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What Your Paddling Hat Says About You

Updated: Mar 29, 2019

Backcountry adventures that include canoeing, kayaking, hiking and camping need good equipment, beginning with the hat on your head. 


Photo by Jim Olver

The hat you wear says volumes about your favorite pastime. My clothing and gear are an extension of me. I like things that are capable, competent, reliable and make me feel good and look good. What more can you ask from any piece of gear, especially a hat?


Fifteen years ago I was searching for a hat sturdy enough for hiking, paddling, camping and trekking in the backcountry and stylish enough to wear in town. I wanted a hat that would serve me both winter and summer and that would wear well so I would not have to replace it every year.

I'm still wearing that same Tilley hat I bought way back then, and it still looks good, fits perfectly and continues doing the things a good hat should do. 


Two things led me to the Tilley hats made in Canada.

First, there was the story going around at the time about elephant trainer Michael Hackenberger at the Bowmanville (Ontario) Zoo who had his Tilley hat snatched from his head and eaten by an elephant. Three times. 

Each time Mr. Hackenberger would find the hat, wash it, shake it back into shape and continue wearing it. His story is one reason the Tilley brand claims they make their hats sturdy so they return to shape after crushing and cleaning.


The second quote that caught my interest was because the Tilley hats have a foam insert in the crown that helps them float. I thought that would be a useful trait in whitewater and wind. This led one customer to remark, ¨I’m probably the first person ever to walk across the Sahara Desert wearing an unsinkable hat¨. 


Hats are more than a protection for our head, they are a part of our personality, too. They speak of backcountry adventure and fun. Each of us has a favorite style, and certain companies serve different genres. For example, the Stetson speaks of cowboys, quarter horses and cattle drives. The Australian Outback speaks of ¨G´day Mate¨ and The Man From Snowy River. And for us paddlers the Tilley hat has that upscale gentleman’s way of saying Canoe Country in understated elegance. 


Baseball caps are favorites among outdoors persons because they are cheap and they offer at least a minimal shade for the eyes and face. But, hats do much more than that. With the wide brim all the way around they give protection from sun and rain for face, eyes, ears and neck. 

Tilley hats are water resistant and fast drying, fending off spring showers and surviving dunking in whitewater rapids. Jusy shake the water off and wear it.

The foam block in the crown's top aids flotation and provides a shock absorber for your head when you hit low-hanging limbs on the trail.

The wide brim is useful for starting campfires, fanning the kindling until it flares. The underside of the brim is a dark green that resists glare from the water. 

The tie straps for both front and back, like a state trooper's hat, keep the hat from flying off forward or backward in high winds. 

The wide brim not only gives shelter from sun and rain but stays firm and does not fold up in the wind. It holds the mosquito net away from my skin so the insects can´t bite through the fabric. 

This photo shows the Sea to Summit Mosquito Head Net.


I occasionally spray the head net, Tilley hat and my clothing with Sawyer Permethrin insect repellant.


For added sun protection I use SPF-34 Beyond Coastal sun screen cream that is water-resistent and hypo-allergenic. 

The Tilley crown has a sturdy sweatband to keep sweat out of my eyes on hard portages and the rain-resistant ventilation strip around the top of the crown allows my head to breathe.

There is a compartment for the foam block that floats the hat and another compartment for carrying passport or credit cards or car keys. You can write your name and phone number with indelible ink on the name card in the crown. I sewed a felt pad on the crown for parking fly-fishing flies.

Another of my favorite hats is the Seattle Sombrero made by Outdoor Research.

It is fast drying nylon with a Gore-Tex membrane to make it waterproof and the foam stiffened floating brim resists folding up in the wind. 

Adjust the headband to fit your head with a velcro strip in the back of the crown. The Seattle Sombrero is not a very stylish hat for wearing to town, but it works well for paddling and camping. 


Andy is the author of Five Hundred Miles to the Sea and administrator of the Facebook groups Adventure Canoe and Kayak Camping. He is chief paddling officer at AndyLeeOutdoors.com.


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