A good tradesperson has different tools to perform tasks and a given job. A few carefully chosen tools, and knowing how to use them, goes a long way in completing your work.
If you choose the correct tool appropriately, you don’t think about it. You focus more on the job at hand and less about if you have the right tool for the task.
And that’s how I feel about gear and clothing. If I am using the appropriate pack, shelter, or even a water bottle system, the hours and miles go by where I am concentrating on the scenery, the experience, and being outside—and not thinking about what I am schlepping up and down the mountains and through the red rock canyon.
And my choice of headgear is no different. If it is deep winter backpacking in Colorado, I’ll take some warmer headgear than three-season hiking in the southern Appalachians. A thick balaclava is overkill for North Carolina in July; a boonie hat and a bandanna would not serve me any purpose skiing into a backcountry hut for Christmas Day.
Here’s what I wear on my (bald) noggin for various tips, conditions, and uses. It’s evolved over the years, but this system has more or less become consistent.
And with all that in mind, here is my ever-exciting headwear collection.
My go-to for three-season hiking for about twenty years has been the combo of a wide-brimmed hat and a bandanna.
For many years, I wore the same boonie-style hat to keep off the sun, keep light rain away from my eyes, and protect my bald pate from the sun’s rays. However, after many years of wearing the same hat, I finally (sniff!) had to replace it. I went with a similar but broader brimmed hat made out of polyester that serves the same function. And still in OD Green!
And because I am follically challenged, I lost natural wicking via any hair on my head. So a simple bandanna provides the same functionality. I like using a large one for added versatility too. And, esp in lower treed areas, I can look like an Italian-American pirate! (Instead of “Arghhh!”, I say “HEY! with the appropriate motion of my hands.)
For stashing in my pack for backpacking trips, day hikes, in my camp fleece, or during ski tours, I use a light fleece hat. As I mentioned recently, my current favorite hat weighs a smidge over 1 oz, breathes very well for on the move, and cost me all of $6. Perfect!
As an adjunct to the fleece hat, or even by itself, I’ll wear a balaclava.
I’ve had the same polypro balaclava since 2001, and I’ve worn it, well, many places and nights in the backcountry. For colder weather (but not snow travel as with skiing), I’ve found the North x North version of this mainstay to be another excellent option.
For in camp at night during cold weather (be it car camping or winter backpacking), a heavy fleece hat works well. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. I wore the same ~$10 fleece “watch cap” style beanie for many nights in this way. I like having an additional hat during cold weather outings as if I am wearing my primary cold-weather headgear during the day; it often gets damp from sweating or snow. And the heavier hat, besides being drier, does provider more warmth than my active use beanie.
For very cold weather camping or overnight ski tours, I’ve had and used the same polar fleece balaclava for a while now. Simple, dries quickly for its thickness, very warm, and versatile. My beater down coat does not have a hood, so this balaclava serves as a useful adjunct to that garment. Though it weighs 4 oz, it does pack much warmth into a small package. I like it vs. a down hood when moving as I can use it for active use when it is especially cold as in the sub-zero morning temps, as in the photo below.
More for traveling to trailheads, hanging in camp, and the occasional short day hike, I’ll wear a ball cap.
What more is there to say? It’s a ball cap.
You can get them as promotional giveaways, “free” with purchases, or as schwag in one way or another. Or pay $60 for some reason it is from your favorite outdoor company.
For hot weather, I’ll wear a trucker style one. If I should hike a lower elevation wooded trail, it is what I’ll probably wear to keep the sweat out of my eyes, sun off my face, and rain off.
And that’s my utilitarian outdoor headgear. Simple, but effective. And as with any choices of clothing or gear, what I’ve migrated to over the years after much use in the backcountry. Or at least sitting in my camp chair while enjoying a cold drink.