Gear review: Hats

Whilst the urban myth that most of our body heat is lost through our head was debunked by scientists in the winter of 2008 (don’t let your kids see this), a warm hat remains an essential item of equipment for hillwalkers in Scotland all year round. Even in the height of summer the Cairngorm plateau can be a pretty inhospitable place; when the wind picks up and from October to April I’ll generally carry a spare hat in case of loss; a balaclava is a good option for the coldest weather. As with all items of outdoor equipment there are some decidedly outlandish designs out there, but the helmet-compatible, unpretentious and simple beanie remains my favoured design.  Lightweight, packable and often one-size-fits-all, in this article I’m going to look at a few variations on this apparently simple design as well as a couple of alternatives for beanie-haters.

Rab Logo BeanieRRP £15

Hang around walkers and climbers for long enough and chances are you’ll come across one of these hats. Far from just a statement of brand loyalty, the double layer knitted synthetic outer manages to foil the wind and an internal fleece headband keeps thing comfortable. The length is just right to cover my ears and the supplied size – 56cm – is snug enough to dispel the worry of  your £15 investment blowing off. There really is nothing more to say – it’s a beanie!

Material: Knitted Acrylic Weight: 60g

Montane Yukon BeanieRRP £18

I think this was sent to me by mistake – it’s most definitely part of Montane’s ‘fast and light’ range targeted at runners and the like (judging by the name perhaps participants in the insane Montane Yukon Arctic Ultra…). This explains the reflective detailing and sleek and streamlined fit, but not the fact that it doesn’t cover my earlobes. I want a winter hat to fully cover my ears and a decent portion of the back of my neck too. However – at 22g with a small packed size it’s a perfect spare hat to keep in a pack pocket or even to layer over. It’s great under a helmet, resists moisture for ages and dries fast as you’d expect from Polartec Power Dry. It’s a high quality performance hat that’ll appeal to fast movers rather than plodders.

Material: POLARTEC® Power Dry® Weight: 22g

Chocolate Fish Possum-Merino double-layer BeanieRRP £25

In total contrast to the athletic  shower-cap from Montane this double-layer beanie is pure unadulterated luxury. I’d suggest that few manufacturers are making use of possum in their garments, but judging by this hat they’re missing a trick. Merino-mongers Chocolate Fish Merino know their wool/possum, and have impeccable environmental credentials. Happy sheep or not, this is the warmest hat by far it’s also pretty unsophisticated, consisting of a sealed cylinder of fabric folded into itself with enough fabric left to form a generous turn-up and stretch down to the bottom of my neck. The lack of through-stitching prevents cold spots but can cause the two layers to move independently of each other. As you can see from the photo it’s really function over form and there is certainly an element of fisherman to the hat – though I suppose North Sea trawlermen  know a thing or two about keeping warm. Hmmm….

Material: 40% Possum 55% Merino 5% Nylon Weight: 65g

Finisterre Merino BeanieRRP £24

Better known for their apres-surfwear, Cornish brand Finisterre do form and function pretty well, and whilst the scruffy model on the left may not do it justice I can assure you that this hat looks great on someone with the appropriate nose and cheekbones. It’s a single layer of Australian merino wool knitted into a hat shape in the Scottish Borders so it doesn’t have the wind resistance of a non-knitted or double layer hat, but the tight weave foils moderate gusts. The gentle embrace of the ribbed knit keeps the beanie in place and it’s just long enough to cover my ears. In common with all merino garments it’ll absorb a fair amount of moisture before becoming saturated, and this means it’ll takes an age to dry naturally.

Material: 100% Merino wool Weight: 63g

Buy the Finisterre Merino Beanie direct from Finisterre

Icebreaker AC Mogul BeanieRRP £27

Another merino beanie, this time from the well-known Icebreaker brand. The AC Mogul is made from their thick winterweight 320g/m² fabric lined with what is effectively a further 220g/m²  beanie, and it’s a fairly typical, standard, average, moderate, normal merino beanie. It performs adequately for a wool hat and like the ubiquitous Icebreaker baselayers is the very definition of a safe buy unless a one-size-fits-all hat precludes you. It’s even brown.

Material: 98% Merino, 2% Elastane Weight: 63g

Extremities Boreas Windy TookRRP £29

Walkhighlands RecommendedQuite simply, this does everything I need a winter hat to do – it covers my ears and neck, keeps the wind out, packs down small, wicks and dries quickly – and that’s why this hat is Walkhighlands Recommended. I was concerned that the large seam would cause issues when wearing with a helmet, but it seems that the designers considered that and the hat fits nicely under my Petzl Ecrin Roc helmet. Extremities are a UK company with a huge range of hats (and gloves) and there is sure to be something to suit every taste, but I reckon this hat is almost perfect for the vast majority of Walkhighlands users. I say ‘almost’ as it’s certainly not cheap…

Material: POLARTEC® WIND PRO® Weight: 56g

Ussen Baltic HatRRP £12

Ussen primarily supply the military with a range of serious cold weather thermal underwear. There are two fabric weights in the range, a lightweight and packable polypropylene known as ‘Flight’ and  the heavier ‘Baltic’ fabric shown. The Flight hat is best for three-season use, but for serious cold weather the aptly-named double layer interlocked polypropylene Baltic fabric is my choice. In fact, it seems to be the choice of a significant proportion of the British Army – hence the olive marl colour of my sample –  though more civilian colours are available. As a UK manufacturer (all product are made in a UK factory) Ussen’s designers have first hand experience of dreich conditions, and this is reflected in a generous length and fast-drying wicking fabric. A truely functional product that seems to spend a lot of time in my rucksack at the moment, it’s also the cheapest featured at less than half the price of the Walkhighlands Recommended hat.

Material: Polypropylene Weight: 73g

Lowe Alpine Mountain CapRRP £30

It won’t go under helmet particularly well and it looks best if you have a beard, but the Lowe Alpine Mountain Cap is the classic hillwalking hat. I don’t find it as warm as a beanie or similar, consisting of a fleece liner beneath a waterproof breathable shell, but in foul shoulder season weather it’s a very good choice. The wired peak can save poor waterproof jacket hoods and can be secured out of the way thanks to a popper  – but why is one half of the fastening hidden under a fabric strip? A hook and loop strip at the rear adjusts the fit and a couple of loops on the ear flaps can accommodate a chin cord to facilitate a Sherlock Holmes impression. It’s hard not to like this hat, and for three season non-technical terrain this is the hat I find myself reaching for.

Material: TriplePoint® shell Weight: 77g

Buy the Lowe Alpine Mountain Cap at Cotswold OutdoorAmazon

Páramo Waterproof CapRRP £32

Páramo always manage to produce extremely functional garments that somehow seem to be deeply unfashionable. This waterproof baseball cap follows the trend by being a star performer in wet weather but looking a little silly in use. You can’t even redress the balance by wearing it back to front without bumping into things. Making use of the familiar Nikwax Analogy Directional Waterproof  fabric which mimics animal fur, moisture is actively pumped from the inside to the exterior face no matter the conditions. More a waterproof supplement than an insulation piece I find this hat best for the cold and wet British shoulder seasons.

Material: Nikwax Analogy® Weight: 78g

Do you agree with Phil’s review? Let us know by joining the discussion on the forum.

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