanders have long known and appreciated the merits of this yarn, and anyone who has visited has seen the general, modern-day population clad in lopi sweaters as their everyday protection from the elements. (They also look very fashionable!) Many times I've been outside on a chilly Colorado evening, high in the mountains with friends who are wearing four layers of synthetic fleece and down while I'm usually in a t-shirt and my lopi--and I'm the warmest one there!
4) Speaking of backpacking, the weight-to-warmth ratio of this yarn is unparalleled. It is a lofty, lightly-spun, single-ply yarn. Typically, a single-ply yarn would not hold up well to wear and would felt or pill, but the tog (long, wiry hairs) prevents this. When backpacking, weight and comfort are the two things I'm always trying to balance, and finding that good balance will determine how much I enjoy my time on the trail. Without the right gear, bad weather can be miserable, and too much weight can also be unpleasant.
Carrying everything you need on your back usually calls for high-tech gear that is made from weird, man-made materials that are engineered to be super-light. I do have a lot of this stuff, but I also ALWAYS opt for my lopi sweater as my warm layer. My lopi sweater weighs only 11.8 oz and the materials cost was $55. Fancy, lightweight, puffy jackets are much more expensive, take up more space, and are not as warm OR versatile. There are tons of combos with your lopi that work great when enjoying the great outdoors and all its weather. A t-shirt and lopi is sufficient for a light drizzle or light chill (you don't even need a raincoat with Icelandic wool unless it's really coming down!) If it's quite cold, I'll wear a layer of wool long underwear under my lopi (for example, for winter snowshoeing trips). If it's REALLY cold, pouring rain, or there is a biting wind, I can add a lightweight windbreaker/raincoat to the outside, and I have found that this is usually the most I need, and the extent of the upper-body clothing I'll carry. That's it! It's a very versatile layer that I always have with me in the backcountry. Even better--because it's a handknit wool sweater, it breathes, ensuring that you don't get too hot or sweaty when you're working hard, as you often are when hiking, snowshoeing or backpacking.
5) It doubles as a pillow! Protip: Put your lopi sweater in a stuff sack at night and it makes a great pillow!
HOW IS IT SO GOOD?? I know it seems too good to be true, but I'm here to tell you, it's all true.
“...But isn't it scratchy?”, you ask? Ahhh, yes. It is kind of scratchy, and I suppose that’s the trade-off for being one of the most magical and hardest-working yarns ever created. I don't ever wear my lopi next to my skin. My go-to is a t-shirt under it, but--as detailed above, and depending on the temperature--I might wear a long-sleeved wool shirt under it. It definitely is a layering piece and I always use it as such, over the top of something else. There are significant benefits to using “scratchy” wools and here at Fancy Tiger Crafts, we're always heralding the value of scratchy, rustic or "toothy" yarns. We even created a new "scratchy wools" collection so you can easily discern which wools we carry might be best for hard-working garments or accessories!
So, anyway... you can probably see why I decided to make a Strokkur Ver 2.0 when, earlier last year, my cat decided to rip into my beloved OG Strokkur with his teeth and claws. I love the pattern and didn't want to risk knitting a new design, since my old one was so perfect. The main reason I love this design as a hiking sweater is that it is a fitted sweater. There is even some gentle waist shaping, and I made a size with only 1" positive ease. When I'm wearing it under a raincoat and with my backpack, I don't want a ton of knit fabric bunching up under there! The colorwork yoke is small, meaning the arm holes are high. Some newer designs of yoked sweaters with deep colorwork sections tend to have equally deep arm holes - this would not be ideal for wearing with a backpack, as it would bunch up quite easily.
Yet another reason I love Strokkur is that the gauge of 18 sts to 4” seems to be ideal for the warmth that I’m looking for in my hiking sweater. I have also made a Stopover Pullover (by MaryJane Mucklestone) in Lettlopi which is knit at 13 sts to 4” and the looser gauge--while it looks beautiful in the same yarn--means that the sweater isn’t as warm as the Strokkur. The fact that Lopi can be knit in a variety of gauges is just another perk. You can dial in the warmth you need for your climate based on the gauge you knit it to!
I choose grey/black/white neutrals this time.. I know I will be wearing this for at least the next 8 years and I want it to go with any color of hiking pant, hat, or backpack that I might have. When I made my last one, my hair was brown and my sweater was brown, now I'm Jaime the Grey with my new grey sweater. Hopefully my hiking friends will still recognize me in my new Strokkur!