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After testing over 40 of the best sun hats over the last 9 years, we recently bought the 15 most promising for hands-on testing. Our experts then took them out in the world for testing. We took them backpacking in the Grand Canyon. We did less extreme activities, taking them on local hikes and generally just wearing them in the sun. Our side-by-tests were designed to determine which were best at keeping us protected and cool, and which were best when it came to comfort. After all the testing we can offer you choices that include outstanding performers, budget-friendly choices, the most stylish options, and the best pick for the water.
Brim Size: 3.75" front / 6" neck cape | Material: 100% nylon with 100% polyester mesh insets
REASONS TO BUY
Great protection all around, especially on the back
Lightweight material is good at wicking moisture
REASONS TO AVOID
Looks a little dorky
One of the top-performing sun hats across the board, especially for technical use, is the Sunday Afternoons Ultra Adventure. This hat provides incredible protection from the sun while remaining lightweight, comfortable, breathable, and super packable. We loved having this model with us on all our backpacking trips. Its down-sloping brim is substantial, and the long neck cape protects you from the intense alpine sun, even if it is a little dorky. It's also less likely to interfere with a backpack, which makes it a very comfortable choice. The brim can be folded in half and stuffed in your pack on the days you don't need it, too. It is loaded with surprising features, including a sunglass keeper and anti-glare material under the brim for when you're traveling on reflective surfaces like water or snow.
The only downside to this top performer: you may have to sacrifice your ego to rock this hat. The Ultra Adventure is not the most stylish of the bunch, and we thought the Arc'teryx Sinsola and Filson Summer Packer both looked better. But, this model has everything else you're looking for to stop the "Death Star" from frying your neck and face. From washing your car or gardening to sweltering desert hikes or summer kayak floats down your local creek, this hat has got you covered.
The Filson Summer Packer protected our skin, stole our hearts, and earned its place in the spotlight. With clean lines and classic fedora style, this is one of the most attractive hats we tested. But, it performs so much better than a simple fashion accessory. The Summer Packer is durable and breathable and holds up extremely well to being folded up and crushed inside a pack. The design of this hat also makes it more compatible with a backpack than the other full-brim hats we tested, so it's an option for backpacking trips with a large pack. This is one of the most comfortable models we tested. We could happily go all day without taking it off.
No hat is perfect. The Summer Packer's main downsides are that it's not adjustable (though it comes in five sizes), and it's not as protective as some of the other hats in our review, especially the cape-style hats. For the most technical outdoor pursuits, where you'll be spending long days in extreme conditions, this might not be the best option. That's why the Sunday Afternoons Ultra Adventure remains our favorite hat for technical use. But if you're looking for a durable, comfortable sun hat that can take you from the trail to the bar patio, the Filson Summer Packer is your best bet.
The Outdoor Research Sun Runner Cap is a versatile and protective model with an affordable price tag. The Sun Runner is essentially two hats for the price of one, which makes it a great value. This hat includes a removable "neck cape" — not the most stylish, but super great when you need extra protection from intense solar rays, like in the middle of the desert with nary a shade tree in sight. When you need less protection, remove the neck cape for a more hip look with better air circulation. We love this hat and its wide selection of colors.
Although the neck cape is super protective, it can limit air circulation around your neck and feel a bit clammy on hot days. If you're running, the air seems to circulate somewhat better — perhaps that's why Outdoor Research called it the Sun Runner rather than Sun Hiker.
For folks who want a great value but can't stomach a cape-style hat, The North Face Horizon Breeze Brimmer Hat is a fantastic budget buy. We love that this very comfortable hat has a full mesh crown, so it is very breathable. It is easier to wear with a backpack than the wider-brimmed models, too. We found that the Horizon Breeze Brimmer can take the abuse of being folded and crushed over and over. This is a hat we were happy to tuck into a bag or pack no matter what outdoor activity the day had in store, and as a bonus, it's one of the most affordable models we tested.
On the downside, the Horizon Breeze Brimmer has a narrower brim than some others we tested, so it doesn't offer quite as much sun protection as the Outdoor Research Sun Runner. And though it's very breathable and we loved the color, we found the brim to be very floppy on the Horizon Breeze Brimmer, which got in the way of a large backpack and our field of vision at times.
We love looking out over the water with this high-performing model. We took the Patagonia Baggies Brimmer across snowfields, rivers, and beyond. It kept the sun off our face while the anti-glare material under the brim reduced the water's glare. When the wind picked up, it stayed on our heads, and the brim didn't expose our face by flipping up or limit our vision by flopping in our eyes. This hat is very comfortable, and its sweatband kept our heads cool when the sun was baking down. It has great breathability, with vents on all sides of its crown that ensure constant airflow. It looks great, too. It is the most stylish of the high-performing full-brim models, and we felt comfortable wearing it around town.
The Baggies Brimmer has a long, 3.25-inch brim all the way around to protect your neck. Though this brim will hit a large backpack when backpacking, the brim will stay folded up or down, so it doesn't rub your pack all day. For activities where you don't wear a large pack, such as gardening or paddling, the Baggies Brimmer is a great choice.
While most of the hats in our review tend toward dorkiness, the Sunday Afternoons Islander Hat is stylish in a laid-back kind of way. This hat is a cross between a classic straw hat and a more western-style cowboy hat. This is one of the few hats in this review we thought looked good enough to wear around town. You could definitely wear this hat to casual outdoor events with a nice plaid shirt and some jeans. But style isn't the only place where this hat shines. It's also one of the most comfortable and breathable hats we tested. It doesn't pack down particularly small, but it can definitely handle being crushed into a suitcase or backpack. After it's been crushed, this hat regains its shape quickly, without so much as a crease.
While the Islander is a great all-around sun hat, it's not the best technical performer. This isn't a light hat, either. At 6.2 ounces, this is one of the heavier hats we reviewed. However, we found this hat to be extremely comfortable, even at this heavier weight. We didn't notice the weight when wearing this hat all day, but the gram counters out there may want to consider a different hat to bring on their next ultralight adventure. For those seeking a good-looking, comfortable, all-around great hat, we think this is an excellent choice.
We have been testing sun hats since 2013. In that period, we have tested over 40 hats. We test each of these hats in real-world scenarios, just as you would. We take them out hiking, on the water, on trail runs, and we taking them camping with us. We pack them in our backpacks and bring them with us while traveling.
We test each hat using the following five performance metrics:
This review is brought to you by GearLab Review Editors Sam Schild, Jessica Haist, and Joanna Trieger. Originally from the midwest, Sam moved to Colorado in 2012 after a 7,000 miles bike tour across the United States. A very active backpacker, Sam has thru-hiked the Pacific Crest Trail, Continental Divide Trail, Grand Enchantment Trail, and the Colorado trail twice. When he's not backpacking, Sam can be found trail running, rock climbing, camping, and peak bagging on the Colorado Front Range. With all these miles under the sun, Sam spends a lot of time considering ways to protect his face, neck, and ears.
From Canada originally, Jessica came to the US from her native Toronto and now resides in Mammoth Lakes, CA, where she avidly engages in several sunny outdoor pursuits, including climbing, backpacking, mountain biking, and skiing. She recently earned a Master's Degree in Adventure Education from Prescott College in Arizona and has worked all over the US as an outdoor educator and guide. Sun protection is imperative in the types of activities Jessica and her students engage in.
To review sun hats, we began by examining what is currently available on the market. We made an initial selection of over 40 hats before refining the group down to the top 15. We bought the hats and then put them to the test, with special care to evaluate the performance characteristics that our experience told us were the most important. We took them across the hot and exposed Kaibab Plateau, through high desert and burn areas with no protection from trees, and through the Grand Canyon, with plenty of UV rays to avoid. We crushed them inside our packs to test how well they resumed shape. And, we wore them on windy days to test the effectiveness of their brims in such conditions. The result is a comprehensive review that should serve you well in searching for a great sun hat.
Analysis and Test Results
The highest scoring hats all ranked highly 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. We'll also discuss what to look for when considering the value of your purchase. Keep in mind that, according to the American Cancer Society, the best sun protection is to stay out of the sun, especially from 10 am to 2 pm. For the times when you have to be outside, however, the right sun hat can offer substantial protection.
Sun hats are typically a fairly affordable piece of gear, yet they perform the priceless task of saving your skin from sun damage. Most of the models in this review fall into a similar price range, with the notable exceptions of the Filson Summer Packer and the Tilly LTM6 Airflo, which retail for significantly more. Although we loved both of these hats, we also highly recommend several options that are less than half the price of those two models. Standing out for great value are the North Face Horizon Breeze Brimmer, Outdoor Research Sun Runner, and Sunday Afternoons Islander for their excellent performance at a more affordable price. The other thing to keep in mind when considering the price is versatility. If you can use a hat for various activities, as is the case with the Filson Summer Packer, it may 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 sun hat in the first place. We traditionally think of sun hats as having wide, full brims but were surprised that the most effective types also include extra neck coverage.
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 to cover your neck. The OR Sun Runner Cap is the perfect example of this. It has a cape that 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 a colossal visor and a long neck cape that makes you look like you've just walked out of the Sahara. During our tests, we discovered the paradox that the more protective a hat is, generally the less stylish it will be. We think the Sunday Afternoons Ultra Adventure has the optimal level of sun protection, but you can still sport it without feeling too ridiculous.
The full-brim hats in our review are all less protective because they don't have capes that cover your neck. Since many folks prefer the look and feel of a full-brim hat, however, it's worth considering which of these is the most protective. We found that it depends on the activities you'll be pursuing. The Outdoor Research Sombriolet and Quiksilver Pierside Straw have some of the widest brims we tested, and for water sports or general activities like gardening, this will keep you most protected. However, wide brims can interfere with a loaded backpack. The near-constant jostling pushes wide-brim hats out of place and is majorly annoying for the wearer.
We recommend a hat with a narrower brim for backpackers, like the Filson Summer Packer, the Patagonia Baggies Brimmer, or the North Face Horizon Breeze Brimmer. These hats interfere less with a loaded pack, so there's less chance that they'll annoy you on the trail. This means you're more likely to actually wear them while trekking, which is always the most protective option.
While almost all competitors have 50+ UPF ratings, contenders like the Columbia Bora Bora Booney II have mesh in the crown area that could allow some sunlight through. Models that have a good way to secure them 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 have a way to attach the hat to your head. The Outdoor Research and North Face models have removable chin straps so you can lower the dork factor when the chin strap isn't needed. Brims that will stay in place when it's windy are also important. While the Patagonia Baggies Brimmer blew off our head in a large gust of wind, we loved how the foam toggle feels against our chin when you have to tighten it.
Two Alternatives: Hooded Sun Shirts or a Buff With a Cap
We're fond of two popular alternatives for sun protection 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 they could 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. A super comfortable hat, in contrast, you might want to wear even when it isn't sunny out.
The most comfortable hats are usually very soft internally and are very lightweight. Our favorite models, the Filson Summer Packer, the Sunday Afternoons Ultra Adventure, and the Patagonia Baggies Brimmer were top performers in this category. The stylish Sunday Afternoons Islander Hat was also a top performer in the comfort metric, though it isn't particularly lightweight.
We find that full-brimmed competitors can be more uncomfortable, like the Outdoor Research Women's Oasis Sun Sombrero because the stiffer brims tend to dig into our foreheads. The Baggies Brimmer was an exception to this. We found its soft sweatband made the brim not dig into our foreheads. The adjustable elastic cinch cord also made this hat exceptionally comfortable.
After the Baggies Brimmer, the Sombriolet was the most comfortable of the large, full-brimmed hats, but it tends to run a little small as well. This brings up an important point: sizing is critical. We sized up on the REI Co-op Sahara Path Hat.
The lighter weight material the hat is made of, the more comfortable and wearable it is. The Outdoor Research Helios, the Ultra Adventure, and the Outdoor Research Sun Bucket were the lightest in the review and also some of the most comfortable. The latter two models also have great wicking materials to keep our heads cool and dry, which added to their comfort.
One other factor we take into consideration is visibility. It is great to be fully protected from the sun, but if you can't see where you're going, it defeats the purpose. 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. Its 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, have the least visibility, and we would not recommend these for anything technical that you may need to look around a lot, such as ridge scrambling.
The OR Sun Runner provides some of the best sun protection with its built-in removable sun cape, but the wrap-around material can potentially limit your field of vision.
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 want a hat that not only protects you, but that allows the pent-up heat to escape.
One of the most breathable hats we tested were the Sunday Afternoons Ultra Adventure Hat and the North Face Horizon Breeze Brimmer. Its fabric breathes exceptionally well and has large mesh sections running along its sides. The Conner Airflow also has a completely mesh crown for great ventilation.
Some hats, like the Tilley LTM6 Airflo, have large mesh panels that allow air to move through and cool through circulation. Some hats have materials with breathable/wicking materials but no vents, like the Outdoor Research Helios and the Oasis Sun Sombrero.
The best models have ample ventilation and are made with breathable fabrics so that your head stays cool on hot days. These competitors are the Sunday Afternoons Ultra Adventure, Sunday Afternoons Adventure Hat, Outdoor Research Sombriolet, and Patagonia Baggies Brimmer. The Sunday Afternoons Islander is made of natural straw that's super breathable, and it has venting eyelets on the crown for added breathability. Filson Summer Packer didn't perform quite as well as these most breathable models, but it was close thanks to its breathable cotton material and eyelet vents.
We were a bit disappointed with the Outdoor Research Sun Runner Cap in this category because the neck cape tends to trap warm air when the front chin strap is done up, causing our necks to get hot. We also noticed that the cape partially covers the mesh ventilation. The Women's Oasis Sun Sombrero, the women's version of the Sombriolet, had disappointingly no vents, while the Sombriolet has four.
A high-quality, durable hat can potentially 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 and can be tossed around carelessly without worry.
The worst hats 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.
The Patagonia Baggies Brimmer has a very stout yet packable brim that keeps its form no matter how we packed it. We were pleasantly surprised by the Sunday Afternoons Ultra Adventure's foldable brim, making it much more durable and packable than the regular Adventure Hat. The Adventure Hat can only be packed flat, and when the brim is folded, it permanently creases.
The Filson Summer Packer performed really well here because it packs down small and any creases caused by packing shake out after a wear or two. The Sun Runner and Helios are also very durable, packable hats that we can stuff in our packs and take anywhere. The Conner Airflow immediately got bent out of shape after the ziplock bag test. We weren't able to bend its brim wire back into a shape that looked remotely correct. The Quiksilver Pierside Straw hat didn't even make it to the ziplock bag test, the straw began to fall apart while packed in a duffle bag on our way to Moab for some testing.
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 OR Sun Runner's white color collected dirt quickly. But that dirt washed out just as quickly. Hat colors are tricky. You want them to hide stains but don't want them to be too dark and attract more sun and heat.
Style can make or break your dignity, and 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 or odd-shaped capes.
Usually, the more protective a hat is, the less stylish it is, so you will have to decide for yourself how much protection to sacrifice so that you look good. Make sure the hat is stylish enough that you will wear it, though. Even if it's what you're looking for in protection, if it's too dorky for you ever to wear, then don't buy it. All the hats with capes — the Ultra Adventure, the Sun Runner, and the Adventure — inevitably lost style points. Keep in mind, though, that the Sun Runner's cape is removable for those times when you need to hide your post-hike matted hair on the brewery patio.
The Filson Summer Packer is super stylish. When we asked friends and family which hat they'd want to wear, many of them invariably picked this hat first. Both of these hats are classic, versatile, and look great on men and women alike.
The Tilley LTM6 is ideal if you're into Indiana Jones or want a classic-looking model. If you buy a Tilley, you also join an exclusive secret club and inevitably start receiving the "Tilley Nod" from other Tilley owners.
The Sunday Afternoons Islander Hat is another one of the best-looking hats we tested. If our friends didn't choose the Summer Packer as their favorite hat, they almost always chose this one. We think this hat is great for wearing around town on a summer day, on the beach, or even to casual outdoor parties.
Make sure the hat you choose is comfortable so that you'll be happy rocking it on the trail. Look for the ones with the biggest brims and longest capes for maximum protection from the sun, but make sure that you choose a compatible hat if you'll be wearing a large backpack. The most comfortable ones have soft, lightweight materials that keep you cool and are easy to wear. The Sunday Afternoons Ultra Adventure Hat and the Filson Summer Packer meet all these criteria, but each has its own key strengths. We hope this helps you narrow down your top choices to find your perfect sun protection hat.
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GearLab is founded on the principle of honest, objective, reviews. Our experts test thousands of products each year using thoughtful test plans that bring out key performance differences between competing products. And, to assure complete independence, we buy all the products we test ourselves. No cherry-picked units sent by manufacturers. No sponsored content. No ads. Just real, honest, side-by-side testing and comparison.