When a cool wind blows, any day of the year can quickly become sweater season. Here’s how to stay warm and comfortable on deck with 6 of the best sweaters for sailing.
Best sailing sweaters: 6 styles for every condition
A sweater is not meant to offer complete protection against the elements. For the most part, its purpose is to simply knock the chill off and keep you looking good.
As such, sweaters are one of those garments where style is as important as substance, including the construction material.
While we wouldn’t recommend all cotton as a serious survival layer, it’s a standard material in sweaters marketed to sailors. Cotton is unbeatable for comfort and breathability, but its breezy nature makes it a liability in serious weather.
For inclement conditions, merino wools and synthetics are better choices, even if some pieces do blur the line between a proper sweater and a pullover. No matter what you call the final garment, all three fabrics will serve the sailor well in appropriate conditions.
The best sailing sweaters for every occasion
If you are looking for something casual to sail in that you wouldn’t flinch wearing to the office or a social gathering, 100% cotton is a good option. Especially in warmer months.
The downside, of course, is that cotton absorbs water and will not retain heat when wet. That’s because cotton fibers lose their loft once saturated. Loft, or separation between fibers, is vital to creating the dead airspace that traps heat.
Wool, on the other hand, retains its loft (and heat) even when wet. Synthetics mimic this property with the added benefit of next-to-skin comfort that many types of wool lack.
Merino wool is a notable exception. Its super-fine fibers not only retain heat but also feel good next to your skin. Merino has an agreeable “hand,” as the touch and feel of fabric are known in the apparel industry.
Beyond the textiles jargon, there is even more variety in the cut of a good sweater. Crew neck, vee-neck, turtleneck, cowl neck, zip-front, boat neck, princess lines, and on and on.
When in doubt, keep things simple. A crew neck is the standard sweater look, with the neckline migrating higher as weather conditions worsen.
A ribbed waist or cuff reduces wind and water incursion, but some may find these elasticized touches constricting.
If wind and water are a serious threat, pull a shell over that sweater and get back to the helm! Here are six of the best men’s and women’s sweaters to keep you sailing when the weather turns sour.
3 best sailing sweaters for women
Helly Hansen Women’s Summer Sweater
For an all-purpose sweater in light weather, cotton fits the bill just fine. The Helly Hansen Summer Sweater is not a garment for offshore passage making, but rather for messing about on day sails and weekends in temperate climates.
The 100% organic cotton knit weighs only 290 grams (.64 lbs). It is perfect for late summer or early fall days when a changing wind blows.
The sweater is tailored for a trim fit and features ribbed sleeves and waistline to achieve a sleek look. Subtle accent stripes at the hem add style. The crew neck is ribbed but cut low enough to not feel restrictive.
This versatile and lightweight top is available in six colors, depending on the vendor.
- Lightweight garment for three-season sailing.
- Stylish, minimalist design.
- Comfortable and breathable 100% organic cotton.
- Cotton does not retain heat when wet.
- As much a city garment as a sailing sweater.
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Tribord Women’s Sailing Warm Pullover
For women sailors on a budget, it would be hard to beat a $20 sweater from Tribord, the sailing brand of international sporting goods giant Decathlon.
This is as much of a pullover as a traditional sweater, but we include it here based on value, and because the line between the two garment types is a little blurry.
In any case, this dyed polyester fleece knit will keep you warm on transition days. In colder weather, worn under a windproof shell, the garment serves as a hearty insulation piece.
As a top layer, the water-repellent coating sheds moisture. Although this top comes in only one color (navy blue), it is available in six sizes from XS to 2XL.
- Comfortable fleece knit fabric with reinforced shoulder yoke.
- The high neck covers face on cold days.
- Side-button collar will not chafe the chin and mouth.
- Minimal wind protection.
- Elastic cuffs might feel binding to some.
- It only comes in one color.
Kühl Women’s Ascendyr quarter-zip fleece
For better technical performance, consider looking outside the endemic sailing market. Utah-based Kühl makes inspired outdoor apparel primarily for trail hikers and snow skiers, but their products are equally at home on the water.
Known for an athletic cut and fine fabrics, just about any Kühl apparel is bound to become a go-to garment. The women’s quarter-zip pullover is no different.
This technical sweater is cut from super soft fleece with what are known as “princess lines,” which is a form of tailoring that eliminates horizontal stitching to achieve a long and athletic profile.
The zip-neck is great for ventilation or covering up in a cool breeze. There are even two zippered hand pockets for storing the bits and bobs of boat life.
The cuffs and hem are trimmed with a soft binding rather than elastic or ribbing. The Ascendyr is also available as a hoody or a long jacket, but the quarter-zip sweater is best for sailing.
- A super sleek profile with an athletic cut.
- Zippered neck for ventilation.
- Roomy kangaroo pockets on either side.
- Kühl is known for fine, environmentally conscious outdoor fabrics.
- Open cuffs allow water to run down the sleeves.
- Not a sailing-first garment (but who cares, right?).
- Kühl is an expensive brand.
3 best sailing sweaters for men
Helly Hansen Men’s Arctic Merino Sweater
Merino wool is perhaps the most versatile and environment-friendly fabric there is. This fine wool feels great even next you your skin. It holds heat when wet, does not trap odor, and is all-natural.
It is a perfect sweater material, especially in a classic vee-neck like the Helly Hansen Arctic Merino top.
Wear it over a tee-shirt for wind protection, or over a base layer on cold days. As a mid-layer under a shell, it will keep you warm without adding bulk.
The dapper cut and color make it equally suitable for social or business-casual occasions. It is machine washable, but like any wool is better treated by hand washing with mild detergent.
The 12-gauge knit is tight enough to offer some wind protection, but with that medium density comes a bit of weight (approximately .7 pounds) compared to lighter knits.
Regardless, this timeless design made from quality fabric will take you anywhere you want to go on land or sea.
- You can’t go wrong with merino wool.
- The garment’s regular fit is suitable for most body types.
- Wide thermal range when worn as either a mid- or outer layer.
- An expensive top.
- No technical touches, such as zippers or flat pockets. A straightforward sweater.
Vineyard Vines Saltwater Quarter-Zip Pullover
Vineyard Vines hit the U.S. apparel market a couple of decades ago as a purveyor of quirky neckties featuring pink whales. The founders, two brothers, sold them on Martha’s Vineyard out of a backpack stashed in their Jeep.
Today, the company offers a full line of apparel with the same bit of whimsy and nautical flourish as the original ties. In that lineup, the Saltwater Quarter-Zip Pullover is a solid choice when the day calls for prepster style with a bit of performance.
The cotton polyester blend makes for a comfortable and durable knit top that wicks moisture and is wrinkle-resistant.
A quarter-zip neck adds protection from the elements and some versatility, but ultimately this is a casual top for fair-weather days on the water.
The Saltwater Quarter-Zip is available in a palette of marine colors, from “blue depth” to “sailor’s red.”
- A great weight for three-season sailing.
- Regular fit with jersey cuffs and a loose, double-stitched hem.
- Wide variety of colors.
- Moisture-wicking and wrinkle-resistant.
- More preppy than salty (that whale is a little precious).
- High priced for a non-technical garment.
Helly Hansen Hydropower Half-Zip Pullover Sweater
The best sailing sweaters are fast-drying, lightweight, and offer at least some thermal retention. The Helly Hansen half-zip pullover sweater checks all those boxes.
The 100% polyester jersey fabric sheds water quickly and weighs in at only 165 grams (about 1/4 pound). That makes it suitable as either a base or outer layer.
Keep in mind that this is a fitted technical garment not meant for heavyweights. It’s an athletic cut for trim body types.
The YKK zipper means it will stand up to any abuse you can dish out. It’s machine washable but best laundered in cold water. Be sure to close the zippers all the way and turn the garment inside to reduce fabric pilling.
The half-zip sweater is available in more than a dozen colors, depending on the vendor.
- A versatile top that can be worn as a pullover, base, or mid-layer.
- Fast-drying and comfortable polyester jersey.
- Moderate price for a top-end brand.
- Tight fitting athletic cut is not right for everyone.
- Polyester attracts lint and static.
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