How do you buy a sun hat? In this article, we will cover all the things to consider before you purchase this essential piece of clothing for any outdoor activity.
Types of Sun Hat
Lots of people think of ball caps and trucker hats as sun hats - which they are, but there are so many more levels you can take sun protection to above and beyond the simple ball cap. We outline these below.
This category is what one may think of as your traditional sun hat. These can come in all sorts of materials and brim sizes from straw to felt. The hats in this review are all of a synthetic material like nylon meant to be more high performing for breathability and wicking, as well as with UPF rated materials mean to guard your skin. The brim width of all the hats we tested range from 2.4" to 4". The broader the brim the more protective the hat will be, but also the more in the way the brim will be. If you are doing activities like backpacking you may want to consider a smaller brim or different style because the brim will bump into your backpack.
- Outdoor Research Sombriolet
- Outdoor Research Women's Oasis Sun Sombrero
- Outdoor Research Sun Bucket
- Outdoor Research Ferrosi
- The North Face Horizon Brimmer - Women's
- Columbia Bora Bora Booney
- Tilley LTM6 Airflo
- Conner Hats Men's Airflow Light Weight Recycled Outdoor Hat
This style of hat includes a brim in the front and a cape or drape of material the covers the back of your neck. We have discovered that this style of hat is the most effective protection from the sun and are great for backpacking because the brim doesn't get in the way. The drawback to this style of hat is that they are not very stylish and you may look silly - but you won't get skin cancer!
- Outdoor Research Sun Runner Cap
- Sunday Afternoons Adventure Hat
- Sunday Afternoons Ultra Adventure
These models are trendy because they're cheap, available everywhere and are stylish. The drawback to ball caps is that they do not provide excellent coverage. Your ears, neck, and side of your face will always be exposed to the sun. But, if a ball cap is all you're willing to wear, it's better than nothing. We've had good luck pairing ball caps with sun hoodies for extra protection when necessary. The only ball cap we tested was the Sun Runner Cap which comes with a detachable neck cape for extra protection.
These fall in the sun shirt category and are a great, versatile option, especially when you're partial to wearing trucker or ball caps. It is handy to wear a cap when climbing and we've discovered being able to pull a hood up to protect our neck when climbing works well and saves sunscreen. Be sure to choose one that is light and airy so you'll wear it.
A cap offers little neck and ear protection. However, if you add a Buff (aka Multifunction Headband) or a sun hoody, you can get as much protection (or more) as a standard sun hat. Either slide the buff under the hat or, for more ventilation, use safety pins to pin it up higher. You can also use a bandana instead of a Buff. Using a sun hoody + cap combo gives you the best ear and neck protection of any option. However, it can be much warmer and less ventilated than a wide-brim sun hat. See our sun shirt review for hoody recommendations.
As you can see in the photos above, the "buff under hat" and sun shirt + cap don't offer great protection when the sun is lower and from the side.
We've noticed that every manufacturer's sizing chart is slightly different. If you get an accurate measurement of your head, you should be able to convert it using each one's chart. To measure your head take a flexible tape measure and wrap it around the largest part of your head in the back and right over your eyebrows. If you don't have a flexible tape measure, you can use a piece of string and then lie it flat on a ruler for the measurement.
Sun hats come in a wide array of choices these days, and you'll want to be happy with the one you choose. Keep in mind that darker colors like black, dark brown, dark greys and reds attract heat more and will heat up your head. We've also noticed that dark colors fade in the sun more quickly. Conversely, light colors like whites, beiges, creams, and light blues, etc. will keep your head cooler and fade less noticeably. However, these colors tend to show dirt more so if you're planning on touching your brim with grubby hands or being rough on your hat you may want to consider something slightly darker.
Below we run through all the criteria you should consider when buying your new sun hat, from most important to least.
Sun hats are great for protecting your skin from the sun's harmful UV rays (ultraviolet radiation) and can save you the hassle of putting sunscreen on your face. All of the hats we tested have a UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor) rating of 50+. UPF ratings are a rating system that measures the amount of UV radiation admitted through fabrics. A UPF rating of 30+ blocks about 96 percent of UV radiation, while a UPF rating of 50+ blocks about 99 percent.
Many of the hats we tested have mesh ventilation on the sides which decrease the hats UPF rating but only by a small amount. This is because many companies rate the mesh fabric (without the holes) the same rating as the rest of the hat, leaving only a small portion of sunlight to break through the holes. This may be why Conner does not specify the UPF rating of their hat because it's crown is fully mesh, which we believe will let more sun get to your scalp.
When selecting a sun hat, you need to figure out what type of brim you want. There are very large brims that protect the largest area of skin; these are good if you are just hanging out and not moving around too much. There are bucket hats that usually have smaller brims for more active wear but less protection, and there are sloped brims that cover the selected area throughout the day as the sun drops or rises. The slope of the hat protects throughout this cycle. All of the hats we reviewed have darker material on the underside of the brim to protect from glare. This is especially important if you plan to be in or on the water or snow often.
If you get a hat that doesn't completely cover your head and shoulders, make sure you wear sunscreen on your exposed skin, so you don't get burned. It's better to put sunscreen on the parts that you think are protected, too, because sometimes when you turn your head, you expose unprotected skin to harmful UV radiation.
A very important thing to decide before buying a sun hat is what activity you are going to be wearing it for. If you are going to wear it climbing, then you might want one with a smaller brim so that when you look up the climb the hat doesn't hit your back and fall off. If you are going to wear it running then get a lightweight hat that breathes well and doesn't fly off in the wind. You also want to make sure your hat fits properly. A bad fitting hat can either give you endless headaches if it's too tight, or if it's too big will feel loose and unstable. So before you buy a sun hat, measure your head following the specific company sizing guidelines.
One other thing we mention when evaluating products in this metric is the visibility (or lack thereof) of each hat. How much visibility you have when wearing each hat significantly affects your comfort as you wont be able to enjoy your surroundings or if you're doing something technical it could affect your safety. Essentially, the wider the brim, the lower the visibility - especially if that brim flops over your eyes.
Wearing a sun hat on a hot day can cool you down, but it can also heat you up if it doesn't breathe very well. Breathable fabrics are used in most sun hats and will not overheat you unless you are doing physical activity. In this case, you want a hat with good ventilation on the sides.
A good sun hat will last you a lifetime and give you many reasons to tell your friends of adventures you've had with it. It will become more of a companion than just a hat and will make all of your friends jealous.
Many sun hats are light in color since light colors reflect heat. When buying a sun hat remember that a white one, although it may be the most effective, will get dirty and stained. So we suggest a hat that is easily washable or just a little bit darker, so the stains don't show as much.
Another key thing to look at is the material it is made of. If you buy a $10 straw hat from the gas station you will get what you pay for. We suggest a hat made from nylon or a similar material for its strength.
Style is important when buying anything, let alone a sun hat. So before you buy a sun hat make sure you don't look like a total fool wearing it, unless of course you just don't care. Before the purchase see if you can get another opinion; sometimes what looks good to you in the mirror might actually just be your wild imagination.