Friday, December 26, 2014

Gear Review - Head-wear for (Bald) Farmers and Ranchers

As a bald rancher who spends much of my time outside, I've become something of a connoisseur of hats.  For me, a hat is much more than a fashion decision - it's a piece of gear that makes my day-to-day work safer and more comfortable.  I thought I'd offer a brief review of the types and brands of hats that I prefer - hopefully others will offer additional suggestions!

My hats must serve multiple functions.  First, like all of my work clothes, my hats must be durable in all kinds of conditions.  In addition to covering the top of my head, my hats sometimes serve as training tools for training my border collies, as a basket for collecting eggs, or as a flyswatter.  Second, my hats must be comfortable - my lack of hair means I don't have much between my scalp and my hat.  Third, my hats must serve season-specific functions - warmth in the winter, ventilation in the summer, shade for my face and sweat-absorption year-round.
The original Stormy Kromer cap

Since it's winter-time as I write this, I'll start with my preferences for a winter hat.  For everyday work, I love a standard Stormy Kromer hat.  George "Stormy" Kromer, according the company's website, was a semi-pro ballplayer and railroad man.  He had his wife sew a special flap on a wool ballcap to keep it from blowing off in the windy locomotive where he worked.  Today, the caps (and other garments) are made in Michigan.  I like the caps because they're made from wool and cotton.  The unique ear-flap covers my ears just enough to keep me warm in really cold weather (without being too hot).  They have enough of a bill to shade my eyes, too.  Since the outer material is wool, these hats retain their warmth even when wet - making them a great option in rainy weather as well.  And Stormy Kromer will replace a lost, stolen or destroyed cap within three years of purchase for 50% of the price of a new hat.

When it's really cold out, I'll sometimes where a knit hat - as long as it's real wool!  The synthetic knit hats I've tried make my head itch, don't breathe well, and don't retain their insulating properties when wet.  I'll also sometimes where a regular ballcap - but I'll admit I was very disappointed when Major League Baseball stopped using wool in its on-field caps.  And sometimes I'll wear a felt western hat - I prefer Stetsons and Resistols.  The older the hat, the better quality - the newer hats don't seem to hold up as well.
SunBody hats can be shaped to your preference.

My summer-time hat comes from SunBody Hats in Texas.  These woven palm hats are made in Guatemala.  I usually get a 3-1/2 inch brim (but you can order a hat with a 6-inch brim if you like more shade).  By soaking these hats in water, you can soften and shape them to your own preference.  I usually order mine with vent holes in the sides (which helps keep my head cool in the summer) - SunBody also makes hats with vents woven into the crown.  These hats retain their shape well, and are softer and more comfortable than the more conventional straw western hats I've tried.  The cloth headband absorbs moisture well.

Like most ranchers, I have a work hat and a "go-to-town" hat for each season.  Don't tell my wife, but this policy is mostly an excuse to buy a new SunBody hat every spring!  By the time fall rolls around, last year's straw hat is just about worn out (did I mention that I'm hard on hats?!).  I also have two Stormy Kromers, but since they can be dry cleaned, I haven't figured out a way to justify a new one every season.

If you're interested in more information about these hats, check out their websites:

1 comment:

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