We set out to find the best sun hats for hiking, water sports and the general outdoors. We scoured the web and researched over 40 models. We then ordered up the top 12 to test one after the other. We wore them across a range of environments and locales, from hot desert landscapes to high alpine peaks, with some water use in between. Our side-by-side tests helped us figure out which ones were the most comfortable to wear and which were the best for keeping us cool and protected. We've summed up our findings below and have several recommendations, including an overall high performer and the best option for paddling.
The Best Sun Hats
|Price||$42.00 at REI|
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|$26.73 at REI|
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|$23.14 at Backcountry|
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|$26.73 at REI|
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|$25.71 at Backcountry|
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|Pros||Lightweight, durable, good sun protection||Good protection, comfortable, good in wind, breathable||Total protection, removable cape, good in the wind, good value||Great protection all around, especially on the back; brim is angled for longer protection, good ventilation, comfortable||Looks good, good sun protection|
|Cons||Not super stylish||Less durable than Tilley, not great for backpacking||Looks a little funny, can get hot on the back of your neck||Not stylish, brim is not crushable, shows stains easily||Less color selections, not breathable, need to size up|
|Bottom Line||The Ultra Adventure wins our Editors' Choice for being the highest performing, most versatile hat of the bunch.||Good protection from the sun and excellent wind performance makes this a great choice for days spent out on the water.||This super protective hat is versatile and an excellent value, winning our Best Buy Award. It lacks in the style department.||This hat has great coverage and is a good choice for any sunny activity, although it is quite dorky looking.||This cute women's sun hat fell short in the comfort and breathability categories.|
|Rating Categories||Ultra Adventure||Sombriolet||Sun Runner Cap||Adventure Hat||Oasis Sun Sombrero|
|Specs||Ultra Adventure||Sombriolet||Sun Runner Cap||Adventure Hat||Oasis Sun Sombrero|
|Weight (ounces)||2.46 oz||2.64 oz||2.82 oz||2.64 oz||3.2|
|Size of Brim (inches)||3.5", with 6" neck cape||4" front/back, 3.25" sides||2.75 brim, 7.25" neck cape||3.75", with 7.25" neck cape||3.25" front/sides, 4.5" back|
|Material||88% Nylon, 12% Polyester Dobby||86% nylon, 14% polyester double weave ripstop||100% Supplex nylon||100% nylon with 100% polyester mesh insets||86% nylon, 14% polyester double weave ripstop|
Our Favorite Hat
Sunday Afternoons Ultra Adventure
Hands down the top performer of all our selections was the Sunday Afternoons Ultra Adventure. It has incredible protection from the sun and is lightweight and breathable as well as comfortable and super-packable. This model is a high performing hat that we loved having with us on all our backpacking trips this summer. It's substantial down-sloping brim and long (although somewhat dorky) neck cape protects you from the intense alpine sun and works well with backpacks to make a very comfortable choice. The brim can be folded in half and stuffed in your pack on the days you don't need it. It is packed with surprising features including a sunglass keeper and material under the brim that is anti-glare for when you're traveling on water or snow that reflect back at you.
The only downside to this top performer is that you'll have to sacrifice a bit of style and potentially bite back your ego to rock this sun blocker. Needless to say, the Ultra Adventure is not the most stylish of the bunch, and we thought the Arc'teryx Sinsola and The North Face Horizon Brimmer looked better on. But, this model has everything else you're looking for to stop the "Death Star" from frying your face and neck. From washing your car or gardening to sweltering desert hikes or summer kayak floats down your local creek, this hat (quite literally) has got you covered.
Read review: Sunday Afternoons Ultra Adventure
Inexpensive and High Scoring
Outdoor Research Sun Runner Cap
This versatile, protective model is a great choice at a great value. The Outdoor Research Sun Runner Cap retails for $36 and you essentially get 2 hats for one. First the more protective although less stylish version is with the Sun Runner's "neck cape" that is great to wear during times that you really need that extra protection from intense sun, like when you're up in the mountains or paddling on the reflective water. Then remove the cape for better air circulation and a more stylish although less protective cap. We love the Sun Runner Cap and it's selection of colors.
The neck cape is super protective but can sometimes feel a little clammy on hot days and limits air circulation around your neck. If you're running, the air seems to get circulating a little bit better, perhaps that's why OR named it the Sun Runner and not hiker.
Read review: Outdoor Research Sun Runner Cap
Top Pick for Paddling
Outdoor Research Sombriolet
We loved being out on the water with this high performing model. We took the Outdoor Research Sombriolet out in sailboats and kayaks and it kept the sun off our face and helped with the glare off the surface of the water because it has an anti-glare material under the brim. It stayed on our heads when the wind picked up and the brim did not expose our face by flipping up, or limit our vision by flopping in our eyes. It has good breathability, with vents on all sides of its crown allowing for air flow. The crown has a comfortable sweatband and fits true to size. This hat looks pretty good too. It is the least awkward looking of the high performing full-brim models and we felt comfortable wearing it around town.
The Sombriolet has a very long, 4" brim in the back, great for keeping the sun off your neck, but not a great choice for backpacking as it will hit your backpack annoyingly. For other activities that you're not wearing a pack like gardening or paddling, the Sombriolet is a great choice and wins our Top Pick Award.
Read review: Outdoor Research Sombriolet
Tilley LTM6 Airflo
The Tilley LTM6 Airflo was one of the few models we casually wore around town. We wore it to the market and different events around town this summer. It's stylish in a classic sense, not the more modern narrow brim look. Our past style winners have had that more modern look but this year we limited the review to more protective hats.
The is one of the heavier and bulkier hats we tested. It doesn't easily collapse into a bag. If you have a larger head, you might have trouble sizing this. Lastly, it's one of the more expensive hats in our review.
Read review: Tilley LTM6 Airflo
Analysis and Test Results
The rating table above paints a picture of where each hat in our review ranked in overall performance. The highest scoring hats ranked well in the Protection and Comfort categories, the most important metrics in our tests. In the rest of our review, we'll go over the different test metrics that we used and let you know which models stood out in each one. We'll also discuss what to look for when considering the value of your purchase.
Sun hats are a fairly affordable purchase, and you could say they are a priceless one if they save your skin from sun damage. Most of the models in this review ranged between $30 and $50. The one outlier was the Tilly LTM6 Airflo, which retails for $90. Just because it was the most expensive option didn't make it the best model though. In fact, we preferred several options that were less than half the price of the Airflo, although we would choose the high quality Tilley hat and its lifetime guarantee over the knockoff Conner Hats model for sure. The chart below shows you the price of each option compared to its score, and hats that lie on the lower right side have a great value. The other option to consider with price is its versatility; if you can use a hat for a variety of activities, it will have a greater value in the long run.
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 that 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 the front and back of 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 our Editors' Choice award winner, the Sunday Afternoons Ultra Adventure, has the optimal balance of high sun protection, but you can still pull it off without feeling too ridiculous.
While almost all competitors have 50+ UPF ratings, contenders like the Columbia Bora Bora Booney II or the Conner Hats Men's Airflow Light Weight Recycled Outdoor Hat have mesh in the crown area 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'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. The Outdoor Research Ferrosi also has a very floppy brim that will blow up or down, also limiting your vision.
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 sun hat, but may suit your needs better.
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 Conner Airflow was surprisingly small and needs to be sized up.
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. The North Face Horizon Brimmer was the most comfortable after the Sombriolet of the large, full-brimmed hats.
One other factor we take into consideration is visibility. It is great to be totally protected from the sun, but if you can't see where you're going that defeats the point. Depending on what activity you're doing, you're going to want to have the proper visibility. The Ultra Adventure has a great blend of good coverage and visibility. It's large front brim shades your face, but the tapered sides and neck cape allow for you to look around more. We found the large full brims, especially the floppier ones like the Ferrosi and the Horizon Brimmer to have the least visibility and we would not recommend these for anything technical that you may need to look around a lot for like scrambling.
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 Conner Airflow 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 in this category, 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 above, 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. The Conner Airflow also has a completely mesh crown for great ventilation.
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. The Conner Aiflow became immediately bent out of shape after the ziplock bag test and we could not bend its brim wire back into a shape that looked remotely correct.
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'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 choice 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 wide brimmed model 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 water. Look for the ones with biggest brims and longest capes for maximum protection from the sun. 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 and is a great balance of protection, comfort and performance. If you're looking for a good deal and excellent performance, check out the Sun Runner.
We hope this helps 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