Updated April 2017
Ready for those warm summer rays, we updated this review for 2017. We confirmed that the models here are the most recent available, noting updates such as an array of new colors for our Editors' Choice winner. We also added charts and rating tables to give you a clearer picture of where each hat stands in comparison to its competition.
Best Overall Sun Hat
Sunday Afternoons Adventure Hat
Great protection all around, especially on the back
Brim angled for longer protection
Poorly designed Velcro tab on back
The overall best hat we tested is the Sunday Afternoons Adventure Hat
. It offers superb protection and breathability while maintaining comfort and durability as well. Sometimes you have to make sacrifices, though, and this isn't the most stylish hat we tested - but if comfortable, durable, sun protection is your goal, this puppy is the clear winner. From gardening or hanging clothes out on the line to sweltering desert hikes or summer kayak floats down your local creek, this hat (quite literally) has got you covered. Sunday Afternoons recently added new colors for this award winner. See our individual review of this product for a list and photo of each new color.
Read review: Sunday Afternoons Adventure Hat
Best Bang for the Buck
Outdoor Research Sombriolet Sun Hat
Packs down to a good size and reforms quickly
The Outdoor Research Sombriolet
wins the Best Buy award for being the best value hat at a reasonable price. It was especially good with breathability, comfort, and even style - we don't feel ashamed to wear this hat out in public, which can be rare with a truly protective sun hat. The Sombriolet also performed above-average across every other metric. Best of all, its list price is $42 but is commonly found at online retailers for a significantly lower price. Although the list prices for the other two award winners are higher than that of the Sombriolet, they are also commonly found on sale. If you aren't too picky about hat color, you might get even more performance for a similarly low price by finding another award winner on sale.
Read review: Outdoor Research Sombriolet
Top Pick for Most Protective
Outdoor Research Sun Runner Cap
Good in wind
Looks a little funny
Can get hot on the back of your neck
The Outdoor Research Sun Runner Cap
wins our Top Pick award for being the most protective hat we tested and one of the most comfortable. A huge bonus is that the neck cape is removable so that you can wear it as a regular ball cap, as well. With the neck cape, it's one of the least stylish caps in our review - remove the cape, and it's a sleek, sporty cap, but offers way less protection. In addition to top marks in protection (with the cape attached, of course), this hat also earns a 10/10 for comfort.
Read review: Outdoor Research Sun Runner Cap
Analysis and Test Results
The rating table above paints a picture of where each hat in our review ranked in overall performance score.
We chose protection as the most important rating because this is usually the reason you buy a hat in the first place. The following chart illustrates which of the hats in our lineup protected us best.
The best hats have enough protection to keep you fully protected throughout the day while still maintaining your sense of dignity. The most effective hats had capes that went down the back of them, completely covering your neck, and had high UPF ratings. The Top Pick award winning Outdoor Research Sun Runner Cap
is the perfect example of this. Keep in mind that the most protective hats are usually not the most stylish.
The top pick award winning Outdoor Research Sun Runner giving us total protection from the sun. This is only one of two hats we tested with a cape, which provides you with better protection than just a brim.
Caps become sun hats with sun shirts and Buffs
A cap offers little neck and ear protection. However, if you add a Buff (aka Multifunction Headband) or a sun hoody, you can get as much protection (or more) as a standard sun hat. Either slide the buff under the hat or, for more ventilation, use safety pins to pin it up higher. You can also use a bandana instead of a Buff. Using a sun hoody + cap combo gives you the best ear and neck protection of any option. However, it can be much warmer and less ventilated than a wide-brim sun hat. See our sun shirt review for hoody recommendations.
As you can see in the photos above, the "buff under hat" and sun shirt + cap don't offer great protection when the sun is lower and from the side.
Comfort is essential in a sun protection hat. If your hat isn't comfortable it's less likely that you will grab it while going out the door whereas the most comfortable hats you want to wear even when it isn't sunny out. The most comfortable hats are usually very soft internally and are very lightweight. The Outdoor Research Sun Bucket
and the Outdoor Research Sun Runner Cap
were the winners in this category.
Breathability is key when selecting a hat to protect you from the sun's rays. On hot days when the sun is beating down on your head, you will want a hat that not only protects you but that allows the pent up heat to escape. The best hats have ample ventilation and are made with breathable fabrics so that your head can stay cool on hot days.
The Tilley T5MO Organic Cotton airflo Hat's ventilation on the crown.
As noted in the chart below, one of the most breathable hats we tested was the Outdoor Research Sombriolet
. Its fabric breathes exceptionally well, and this model is also covered in mesh ventilation so that you can stay cool.
A good durable sun protection hat will last you a lifetime of healthy skin. The most durable hats are well made with strong materials and a crushable brim. The best ones can be crushed for days without the brim being affected at all and are able to be tossed around carelessly without worry. The worst can't even be crushed and fall apart at the seams over a short time. The most durable hats we tested were the Tilley hats — each one was given our maximum rating for durability. Tilley T3 Cotton Duck Hat
, Tilley T5MO Organic Cotton Airflo Hat
, Tilley LTM3 Airflo Hat
Style can make or break your dignity; it is often what your decision of a hat will ultimately come down to. The most stylish hats have sleek classic looks, while the least stylish have huge brims and weird capes. Usually, the more protective a hat is the less stylish it is, so you will have to make the decision for yourself as to how much protection to sacrifice so that you look good. In our opinion, the most stylish hat we tested was the Coolibar Crushable Ventilated Canvas Hat
. We didn't think the brim was too large and it has a very classy look to it.
Testing the hats durability and water resistance in Tuolumne Meadows
We hope we have been able to help you narrow down your top choices to find a model that will best suit your needs. However, if you're still unsure about which model to purchase, consider browsing our Buying Advice article for tips and guidelines to make your decision a bit easier.