Trail-tested headgear will protect your melon from every kind of weather imaginable.
When I say I’m a man of many hats, I don’t mean that I’m some multi talented, jack-of-all-trades renaissance guy. Just ask my friends, and coworkers-they’ll happily recite numerous examples to my wide-ranging incompetence.
No, I’m simply a hiker with an Imelda Marcos-like fetish for funky, field-worthy lids. I fancy sun hats, rain hats, warm-weather hats, windproof hats, ear bands, balaclavas, and technical baseball caps-just about any chapeau that will keep my egg dry, cool, shaded, or-when Jack Frost comes calling-warm and toasty. I like them (as you probably do, too) light and packable so I can carry several, made from fast-drying synthetics, and adjustable or elastic enough to fit my big head. The best serve multiple purposes in the backcountry, most often combining wind and rain protection, rain and sun protection, or wind protection and warmth.
To help you locate the best headgear, I asked a few fellow hat lovers to help me assemble an assortment of trail-tested toppers. Our reviews follow in alphabetical order.
Bulas Overlook Fleece Cap
When the landscape you’re traversing is a glaring blur of snow, wind, and sun, Bula’s Overlook fleece cap provides better-than-average protection, as I’ve learned on numerous trips from Wyoming’s Absarokas to Arizona’s the San Francisco Peaks. Unlike many other winter hats, the Bula cap sports a bill that protects your face from sun and snow glare. But this baseball-style cap also features earflaps that fold down or tuck away inside the cap, and fleece that’s warm when the wind blows but breathable enough to wear while playing hard. A thick strap in the back cinches down to keep the cap snug. Best for sunny trips on snowy mountains.
Price: $24. One size fits all.
Filson’s Oil-Finish Bush Hat
Made of 12-ounce oiled cotton canvas, sheds water like the proverbial duck. Oh sure, in the age of new fibers, many folks cringe at cotton, but this heavy canvas cloth has been used by outdoorsmen since gold rushers headed into the Yukon in the 1890s. The 3-inch-wide brim has kept my head, face, and neck dry without fail for five years on the coastal trails of the Northwest. Best for hikers with a sense of style who live in cool, wet climates. Price: $39.50. Sizes: S-XXL (corresponds to hat sizes 6¾ to 7 7/8).
Izzo 2’s Carrier Hat
Izzo 2’s Amish-lookalike Carrier Hat tends to provoke horse-and-buggy jokes, but you’ll get the last laugh, as I did on several recent desert trips when my cheeks were the only ones to survive without sunburn on long, bright days. The Supplex nylon hat features a narrow 2-inch brim behind the head (no pack interference) and a bill so wide (5 inches) that you can shade your eyes without having to pull it flat (no line-of-sight impairment). A wire stiffener around the brim’s outer edge provides structure in light winds and allows some shaping. Best for sunny days when you want a gander of the view. Price: $30. Sizes: S/M and L/XL. Contact: Izzo 2 Design
Man, did I get some weird looks while testing Kavu’s Chillba! Comments ranged from “beautiful lamp shade” to “Where’s the rice paddy?” Jokes aside, this functional hat provides total sun protection and more. It’s a comical, conical dome made of 1�4-inch closed-cell foam covered in nylon finished with a durable water repellent (DWR). After a month of testing, it’s still beading water like a pane of glass. The black underbelly reduces glare, and an adjustable chinstrap keeps it attached to your noggin. The fit is comfortable, thanks to an inner mesh cap and wide adjustable band. And one other bonus: It floats. Best for calm, sunny days, light rain showers, and entertaining your friends. Price: $29. One size. Contact: Kavu, (800) 419-5288; www.kavu.com. -Kristin Hostetter
Kavu’s Fisherman’s Chillba
This is a simple, floppy sombrero with strong suits that include coolness (I’m referring to temperature), plus little weight and bulk. It’s made of a lightweight nylon coated with a tenacious DWR. A plastic steel hoop around the brim let me collapse the hat into a tiny wad that sprang back into shape when it emerged from my pack or pocket. The black underside reduces glare, and a chin strap secures it. Best for keeping hot heads protected from the sun. Price: $24. One size. Contact: Kavu
Kavu’s cotton/nylon Trailrunner is the breeziest ball cap I’ve worn, thanks to the ultralight crown and wrap around mesh side panels, and it’s probably the toughest, too. A cam-buckle rear strap pulls the hat snug enough that I didn’t worry about losing it in high mountain winds, or when I went swimming during a hike in Hawaii (dries fast, too). A dark underside of the bill also absorbs high-mountain glare. Best for hot, sunny weather. Price: $22. Sizes: S-L.
Neck gaiter, fleece hat, or thick, cozy balaclava? The shape-changing Loki Hat lets you enjoy the benefits of all three, thanks to an ingenious double drawstring system that hides-or releases-an extra section of fleece. The result is a regular bomber-style hat that turns into a balaclava. During snowshoeing trips last winter around New England, I also found that you can vent the Loki in hat mode by opening the top drawstring to create a stovepipe effect. Best for any cold-weather outing. Price: $32. Sizes: S-L. Contact: Loki, (970) 248-9693. -J. Dorn
Moonstone’s Speed Lid
Okay, so even a dufus like me wouldn’t be caught dead wearing Moonstone’s Speed Lid as a regular hat. But I’ve never seen anything that fits so well under the snuggest of hoods or helmets while providing just-right warmth and wind protection. A tight-weave nylon shell keeps mountain winds at bay, and a brushed microfiber polyester lining insulates just enough and not too much while moving moisture off my sweat-soaked forehead. Best for cold weather under a helmet. Price: $29. One size. Contact: Moonstone Mountain Equipment, (800) 390-3312; www.moonstone.com. -J. Harlin
Hardwear’s Nut Beret
My sense of style is so out of date (as if I ever had one) that my main rock-climbing buddy is embarrassed to be seen with me. But when I donned my favorite insulating hat, the fashion police stopped writing tickets. Mountain Hardwear’s Nut Beret happens to look incredibly fun, jaunty, and distinctive while performing better than any other warm hat I’ve worn. Highly breathable Polartec fleece is supplemented by a flip-down Windstopper ear band, and a drawstring assures that the combination stays put. Best for cold conditions, windy or calm. Price: $24. Sizes: Regular and large. Contact: Mountain Hardwear, (510) 559-6700; www.mountainhardwear.com. -J. Harlin
Made from thick, Windstopper fleece, Outdoor Research’s Baltoro Balaclava is the warmest headgear this side of a fur babushka. The face shield features a nose cover and breathing vent so there’s no exposed flesh (when worn with goggles), which kept my face frostbite-free in a memorable winter storm on Mt. Rainier. When the wind dies down, peel back the shield to prevent overheating. Best for bitter cold and big, snowy mountains. Price: $34. Sizes: S-L.
Windstopper Fleece Ear Band
Earbands earn their keep in temperatures cool enough to nip at your ears but not cold enough to warrant a full hat. The best of the bunch is Outdoor Research’s Windstopper fleece Ear Band. This ergonomically curved wrap not only rebuffs sharp gusts, but also comes off without sliding over your head-a benefit I discovered while climbing volcanoes in Mexico. Under strict orders not to remove my helmet, I wouldn’t have been able to remove standard earbands when the rising sun heated me up. Not so with the Ear Band, which I ripped off and shoved in a pocket without breaking stride. Best for aerobic activities on cool, gusty days. Price: $17. Sizes: S-L.
Pearl Izumi’s Mesh Cap
This hat is just as light and nearly as breezy as the Kavu Trailrunner, and the cotton mesh crown keeps your head cool when wet but is thin enough to dry quickly. The bill is black underneath to reduce glare, which I appreciated immensely when desert hiking in southern Utah. As well, this hat is relatively inexpensive for its many uses and design. After many days of trail use, the only signs of abuse are a few stains. Best for hot, sunny weather. Price: $18. One size.
Sunday Afternoons’s Adventure Hat
With an extra-wide wraparound brim and a 71Z2-inch tail, Sunday Afternoons’s Adventure Hat offers the most sun coverage you can get short of pulling a bag over your head. Though the floppy brim flips up on gusty days, I found plenty to recommend about this hat during several long, hot hikes in Utah canyon country: The brim’s black underside substantially reduces glare; mesh panels above the ears provide much-needed ventilation; the Supplex crown breathes well and dries fast; and the whole hat stuffs in your back pocket. Best for hot, windless days under a blazing sun. Price: $35. Sizes: M, L.
Tilley LT5 Hat
Who would guess my favorite hot-weather hat hails from Canada, land of notorious winters. Think pork-pie meets fedora, in a lightweight waterproof/breathable nylon, and you’ve got the Tilley LT5 Hat. Grommeted holes in its high crown have aerated my overheated noggin through East Coast summer heat and humidity, while a chin strap keeps it clamped down and a built-in Hydrofil sweatband wicks away the drips. Even better, the just-wide-enough brim keeps rain out of my collar, sun off my ears and neck, and bug nets away from my face, all without bumping into my pack. Best for heat, bugs, and spring showers. Price: $62. Sizes: 6 7/8 to 8+.