If you're looking for a comfortable, lightweight, breathable, packable hat with a wide brim to protect you from the sun, you could do worse than the REI Co-op Paddler's Hat. The problem is, you could also do better. While this hat did fairly well in most of our performance metrics, (except style), it was either matched or bested across the board by several other hats. So, while the Paddler's Hat is a fine choice that you'll likely be happy with, there are better options available that are more stylish or have better options.
REI Co-op Paddler's Hat Review
Cons: Very deep crown, brim hits backpack, not stylish
Manufacturer: REI Co-op
Our Analysis and Test Results
The REI Co-op Paddler's Hat 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. So should you settle for the Paddler's Hat, or spring for another model? Read on to find out.
The Paddler's Hat has one of the widest brims of the hats we tested, measuring 4 inches in the back and 3 inches in front and on the sides. It 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 upside, 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 downside, 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 it made the Paddler's a little uncomfortable. It also meant that the hat brim rode low in our field of vision, which was annoying. This hat also only comes in two sizes, so getting an ideal fit might be challenging, though the cinch cord in the crown definitely helps with this.
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 Hat 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. And it feels much flimsier than some of the other hats we tested.
This hat does hold up fairly well to being packed and crushed, though it's not perfect. After being crammed into a Ziplock bag 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.
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 darn 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, peruse the other reviews in this category to figure out which hat best matches your style.
This hat has the potential to provide you with many years of comfortable, versatile sun protection at a relatively low price. If you've got money left on your REI dividend, get the Paddler's! Otherwise, maybe consider something else.
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
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