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 to sun protection above and beyond the simple ball cap. We outline these below.
This category is what you may think of as your traditional sun hat. These can come in all sorts of materials, from straw to felt, and brim sizes, from barely-there to ginormous. The majority of the hats in this review are made of synthetic materials like nylon to make them more breathable and moisture-wicking, as well as with UPF-rated materials mean to guard your skin. The brim widths of the hats we tested range from 2.4" to 4". The broader the brim, the more protective the hat, 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 a cape-style hat (see below) because a wide back brim will bump into your backpack.
- Filson Summer Packer
- Outdoor Research Sombriolet
- Outdoor Research Ghost
- Outdoor Research Helios
- Outdoor Research Women's Oasis Sun Sombrero
- Outdoor Research Sun Bucket
- Outdoor Research Ferrosi
- KUHL Sun Blade
- REI Co-op Paddler's
- Arc'teryx Sinsola
- 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 that covers the back of your neck. We have discovered that this style of hat offers the most effective protection from the sun because even when the sun is low in the sky, the cape covers your neck. Cape-style hats are great for backpacking because there is no back brim to get in the pack's 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 Ultra Adventure Hat
- Sunday Afternoons Adventure Hat
These models are trendy because they're cheap, available everywhere, and stylish. The drawback to ball caps is that they do not provide excellent coverage. Your ears, your neck, and the sides 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 that being able to pull a hood up to protect our necks when climbing works well and saves sunscreen. Be sure to choose one that is light and airy so you'll wear it, even on sunny days.
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" options 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 determine the right size to order using each manufacturer'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 to get the measurement. Throughout our reviews, we did our best to note when a hat runs large or small, and especially whether it's adjustable. Sun hats can be uncomfortable to wear if they're too tight and annoyingly shifty if they're too loose, so getting the sizing right is important, especially for technical use.
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 and will heat up your head more than the lighter options. We've also noticed that dark colors fade in the sun more quickly. Conversely, light colors like whites, beiges, creams, and light blues will keep your head cooler and fade less. However, these colors tend to show dirt, so if you know you'll be 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, which we considered in our review, from most important to least.
Sun hats are great for protecting your skin from the sun's harmful UV (ultraviolet radiation) rays 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 or 50+. UPF is 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 98 percent. Anything above that, including 50+, blocks more than 98 percent.
Many of the hats we tested have mesh ventilation on the sides. This decreases 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 sun protection is your number one priority, you should consider a cape-style hat. As noted above, hats with neck capes will protect you better than full-brim options because the cape covers your neck, so the changing angle of the sun doesn't affect coverage. The downside is that these hats are less stylish and can occasionally feel uncomfortably hot, so you'll need to decide if you'll actually wear a cape-style hat. The most protective hat is the one you'll wear!
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. An ill-fitting hat can either give you endless headaches if it's too small, or will feel loose and unstable if it's too big. 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) provided by each hat. How much visibility you have when wearing each hat significantly affects your comfort because with poor visibility, you wont be able to enjoy your surroundings. Worse, 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. We've noted in each individual review if a hat has visibility issues.
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'll want to choose a hat with good ventilation throughout the crown. Ventilation typically comes in the form of eyelet vents or mesh paneling. Mesh paneling generally provides the best cooling ventilation, but well-placed eyelet vents can do a lot to promote airflow. Check our individual reviews for our recommendations here.
A good sun hat will stick with you for many years and throughout many adventures. Again, the likelihood of a hat to hold up over time depends on how you'll plan to use it. If you're just looking for a hat to wear around town or on the beach, you don't need to find an extremely durable, rugged option. If you know you'll never have to pack your hat into luggage, then you can worry less about crushability. But if you're going to be shoving your hat into a gritty pack again and again, then you'll definitely want to emphasize this metric and find a hat that can hold up to abuse.
The most durable hats can be folded, rolled, or crushed into a pack, and generally bounce back into shape when worn. They're made of materials that won't snag or tear easily, and they're crafted with care so seams won't bust and fabric won't fray. We've noted throughout our individual reviews which hats can hold up to rugged use and which need to be babied to last.
Many sun hats are light in color since light colors reflect heat. When buying a sun hat remember that although a white hat 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 won't show as much.
Another key thing to look at is the material the sun hat 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 won't look like a total fool wearing it, unless of course you just don't care. Before purchasing, see if you can get another opinion; sometimes what looks good to you in the mirror might actually just be your wild imagination.