Gear Guy

Is a straw hat practical for backpacking?

What is the best hat for summer backpacking? Cotton baseball hats are too hot, too sweaty; synthetic caps are a little cooler. But how about a straw hat? In particular, the L.L. Bean Summer Straw Hat that supposedly folds up and packs easily? By the way, your reviews are probably more useful and readable than all the others. Congratulations, and thanks! Marshall Atlanta, Georgia

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Thank you for the compliment. But what, exactly, do you mean by “probably more useful”? Your hesitant qualification undermines the full import of the words that follow. Did you rewrite this passage several times, toying with words like “possibly” and “perchance” and “retroactively”?

I digress. (But I do appreciate the thought.)

Now, hats. You live in Georgia, a hot place. A hot, humid place. If I may be candid, too, a hot, humid, slightly ugly place. There’s Stone Mountain, but then what? That said, I agree with you about baseball caps. They’re way, way too hot. I like synthetic baseball-type caps, such as the Outdoor Research Kalahari Cap ($25;, made with a light nylon fabric that breathes well and dries quickly. Patagonia’s Bimini ($30; is another good, light sun hat.

As for a straw hat? Sure, why not. That’s what straw hats were designed for in the first place: they blocked the sun, ventilated well, and looked groovy. The Bean Summer Straw hat ($44; is an updated take on the traditional straw hat, and as you note is designed to be folded up and packed. So from that perspective,I’m sure it works great. Of course, the brim—which extends all the way around the hat—could get in the way during some activities (backpacking comes to mind). And the hat comes in pre-set sizes, so adjusting for a tight, wind-resisting fit may be difficult. Plus, Bean has only small and medium sizes in stock, so there’s that. Take a look as well at the Sun Precautions Ultra Straw Hat ($58;, which has additional sun-blocking fabric under the brim. It’s probably pretty packable, too.

Thanks for reading—really!

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