Lopapeysa Obsession! The Must-Have Icelandic Souvenir

The Lopapeysa

Visitors and locals alike have fallen in love with the Lopapeysa. Choosing an Icelandic Lopapeysa is a bit like buying a wedding dress. It’s an expensive purchase, the options seem endless, and you’ll know in an instant when your search is over.

Each Icelandic sweater or lopapeysa is hand-knitted by an Icelandic local, and is a one-off piece. The word lopapeysa means ‘sweater made of lopi’. Lopi being the unspun (and often undyed) knitting yarn made from the fleece of the sheep common to Iceland.

Waterfall selfie small Atlas Introspective

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Lopi

As a knitting wool, lopi is unlike any other. Centuries of isolation meant that Icelandic sheep evolved to produce a fleece specific and unique to the sub-arctic climate. It has both wind hairs and fleece. The inner fibres keep you warm whilst the long outer fibres keep your garment water-resistant. The unspun wool has superior insulating properties than traditional wool. These distinctive qualities mean that Lopapeysa are light and will keep you warm, even when wet. You may find your sweater itchy to begin with but the wool softens with wear. If you’re desperate to accelerate the process, soak your lopapeysa in water and hair conditioner.

Design

The natural colours of undyed wool include black, grey, brown and white and it’s the play of combinations within this palette that makes each piece unique. The patterned ‘yoke’ around the neckline is standard but you’ll also find sweaters with patterned designs around the wrists and hemline, as well as zippered cardigans and hoodies.

The Lopapeysa has only been around since about the 50’s and it’s unclear what originally inspired the design. However, it has recently experienced a resurgence and is a common site among farmers and city-dwellers, alike.

Investment Piece

You’ll see lopapeysa for sale everywhere. From petrol stations, airports and tourist stores which may give the mistaken impression that these garments are kitsch tourist fare. But they are actually very popular among the locals. And for good reason, they are perfectly suited to the harsh weather conditions common to Iceland. I recommend picking one up early in your trip so that you can make full use of your new sweater during your visit

In 2024 the price for a hand made lopapeysa is approximately 30.000ISK (over $200USD) this is a high ticket item. But it’s a true investment piece: unique, hard-wearing, practical and stylish. Perfect for the great outdoors, the timeless design works equally well in the urban landscape.

Mine is ten years old and it still looks as good as when I first bought it.

Fiona Iceland landscape Atlas Introspective

Finding the perfect Lopapeysa

At a glance they all look the same. Then once you start trying them on you realise how much variety there is within the iconic design. The best approach is to set aside plenty of time and try on as many as you can to ensure you get the perfect fit. Then try different colours to fine one that best suits your complexion. The design is unisex but generally the sweaters with patterns around the hem suit men better (they can make women look a bit hippy). The sweater is the classic look, but a cardigan might be more practical if you are returning home to a milder climate.

Where to buy your Lopapeysa

Whilst Lopapeysa are everywhere, some are made overseas and aren’t the real deal. I recommend purchasing your jumper from either Álafoss or the Handknitting Association of Iceland (addresses below). They have the largest variety and you can be confident that your jumper is hand-made by a local Icelander. Both of these stores will supply you with a VAT receipt to claim back your Value Added Tax when you leave Iceland (see VAT below).

Alafoss Lopapeysa
ÁLAFOSS

Álafossvegur 23
270 Mosfellsbær
alafoss@alafoss.is

HANDKNITTING ASSOCIATION OF ICELAND

Skólavörðustígur 19
101 Reykjavík, Iceland
Tel. +354 552 1890
handknit@handknit.is

DIY Lopapeysa

If the high price tag puts a ready-made sweater out of reach, do as the locals do and knit your own. Wool and patterns are available for purchase at the Hand-knitters Association of Iceland.

Second-Hand Lopapeysa

Many charity shops stock second-hand Lopapeysa for a fraction of the cost of a new one and vendors at the Kolaportið flea market by the harbour sell Lopapeysa slightly cheaper than the stores. The market runs on the weekends.

VAT

Value-added Tax (VAT) is about 25.5% for goods and services. If you’re buying a new ready-made lopapeysa chances are you’ll spending around 30.000ISK so claiming your VAT is worthwhile. I have written about claiming VAT in a previous post: Plan a trip to Iceland.

Fiona E geysir Iceland Atlas Introspective

A lopapeysa makes for a great Icelandic souvenir that will keep you cosy and stylish for years to come.

-Update March 2024-

It’s been 10 years since I first visited Iceland and bought my lopapeysa. I must admit that as an Australian, I did wonder if I’d have the opportunity to wear it as much as I hoped. At the time, I was living in North Wales and while it was great for cold days spent outdoors, it wasn’t practical if I was moving between places with central heating.

I currently live in Perth, Western Australia where we have a mediterranean climate. A lopapeysa is over-kill for all but the very coldest Winter days. But it’s been perfect for holidays & weekends spent down south (WA’s south-west). I haven’t packed my lopapeysa for multi-day hikes because it’s too bulky for my pack. But for camping trips, it’s kept me comfortable during evening card games, while everyone else is bundled up in beanies, scarves and gloves.

What I love about it

My lopapeysa is now 10 years old and looks as good as the day I bought it. True, it hasn’t had heavy wear, but that’s true of a lot of my camping and travel clothes and is not always a given.

I find casual Winter clothes a bit boring and warm jackets or coats tend to be on the heavy side. But I still love the style of my lopapeysa. It’s both warm and light without weighing me down. On nights when it’s cold enough to need both a jumper and a jacket, and maybe even a scarf, I’m comfortable with just my lopapeysa.

Considerations

How to wash & care for your lopapeysa

There’s nothing more heartbreaking than pulling out a beloved and expensive knit at the beginning of winter, only to discover it’s riddled with holes. As a 100% wool garment, it’s essential that you protect it from moths and silverfish. I hand-wash my lopapeysa in a delicate wool detergent at the end of every winter or camping trip and store it in an air tight/ zip lock bag during the warmer months. Sadly, this was a hard learned lesson. A few years ago I lost almost an entire winter wardrobe of merino wool jumpers to silverfish. But, unlike my merino knits which were beyond saving, my lopapeysa was easily mended. Because it has a relatively loose weave and the strands of wool are thick, I was able to neatly tie the loose threads inside the garment and the mend is barely visible.

Sheep September Iceland Atlas Introspective

A lopapeysa is very heavy when wet and can take a long time to dry. Aim to wash it on a clear day using a wool detergent and then roll it up in a towel to get rid of most of the water. Your lopapeysa should be damp, but not dripping when you take it outside to dry, and always lay it flat to maintain the shape.

The itch factor

I found my lopapeysa very itchy to begin with but I persisted because I was told the wool would soften with wear. Layering with a long sleeved thin merino thermal helped during this time as well as soaking the jumper in a quality hair conditioner.