Updated: Apr 26, 2022
Hats are important when we travel. The right hat will protect us from the elements and be somewhat attractive. Travel hats need to be able to withstand abuse as they are squished into bags. They need to be comfortable, hard to lose, and easy to wear and carry.
Of the many hats I have had travelling some have been gleefully abandoned, some fell apart from abuse, a few have disappeared and one was left on a Croatian bus (and is still deeply mourned). Some were chosen for fashion, but most were selected for function. I now have developed criteria for a good travel hat.
Classic Cowboy Hat This early choice was a good sturdy felt hat that held up well to the constant drizzle of the Oregon coast. I bent the brim in many different shapes as peeks of the sun made their way through the mist. The wind didn't move it but it could have benefited from a neck strap when I wanted to push it off my head to take photos. (I use a DSLR and the viewfinder). The lack of ventilation makes this style best for cooler climates.
This style screams "TOURIST" outside of North America.. well really, the USA. ... and Calgary during Stampede. It can't be squished into packs and can be a nuisance when it isn't on your head. When removed, it needs to be stashed so it doesn't get squished -- often out of sight-- so therefore this style has a high "losability" score. My camera's pop-up auto flash would bump into the brim. I donated it when I moved into a smaller place. I won't replace it.
Wide Brimmed Sun Hat
Another early choice, this wide-brimmed sun hat was excellent in the blinding sun providing excellent shade on my face. The polyester straw material gave ventilation and "squishability". A neck strap improved the design by allowing me to hang it from my neck when needed. Black wasn't the best choice of colour and I often had a sweaty head. Stylistically, I felt like it was more glam than me. After six weeks of European summer travel, being shoved into pockets and backpacks, being soaked in fountains, and being generally abused, I handed it to a gleeful fellow traveller at the end of my trip.
Toques for Travel
In cold locations, a toque (knit cap) is needed. I took a homemade toque made of synthetic yarn to Iceland but quickly realized I needed Icelandic wool. Icelandic wool is unique because it contains two different types of hair that provide protection from wet and cold. This keeps my head dry and cozy. I took it to Peru and I wear it at home in the winter. The downside is the lack of a brim. In dreary wet weather, I like to keep the drips off my face and spectacles.
Ball Cap Style for Travellers
This style is really not a favourite of mine. It ends up looking like a JiffyPop pan when I stuff my hair inside, the brim only shades my eyes, and I'm usually forced to choose between ventilation or scalp protection when looking at fabrics. One of my hot climate tricks is to soak my hat and scarf in water periodically throughout the day. Many ball caps have cardboard brim inserts that disintegrate when soaked. This particular hat came with a piece of fabric that could be snapped on to protect the neck. I never used it. The quick-dry fabric was both a blessing and a curse. Other fabrics tend to lose their shape pretty quickly after multiple dunkings. Squishability on the main portion of a cap is pretty high, and they lie flat when packed. They can be clipped on a strap easily, so I'm less likely to leave them behind. I lost this one when a strong wind grabbed it and threw it into a canal in Amsterdam.... my fault, I didn't use the neck strap provided.
Up, up, and away on a hot air balloon ride, Morocco
Another strong contender in the cold weather category is this sturdy plaid wool cloche-newsboy style hat, bought in Ireland about 6 years ago. The low brim keeps the rain off my face, covers my ears, and the wool keeps my head warm and dry. I like the colours of this one and wear it often through the fall and winter. It has a very high squishability rating and hasn't lost its shape despite many washings. It's not affected by wind and I have yet to lose it! Bonus points for the gorgeous colours.
Special mention goes to The Hat. This hat first appeared when I travelled with students. I'm short and they needed to be able to spot me in a crowd, so I bought the hat. As I travelled, I added pins. It travelled with me through 9 countries and over 30 cities. I left it on a bus in Croatia. Upon contact, the driver assured me it was in the station in Zagreb, under my name. I made desperate attempts to retrieve it, even after I got home. A good friend even visited the Zagreb bus station to try and retrieve it weeks later. By this point, it had disappeared, without a trace. I am still sad and hope the person who took it gets fleas in uncomfortable places.
Final Verdict for Best Female Travel Hat Style
So what's my verdict? For a cold climate, I want something made of wool that I can pull low over my ears. I prefer a small brim but warmth and water resistance are greater priorities. The Newsboy style is my winner. In hot weather, I want a hat that has good ventilation, a wide brim, and can handle a lot of abuse. It either needs to be able to withstand multiple soakings or be very lightweight fabric.
This has been my hat of choice for the last few years. It has an adjustable wide brim that can be reconfigured with snaps. It can cover the face, ears and neck, has a long neck strap/hard to lose, is lightweight, immensely squishable, and has good ventilation. An added feature is that the inside rim is cotton terry cloth which absorbs sweat.
What do you think? What makes a travel hat a winner for you? or... do you not even bother with hats? How important is fashionability? I'm curious what criteria others use when selecting travel hats.
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