• Leon Pantenburg | Survival Common Sense


How important is a hat in your hot weather survival gear?

300 225 Survival Common Sense Blog | Emergency Preparedness

An often overlooked piece of  hot weather survival gear is a hat. Here is how to pick one that may help save you from heat stroke.

by Leon Pantenburg

Sedona, Arizona June 2024: It was heat dome hot. Brutal, baking hot. Sunstroke hot. Lay in front of the fan hot. The desert has temperatures in the triple digits anyway, and the heat dome made it worse.

It was not a good time to be hiking in the desert. But our vacation had been planned months earlier, and at the time, nobody really anticipated another stretch of really hot weather. Here is how heat can kill you.

The water rolled rocks in the desert show this area has flash floods

The water-rolled rocks in the desert show this area has flash floods.

In Sedona, my wife Debbie and our Lab Naga headed out from the trailheads shortly after dawn, and we hiked until about noon. As we were coming out, the crowds were heading in.

We saw people slather themselves with sunscreen. (One guy stripped down to his gym shorts, put on sunscreen and headed up the mountain.) While sunscreen may keep you from burning, it doesn’t shield you from the heat. Some hikers had no head coverings at all.

Many people view headgear as style-driven and a hat may be an afterthought. But a person loses about 10 percent of their body heat through their head. Conversely, a lot of heat can be transferred to the rest of the body through an uncovered head.

Leon Pantenburg

A broad-brimmed hat can keep rain, snow or sun off your head and neck.

Everybody should wear a hat outdoors, IMHO. My overall favorite hat is a fedora-style, either in wool or some hot weather material such as straw or poly mesh.

Here are several things I look for in a hot weather hat:

Wide brim: The brim should be fairly stiff and shelter your ears, neck and face. I like a three-to-four-inch width.  A much wider brim may feel too cumbersome. A floppy brim is not a good idea – the brim will fold wherever it wants to, and that may reduce coverage.

Light color: Dark colors absorb heat, and lighter colors tend to reflect the sunlight. Possibly the worst color choice for a sun hat is black.

This sun hat did its job.

Good ventilation: I like mesh sides on a sun hat. The mesh allows air to flow, causing the internal moisture to evaporate and cool the head.

High crown: The old cowboy ten-gallon hats had considerable  internal space from the top of the head to the top of the hat. This dead air space served as insulation from heat and cold. You don’t want a crown that rests on the top of your head – it will more readily transmit heat.

Chin strap: A sudden gust of wind can snatch a hat right off your head. On a river or mountain, those sudden unexpected gusts may come up with no warning.

Appropriate material: The material has to breathe. A waterproof sun hat is a really bad idea – the material will hold in sweat, and it will feel like you’re wearing a plastic bag on your head.

These hats are popular, but not the best choice for sun and heat protection:

Baseball-style caps:

I have several of these, and always keep one in my pickup. The most-popular hat style in the United States is the baseball or trucker-style cap. More than 80 percent of all hats sold in the United States are of this style. (FYI: Babe Ruth’s baseball cap sold for $380,000! He used to put a cabbage leaf under it to reduce the heat!)

On my 1980 end-to-end canoe voyage of the Mississippi River, I wore an Iowa State University trucker cap. The wind on the river made that a pretty good choice, and I had a lot of hair for protection.

1980, Helena, Arkansas: My ISU baseball cap was not the most efficient sun hat on my Mississippi River canoe trip.

But these baseball caps only shade your eyes and offer little to no protection from rain or sun on your face. Hunt or hike in the rain wearing one, and you’ll learn how uncomfortable it is to have water running down your neck.

Besides, on guys like me with a big, square head, they can look dorky. My hiking partner, John Nerness of Los Gatos, Calif. has a small head. Any baseball cap he wears looks like it was designed for him. If looks are important, make sure the baseball caps work for you. And look around for one that is sized for your head.

Bucket hats: These are the short-brimmed, floppy hats like Gilligan wore, and they are not much good. The brim is too short to shield your eyes from the sun’s glare, but they do shade your ears. They are probably a little better than a baseball cap, but not by much.

Gilligan wore a Boonie style hat.

Gilligan wore a bucket style hat.

So what is the best sun hat for you? Well, if you read this far you know my opinions! A sun hat is one of those articles of apparel you don’t want to scrimp on. Think about where you will be wearing the hat, the extreme conditions you might encounter and what looks good on you. An unattractive hat will get left at the trailhead or in the hotel room and do you no good at all.

So here we are – again – at that old, mossy cliché saying that is so true: Your survival gear has to work for you!

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For more survival information, please check out my book “Bushcraft Basics.”




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