If you're looking for a comfortable, breathable, packable hat with a wide brim to protect you from the sun, you could do worse than the REI Co-op Paddler's. The problem is, you could also do better. While this hat did well in every category (except style), it was either matched or bested across the board by the Outdoor Research Sombriolet, which retails for just a few dollars more. The main differences are quality of construction (the Sombriolet is just better), style (the Paddler's is dorkier), and crown depth (the Paddler's has an excessively deep crown). So while the Paddler's is a fine choice that you'll likely be happy with, there are better options available.
REI Co-op Paddler's Hat Review
Cons: Very deep crown, brim hits backpack, not stylish.
Manufacturer: REI Co-op
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The REI Co-op Paddler's is a protective and comfortable hat that performed well in a variety of tests and real-world use scenarios. While our testers were annoyed by its surprisingly deep crown, they were pleased by its adjustability and breathability. Other models, most notably the Outdoor Research Sombriolet, performed as well or better than the Paddler's across the board. So should you settle for the Paddler's, or spring for another model? Read on to find out.
The Paddler's hat didn't excel in any category, but it got relatively high marks everywhere except style.
The Paddler's has one of the widest brims of the hats we tested, measuring 4" in the back and 3" in front and on the sides — though you should note that the Paddler's closest competitor, the Outdoor Research Sombriolet, has a wider brim. The Paddler's has a cinch cord so you can comfortably adjust it to fit your head, which means it stays firmly in place and provides reliable protection. We knocked it down slightly in this category because the wide back brim constantly interferes with a pack if you're wearing one, which makes it more likely that you'll take it off.
Overall, the REI Co-op Paddler's is a comfortable hat, though we had a couple of gripes. On the up side, the crown material is soft and conforms to your head, and there are no areas that dig in or chafe. The adjustable cinch cord in the crown allows the hat to fit snugly without pinching. On the down side, this hat has a very deep crown, so that it came down well over the tops of our ears and almost touched the tops of our eyebrows. This was a lot of coverage and made the Paddler's a little uncomfortable. It also meant that the hat brim rode low in our field of vision, which was annoying. The Paddler's only comes in two sizes, so getting an ideal fit might be challenging, though the cinch cord in the crown definitely helps with this. We found the Outdoor Research Sombriolet to be a little more comfortable than the Paddler's because its crown isn't as deep. The Filson Summer Packer also scored very well in this category, though it isn't adjustable.
REI took considerable effort to make this hat breathable, and the Paddler's did well here. This hat features both a double layer of light mesh and three eyelet vents on either side, which really allows the air to flow through even when the cinch cord in the crown is tight. The rest of the crown is covered in light, pliable material, so we never felt stifled in this hat. The Paddler's closest competitor, the Sombriolet, performed similarly in this category. the KUHL Sun Blade took top marks here, but it fell down pretty much everywhere else.
The Paddler's will certainly hold up to sustained light use, but this is not the most durable hat we tested. The quality of the stitching and materials doesn't feel quite comparable to its competitor hats from Outdoor Research, and it feels much flimsier than our co-Editors' Choice, the Filson Summer Packer.
This hat does hold up fairly well to being packed and crushed, though it's not perfect. After being crammed into a Ziplock for 30 minutes, the Paddler's brim was significantly creased, but these creases almost disappeared after a few wears. If you're going to be repeatedly stuffing your sun hat into a backpack or vest pocket, we'd recommend a model that can better hold up to crushing, like the Filson Summer Packer or the Arc'teryx Sinsola.
The Paddler's is a great functional hat, but it's not super stylish. This is definitely a cap that says "I made a wise and economical choice about sun protection" before it says "I give a damn about looking cool." It's not sleek, it has a deep, baggy crown and a big ol' floppy brim, and it comes in one color: drab. If you want a hat you can proudly wear on the patio of your local brewpub after your hike, consider the Filson Summer Packer or the Arc'teryx Sinsola, or peruse the other reviews in this category to figure out which hat best matches your style.
Given that it's protective, comfortable, breathable, and packable, the Paddler's would perform well in a wide range of applications, from gardening to casual hiking to multi-day river trips. The wide back brim will likely interfere with a loaded backpack, so this would not be the best pick for backpackers.
At just under $35, this hat has the potential to provide you with many years of comfortable, versatile sun protection, and we think that's a pretty good deal. Note, though, that the Paddler's closest competitor, the Outdoor Research Sombriolet, retails for just $42, and for that extra $7 you get a more stylish and durable hat with a more thoughtfully designed crown shape. If you've got money left on your REI dividend, get the Paddler's! Otherwise, consider the Sombriolet.
The REI Co-op Paddler's is a jack of all trades and a master of none. It's protective, but it's not the most protective. It's comfortable, but there are more comfortable options. It's breathable and durable, but other hats are more so. And in terms of style, it lags behind most of the competition. If you wind up with this hat, you likely won't be disappointed, but there are better options out there.
— Joanna Trieger