Bergans of Norway's Varde Beanie
As always, we're looking at the Bergans Varde Beanie from the point of view of long distance trekking over tough terrain.
Test subject: Head circumference: 57.5cm (22.5") = Medium
Test item: Night Blue (One Size)
Kit Tests: Winter (and Late Autumn), Summer
Disclaimer: None required (item not provided by manufacturer)
|Materials: Wool / Acrylic||70% / 30%|
|Scramble's Price on SYSTEM||£17.50|
Introduction: A Tricky Balancing Act
The beanie-verse is vast, densely populated and hard to navigate. Are all these different hats just doing one thing or are they all doing something different? Perhaps "freedom is the pure absence of choice" (Sufism) - if so, in this review, we'll aim to create a little freedom from the tyranny of an over-abundance of choice.
There are plenty of warm beanies out there and as we discussed in our review of the Mountain Equipment Plain Knit not all are created equal and indeed there's a well studied and tested ideal material blend for optimal thermal performance. However, what we require from a hat intended for strenuous activity is a balancing act which is far harder to get right than the one-way street of providing as much warmth as possible.
What we're after is something that will provide just enough warmth to prevent the wearer feeling uncomfortably cold (i.e. something to "take the edge off") whilst at the same time, will not cause the wearer to overheat and sweat profusely as "winter mountain trekking" begins to morph into something that looks suspiciously like mountaineering: carrying heavy loads on steep snowdrift covered slopes, over icy rock in white-out conditions with ice axe, crampons and goggles to the fore. In these conditions, ideally you don't want to get a sweat on.
If such a hat can get this right, then it will also double as an outright thermal piece for static use in less frosty climes. The Bergans Varde Beanie is one such hat, and is, in our experience, a rare find.
How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Varde
Before testing the Varde Beanie, my initial impressions were not favourable. I felt it was likely too insubstantial to be effective, it felt overly tight and I thought it would likely be on the itchy side.
During an impromptu late autumn test (testing a sleeping bag combo) conditions were incredibly variable, ranging from nominally warm with constant gale force winds and constant heavy rain (something between a wind tunnel and a car wash), to chilly, earily still with clear blue skies, to snow and hail and temperatures dropping just below zero (a low of -2°C). At the end of one of these days I realised I'd had the Varde on the whole day and hadn't noticed, in fact I'd been wearing it pretty much constantly the whole trip. Since then, this hat has had more use than any other item of headwear.
Now, the only time I leave the Varde behind is smack in the middle of summer. In spring and autumn it'll get some use while active but will always be used when static, in winter it's on my head pretty much whenever I'm active, certainly when I take a short break and start cooling down. Because it's such a low bulk item, it will fit underneath heavier duty thermal headwear like the Mountain Equipment Plain Knit without issue and this combo will take you way down into the extreme sub zero range when sitting around the tent or bivvy making tea.
I've worn the Varde Beanie under a Montane Pace Cap, over a Pyua Balaclava (pictured above) and under ME's Plain Knit Beanie - it's an ideal layering piece and will partner with pretty much anything (and would likely work well under a helmet). When fully pulled down it provides complete coverage for the ears and upper neck.
Materials: Acrylic and Wool - An Ideal Combination
The Varde Beanie uses a double layered construction with no separate lining. It's composed of 70% wool and 30% acrylic. The ideal mix for purely thermal purposes (as discussed here) is 50/50 and it's likely that the higher wool content is partly responsible for its uncanny ability to regulate temperature. It weighs just 50g and packs down very small. It dries quickly and performs well when wet. In addition, the balance between breathability and wind-proofiness is just right; the Varde seems to do just enough and rarely too much.
Acrylics are generally characterised by having high loft and resilience. The fibres are durable, soft, and remain resilient on contact with moisture. Acrylic fibres are hydrophobic, so don't absorb sweat; instead moisture is pushed away from the source to the surface where it evaporates. Acrylic is lightweight, warm and quick drying.
Wool is an excellent insulator with one of the highest insulation to weight ratios of any natural or man-made fibre. It insulates when wet, it's breathable, moisture wicking, temperature regulating, resilient and elastic (maintains shape over time). It doesn't retain odours and will freshen with a simple airing. The outer layer of wool fibres have a high concentration of fatty acids with anti-bacterial properties.
Acrylic and wool each have properties ideal for a warm winter hat. Combining the two materials aids fibre stability, elasticity (maintains shape), loft, durability and enhances insulation. The warmth and wicking capabilities of wool are retained, while the acrylic keeps the weight down, resilience up and reduces moisture absorption and thus quickens drying time.
The full RRP of the Varde is unjustifiably steep in our opinion and this is what drags down the overall rating. It's a little tight on first use but quickly stretches to fit the wearer's head. To date the Varde has maintained its elasticity and has not become loose / baggy.
The Varde has some kind of abstract pattern on one side (see product pics below) that I've not yet been able to decipher - those who are picky about such aesthetics may care enough to discount its more practical qualities. But really, aside from its RRP - it's hard to fault.
Conclusion & Rating
A warm, light-weight, beanie with a low profile, the Bergans of Norway Varde Beanie is ideal for use during cold spring or autumnal weather and for dynamic activities in winter, providing ample coverage for the ears and upper neck. The Varde uses a double layered construction, has no separate lining and packs down very small. With a slightly closer fit than most traditional winter beanies, the Varde's low profile makes it an ideal and versatile layering piece. If you're looking for a light-weight all-rounder, the Varde Beanie is well worth a look and is Scramble's top pick in the Lightweight Dynamic Activity Headwear category.
Note: You can see more images of the Varde Beanie in use in our review of Pyua's Flash Balaclava.
Rating (out of 10)
* The value score is derived from two factors:
1) Competitive Market Price (CMP). This represents our judgement of a competitive online price point if we were to stock the item. e.g. if we feel we would need to sell an item at 40% off (i.e. 60% of its full RRP) to be competitive, then our CMP score will be 6/10.
2) Customer Value Price (CVP). We then make an honest appraisal of the maximum price we would be willing to pay for the item (and we're mean). So if we'd pay 80% of its RRP our CVP score would be 8/10.
We then average the two scores to get our final value score, which in our example would be 7/10.
Last Updated: 19/02/18