After testing 40 of the best sun hats over the last 9 years, we know that some do their job better than others. In this 2020 update, we bought the most promising 17 for hand-on tests. Our expert testers then wore them in locations ranging from deserts to mountain peaks and on the water, plus other landscapes where the sun was an issue. Our side-by-tests were designed to determine which were best at keeping us cool and protected, and which were best when it came to comfort. After all the testing we can offer you choices that include two outstanding performers, budget-friendly choices, options more stylish than others and the best pick for water sports.
The Best Sun Hats
Editor's Choice for All-Around Use
Filson Summer Packer
The Filson Summer Packer protected our skin, stole our hearts, and earned a place in the spotlight as one of our two Editor's Choice winners. With its 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 holds up extremely well to being folded up and crushed into a pack, and it's durable and breathable. The design of this hat makes it more compatible with a backpack than the other full-brim hats we tested, so it's an option for multi-day trips in the backcountry. This is also one of the most comfortable models we tested, so much so that we could go all day without taking it off.
No hat is perfect, and 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 of 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 Editors' Choice 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.
Read review: Filson Summer Packer
Editor's Choice for Technical Use
Sunday Afternoons Ultra Adventure
One of the top-performing sun hats across the board, especially for technical use, is the Sunday Afternoons Ultra Adventure. It has incredible protection from the sun and is lightweight and breathable as well as comfortable and super packable. We loved having this model with us on all our backpacking trips. Its 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 anti-glare material under the brim for when you're traveling on water or snow that reflects 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 it. Needless to say, the Ultra Adventure is not the most stylish of the bunch, and we thought the Arc'teryx Sinsola and Filson Summer Packer 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
Best Buy: Cape-Style
Outdoor Research Sun Runner Cap
This versatile, protective model is a great choice at a great value. With the Outdoor Research Sun Runner, you essentially get two hats for the price of one: The more protective, although less stylish, version is with the Sun Runner's "neck cape", which is great to wear when you really need extra protection from intense sun, like when you're up in the mountains or paddling on reflective water. Then, remove the cape for better air circulation and a more stylish although less protective cap. We love the Sun Runner and its 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
Best Buy: Full-Brim
Outdoor Research Helios
For folks who want a great value but can't stomach a cape-style hat, the Outdoor Research Helios is a fantastic budget buy. We love that this super comfortable model is easier to wear with a backpack than the wider-brimmed models we tested, and that it 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 held for us, and as a bonus, it's one of the least expensive models we tested.
On the downside, the Helios has a fairly narrow brim, so it won't protect you from the sun quite as well as its co-Best Buy awardee, the Outdoor Research Sun Runner. And though it's very lightweight, there are no vents or mesh panels in the Helios's crown, which means it could be too hot for wearers who like a lot of airflow.
Read review: Outdoor Research Helios
Best 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
Best for Feminine Style
While most of the hats in our review tend toward dorkiness, the Arc'teryx Sinsola is sleek and stylish. This female-specific hat gives off an Audrey Hepburn vibe, and we feel it would even be classy enough to wear to a casual outdoor wedding. It's also super comfortable, and it packs down to nothing so it can be permanently stored in a bag or purse. Even after being crushed, this hat pops right back into shape with nary a crease in sight.
While stylish, the Sinsola is not a great technical performer. Its brim has a very specific curved shape that makes it hard to look around and take in the view while hiking, especially when wearing a pack. It's not at all adjustable, so it doesn't perform well in wind, and it has very little ventilation. Users who are looking for a hat that will keep them protected deep into the backcountry should look elsewhere.
Read review: Arc'teryx Sinsola
Why You Should Trust Us
This review is brought to you by OutdoorGearLab Review Editors Jessica Haist and Joanna Trieger. From Canada originally, Jessica came to the US from her native Toronto and now resides in Mammoth Lakes, CA, where she avidly engages in a number of 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. Joanna is an avid outdoor enthusiast who traded her California roots for the high and dry climate of Reno, NV five years ago. Between cycling, skiing, hiking, backpacking, and running, Joanna travels nearly 4,000 miles per year under her own steam. She has a passion for long hikes, having recently completed England's Coast to Coast walk and the Overland Track in Tasmania, Australia. All of this adds up to a lot of time in the sun and a major emphasis on sun protection.
To review sun hats, we began by studying what was currently available in the market. We made an initial selection of over 40 hats before further refining the group to the top 17. We ordered the hats and then put them to the test, with special care to evaluate performance metrics that our experience told us were paramount. We took them to places like Joshua Tree, Yosemite, Tahoe, and the sunny East Bay, with plenty of UV rays to shield. We crushed them into sealable bags to test how well they resumed shape after being packed into tight quarters and wore them on windy days to test the effectiveness of their brims in such conditions. The result is a comprehensive review that will be an asset if you are starting your search for a great sun hat.
Related: How We Tested Sun Hats
Analysis and Test Results
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. Keep in mind that, according to the American Cancer Society, the best sun protection is to stay out of the sun, especially from 10-2PM. But for those times you have to be outside, the right sun hat can offer needed protection.
Related: Buying Advice for Sun Hats
Sun hats are a fairly affordable purchase, and you could say they are priceless if they save your skin from sun damage. Most of the models in this review ranged between $30 and $50. Two notable exceptions are the Filson Summer Packer and the Tilly LTM6 Airflo, which retail for significantly more. While we loved both of these hats, we also highly recommend 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 other option to consider with price is versatility; if you can use a hat for a variety of activities, as is the case with the Filson Summer Packer, 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.
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, 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 a colossal visor and a 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 for Technical Use, the Sunday Afternoons Ultra Adventure, has the optimal balance of high sun protection, but you can still pull it off without feeling too ridiculous.
Because they don't have capes that cover your neck, the full-brim hats in our review were all less protective than the cape-style hats. However, since many folks prefer the look and feel of a full-brim hat, it's worth considering which of these are most protective. This really depends on the activities you'll be pursuing. The Outdoor Research Sombriolet, our Top Pick for Paddling, has one of the widest brims we tested, and for water sports or general activities like gardening, this will keep you most protected. However, the Sombriolet's wide back brim interferes with a loaded backpack, pushing the hat out of place and majorly annoying the wearer. For backpackers, we'd actually recommend a hat with a narrower brim, like the Filson Summer Packer or the Outdoor Research Helios. These hats interfere less with a loaded pack, so there's less chance that they'll annoy you. This means that they will stay on your head 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 and the KUHL Sun Blade 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 have a way to attach the hat to your head. The Outdoor Research models have removable chin straps so you can lower the dork factor if the chin strap 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. Our co-Editors' Choice awardees, the Filson Summer Packer and the Sunday Afternoons Ultra Adventure, were top performers in this category, as well as our Top Pick for Feminine Style, 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. The Conner Airflow was surprisingly small and needs to be sized up, and the Outdoor Research Ghost also needs to be sized up because tucking away its rain flap affects the size of the hat.
The lighter weight material the hat is made of, the more comfortable and wearable it is. The Sinsola, Helios, 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. 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 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. The Sinsola also fell down in this category because its brim dips right in front of your eyes, obscuring the view.
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 KUHL Sun Blade, have 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 Helios 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. The 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, 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, while the Sombriolet has four.
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 Arc'teryx Sinsola and 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 Filson Summer Packer performed really well here, because it packs down small and the light creases in the brim after being packed 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 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. This was also the case with the KUHL Sun Blade.
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.
The Filson Summer Packer, our Editor's Choice for All-Around Use, is super stylish. When we asked friends and family which hat they'd want to wear, they invariably picked the Summer Packer first. It's classic, versatile, and looks great on men and women alike.
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 is the least functional performance-wise but looks the best, and we liked wearing it around town — although we're not crazy about the color black for a sun hat. We feel like this female-specific model would look great at a casual wedding, but it also looks awesome with a t-shirt and shorts for a light hike.
Finally, 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, the Helios, and the Oasis Sun Sombrero. We were particularly fond of the Sun Runner's purple color!
Make sure the hat you choose is comfortable and that you'll be happy rocking it on the trail or water. Look for the ones with biggest brims and longest capes for maximum protection from the sun, but make sure that if you'll be wearing a large backpack, you choose a compatible hat. The most comfortable ones have soft, lightweight materials that keep you cool and are easy to wear. Our two Editors' Choice winners, the Sunday Afternoons Ultra Adventure Hat and the Filson Summer Packer, meet all these criteria but each has their own key strengths, the Filson for style and all-around wear and the Ultra Adventure for technical use. If you're looking for a good deal and excellent performance, check out the cape-style Sun Runner or the full-brim Helios.
We hope this helps you narrow down your top choices to find your perfect sun protecting hat.
— Jessica Haist and Joanna Trieger