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The Humble Boonie Hat

I’m a big fan of fancy hats. I discovered the joy of a well-made and stylish hat a couple years ago with the Duluth Oil Cloth Packer Hat. After that hat died, I tried others. My current favorites are the Tilley T3 and the (locally made) Filson Tin Cloth Packer. But as great as those hats are, sometimes it’s nice to get back to basics.

If all you want to do is keep the sun off, it’s hard to beat the boonie hat. It’s lightweight, cheap, and compresses down to fit into a pocket.

Boonie Hat: Top

Boonie Hat: Bottom

Being cotton, I find these hats to be useless in the rain, but I do tend to have a hooded hard shell with me for that purpose.

This particular boonie hat happens to be MultiCam. I bought it back when MultiCam was new and I could fool myself into thinking that it was low-profile. “Hey, nobody actually issues MultiCam, so it’s not like this hat looks very military-like. If anything it makes me look like a harmless airsofter.” Something along those lines. Now that everybody and their grandma is issuing MultiCam, it’s maybe a little more military looking. I sewed a Rebel Alliance patch on the top to make me feel better about it (and because rebelling against empires is always the cool thing to do).

Boonie Hat: Pocket

The other modification I made to this hat was to sew a little velcro on the pocket. After getting my Tilley hat, I became somewhat addicted to having a pocket in the top of my hat. Most boonie hats have them, but they’re just a slit, with no sort of closure. I don’t trust them to hold small items. Having added the velcro, I can feel sure that whatever I put in there won’t fall out.

Boonie Hat: Stash

What I keep in all my hats that have pockets in them is the same: in one ziploc bag, an emergency $20 bill (using this is to be avoided as much as possible). In another ziploc bag, I keep four AquaMira water purifying tabs and a repair kit.

This particular hat weighs 122 grams (4.3 oz) with added patch and velcro. Including the contents of the pocket, the total weight is 134 grams (4.7 oz). A nylon hat like a Tilley LT5B could save me an ounce, but for the money it’s hard to beat the boonie.

Duluth Trading Co. Oil Cloth Packer Hat

A good hat keeps the sun out of your face, the rain off your head, and guarantees the wearer always be presented with a sort of respectability and cunning. With a hat on your head, the world seems a more acceptable place.

You see, a man should always wear a hat. I've noticed, of course, that you people up here never wear one. But you should, so that you can tip it whenever the occasion demands. - Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain

In years past I was a boonie hat man. Mine would be with me where-ever I went. But I was quick to discover that it did no good in the rain. The cotton would simply suck up the water and chill my head. In the rain, I’d be better off hat-less. For a year thereafter I experimented with synthetic offerings from the likes of Outdoor Research and REI. They have hats for sun and hats for rain, but none that suited me well enough.

Then, a year and a half ago, I tried out Duluth Trading Co.’s Oil Cloth Packer Hat. It has rarely left my head since.

Oil Cloth Packer Hat

It is crushable, packable, breathable, water-resistant, and stylish.

The paracord chin strap is my own addition. It’s needed whenever there’s any wind, and provides a useful attachment point for hooking to my pack. When not in use, it’s stowed as shown in the pictures.

The original color is a deal darker than represented in my pictures, for it’s seen much sun and has been washed a few times throughout the years. Usually I wash it by hand with a bit of Bronner’s Magic Soap in the sink, then let it hang dry in the sun. At the end of last summer, the leather band surrounding the hat was entirely covered in salt crystallized from my sweat, so I tossed it into the washing machine with the rest of my load. It survived, faded but not damaged. Throughout all this wear and washing, the oil finish has thinned and is gone in some places, so the water resiliency is lessened.

I will probably have to replace it before the year is out. Though I have no complaints for Duluth, I think I’ll try a Filson packer hat next. They’re a local brand and have a reputation for quality. Tilley Endurables‘s reputation is unsurpassed by other hatters for quality and durability, but they’re a bit pricey and none of their models have the classic style of the packer hat.

One word of warning for any considering the style: random people tell me at least every other week that I look like Indiana Jones (or, if they’re more intoxicated, “hey, you look that guy with the whip!”) – this despite the fact that Indiana Jones’ hat is clearly a fedora, and my hat clearly is not. With the new film coming out, I imagine these occurrences will only increase.

Tramps like to lie down on their sides a lot. They like to be in the shade and the only way to lie in the shade is on your side. You're a lucky tramp if you have a hat, that's good shade, but if you don't have a hat you're gonna have a sunburn and not just your face and your arms but your eyeballs, your eyeballs will get beet-red because lots of times there just ain't anywhere to go to get out of the sun. A tramp ain't gonna have a cigarette or a drink when he wants one and he don't think about getting old, he just thinks about getting by, and if a drink of bourbon replaces a drink of water and he's in the desert, well then he needed that bourbon more than the water, but he'll take the water with him, case the bourbon dries up. So do yourself a favor and get a good hat. - Eddy Joe Cotton, Hobo

Oil Cloth Packer Hat