KUHL Sun Blade Review
Cons: Not adjustable, not packable, unstylish
Our Analysis and Test Results
KUHL tried something different with this hat, designing a brim with one end that's wider than the other and that can be reversed based on whether you need more sun protection on your neck or your face. We liked the concept, but not the execution. The stiff brim combined with an ill-fitting crown made this hat uncomfortable to wear and difficult to keep in place, and while it was one of the most breathable hats we tested, it was also one of the least stylish. There may be a small subset of casual users who will love the Sun Blade, but for varied and technical use, this hat doesn't hold its own.
The unique KUHL Sun Blade took top marks for breathability, but it fell down in just about every other category.
The Sun Blade's asymmetrical brim is unique in our test group: it's 4" wide in back, 3" in front, and 2" on either side, and it's reversible back-to-front. This all adds up to a mixed bag in terms of sun protection. On the plus side, 3-4" is relatively wide compared to other models in our test group, and the reversibility means that you can increase protection on your face or your neck depending on where the sun is. On the other hand, the 2" side brims are relatively narrow, offering little protection to the sides of your face and neck.
We knocked the Sun Blade down in the protection category because its ill-fitting crown and stiff brim mean that it performs very poorly in the wind. Even a light breeze is enough to pick up the brim and move the hat around on your head, and a hat that won't stay in place isn't protecting you from sun exposure. Also, the brim of the Sun Blade hits a loaded backpack even with the short side of the brim in back, and because the brim is so stiff, this knocks the hat out of place. For models that offer great protection and stay put while doing it, check out our Editor's Choice, the Sunday Afternoons Ultra Adventure, or our Top Pick for Boating, the Outdoor Research Sombriolet.
Compared to the other models in our test group, the KUHL Sun Blade is not very comfortable. It's not adjustable and only comes in two sizes, so unless one of those sizes happens to fit you just right, you're going to be wearing a hat that's either too loose or too tight. This is among the shallowest models we tested (it barely reached the top of our editor's ears), which made the hat feel precarious unless the chin strap was cinched tight. Some of the more comfortable models we tested are the Sunday Afternoons Ultra Adventure, which is adjustable, and the Filson Summer Packer, which comes in a wider range of sizes and is just the right depth.
If there's one area where the Sun Blade shines, it's here. This model has a mesh band that runs all the way around the crown, allowing air to flow right through even on the stillest days. Most of the other models we tested had mesh patches or air vents, but none had all-around mesh like the Sun Blade.
The top of the Sun Blade is made of fairly thin fabric with a large air vent and mesh underneath, which only adds to its breathability. If you are prone to overheating and air flow is your absolute top priority, you may want to consider the Sun Blade. For another model that offers solid breathability and better protection than the Sun Blade, check out the REI Co-op Paddler's Hat.
Based on its performance in our tests, we weren't very impressed with the Sun Blade's durability. This model is not at all packable: after wrestling it into a Ziplock bag and leaving it for 30 minutes, its brim became deformed beyond repair and never regained its normal smooth shape. Not all sun hats need to be packable, but it's reasonable to expect that brims will sometimes get bent and will need to bounce back into shape. The Sun Blade doesn't pass that test. Other than its hopeless brim, we found the Sun Blade's construction and materials to be of decent quality and didn't notice much wear-and-tear by the end of our test period. Other models that hold up better under typical use include the Filson Summer Packer and our full-brim Best Buy pick, the Outdoor Research Helios.
Style is subjective, so you can let the photos in this review guide your thinking in this category. But if we had to sum up our thoughts and those of virtually everyone we asked about the Sun Blade's style in one word, we'd go with "yikes." Its back-to-front asymmetry and weird-shaped, shallow crown are not doing this model any favors. On the plus side, it's available in three different hues, so if you have to look like you're wearing a mullet on safari, at least you can color-coordinate. If you would prefer a hat that you can wear on the bar patio after your hike without being ridiculed, we'd recommend the Filson Summer Packer or, for women, the Arc'teryx Sinsola.
Given that it's not packable and that it's, shall we say, less than stylish, we'd recommend the KUHL Sun Blade for casual day hikes. If you don't mind its wacky style, you could also wear this for puttering around the yard, standing out at your kid's soccer game — basically, any non-technical activity in mild weather where you won't be wearing a pack.
At $45, the KUHL Sun Blade is priced similarly to most of the hats in our test group, but it performs worse than the competition in most of the areas we tested. Given that it's awkward to wear, not packable, and unstylish, we'd expect this hat to be priced much lower, so we don't think it's a great value.
While KUHL definitely went out on a limb with this hat, we didn't ultimately find its asymmetrical style and stiff brim to be useful or comfortable. Though the Sun Blade excels in breathability, we'd recommend checking out the wide array of more comfortable, stylish, and protective hats on the market.
— Joanna Trieger
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