I like hats, and my collection often and properly earns me derision at the hands of M. Rather than deny the dorkiness inherent in this, I embrace it. I’ve de facto pared the collection down quite a bit lately, such that a mere five hats get regular use. They are pictured below, and a discussion of their respective strengths and weaknesses follows.
I sweat a lot in general, and from my head in particular. As such, I prefer light hats which wick and dry fast, and which layer well with a hood (such as that on my Boreas pull-on or Litespeed jacket). I find this approach to head layering to be a good way to regulate heat while out in the cold. These hats are light enough that carrying an extra is no big deal, and swapping a wet one for a dry is a good way to get a bit of warmth back after one too many face plants. I never go out this time of year with less than two hats, and most of the time I’ll have three.
BPL didn’t make many of the UL Merino beanies, and I’m glad I got one when the chance presented itself. It features the lightest merino fabric I’m aware of, 115 grams per square meter (most companies lightest weight merino is 150). Thus with this hat you get the moisture buffering properties of wool (the whole fiber is hydrophilic, thus moisture is dispersed throughout the whole fabric, which means fast wicking without the fast evaporation of polyester, which means you stay drier and warmer), without the sogginess of a wet hat. The best thing is the fit, this beanie is huge, and easily covers my ears all the way past the lobes with room left over for big hair when I’m so inclined.
The Smartwool cuffed beanie is the oldest hat pictured, and the warmest. It’s also the least used, and these last two attributes are connected. Most of the time it’s just too warm to be ideal. The fit is great, long and snug. Problem is that like many wool things, with use it gets saggy and loose, and the fit can only be restored by a good soaking rinse and air dry. Saggy hats drive me crazy. I think some polyester or nylon worked into the weave would sort those problems out. M, who generally runs much colder than me, likes hers a lot. Women like M with lots of long hair might do well to look at this hat, due to the generous size and stretch.
I bought the Charlie Toque last year after certain cold and rainy trip had me lamenting the soggy, scratchy, slow drying Smartwool hat. The Charlie is acrylic and spandex, and would pretty close to perfect if it were a bit longer. As is it tends to creep up and off during activity or while asleep. The pretty colors are a welcome touch. As with all things Arc’teryx: stupid expensive.
A Buff is an indispensable piece of gear, especially for winter. If can be used as a hat/headband (adjust the hole at the top larger for more venting) on the way up, then become a face shield on the way down. It’s the least warm hat listed here, and thus most likely to see year round use. I do wish it dried faster, I suspect the “100% microfiber” fabric has a high lycra content. I’m not sure if the requisite stretch could be achieved by just the mechanical aspect of a fabric weave, but a buff which dried like capilene 2 would be fantastic.
The Phaser Toque is the newest addition to the quiver, and what was just another hat-slut impulse buy has become a much-used piece of gear (I like to think my sensibilities concerning gear are highly refined, and therefore my impulses tend to have a highly utilitarian bent). The little brim is very handy, shedding snow or rain and keeping the sun off a bit. It blocks my goggle vents, which is the only downside. The fabric, which appears to be a microweight powerstretch fleece, is fantastic. It blocks a bit of wind without making you deaf (one reason I would never use a hat with a membrane), and wicks phenomenally well. The nice thing with powerstretch generally, and thus with this hat, is that while it moves moisture to the surface and evaporates it fast, there’s enough dead air space between your skin and the outer fabric that you don’t feel the effects of evaporative cooling. The only vexatious thing about the Phaser is that it’s not quite as long in the ears as I would like, and that it mysteriously rotates on my head, the visor always traveling towards my right ear. Small prices to pay for such function.
There you have it, my state of the market on hats. I’m sure there will be more in the future.