Exposure to the sun's UV radiation is one of the main causes of skin cancer. It's pointless to be 50+ years old and have a dermatologist tell you that you should have worn a hat more often when you were younger while he's cutting the tumors off of your nose or ears. Wrinkles and yellowing of the skin are also caused by excessive exposure to UV light. Keeping the sun off of your head, especially the ears and nose, can help minimize the risk of skin cancer and prevent painful, itchy sunburns. For those of us with little to no hair on our heads (see picture to the right), a sun burnt scalp is not a laughing matter.
Hats with brims also provide shade for the eyes, making bright sunlight easier to handle. If you're expecting to be in areas with extreme heat and sun, look for a hat with a neck drape or fashion one out of a bandanna or other piece of cloth. (See also: shemagh)
Hats come in a variety of forms, with pros and cons for each type.
- Ball caps are cheap and easy to find.
- When worn properly (with the bill facing forward), ball caps do a good job of shading the eyes and nose but offer no protection for the ears or neck.
- Many ball caps made for summer wear have the back portion made of an open mesh to allow air flow for cooling, but the open mesh will allow the sunlight in as well.
- I prefer the ones made of cotton, since it absorbs more sweat than the cheap man-made fibers and can be soaked in water to help cool your head.
- Colors and logos will vary according to your situation, from blaze orange while hunting to a sports team logo for urban camouflage.
- The good ones are expensive, but will generally last longer than a cheap one.
- The wide brim that goes all the way around the hat shades the eyes, ears, nose, and part of the neck.
- A proper cowboy hat will shed rain off the back, behind your collar, and keep moderate rain off of your face.
- Usually made of felt, they absorb a lot of sweat and do a good job of keeping it out of your eyes.
- For summer wear I've used straw cowboy hats to keep the sun off of me, and they usually lasted about a year. Felt hats will last a lot longer -- I think I got five years of everyday use out of my last one but it was pretty ratty by the time I retired it.
- Soft brimmed with a flat top, boonie hats are useful when working in brush and trees because they don't get snagged on things very easily.
- They are easy to store and wash.
- Since they don't have any stiffeners in the brim they tend to be floppy and don't do a good job of shading the eyes.
- Bowlers, Panamas, Fedoras, and Berets are all more fashion than function.
- Panama straw hats will offer good protection from the sun, but the rest are better suited to formal dress rather than work.
If you don't like wearing a hat or don't have one, a bandana or "do-rag" will keep the sweat out of your eyes and help keep your head cool. They also work well under motorcycle helmets and hard hats, neither of which are comfortable to wear in the summer.
Give me six months and I'll have my recommendations for winter hats.