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Slap On a Hat

Tips for choosing a great bushwalking hat

Broad brim hats protect the face and neck from the sun. The brim blocks UV and gives shelter from precipitation. Broad brim hats are comfortable and effective sun protection, and should be worn on all bushwalks at all times.

Hats come in many shapes and sizes, with different ways to help secure them. Some sizes, shapes and fabrics are better at providing protection than others.

Consider the following when selecting a bushwalking hat.

Size and shape
Peaked caps give minimal protection to the face and none to the ears or the neck. Broad brim hats give the best protection. As a rough guide, a 10-centimetre brim should give good protection to the head. This must be balanced against visibility by the user – some brims can obscure parts of the user’s vision, particularly peripheral vision. Hats should be loosely fitted to avoid discomfort and headaches, but not so loose that they fall off easily.

Denser fabrics such as cotton, linen and hemp, polyester, nylon, spandex and polypropylene tend to have superior UV protection. Old or worn fabric is less likely to protect from UV. Thinner materials can their UV protection boosted with nanoparticle additives.

Natural fibres like cotton, linen and hemp are heavier than lightweight synthetics like polyester, nylon, spandex and polypropylene. Select lighter materials if the user has neck or shoulder issues that wearing heavier materials will aggravate.

Other features
A strap is useful for holding the hat in place in windy conditions or in scrub. Some hats have mesh sections to help evaporate sweat and keep the user cool. However, mesh can expose the skin to direct UV. Better to keep cool by periodically wetting the hat with water if passing close to a water source. Insect repellent mesh is sometimes built into the hat. This is useful in areas with high infestations of flies or mosquitoes but can be quite uncomfortable to use for long periods of time because it’s hard to see and breath through the mesh. Hats with side-flaps can sometimes be as effective.

In summary, a broad brim hat made from dense fabric offers the best sun protection to the head but isn’t necessarily the most practical option on a bushwalk. Lighter hats are easier to stow and are more comfortable, but users should avoid extended periods of exposure.