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Clothing: Head gear

Three Points of the Compass has worn numerous types and styles of head gear over the years. Some were good, others OK, many of them just… ‘meh’. I have settled on just four for around 99% of my hiking and backpacking. These are a wide brimmed hat, beanie, down beanie and a mountain cap that only gets included on winter excursions. It is extremely rare that I do not have at least one of the main three in a trip’s gear list. For multi-day or multi-week trips I will be carrying at least two. Winter trips may even dictate a spare beenie being packed along.

Hiking with Tilly Airflo, Cruce de la Data, Madeira
Have hat- will travel!

Tilley LTM5 Airflo

The Tilley hat is a classic. Known for their durability, an oft repeated story is of an elephant keeper. Cleaning the compound, his charge would snatch the Tilley from his head and eat it. Days later, having passed through the digestive tract, it would be deposited. Washed, it was returned to his head. The process to be repeated weeks later. Made in Canada, the hat design features first evolved to fit the needs of sailor Alex Tilley. Though it is not stated if one requirement was to withstand the digestive juices of a pachyderm.

The original 1980 design was cotton and I wore a cotton T5 on my walks for around a decade before making the switch to a version that featured 3/4″ of mesh around the crown for ventilation. I found that even if worn when it was raining, my head didn’t get any wetter with the mesh than without it. And I frequently wear it in the rain. Three Points of the Compass wears glasses and anyone that does will vouch for what a pain in the arse they are in the rain. I have a medium brim which does a good job shielding the eyes from rain. It may offer a little less sun protection due to the modest brim width but packs better and is not affected so much by wind bending the brim. When I changed to the Airflo design I also changed to the nylon option (with polyester mesh). This is lighter and dries quicker.

Tilly on Madeira hike
Tilley hat on Madeira hike. My medium width brim offers less sun protection than the wider options however it is preferable in windier conditions

There are a lot of features about the Tilley that I like. Naturally it offers UPF 50+, the highest sun protection. Hats also come with a front and back cord system to stop hats blowing away. It is possible to really clamp these down fore and aft when it is gusty. You can’t see these cords in these images as they are tucked inside out of sight. I usually just employ the ‘under the chin’ cord, and that rarely. It gets thrown in the washing machine when I am proofing a hard shell and not much care from me at all. There is a secret pocket in the crown but I don’t access that for anything other than tucking the cords away for most of the time, or to remove the little wafer-thin foam pad that sits in there, prior to washing. The foam is there to make the hat float should the unfortunate occur and the hat end up in the water, it also makes the crown waterproof to an extent.

Tilly hat- Pennine Way
Tilley hat- Pennine Way
Tilly on Cape Wrath Trail
Tilley on Cape Wrath Trail

There is wide brim option available but my medium brim is 2 5/8″ at the front, 2 3/4″ at the rear with 2 1/8″ sides. This is usually sufficient to protect the majority of my face and much of my neck from the sun but I do occasionally wear it obliquely when a low sun is to the side. Hiking for a month on the south coast when completing the South West Coast Path meant that it was frequently tilted. The underside of the brim is green to prevent glare, a thoughtful addition. The brim also holds a head net away from the face to prevent bugs biting through. Oh yes, it’s guaranteed for life. This hat is one of my favourite pieces of gear and rarely gets left at home whatever the season or country. It weighs 95g.

Midge net worn over Tilly hat on the Cape Wrath Trail
Midge net worn over Tilley hat on the Cape Wrath Trail

Surely every hiker has at least one beanie in their arsenal? Be-it a girl friend knitted ‘not-to-be-left- at-home-or-else’ example, or a multi-layered, cutting-edge materials ‘cost the earth’ cap with go-faster stripes, or a cheap ‘n’ cheerful fleece, or… well, there are a thousand to choose from. Most of which are probably pretty functional. Three Points of the Compass has used knitted hats, fleece hats, natural and synthetic hats et al. The second best I have used were thin lightweight Merino wool hats from Icebreaker and AsTucas. But my favourite, and I feel my most comfortable and efficient was purchased in 2015 and has been used consistently since then.

Fleece beanie, Lake District
Fleece beanie, Lake District
Icebreaker merino beanie, Isle Of Skyre, Scotland
Icebreaker merino beanie, Isle Of Skye, Scotland

Kora Shola 230 Esker

Michael Kleinwort was visiting the Himalayas and staying with a family of Yak herders when he learnt of the herders’ reliance on Yak wool for warmth. He went on to develop an ethical supply and manufacturing line for a small but growing range of clothing that draws on the properties of a wool naturally developed to protect animals living at 4-6000 metres.

Soft like cashmere, warmer and more breathable than merino

Shola is advertised as the world’s first and only 100% Yak wool fabric. The inner layers of Yak wool, beneath their shaggy outer coat, are soft, fine and hollow and the Shola 230 Esker hat is made of 100% Yak wool. Kora make bold claims for their propriatory Hima-Layer Original 230 fabric- 66% more breathable than merino and 40% warmer, weight for weight. It has wicking ability, odour resistance, is 40+ UPF and, importantly for me, is soft and itch free. The no-stink properties are an additional benefit on very long hikes. Especially if I am using it as a head-covering while sleeping as my quilt has no hood. The long hours of night offer plenty of time to reflect on items of clothing that stink. Though I may wear my down beanie instead if it is especially cold conditions.

Kora Esker hat
Kora Shola 230 Esker hat

Despite having weathered hundreds of days in rough weather and being washed in mountain streams and slung unceremoniously in with mud besplattered clothing in communal hostel washing machines, once washed, it still looks like new… almost. It weighs 57g and I wrote a little more about this particular purchase here.

Kora beenie combined with merino Buff. Cuckmere Haven, South Downs Way
Kora beenie combined with merino Buff. Cuckmere Haven, South Downs Way
Kora beenie on a bright and sunny, but cold winter walk on Saxon Shore Way
Kora beenie on a bright but cold walk on the Saxon Shore Way

You can choose just about any beenie from any manufacturer you wish. This is simply what I like. It is not a cheap option but the quality is obvious. However that would count for nothing if it did not perform. The Shola 230 Esker is durable, it is reasonably lightweight, it cuts down the wind extensively and keeps my head warm, that’ll do for me. If I ever lose it, I’ll buy another instantly.

PHD Minimus Down Hat

I do have one other beanie style hat that increasingly gets carried on backpacking trips. This is my lightweight down-stuffed Minimus Down Hat from Peter Hutchinson Designs, otherwise known as PHD. This company produces top quality insulated gear for those intrepid explorers travelling to the extremes of the earth. My needs are, of course, far more modest, however the quality is still there in this little item of gear. It weighs just 25g and it normally lives in the pocket of my puffy jacket. It is there ready to be pulled out as required at camp, usually as the temperature begins to drop. I am careful to not let this hat get wet and it lives a fairly pampered existence. On the coldest of nights I will wear this instead of my Kora wool beanie. The hat is from PHD’s lightest range, utilising the lightest and best fabrics and stuffing and it only occasionally appears on their product range.

The very best of backpacking gear do double-duty, fulfilling multiple functions. Such is the case with my down hat. When cooking on trail, the most efficent method is to bring food to boiling, remove from the stove, insulate and let it soak and steep in the hot water for a period of time. This method uses far less fuel but is a protracted affair- swings and roundabouts and all that. What most hikers will do is carry a lightweight cosy to insulate the food, this will be made from reflectix or foam. I have done the same myself for almost twenty years. That ‘traditional’ cosy now gets left at home and I simply stand my pot (or freezer bag standing in a pot) on my insulating sit pad and cover it with my down hat to further insulate it. An additional bonus is that once done and transferred to the head, the hat is lovely and warm and toasty!

Down hat being used to insulate a lentil curry while it cooks. South Downs Way
Down hat being used to insulate a lentil curry while it cooks. South Downs Way

Lowe Alpine Classic Mountain Cap

Lowe Alpine were the first to produce the mountain cap in the form shown here. It is another classic and much imitated, with every manufacturer putting their own little twist on the design. Even Lowe Alpine have tweaked their design over the years. The peak has become ever so slightly smaller, the waterproof fabric has changed, but in essence it is still the favourite of old. Lowe Alpine themselves, originally out of Colorado, are no more. The brand is now owned by Rab.

There is a small wired peak which does a surprisingly good job of keeping rain and snow off my glasses. The peak can be folded up and clipped back to the popper hidden from view by a loop of material on the forehead. I have no idea why the popper has to be hidden from view. A velcro fastener behind the head will tighten things up if necessary. The whole cap can be scrunched up to the size of a tennis ball.

Care tag
Lowe Alpine Mountain Cap side view
Lowe Alpine Mountain Cap

The Lowe Alpine Mountain Cap has a waterproof and windproof outer layer that has changed over the generations. My present cap is Triplepoint Ceramic, similar to eVent and an alternative to Gore fabrics. It is a breathable membrane made of polyamide with polyurethane coating. It has sewn and taped seams. Inside is a thin single layer of polyester ‘Aleutian’ fleece. A flap cover the ears and extends around the back of the neck, where there is a small amount of elastic to keep it snug. The ear flaps can be folded up to vent heat but they don’t popper or anything. If really windy, a short length of cordage can be passed through the loops at the end of the ear flaps though I have never needed to do this.

'Hook and Loop' volume adjuster on rear of cap
‘Hook and Loop’ volume adjuster on rear of cap
Lowe Alpine Mountain Cap- flaps folded
Lowe Alpine Mountain Cap- peak clipped up

I have used these caps on the hills for years. This is my third such cap. One I lent and never got back, I still have the second and this third is simply because I wanted to try out the newer materials and have a black cap. The one shown here will likely last until I lose it or pop my clogs. I find this cap excellent in colder, wetter, snowier, blustery conditions. I find it too warm above 4 or 5 degrees C. unless there is a gale blowing. It is not sufficiently insulated by itself in really cold conditions but I am comfortable with it to below freezing.

If need be I can move my Buff up as an additional layer inside, alternatively, I can just about loosen it off enough to wear a beenie inside. As it is though, just slightly tweaked up on the velcro, it fits perfectly around by head and ears, not too tight, nor too loose. Some users have complained that the neck is insufficiently covered but paired with a Buff covering the back of the neck, the cap suits me as I retain all head movement up, down and sideways with no restriction. It is cosy and it is not often that I am reaching for it. But when I do, it is a great additional arrow in the quiver. My size Large weighs 61g.

One of my Lowe Alpine Mountain Caps was lent to Miss Three Points of the Compass while we hiked the Brecon Beacons in 2008
One of my Lowe Alpine Mountain Caps was lent to a young Miss Three Points of the Compass while we hiked the Brecon Beacons in autumn 2008


You may have noticed in some of the images above that I sometimes wear a Buff. I have had a number of these over the years plus clones. Is there anyone that is unaware of these multi-use items? I find them versatile, pretty lightweight and a useful back up should a hat be either mislaid (read- lost) or in need of a little more insulation, or just to keep the wind and snow out of my ears.

Synthetic and merino Buffs
Synthetic and merino Buffs
Buff as pillowcase- last morning of a five month hike
Buff as pillowcase- last morning of a five month hike

While I do have and have used synthetic Buffs I do not use full size synthetic Buffs now. Despite the fact that synthetic Buffs are both lighter and dry quicker, I find a merino Buff warmer, I can use it for holding hot mugs and pans that would melt a synthetic, it is better as a sweat rag, nose wipe, hand drier, but most of all- more comfortable and odour free when used as a slip-over pillow case to my DCF clothes bag at night.

The last full size synthetic Buff that I used weighed 37g (shown here) while my larger merino Buff is 53g. Buff as a company have moved on considerably from the days when they just offered simple cloth tubes. There are now knitted neckwarmers, snoods, hoods and balaclavas amongst many other products. I feel no need to dive into that morass.

I mentioned that I do not use full size synthetic Buffs now. In summer I might include a very thin UPF 50 ‘multi-functional headband’ from the manufacturer. This is a coolnet, 95% polyester, 5% elastine affair that is a good deal smaller than standard Buffs. Designed to cover a neck from the sun’s rays, be used as a sweat rag, sweatband around the head or protect a balding pate, just!- it is a little small for that. This little tube of stretchy material measures around 230mm x 230mm and weighs just 16g so can be a lightweight alternative to a full size wool Buff but is considerably less versatile.

Merino Buff keeping a cold wind out of the ears at Folkestone, North Downs Way
Merino Buff keeping a cold wind out of the ears at Folkestone, North Downs Way

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