Buyer’s Guide: How to choose the perfect cardigan

  We used to associate cardigans with being stuck in itchy, sweaty, bulky boxes that we had to endure until our parents finally made us take them off. In the years since, weaving techniques and treatments have transformed these wearable saunas into soft, breathable haute couture.

  Most wool breeds come from sheep (especially the highly prized merino wool), but also from goats, alpacas, and even the occasional musk deer hair. Super soft cashmere used to be very expensive, but many cashmere sweaters are now priced to suit every budget. For outdoor enthusiasts, merino wool has sweat-wicking and quick-drying properties that are comparable to synthetic materials. Plus, merino naturally suppresses odors.

  Whether you’re looking to buy a gift for a loved one or a cozy self-love gift for yourself, there are many sweaters at different price points to suit any situation. We’ve endured dozens of hours of comfort testing to find the best options on this list. So build a fire, pour a cup of hot cocoa and check out our list of the best cardigans for 2023.

  For more information on cardigans, see the comparison chart, buyer’s guide and frequently asked questions at the end of this article.

  In this guide, we have considered the most durable, acclaimed, well-constructed and environmentally responsible styles. We’ve made sure to include options that cater to a wide range of outdoor activities, from first mountain climbs to recreational bike rides to work. Since the most fashionable sweaters may not be the best choice for cold fall yard work, we carefully considered the best applications and limitations of each type of sweater.

  As we determine the best design, our product testers wear these sweaters and jackets in all seasons, from snowy environments in the Rocky Mountains to campfire hangings on summer nights. Crews use the jackets for city commuting, rock climbing, backcountry and split-board skiing, bike Tours and alpine skiing. The testers ranged from airare certified wilderness adventurers to lifelong leisure enthusiasts.

  There are many kinds of wool that come from all kinds of animals. This variety ensures that wool is available for a variety of purposes, but it also adds to the confusion when buying sweaters. We’ve picked some of the most common (or interesting) fleeces and given you a brief introduction to them so you know which type is right for you.


As the name suggests, lamb wool comes from the sheep being sheared for the first time. This usually happens when the animal is around seven months old. The resulting wool is very smooth and fine, resulting in a distinct feeling of softness. This softness makes it perfect for intimate use, such as hats and gloves. Its hypoallergenicity and dust mite resistance also make lamb wool a good bedding item. For this list, Pendleton Western sweaters are made from 100% lamb wool.

  Merino wool is prized for its breathability and perspiration, and is cut from merino sheep. The fibers are also very soft, which makes merino an ideal fabric for bottoms and running clothes. The wool is also known for its ability to resist body odor, making it suitable for multi-day trips and stage competitions.

  Merino sweaters are usually more expensive. This is due to the washing process required to remove grease from the material. This washing involves washing the wool in chemicals to remove grease, and the result is that the original wool is roughly halved. For this list, the Ibex shake jacket is made from 100% merino wool.

  These South American camels produce hollow fibers, which make alpaca wool a good lightweight insulator. Alpaca wool is not only lighter and warmer than wool, but also extremely soft. It is as soft as cashmere, but much stronger. The excellent air permeability and fast drying properties of alpaca wool make it an ideal material for insulating interlayers. On this list, the Appalachian Gear Company All-camel Hair hoodie is made from 100% alpaca hair.

This wool is cut from sheep in the Shetland Islands of Scotland and is coarser and coarser than other wool. Shetland sheep live in cold climates, which gives the wool its unique properties. You can find this wool in tweed and Fair Isle sweaters, such as Pendleton’s Original Westerley sweater.

  Most of this wool comes from bactrian camels, which are commonly found in Mongolia, China and Russia. They are not cut off, but collected when the camel molts. The hollow fibers of wool are thinner and longer than wool. This makes it as soft as cashmere. For the most part, wool retains its natural color, a pleasant golden brown.

  This wool is cut from the undercoat of the cashmere goat at the beginning of the moulting season. The undergarments produce very fine fibers that produce super soft cashmere sweaters and clothing.

  Due to the low production per goat, cashmere is also known for its high price. Because this wool comes entirely from the bottom layer, several goats need to be clipped for a single sweater. For this list, Patagonia recycled cashmere crewneck sweaters are 95 percent cashmere.

  Despite its name, Angora wool is not cut from Angora goats. (Shearing Angora goat hair yields a material called mohair.) It’s from the Angora rabbit, which is so cool we had to include it here.

  These fibers are the lightest and warmest fibers we cross because they are smooth and hollow. If you’ve ever petted a rabbit, you know how soft it is. But the weakness comes with caveats.