What’s the best way to protect yourself from the sun while hiking? Not a question I lingered over during my career outdoors in the Canadian Rockies. But after keeping surgeons on both sides of the Great Divide amused last winter removing lesions from a lifetime of sun exposure, I decided it was time to cover up. (What’s that old adage about closing the barn door after the horse…?)
While the use of sunscreen (SPF 30 or higher) should be the rule for noses and ears, it can be less effective and a nuisance on faces, necks and other body parts when you’re sweating up and down on trails all day. That’s why I concentrated on sun headwear when I was looking for protection this summer.
Outdoor Research has a reputation for producing innovative, quality headwear with a good range of sizes (no one-size-fits-all nonsense). While I haven’t hidden from the sun much, I was an early customer for OR’s Seattle Sombrero, which has kept rain off my head for over 20 years. And since OR hats are well rated and sold everywhere in western Canada, I focussed most of my attention on that brand.
Outdoor Research Sombriolet. After reading numerous reviews and trying on hats galore, I settled on the Sombriolet. It was one of the few sun hats I found in my required x-large size (though it was a tiny bit loose, a toggle-cord on the back snugged it up perfectly). I’m not a fan of floppy brimmed hats, but the Sombriolet’s brim is fairly rigid and stays nicely in shape under most conditions. It is very light and well-ventilated, unlike cotton-based models, and the extra wide brim provides protection for head, face, ears and neck. It has an adjustable chin strap, but I can’t imagine using it except in the most extreme winds. Cons: While the brim holds its shape most of the time, stiff winds on a high ridge had it flopping up and down (see below).
Outdoor Research Sun Runner. Another highly rated OR sun hat, though one that tends to lose points due to its eccentric appearance (remember all those old French Foreign Legion movies?). On a recent hike that climbed 670 m over 3 km, I started the ascent wearing an OR Sun Runner. But the adjustable neck cape around my face held in the heat and created a sweaty, claustrophobic environment. I quickly abandoned it for the Sombriolet, which was perfect for the climb. However, when we topped out on the 2500-m summit, the brim of the Sombriolet started blowing up in the wind and my head became chilled. I switched back to the Sun Runner and pulled the neck cape up tight around my face, which was quite cozy and offered protection from both sun and wind. The neck cape can be removed to provide an excellent, well-ventilated cap, but then you’ve lost most of your sun protection.
So there you have it. There are dozens of sun hats on the market that will shelter you from UV rays, and each one has pros and cons. These two will be my go-to hats for the rest of the season thanks to comfortable fit, adjustability and effective protection. And in the crowded field of brimmed hats, I prefer the looks of the Sombriolet and its excellent ventilation.
One last tidbit concerning head protection from sun and wind: I always carry a versatile neck gaiter with me as extra insurance (see below).