An outdoor enthusiast’s best friend is sometimes their hat. Good headwear keeps the sun off your head and neck, helps fight off black flies, bugs, and mosquitoes, and can keep you dry when it rains. People often overlook the need to buy a quality hat, but there is a huge difference between grabbing a $10 baseball cap and an article that was really built for being outside and active.
We were going to do a piece on fishing hats and another on hiking hats. As we began to write our reviews, however, it occurred to us that we would be recommending pretty much the same hats for both. A good quality hat is all-purpose, and will be the first one you reach for regardless of what you plan to do outside. That is why we condensed two articles into one. Buy the right hat, and it will be a great hiking hat AND a great part of your fly fishing gear (and you will find yourself using it for paddling, hunting, etc.)
Here are the hats and headwear that we are the biggest fans of and have been for a long time. No matter if you plan to use the hat for fishing, hiking, paddling, or anything else where you need to know that it will stand up to the elements, these are the “can’t go wrong” hats based on years of field and trail experience.
Tilley Endurable LTM Airflo
Best All Around.
Tilley is our favorite hat maker, bar none. Their hats somehow appeal both to people who demand comfort as well as those who demand toughness. We have personally used many Tilley hats and have never been disappointed.
Our top choic right now is the LTM Airflo. A perfect hat for warm and hot conditions, but also great when it cools off. It comes with Airflo technology which creates ventilation inside the hat while not compromising on the sun-blocking performance.
A wide brim all around does a great job of keeping the sun off the face and neck, and will help against black flies if you are in an area where they go for your head. A comfortable sweat band means that your face will stay dry even when working hard.
The Tilley hat is quite water-repellent, so it performs well in the rain. If you happen to dunk the hat into the water while fishing, it still wears well when wet and will dry to shape. It also floats in the water, a feature we have appreciated several times while canoeing and paddleboarding. If you take a serious paddling trip, you can always expect your hat to end up in the water a few times!
One of our favorite features of all Tilley hats is how practical they are. They are machine washable — that’s right, you can throw them in a washing machine and in a few hours your hat will be clean like new. You just need to be sure to let it air-dry on something that resembles a head so it keeps it shape well. You can also pack it tight in a suitcase, and with a little shaking after the trip it will retain its original form.
Columbia Bora Bora Booney Hat
Best on a Budget.
Columbia makes lots of great gear, from some of our favorite lightweight shirts to the best long underwear we’ve used. They don’t make many hats though, but one that has stood the test of time is the Bora Bora Booney hat.
What makes Columbia gear so appealing for the masses is that it doesn’t break the bank. A typical Columbia garment is going to be the least-expensive when compared to many of its peers. It might not be something that you pass down from generation to generation like a Filson, but it is accessible at most budget ranges.
The Bora Bora Booney hat is a great all-purpose hat, design for fishing but great for hiking and paddling as well. It has moisture-wicking fabric and a comfortable sweat band that allow for use even in the hot sun — which sometimes is exactly when you need it most. We like that the neck / chin strap has a clasp so you can make it shorter or longer as needed.
The lightweight build is aided by a mesh feature that allows for air flow inside the hat. The mesh also gives it a bit of contrast which provides a distinctive look.
Like the Tilley, the Bora Bora can roll up into a pocket or be jammed into a suitcase. Unlike the Tilley, it is not machine washable. You can hand wash it, though.
The brim, at about 3 inches, is a little narrower than the Tilley but is enough to keep most folks shaded quite well.
Filson Summer Packer Hat
Best Combination of Style and Toughness.
You can’t have a “best of” list for outdoor hats without having a Filson on it, and we chose the Summer Packer Hat because it is lighter than the Tin Cloth hats which are famous in their toughness. The Summer Packer Hat is quite tough as well though and shouldn’t be underestimated.
If we were expecting to get pelted with hail from the heavens, we would go with the tin cloth. But for the vast majority of people who need a hat in the stream, on the trail, or in the boat, the Summer Packer is the one to choose.
We have loved Filson gear, made by the iconic 120-year-old Seattle company, for years. When you buy something from them, you usually find yourself still using it 25 years later. Filson is quality. We have owned some Filson gear for a decade that still feels like we are breaking it in.
The Packer Hat is a lightweight, stylish option that is great anywhere. The brim is just under 3 inches wide, so a little narrower than both the Tilley and Columbia. Instead of a mesh design like some of the others, it has ventilating grommets for air flow. We find that the grommet design is surprisingly effective at cooling the inside of the hat, plus you don’t have to worry if the mesh is letting any UV Rays through.
It is made of Filson’s Shelter Cloth, a fabric which just might be the toughest of anyone on our list. This makes it functional after getting beat-up, and probably the most likely to withstand the occasional fish hook.
Like the Tilley, it is very practical. While it requires a light hand wash (no machine washing), you can throw it in a duffel or backpack and it will come out the other end looking great. Available in tan and green, this is the hat you could throw on with a sportcoat and it would not look entirely out of place. But it is also going to perform exceptionally well when you are climbing Pike’s Peak.
The brim is also stiffer than the other choices here. If you are annoyed by a hat whose brim can get a little floppy in the wind, you may want to go for the Filson.
Outdoor Research Sun Runner Cap
Best for Baseball Cap-Design
Outdoor Research has been making great gear since 1981. Founded in the Pacific Northwest, it comes from a long line of great manufacturers who call Washington and Oregon home.
The Sun Runner Cap is the one option on this list that is not a wide-brimmer hat. Rather, it has a baseball cap design, but with an important twist: it has a cape (sun skirt) that covers the back of the neck and side of the face for that all-important sun protection.
While we prefer the classic look and feel of a brimmed hat like the Tilley or Filson, we know plenty of people who are more comfortable with something that wears like a baseball cap. The sun skirt snaps-on, meaning that when you are not taking advantage of the full skirt, it will look and feel like a much more all-purpose cap. That is where the Sun Runner will appeal to many folks who plan to use to more like an everyday cap, but still want the benefit of a skirt.
The Sun Runner comes in 9 colors making it the cap on this list that has the most color options. It is also the one hat on this list that can fit comfortably under a bike helmet — so if your excursion includes wheels in addition to hiking or fishing, you may want to give it a serious look.
It is really personal preference. If you like a wide-brimmed hat, this is not the one. If you just feel better wearing the baseball cap design or need to wear it under a bike helmet, this is the option for you.
What to Look for in a Fishing or Hiking Hat
It might go without saying, but a hat that is not comfortable is a hat that you won’t use. Be sure to choose one that feels good, provides the coverage you want, and has a sweat band. The sweat band should be soft and hardly noticeable — after all, it is the one part of the hat that will be in contact with your head. If you get the hat and it feels a little too small or big, send it back for the right size. Don’t settle. You are better off slightly big than small — a hat that is even a tiny bit too small will give you headaches.
Sun protection is one of the main reasons to invest in a hat, so be sure it does a good job for you. Every option listed above provides enough of a brim or skirt to give you good coverage, but if you tend to not wear collared shirts or tend to forget sunscreen, then err on the side of a wider brim. The hat should also provide coverage for your ears, an oft-forgotten area that can really get burned in the wrong conditions.
Hats are great at providing sun protection, but equally useful when a rain storm surprises you. All of our suggestions can get wet and will keep the rain off you to some extent. Never settle for a hat that can’t get wet; they’re pointless. And hats that rely on too much mesh might be lighter to wear, but are useless in the rain. It doesn’t need to be completely waterproof, but if your first thought when it starts raining is that your had shouldn’t get wet, then you bought the wrong one.
You want to invest in a hat made of material that will be durable and reliable. Synthetics are usually good bets, and cotton and hemp can be good fabrics as long as they are constructed well.
Ease of Ownership
We prefer hats that allow you to not have to worry about them much. Hats that are washable, and can pack up into a jammed backpack or duffle and still look good are better in our book. Avoid hats with rigid wires in the structure — they will not travel well and are hard to clean.
Listen, we are not brand snobs., but in today’s world, there are many fly-by-night products on major online marketplaces that are made in far-flung parts of the world. They’re not really designed by people who know what they are doing, and they’re just trying to make a few bucks per hat. We have no interest in buying one that we will have to throw away after 6 months. he brands we list above are brands we can vouch for. They have been around for a long time they are only in business because their products perform. Like your tackle box or favorite fly fishing vest, you want to buy quality and then use it for a long time. You don’t want to end up with 3-4 in your closet because you just can’t find the one that works.
Don’t miss our related pieces on finding the right tackle box or our overview on the best fishing chairs for your next excursion.