Roald Amundsen Nordic Outdoor

Since purchasing my Heroes Turtle Neck, it has been subjected to various elements of the harsh Scottish winter, mostly in the Highlands and Islands, both on the summits and by the fire. I was certainly thankful for it when storm bound to the Inner Hebrides over the New Year.

This particularly unique piece of knitwear has been carefully crafted by Jørgen Amundsen and the team at Amundsen Sports, to capture the spirit of the golden age of exploration. As with all their gear, the Heroes Turtle Neck has been built to help us push beyond our physical and mental limits. But designed to ensure we thoroughly enjoy ourselves whilst doing so.

The design is inspired by the legacy of Roald Amundsen [1], famed for his robust strength of character, leading many arduous expeditions including the first successful crossing of the Northwest Passage in 1906 as well as The South Pole in 1911. A time where resources were somewhat limited, but sufficient, and people in general were of an entirely different calibre.

Being a bit of a traditionalist, it was this retro throwback and the simplicity of the sweater [2] that initially drew me in. The extensive list of features includes:

-          x1 100% Norwegian wool Turtle Neck

-          x1 Waxed ripstop cotton kangaroo pouchNordic outdoor knitwear

The modesty of the Turtle Neck speaks volumes for the era it is trying to echo, an age where men and women alike stepped out into the unknown with minimal kit [compared to today], just enough to physically survive, letting their mental fortitude carry them forward to success.

With all this in mind, I’m sure one can understand that when trying it on for the first time, I was suddenly overcome with an urge to make a first ascent of some unheard-of mountain in South Georgia.

However, having been two days late for work already this year due to being stuck on an island, I don’t think Nordic Outdoor would have been best pleased if I was so quick to set out for another. Something on our doorstep would suffice.

Wool

Before we continue, let me first talk a bit about the materials involved. Wool is a naturally sourced sustainable material. Any keen outdoorsperson need not be lectured on the advantages of wool. But for those who are a bit late to the party, here’s a bit about it:

We as humans have been working with sheep for about eleven thousand years, and evidence shows we potentially started harvesting and wearing sheep’s wool for as long as four thousand years, and for good reason.

Wool is naturally a tough and versatile fibre, it is fire retardant and repels water as well as dirt [which is important to note as when we sweat, the fibres will wick away the moisture, allowing the cooling process to take effect, and in turn not allow odours to bond with the fibres]. Above all it is a fantastic insulator that, unlike cotton and down, performs when wet.

There are materials on the market, both manmade and natural, that outperform wool in individual categories. Goose Down for example is indeed a better insulator in cold dry conditions, and Polyamide is both breathable and water resistant. However, we are yet to discover a material that merits all the qualities of wool to the same standards.

Sheep in a fieldIn short, sheep have a self-regulating fleece that keeps them comfortable in cold, wet, dirty and warm conditions [4].  Makes sense, as sheep can’t exactly layer up or down like we can, unless they shed or are sheared, which only takes place once a year during the warmer months. As someone who has worked with sheep in both Scotland and New Zealand, I can assure the reader this is a painless process. Farmers really do care for their flock and would not willingly subject the animals to any form of cruelty.

Although some would argue Norwegian Wool is a little less kind on our skin than the ever-popular Merino Wool. Norwegian sheep live quite happily in tougher and colder conditions than Merino sheep, and therefore yield tougher, and more resilient wool, that is better suited for colder climates. Furthermore, most of the wool in the world is sourced from far flung continents. Norway on the other hand is just across the water from us [United Kingdom] and therefore impacts a smaller carbon footprint on its journey to our shop. In short, a slightly itchy sweater is a small price to pay for an extra couple of ticks in the box.

Captain Lawrence

Now it’s all very well listing the properties on paper and singing gospel about the miracle of wool. Does it work?

To put it simply yes. Wool garments are used extensively from Sportsmen to Antarctic Explorers [5]. Even in the military, it has grown popular with soldiers; given the type of injuries sustained in war zones, some have reverted to wool instead of synthetic base layers. The reason being that certain injuries sustained would melt the synthetic fibres, causing secondary burn wounds. This is not the case with wool. Furthermore, as wool repels dirt and odours, it is ideal for prolonged use, where wash facilities are not always available.

Field Testing

I decided to give The Heroes Turtle Necks [as well as several other items from the shop] a first appropriate outing when a Nordic Outdoors colleague and I decided to get into the mountains and bag a Munro [a Scottish mountain over 3000 feet]. We settled on Meall nan Tarmachan. I had already bagged this Munro however the ridge was something I had been quite keen to tick off. With the date set and the route agreed [6], we were just keeping an eye on the weather, ever hopeful that we would have a clear still day to take some photos of our Nordic Outdoor kit in action.

As our luck would have it, forecast conditions were far from ideal for this expedition, and we packed for a rather testing day. 40mph winds, gusting 50mph, with a wind chill of -20C at the ridges most exposed sections. 20% chance of a clear summit between squalls of heavy snowfall and low visibility.  Our packing lists were typical for such a day:

I tweaked my own packing list in favour of the test, starting off wearing Fjallraven Vidda Pro Trousers [also subject to a field test that day], base layer, Heroes Turtle Neck as a mid-layer, and a very lightweight wind shirt as a shell. I am no stranger to the mountains, but this was an unfamiliar piece of equipment, and in case I had accidentally bought into clever marketing techniques, that the old ways are really nothing compared to the new advancements in technology, I had also packed an insulated smock.

Having said that I was determined to put the Heroes Turtle Neck through its paces, it had performed thus far, but I was psychologically preparing myself for some discomfort in the conditions that lay ahead of us. Being stubborn, the last thing I wanted to do was break out the insulated smock. Any concerns were quickly pushed to the back of my mind as we looked up the mountain and we marvelled at the vast obstacle in front of us. We need not have concerned themselves with the conditions, we were appropriately prepared and raring to go. “No time to dilly dally” as the Victorian pioneers would have said [7].

Victorian Cartoon

As the three of us climbed above the snow line, we were battered with wet snow. I was aware that my wind shirt shell was not waterproof, but this more breathable option was a deliberate choice, given I was wearing a thick wool mid layer I didn’t need to overload the layers. Yet even with such a lightweight shell, I was too hot and began to sweat a little, something I wanted to avoid, and thus the shell was removed. I calculated that A. the thick Norwegian Wool would do well to wick away the sweat even with the wet snow, and B. it would be thick enough to eliminate the worst of the wind chill.

It was quite simply spot on. Eliminating the shell allowed for more breathability, any sweat was indeed wicked away. And when the winds strengthened, it felt more like a refreshing breeze by the time it reached my skin through the layers. The snow settled on the surface of the sweater, showcasing just how good an insulator the wool was. It was indeed doing a fine job of regulating my body temperature, not just keeping me warm.

Before long, we hit the exposed ridge, and the winds picked up again. Yet there was absolutely no need to break out the emergency smock, or indeed my wind shirt, as a layer of ice was forming on the wool. It was evolving its own natural wind break [8]! It was then that I was reminded, observing sheep in the winter, always feeling sorry for them, huddled up covered in a dusting of snow. There really is no need to pity them. I’m pleased to announce they are doing just fine. Probably.

The pouch itself is a remarkable feature. It’s not designed to hold small heavy items but is ideal for the opposite. I found myself stowing away hat, gloves and my map. The large loop and button make for easy operation when wearing gloves, ideal for making a quick nav check on the go [9]. I’m certain that if this feature existed on old issue expedition sweaters, it would have been used as such, for quick access to notes, maps, or a pipe.

Nordic Outdoor Heroes TurtleneckAnother key feature to note is the extra length in the neck, arms, and torso. Unlike modern day clothing, where everything is cut to size, this extra length in the wool accommodates for a broader range in body shapes and doubles the thickness of the wool at the neck and wrists when folded up, acting as pulse heaters.

Satisfied that the kit was workable in the conditions, we pressed on along the ridge. Stopping for a hot lunch with some fellow Munro baggers heading the opposite direction. Along the way the conditions switched routinely between clear skies and wind snow/hail. It’s worth mentioning that at no point did I need to add or remove items of clothing to regulate my body temperature, apart from my gloves. When off the hill, we returned to the car and headed straight for Mhor 84 for a delicious meal by the fire, sipping our well-earned pints, and recounting the events of the day. 

Wool Care

Thankfully I was feeling proactive when I got home. I put everything out to dry or wash. Fortunately, wool does not need washed as often, as it is resistant to dirt. Unfortunately, the Turtle Neck had sustained a serious mucky mark on the back, as I stow my ice axe between my rucksack and back, between my shoulder blades.

Being Norwegian wool, this item needs to be treated as a delicate and must be hand washed on its own. I tend to just spend about 15 minutes on this. Filling the bath with about 4 inches of warm water [hot water WILL shrink wool, so no hotter that 30C], and wool friendly detergent [most detergents will damage the wool fibres]. I would simply squeeze and roll the material in the water in and around the dirty areas. When satisfied its clean, I would empty the bath, and fill it up again with warm water, and do the same wash to rinse out the detergent.

Munro ClimbingYou need to be careful also when it comes to drying. The heat from a tumble drier will also shrink the wool. Instead what I do is throw it into a washing machine on a short drain cycle, in order to throw some of the water out. Then, I lay the sweater out on a clean towel, and roll both together, kneading it like a rolling pin to squeeze more water out. Having done that, it must be flat dried. If hung, the weight of the water will stretch the wool. The flat drying must be done away from a source of heat.

Stain removal follow the same process as the general cleaning, no dry cleaning allowed. With a cup of warm water mixed with a teaspoon of detergent, use a cloth to dab the mixture against the stain, until it eventually lifts. Repeat the process with warm water the detergent, and flat dry.

Amundsen Heroes Turtleneck Verdict

I am not ashamed to admit that a part of me was buying into the Victorian explorer influence of the sweater. When I first tried it on, I felt like all my childhood heroes of the time, Shackleton, Scott, Oates and other greats. It is indeed an outstanding tribute to the legacy of Amundsen. It is the woolliest of pulleys.

I purchased the Heroes Turtle Neck because it is a beautifully simple, bombproof piece of kit. It doesn’t have a million and one pockets, nor integrated battery powered heating elements.

The performance is remarkable, with the right layering the wool is a machine when it comes to regulating body temperature, eliminating the need to layer up and down in a considerably broad range of weather conditions and activities.

The only flaw I can find with the Heroes Turtle Neck is the care required. It needs to be meticulous when it comes to washing. This is a small price to pay. If you look after your kit, your kit will look after you.

This fine piece of knitwear is absolutely worth every penny. It now sits proudly in my arsenal as my go to for all expeditions. It’s also worth mentioning, this sweater looks fantastic with a kilt.

 Nordic Outdoor Fjallraven

 Harvey Strachan is Nordic Outdoor Frederick Streets’ seasoned outdoorsman. When not in store, you can find Harvey tabbing up a Munro or enjoying a fine whisky by the fire in a desolate Bothy