All too often, hikers and backpackers are apt to fret over the “biggies” of their backcountry arsenal—boots, backpack, pants, jackets, etc—and forget about the rest of it. These gear items are important, granted. However, certain less-lauded components of your kit can have a huge impact on your time on the trails, too. And none more so than the hiking hat…
How to Choose The Best Hiking Hat
The hiking hat’s most basic function is to provide protection against the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays. To determine how well your hat can do this, look at its Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) rating, a scale that tells how much UV radiation it allows to reach your skin.
Standard UPF ratings range from 30 to 50+. A UPF 50 rating indicates that one-fiftieth (2%) of UV radiation will penetrate the hat’s fabric.
Fabrics with the best UPF ratings typically use tightly woven fibers that prevent light from seeping through. These are mostly made with polyester and nylon and are often lined with a Gore-Tex (or similar) membrane to make them impermeable to both sunlight and water.
Cotton also has decent UV-blocking properties. Due to its high absorbency rate, however, it offers little in the way of moisture control and therefore is not the best bet for your hat, socks or any other item of clothing, especially in warm conditions.
Fit and Brim
Getting the right fit is of the essence if you want a functional and practical hat. If the hat’s too loose, the slightest gust of wind will blow it off your dome. And if it’s too tight, headaches and all kinda discomfort await.
To avoid either of these suboptimal eventualities, we recommend paying particular attention to sizing when buying or opting for a hat that can be adjusted with cords, cinches, Velcro, or hook-and-loop closures.
The brim is the part of the hat responsible for shielding your eyes, neck, and face from the sun’s rays. Ideally, it should be at least 2.5 inches wide and use reinforced materials at the front. This feature prevents the fabric flapping in your eyes (no fun at the best of times, and—speaking from experience—downright dangerous while you’re on the move!).
The best style of hat for your needs will ultimately depend on where and when you plan on wearing it and the kind of hiking you plan on doing.
Full-coverage hats with wider brims (like boonies, bush hats, and fedora or legionnaire-style hats) provide the best protection from the sun. As such, they’re ideal for warmer climates and trips when you’ll be exposed to the sun for longer durations.
Low-profile models like baseball or trucker caps, conversely, offer far less protection but are great for trail running because they don’t have wobbly brims that might impede visibility.
For most hikers, the ideal hat is one that offers the best of both worlds. That means: ample coverage in combination with a stiffer brim that won’t flop in your eyes when moving fast or traveling in rougher terrain.
The rather generic term of this type of hat is “sun hat”, though this is a bit of an umbrella term and encompasses a wide range of styles and specs.
Although the features found in sun hats vary vastly, however, most are highly breathable, well-ventilated, and quick-drying. These attributes encourage dome-cooling airflow while also staving off the accumulation of sweat.
The Best Hiking Hats Reviewed
With all of the above considerations in mind, we’ve actually tested a lot of hats in our time on the trails. We’ve put together a list of some of our favorites. While this is by no means a complete list of the top hiking hats in the market, none of these will disappoint for certain needs.
Filson Summer Packer
For hikers who prefer a splash of style, the Filson Summer Packer is a shoo-in for your shortlist. This fedora-style hat is Indiana Jones-esque in appearance but is probably a lot more functional than the model worn by the world’s most famous fictional adventurer. It packs the maximum UPF 50+ protection rating, is lightweight (8 oz.), and can be squished down into a tiny, highly packable bundle.
While the brim on this one’s a bit on the short side (2.25”), it comes with an optional, Legionnaire-style “cape” to maximize nape coverage and is a good option for buyers who want face protection without sacrificing visibility. The Packer’s all-cotton construction, however, does mean it’s more likely to wet out with sweat in warm temps than models made with Nylon or polyester.
Most of the hats we cover in our top lists are best for summer months. It is extremely important to have a warm hat in winter. Beanies are generally the warmest, most comfortable, and are great use cases in winter months, high elevation hikes, or when you are just in cold regions.
Look for a hat made of wicking materials. This generally means avoiding cotton. Or you can just carry a backup given how compact they are. Look for materials like wool, or synthetics meant to be for sweat wicking. Beanies are generally inexpensive, super comfortable, and available from nearly every company.
Tenth Street Trailer Hat
This hat is super comfortable, features a 3 inch brim, UPF50+, chin chord, and breathable material which makes this a great option for warmer weather scenarios. This hat can easily be collapsed down into a small space and stuffed into a bag to be used later. In addition to this, it is simply a good looking hat.
The lacing system on this hat is ideal for comfort and easy storage. It is also available in a few neutral color options, making it suitable for most people’s tastes.
Mountain Hardwear Canyon Wide Brim Hat
On our list is the Mountain Hardwear wide brim bush hat, which offers UPF 50 sun protection and boasts a lightweight, water-resistant, and sturdy closed-cell construction. This hat also has mesh vents on the sides for added ventilation, while the light nylon fabric breathes well when you’re working up a sweat.
Although this one sits a little higher on the head than other hats in our review, if you like a shallower fit or have a smaller dome, it’s a winner!
Outdoor Research Sombriolet
For hiking in sultry, sweaty conditions, there are few better hats out there than OR’s Sombriolet. The Sombriolet is one of the most well-ventilated hats on the market. This is mainly thanks to its use of ventilation panels and mesh inserts in the crown, both of which help to keep air circulating and maximize moisture control.
The polyester and heavy nylon fabric blend also makes this hat tough and impressively durable, while the stiff material in the oversize brim (4” at the front and back, 3.25” at the sides) means it’s a standout both as regards sun protection and flop-free functionality.
Arc’teryx is a popular brand that produces some of the best technical apparel available. And this hat is no exemption. The Sinsolo offers UPF 50+ protection, decent weather-resistance, and great durability.
But where this hat really excels is its versatility. It uses a bucket-style design, a laminated brim, and nicely flexible, stretchy materials that help to ensure the perfect fit and all-day comfort no matter what your outdoor activity.
Being a bucket hat, the Sinsolo does offer less coverage than other options in our review. That said, it’s still a great pick for buyers who prefer a lower-profile brim and who are happy to throw a bandana under their hat for added protection when the sun’s at its fiercest.
Sunday Afternoons Adventure Hat
If you prioritize protection over all else, the Sunday Afternoons Adventure Hat could well become your go-to for sunny-day adventures. This hat combines a UPF 50+ rating with a 3.75”, angled brim and a 7.25”, legionnaire-style neck cape to all but ensure your dome, neck, ears, and face are suitably shielded from the sun.
While a little, eh, dorky looking, this one’s a winner for those who place function higher than fashion on their list of pre-purchase criteria.
The North Face GTX Hiker Hat
This hat is fully waterproof but breathes just about as well as any other hat on our list thanks to its use of a waterproof-breathable Gore-Tex membrane. It also features a high-wicking elastic sweatband to keep your sweat out of your eyes, a stiff enough brim to prevent in-the-face flapping, and is made with 100% polyester fabric that provides enough stretch for easy fitting.
Tilley LTM6 Airflo
The hardwearing Tilley LTM6 Airflo is a hat that’s built to last a lifetime. It’s constructed with 100% nylon fabric and uses a water-resistant coating to fend off the worst of any airborne H20. Together, these make it more trail-ready and resistant to wear and tear than just about any other hat we’ve ever had the pleasure of dropping on our heads.
Other nice features include a closed-cell foam insert that allows it to float if dropped in water, a 3/4″ mesh ring around the crown for added ventilation, and a UPF 50+ rating. All these non-standard add-ons mean that, although it’s pricey, this is a high-performing hat that’s ideal for just about any kind of adventure.
Sunday Afternoons Ultra Adventure
The SA Ultra Adventure is the more trail-ready and versatile sibling of the SA Adventure Hat featured above. While boasting a similar design, the Ultra is a little more streamlined, using a 3.5-inch brim and a 6-inch cape for sun protection around the nape of the neck.
This hat also uses a patented Sunglass Lock system to keep your specs in place, darker fabric under the brim to reduce glare, and a webbing-style cinch that ensures a perfect fit for your head. The Ultra also offers almost peerless breathability and ventilation, has a UPF 50+ rating, and boasts a moisture-wicking sweatband around the crown for added comfort.
Columbia Bora Bora Booney II
The Bora Bora Booney II offers outstanding warm-weather performance. It combines Columbia’s patented Omni-Wick sweatband with UPF 50 sun protection and extensive mesh paneling. This trifecta of features helps to keep your head cool and also means the hat will dry in next to no time if you happen to get it wet.
This one has a slightly floppier brim than other models in our review, but the recompense for this minor failing is enhanced packability and the option of storing the hat in a pocket when not in use.
REI Co-op Screeline Cap
This hat boasts a rather lowly UPF 30 sun rating and lacks side and rear coverage. However, it’s still a good option for peeps hiking in less extreme temps or trail runners. And, of course, buyers who aren’t too keen on the slightly claustrophobic coverage of models with more extensive brims.
Max DesMarais is the founder of Hiking & Fishing. He has a passion for the outdoors and sharing experiences with others. Max is a published author for various outdoor websites and digital marketing websites. You can read more about him here: hikingandfishing/about