Beanies, Visors, Hats: How to choose the best headwear

Your hat (or, to be more precise, headwear) is the most important piece of gear you don’t really think about. It’s well known that you lose most of your heat through the top of your head, but what you wear on top of it can do much more than keep you toasty. Your headgear protects from wind, sun and rain. It’s the best layering item you can carry—immediately effective and easy to put on and take off. It’s a much more technical piece of gear than many people think.

So what to look for when you purchase headwear? To start, you need the right tool for the job. Different materials and constructions protect against different conditions—the same hat that’s a lifesaver alpine climbing in Alaska may not be as effective hiking in the Rockies.

Our headwear is all designed for intense use and built with performance fabrics. All Outdoor Research headwear has a technical story of some kind. And thus, we think about it in categories—wind, thermal, rain, sun and expedition. In each, the fabrics and construction match the activity.

Outdoor Research Wind category headwear can be used for anything from skiing to hiking. As the name would imply, it protects you from the wind, because it integrates wind-blocking fabric such as W.L. Gore WINDSTOPPER® fabric mapped into key areas—for example, around the ears and the forehead. Not only does this block wind, it also adds warmth. Take the Storm Beanie™, built with 30 percent wool and 70 percent acrylic, which gives it warmth, as well as a WINDSTOPPER® Technical Fleece lining, which will both help it breathe and ward off the worst of the weather.

Thermal headwear is first and foremost about staying toasty in cold temperatures. Again, Outdoor Research does this with innovative material choices. The City Limits Beanie™, for example, is built with drirelease® Wool, a blend of merino wool and polyester. The fibers of the two materials are woven together, which combines the best of both—the beanie is warm, light and wicks away sweat. It’s ideal for everything from snowshoe jaunts with the dogs to skiing backcountry laps.

Rain headgear is where you will find full protection from precipitation. These hats use the same type of waterproof/breathable membrane protection you would find in a jacket or tent to keep the weather out and still allow sweat to escape. A crowd-pleaser that has become a standby in the line, the Seattle Sombrero™, is built with seam-taped, three-layer GORE-TEX® fabric. Rain hats are ideal for long backpacking or paddling trips—times when you don’t necessarily want to wear a hood for long hours.

Sun headwear is key in the desert or even on hot summer days. And it’s especially important up in the high peaks where harmful UV radiation is stronger. It won’t provide as much protection from precipitation but a hat like the Sombriolet™ is key for short- and long-term protection from the deleterious effects of that big disc in the sky. The SunShower Sombrero™ converts from sun hat to rain hat with a waterproof Pertex® Shield cover. Many Outdoor Research hats with brims also feature a unique half-folding brim that allows you to tuck the hat into a pack or your pocket without damaging it.

Expedition headgear provides the highest level of protection for big trips and extended time out in nasty weather. Take the new Transcendent Beanie™. Like a sleeping bag for your head, it’s built with 650+ power fill down wrapped in layers of nylon. It’s light and packs down into a tiny pocket, smaller than an energy bar, making it a possible lifesaver if conditions go south in a hurry.

Many hats in the Outdoor Research line, like the Hat for All Seasons™, defy category. Part sun-hat, part ball cap, wind-blocking and thermal, this one lives up to its name.

So, consider where you’re going, what conditions you’re likely to encounter and what the most extreme conditions you might come across are. Let that inform your choice.