sidebar

OutdoorGearLab Home

search
Review | Ratings | Buying Tips | Testing

How to Choose a Sun Hat

Chris Henn coiling his rope while wearing the Tilley T5MO Organic Cotton airflo Hat
By Devin Chance
Tuesday April 23, 2013


How do you buy a sun hat? We took the five most important things to consider when buying a sun hat, and listed them in order of importance.

Protection



Sun hats are great for protecting your skin from the sun's harmful UV rays (ultraviolet radiation) and can save you the hassle of putting sunscreen on your face. Many of the hats we tested have a UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor) rating of 30+ or 50+. UPF ratings are a rating system that measures the amount of UV radiation admitted through fabrics. A UPF rating of 30+ blocks about 96 percent of UV radiation, while a UPF rating of 50+ blocks about 99 percent.

Many of the hats we tested have mesh ventilation on the sides which decrease the hats UPF rating, but only by a small amount. This is because many companies rate the mesh fabric(without the holes) the same rating as the rest of the hat, leaving only a small portion of sunlight to break through the holes.

When selecting a sun hat you need to figure out what type of brim you want. There are very large brims that protect the largest area of skin (these are good if you are just hanging out and not moving around too much), there are bucket hats that usually have smaller brims for more active wear but less protection, and there are sloped brims that cover the selected area throughout the day as the sun drops or rises; the slope of the hat protects throughout this cycle.

If you get a hat that doesn't completely cover your head and shoulders, make sure you wear sunscreen on your exposed skin so you don't get burned. It's better to put sunscreen on the parts that you think are protected, too, because sometimes when you turn your head you expose unprotected skin to harmful UV radiation.

The Outdoor Research Sombriolet hat providing total protection from the sun during a hike in the sierras
The Outdoor Research Sombriolet hat providing total protection from the sun during a hike in the sierras

Breathability


Wearing a sun hat on a hot day can cool you down, but it can also heat you up if it doesn't breathe very well. Breathable fabrics are used in most sun hats and will not overheat you unless you are doing physical activity. In this case you want a hat with good ventilation on the sides.

Comfort


A very important thing to decide before buying a sun hat is what activity you are going to be wearing it for. If you are going to wear it climbing, then you might want one with a smaller brim so that when you look up the climb the hat doesn't hit your back and fall off. If you are going to wear it running then get a really lightweight hat that breathes well and doesn't fly off in the wind.

You also want to make sure your hat fits properly. A bad fitting hat can either give you endless headaches if its too tight, or if its too big will feel loose and unstable. So before you buy a sun hat, measure your head following the specific company sizing guidelines.

Sitting very comfortably with the Patagonia Beach Bucket hat in Bishop  CA
Sitting very comfortably with the Patagonia Beach Bucket hat in Bishop, CA

Durability


A good sun hat will last you a lifetime, and give you many reasons to tell your friends of adventures you've had with it. It will become more of a companion than just a hat and will make all of your friends jealous.

Many sun hats are light in color since light colors reflect heat. When buying a sun hat remember that a white one, although it may be the most effective, will get dirty and stained. So we suggest a hat that is easily washable or just a little bit darker so the stains don't show as much.

Another key thing to look at is the material it is made of. If you buy a $10 straw hat from the gas station you will get what you pay for. We suggest a hat made from nylon or a similar material for its strength.

Testing each hat's durability in our "Crush Test" to simulate the hat's ability to reform after being "crushed" for 30 min. each. The Tilley T5MO Organic Cotton airflo Hat is shown here
Testing each hat's durability in our "Crush Test" to simulate the hat's ability to reform after being "crushed" for 30 min. each. The Tilley T5MO Organic Cotton airflo Hat is shown here

Style


Style is important when buying anything, let alone a sun hat. So before you buy a sun hat make sure you don't look like a total fool wearing it, unless of course you just don't care. Before the purchase see if you can get another opinion; sometimes what looks good to you in the mirror might actually just be your wild imagination.

The Tilley LTM3 Airflo Hat allows you to button up the sides  today this is purely cosmetic  but soldiers used to call these slouch hats and they would rest their rifle on the same side they buttoned up their hat
The Tilley LTM3 Airflo Hat allows you to button up the sides, today this is purely cosmetic, but soldiers used to call these slouch hats and they would rest their rifle on the same side they buttoned up their hat

Devin Chance
About the Author
Devin Chance is an avid outdoor enthusiast whose passions include rock climbing, skiing, and backpacking in the sierras. He recently moved to South Lake Tahoe to pursue those passions and to attend a local college. Devin plans on transferring to the University of California Davis, where he will receive his degree in economics. However in the mean time his main goal is to have fun, and enjoy the mountain life while he still can.

You Might Also Like