In my misspent youth, I lived dangerously. I imbibed too much of substances I shouldn’t have, I drove too fast and without a seatbelt, I slept irregular hours, I sometimes hung out with a dubious crowd, and I didn’t floss.
But as far as I can tell, the only stupid thing I did that had any consequences lasting for more than a few hours was not wearing a hat. Those consequences I see every day in the mirror: age spots on my upper lip and cheekbones, more wrinkles than I would have otherwise, and some discoloration on my forehead. I just thank my lucky stars that I haven’t had to have a scary spot removed and biopsied.
I’m a hat convert now. When I go outside for a session in the garden, I have a selection of hats I can choose from, depending on the weather, the chore ahead of me, and my mood. So why not just use a lot of sunblock? Well, I do that, too. But sunblock, unlike a hat, wears off. Sweat and light rain and squirts from the garden hose all wash it away. That’s not to say you shouldn’t use sunblock. It’s a must, especially on other parts of the body. And even when wearing a hat, you’ll get reflected rays that need to be filtered.
Still, unlike sunblock, a hat blocks nearly all rays coming directly downward. And the broader the rim, the better the sun protection. But a broad rim isn’t for everyone. I personally find a broad rim annoying because it rubs on my back when I’m bent over, which is all the time. But if you’re not as active or fussy about these things, they might be perfect for you.
Other things to look for in a garden hat:
Good fit. It needs to be tight enough to stay on your head—even when you’re bending over—but loose enough to be comfortable. You should be able to easily insert two fingers held flat between your hat and your forehead. But most importantly, your hat should feel like something you can imagine having on your head for hours at a time.
Breathability. In both cold and hot weather, we release an enormous amount of body heat through our heads. One reason straw hats are favorites is that they naturally allow sweat to evaporate. Look, too, for fabric hats with mesh incorporated into the sides.
A sweat band. Many garden hats have soft, absorbent sweatbands built in. They’re great for wicking away sweat and keeping you cool and comfortable.
A cord or strap. Some gardeners never use these; others wouldn’t wear a hat without them. Though most tighten under your chin, try positioning the strap so it tightens in the back, just above the nape of your neck. This may feel more secure and create less chafing for some people, depending on the hat and the head. You can also use long straps to give your head a ventilation break; just drop your hat on your back and let it dangle.
Washability. If you sweat a lot or kick up dust when you garden, you’ll want a washable hat—sweat can destroy most materials over time. For straw hats, a good rinse under the sink is sufficient. With a fabric hat, check the label for washing instructions. Instead of putting it in the dryer, gently shape it (try tossing it over a clean, inverted flower pot) and allow it to air dry.
Sun protection ratings. To quantify how protective a garment is, some clothing carries a label citing its Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) value. The higher the UPF, the greater the protection against harmful ultraviolet rays. Most labeled garden hats boast a rating of UPF 50 or higher. But common sense tells you that no matter how well the fabric blocks the sun, the design of the hat is much more important. A broad-brimmed hat that completely blocks your face could be rated UPF 50, and so could the skimpiest baseball-type cap.
Choosing a Garden Hat
Our buyer's guide to getting what you need.