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Backpacker Magazine – Online Exclusive

Gear Review: Empire Canvas Works Wool Blanket Shirt

A retro-looking (albeit heavy) coat that stands up to wintry weather and hard work.

by: Joe Flowers

Courtesy photo; Pouch sold separately.
Courtesy photo; Pouch sold separately.
Photo by David Simerly
Photo by David Simerly

I took a spin in the time machine and tested the Wool Blanket Shirt, a thick wool (80%) and nylon (20%) pullover that looks straight out of the 1800s frontier. For an old-school gear lover like me, that’s pretty cool, though the 2+ -pound weight will cause ultralighters and even traditional backpackers to scoff. Though I’d never pack this for a backpacking trip, I used it as my winter work-horse while chopping wood, moving tents, car camping, teaching outdoors classes, and on a 22-mile hike in Jefferson National Forest, VA.

Style-wise, this shirt/jacket gets an A+ if you’re going for the Jeremiah Johnson look. It’s a long (to the crotch) pullover design with a somewhat baggy sweatshirt fit, two deer-antler, leather-trimmed buttons that close the neck opening, and a flip-up collar that warms the neck. The cut allows for plenty of layering underneath, but it’s best worn as an outer layer—you’d need a really loose-cut shell to fit over it.

It’s a jack of all cold weather endeavors, though. I used it for 4 months all over the southeast in temps from minus 10°F up to 45°F, with a variety of layers underneath (the rough wool can be itchy against the skin, so I always opted for a long sleeve base layer. It’s so warm that I mostly wore it around camp. The few times I did wear it while hiking in cold (0°F temps) it layered just fine under my pack straps and hipbelt and let sweat vapor escape so I never got clammy.

The densely woven material has been washed twice in a hot water bath, a process called “fulling,” which pre-shrinks and softens the wool. It sloughed off light rain, snow, and ice when I wore it during the Jefferson hike in Virginia, and it blocked even 30 mph winds on Comer’s Rock. The nylon content helps it dry fairly quickly (not as fast as fleece of course); when I hung it damp inside my tent it was dry in the morning.

Durability is a big issue with fleece and nylon shells—my closet is full of jackets with some kind of holes in them. Fire is an intrinsic part of my camping style and my primitive and outdoor skills classes. I spend a lot of time crouching next to small flames, it was refreshing to not being paranoid about jumping embers. Any embers that hit the Wool Blanket Sweater singe, but then are basically rubbed away. On that same Jefferson National Forest trip, I was on my hands and knees in the snow to free a stuck Subaru. I bumped my arm on a hot pipe under the engine, and despite the intense heat, nothing happened to the burly wool.

After four months of testing, I was surprised at how often I reached for this quirky jacket. As long as it wasn’t raining buckets, it was my go-to jacket for car camping, short, cold hikes, and while teaching my outdoor classes. I have a feeling it will be part of my ensemble for a long time. Some things never go out of style, even when they do!

The Specs:
Price: $145
Weight: 2 lbs. 4 oz.
Colors: Olive Green, Navy Blue, or Burgundy
Sizes: Unisex XS-XXL
empirecanvasworks.com


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Reader Rating: Star Star Star Star Star

READERS COMMENTS

coolerNights
Jun 21, 2011

Your blog is interesting, it gives me some new information about wool blanket shirt. Your information about it is very nice.

<a href="http://coolernights.com/">outlast blanket comforter</a>

KG
Jun 19, 2011

Thanks for bringing our attention to this excellent product. I just ordered one!
I'd love to see more of this traditional gear featured here. Not to say modern stuff isn't good, just the older stuff is good, too.

KG
Jun 19, 2011

Thanks for bringing our attention to this excellent product. I just ordered one!
I'd love to see more of this traditional gear featured here. Not to say modern stuff isn't good, just the older stuff is good, too.

Uriah
May 17, 2011

I have a couple of heavy wool shirts, Pendleton Woolen Mills. They are some of my favorites for moderate activity in cool to cold weather. As Joe mentioned in the review one of the best things about wool is that it is naturally flame resistant unlike synthetic fleeces and thermals that can catch fire and even melt onto the wearer while burning.

KD
May 17, 2011

I've got one of these and I love it. I'm a lifetime Minnesota resident, so I know a bit about cold winters :) I thought I lost it once and was preparing to drive up to Duluth straight away to replace it when I found it again. Irreplaceable!

LL
May 15, 2011

Hand sewn, locally made, and built tough. ECW is a company that stands behind their product. I have several pieces from them and have never owned better outerwear. If your looking to get back to basics, look no further!

LL

Swamp Nutz
May 13, 2011

Outstanding review- a fire freindly material that has a classic mountain man look- what's old is new again!

Brutane
May 13, 2011

Finally....a review of gear that the subset of backpackers who are into all natural "green" gear can appreciate! Well done! Look forward to more of your reviews in the future.

Matthew
May 12, 2011

Great review Joe! I really like the company ECW. Thanks Backpacker for allowing the "old school" equipment to be reviewed.

Soledad
May 12, 2011

Great Review!!! It is nice to see this traditional gear in Backpacker Magazine articles.

I also have a couple shirts and an ECW Parka. The company raises the already high bar on gear "Made in the USA"

Paul
May 12, 2011

Very old school, I like it a lot.

JD
May 12, 2011

Cotton Anoraks to Wool multi tasker.....ECW is living proof that USA quality is alive and well.

Skab0311
May 12, 2011

Good stuff Joe!

ECW makes a great product and stands behind it!

Wool is my favorite material for the woods, and this shirt is dead on as far as fit and function.

Rusty Stove
May 12, 2011

ECW make Ankoraks and wool outerwear that are bmbproof....excellent American Craftmanship.....

solocanoe
May 12, 2011

THANK YOU for the review of a GREAT company with excellent traditional gear, Joe! Kudos for Backpacker for getting this included too!

I have the ECW Jackpine Vest and can wear it from the 60's with a T-shirt to below zero with other layers - and the wool fabric performs better than the latest/greatest too.

Canoecountry
May 12, 2011

Great review Joe!!

Empire Canvas Works makes some of the best natural fiber clothing out there! I own a number of their garments and couldn't be happier with the quality of materials, durablilty, fit and function. The staff at ECW is top notch, very knowledgable and helpful, great people with a passion for their craft.

CC

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