Decided to add a sun hat to your outdoor collection? To help you sort through the dozens available, we purchased the top 11 and put them through comprehensive side-by-side testing throughout sunny California. From sweltering deserts to high-altitude peaks, our experts stuffed each model in their pack and slapped it on their noggin. We assessed each one to determine which were the most comfortable during a variety of activities, as well as which ones resisted head sweat and kept you cool. We shine the light on which products have the most sun protection, are the most comfortable, and will keep you cool out on the trails or water. We've discovered the big kahuna that excels in almost every metric we measured, as well as sun hats that offer the best balance of protection and style so you can spend less time shopping and more time out there adventuring.
Read the full review below >
Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
Updated October 2017
We put each sun hat to the test during the hot summer months to see which were made of sugar and spice and everything nice. The unisex Sunday Afternoons Ultra Adventure cinches our Editors' Choice award, continuing to offer the highest level of performance for the second year in a row. For those looking to save a few dollars, the Outdoor Research Sun Runner achieves its new spot as our Best Buy winner ($36), while the Outdoor Research Sombriolet secures a new spot as our Top Pick for Paddling. New to the review this year, we've also added in models specific for women, which you'll find in our comparison table.
Our Favorite Sun Hat
Sunday Afternoons Ultra Adventure
The best sun hat we tested is the Sunday Afternoons Ultra Adventure. It takes protection and breathability to the next level while maintaining comfort and durability. This high-performance model offers superb protection with its substantial down sloping brim and long neck cape. Its materials are lightweight and breathable, making it an extremely comfortable choice. It has improved durability over its predecessor and can be folded and stuffed into your pack. 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. We think this style is ideally suited for backpacking. The Ultra Adventure comes in a great selection of bright colors and has other great features like a sunglass keeper and anti-glare under brim for when you're traveling on reflective surfaces like snow and water.
Great protection all around, especially on the back
Lightweight material is good at wicking moisture
Looks a little dorky
Read review: Sunday Afternoons Adventure Hat
Inexpensive and High Scoring
Outdoor Research Sun Runner Cap
The not only is the Sun Runner Cap inexpensive, it was one of the most protective sun hats we've seen and the most comfortable. A huge bonus is that the neck cape is removable, which means you can wear it as a regular ball cap as well. This feature makes it look a lot less goofy but is also a lot less protective. 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. Two caps in one is an added value! In addition to top marks in protection (with the cape attached, of course), this hat also earns high marks for comfort and durability. The Sun Runner's materials are lightweight and soft, and the adjustable velcro strap makes this model fit comfortably. The Sun Runner is an excellent choice to stuff in your pack for any adventure. Although the list prices for the other two award winners are higher than that of the Sombriolet, they are also commonly found on sale.
Extreme sun protection
Lots of colors to choose from
Packs down small
Looks very dorky
Can get hot on the back of your neck
Read review: Outdoor Research Sun Runner Cap
Top Pick for Paddling
Outdoor Research Sombriolet
We took the Sombriolet out on the water a lot, and it performed well in the wind, offering great coverage and anti-glare material under its brim. We did not experience the brim flipping up in the wind at all. It was especially good with breathability, comfort, and even style. The Sombriolet has great vents on all sides of the hat and a sweatband that wraps around the inside, creating a comfortable nest for your dome. We don't feel ashamed to wear this hat out in public, which can be rare with a truly protective sun hat, and we found it looks good on most people. The Sombriolet also performed above-average across every other metric, and we like how many vents the hat, which keeps us cool and the sea breezes blowing through our hair. It is comfortable and fits well. Although the list price is $42, it's commonly found at online retailers for significantly less.
Good in wind
Large brim not good for backpacking
Read review: Outdoor Research Sombriolet
Analysis and Test Results
The rating table above paints a picture of where each hat in our review ranked in overall performance score. The highest scoring hats ranked well in the Protection and Comfort categories, the most important metrics in our tests.
We chose protection as the most important rating because this is usually the reason you buy a hat in the first place. We traditionally think of sun hats having wide, full brims, but were surprised at the most effective types all include more neck coverage. The following chart illustrates which of the hats offer the most protection.
Top scorers have enough protection to keep you fully covered throughout the day while still maintaining your sense of dignity. The most effective competitors had capes that go down the back of them, ultimately covering your neck. The Sun Runner Cap is the perfect example of this it has a cape the cinches up in the front to cover your neck from the sun.
The Sunday Afternoons Adventure Hat is the classic trail hat with colossal visor and long neck cape that makes you look like you've just walked out of the Sahara. We've discovered the paradox that ultimately the more protective a hat is, the less stylish it will be. We think the Editors' Choice award winner the Sunday Afternoon Ultra Adventure has the optimal balance of high sun protection but you can still pull it off without feeling too ridiculous.
While all competitors have 50+ UPF ratings, contenders like the Columbia Bora Bora Booney II or the Sunday Afternoons Adventure have mesh that could allow the wearer to be more prone to sun burns through the mesh. Models that have a way to secure to your head, which means they'll stay on in the wind, are also essential for protection. We like the Sunday Afternoons Adventure Hat's comfortable webbing cinch around our head, and it also comes with a chin strap. All of the models we tested, except the Arc'teryx Sinsola, have a way to attach the hat to your head. The Sinsola was the most stylish hat in the bunch. The Outdoor Research Sombriolet has a removable chin strap so you can remove it for a lower dork factor if it is not needed. Brims that will stay down in the wind are also important; The North Face Horizon Brimmer - Women's brim flipped up immediately when we were sea kayaking and exposed our face to the sun and reflection from the water. That hat is meant more for tranquil lounging in sheltered areas.
2 Alternatives: Hooded Shirts or a Buff With a Cap
We have two favorite alternatives when backpacking or hiking:
1) Use a hooded sun shirt and a baseball style cap (photo below left). You get full neck protection and some extra warmth. The downside is poor ventilation around the neck and the sun can still hit your face at certain angles (as shown in the photo).
2) Take a BUFF and tuck it under a cap (photo below right). This allows for pretty good ventilation and is basically the budget DIY version of the OR Sun Runner. The downside is there is less protection for the neck, especially if your shirt does not have a collar. It's debatable if either of these options is better or worse looking than a traditional model.
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 Sunday Afternoons Ultra Adventure were the winners in this category, as well as the Arc'teryx Sinsola. We find that full brimmed competitors can be more uncomfortable, like the Outdoor Research Women's Oasis Sun Sombrero, as the stiffer brims tend to dig into our foreheads. The Sombriolet was an exception to this; because we had sized up, it was comfortably loose on us. Sizing is critical, and we make notes about any notable sizing things that came up with each contender in their reviews.
The lighter weight material the hat had, the more comfortable and wearable it was. The Sinsola, Ultra Adventure, and Sun Bucket were the lightest in the review and also the most comfortable. The latter two models also had decent wicking materials to keep our heads cool and dry which added to their comfort. Out of the full brimmed hats, The North Face Horizon Brimmer was the most comfortable after the Sombriolet.
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.
Some hats, like the Tilley LTM6 Airflo and the Columbia Bora Bora Booney II had large mesh panels that allow air to move through and cool through convection. Some hats have materials with breathable/wicking materials, but no vents like the Outdoor Research Sun Bucket and the Oasis Sun Sombrero. The best models have both ample ventilation and are made with breathable fabrics so that your head can stay cool on hot days. These competitors are the Sunday Afternoons Ultra Adventure, Sunday Afternoons Adventure Hat, and the Outdoor Research Sombriolet.
We were a bit disappointed with the Outdoor Research Sun Runner Cap, as the neck cape tended to trap warm air in when the front chin strap was done up, causing our necks to get hot. We also noticed the cape partially covered the mesh ventilation. The Women's Oasis Sun Sombrero, the women's version of the Sombriolet, disappointingly had no vents - compared to the four that the Sombriolet has.
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's crown is covered in mesh ventilation, which helps you stay cool.
A high quality, durable hat will last you a lifetime and maintain your 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 can be tossed around carelessly without worry.
The worst can't even be crushed and fall apart at the seams over a short time. We tested the durability of each hat by crushing it in a small ziplock bag for 30 minutes and seeing how they fared. The Tilley LTM6 Airflo bounced back immediately and showed no signs of being crushed. Tilley's hats come with a lifetime guarantee and are always an ideal choice if you're after a high level of durability. We were pleasantly surprised by the Ultra Adventure's foldable brim, which made it much more durable and packable than the Sunday Afternoons Adventure Hat. The Adventure Hat can only be packed flat, and when the brim is folded, it gets permanent creases in it. The Sun Runner and Sun Bucket are also very durable, packable hats that we can stuff in our packs and take anywhere.
We also looked out for hats that show stains. The cream-colored Adventure Hat definitely showed dirt quickly, but we like its clever webbing band over the forehead that disguises sweat stains. We also noticed The North Face Horizon Brimmer - Women's dark garnet red color starting to show some dirt. Hat colors are tricky; you want them to hide stains, but don't want them to be too dark as to attract more sun and heat. We discovered that the Arc'teryx Sinsola's black color was quickly faded by the sun, decreasing its points in durability.
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 odd shaped or sized capes.
Usually, the more protective a hat is, the less stylish it is, so you will have to decide for yourself as to how much protection to sacrifice so that you look good. Make sure the hat is stylish enough that you will wear it. So, if it's too dorky for you ever to want to wear, even if it's what you're looking for in protection, don't buy it. All the hats with capes: the Ultra Adventure, Sun Runner and Adventure, lost style points. Three stood out in this category; the Tilley LTM6 is ideal if you're into Indiana Jones or want a pretty classic looking model. If you buy a Tilley, you'll be in an exclusive secret club and start receiving the "Tilley Nod" from other Tilley owners.
The Arc'teryx Sinsola was the least functional performance wise but looked the best, and we liked wearing it around town - although we're not crazy about the color black for a sun hat. Third, we loved The North Face Horizon Brimmer. This sizeable brimmed contender had great style for hanging out at the beach or in the garden. We also prefer when hats have a large selection of colors to choose, from like the Sun Runner and Oasis Sun Sombrero. We were particularly fond of the Sun Runner's purple color!
Make sure the hat you choose comfortable and you know you will rock it on the trail or lake. Look for the ones with biggest brims and longest capes. The most comfortable ones have soft, lightweight materials that keep you cool and are easy to wear. The Editors' Choice winner, the Sunday Afternoons Ultra Adventure Hat, meets all these criteria. If you're looking for a good deal and excellent performance, check out the Sun Runner.
We hope we have been able to help you narrow down your top choices to find your perfect sun protecting hat. 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.
— Jessica Haist
Still not sure? Take a look at our buying advice article for more info.