Ever since I got into ultra-light backpacking and fly fishing, I have been constantly thinking about which pieces of gear I can do away with and which ones I find multi-use and indispensable. Recently, I turned my attention to my hat. Sure, on the surface, hats might not be as sexy as a new, shiny fly reel or tricked out backpack; however, I have come to feel a new sense of appreciation for a very simple hat I unwittingly incorporated into my gear arsenal years ago and now truly realize was one of the best investments I’ve ever made. My Tilley T-3.
I’ve tried all kinds of hats. Regular baseball caps, those “desert” caps with the curtain thing at the back of your neck, bucket hats, army surplus hats with webbing around the crown to hold bullets, etc. None of them really seemed to meet all the criteria I wanted in a good all around outdoor hat.
About 10 years ago, I got my first Tilley hat. It was a cotton T3 (the classic natural color with the green under brim). It was a sailor’s hat as far as I was concerned. I have to confess that the main reason I got it was because I was working for a fly shop that just happened to sell them and I got them at a substantial discount. I thought they looked a little weird but was reluctantly willing to give one a try after all the buzz I had heard heard. But when I first put mine on, it was magic.
The first thing I noticed was the comfort. Since Tilley offered a variety of sizes (in fractions no less), I was able to fine-tune it to match my head perfectly (unlike generic, off-the-shelf “one-size-fits-some” small, medium, and large sizing most companies offered). Plus, the Hydrofil headband was comfortable against my forehead while wicking away moisture. I had never worn a more comfortable hat. I had my original hat replaced in 2003 by Tilley’s great warranty and that’s the T3 I’ve been using since then. It’s been almost 8 years now and my T3 is still in great shape.
Specific features I like:
- The brim is the perfect size to protect my face and neck from UV rays (i.e. sunburn).
- The brim stiffens up in the rain protecting my glasses (unlike other hats that become floppy and drip water all over you). I need to wear prescription glasses all the time so this is a huge deal for me.
- There’s a wind cord AND chin strap. I don’t care how windy it is or how fast your boat is going—if you deploy them properly, your hat is going nowhere! It will stay on your head.
- It floats! If you didn’t secure your Tilley and it happens to go overboard, no problem. The foam liner in the crown helps it float (and protects YOUR crown from clumsy bumps). My hat has fallen in the ocean a few times and has kindly been returned to me by the surf. It’s also been the hero, protecting me from concussions brought about by unfamiliar rental car trunks and rough seas.
- The secret pocket. Speaking of the crown, there’s also a Velcro-closure pocket within the crown that lets me stow my fishing license and ID (all I need for a backpack fly fishing trip) or some emergency cash in a waterproof ziplock bag. Pretty cool, convenient, and clandestine.
- Want to stoke a campfire? The T3 makes an excellent fan for bringing new life to coals and turning them into a brilliant blaze.
- It holds my sunglasses out of harm’s way when I don’t need them. Pretty clever design.
- Overall attention to detail. Not only is the stitching pretty much perfect, Tilley put a lot of thought into the design of where to place the sunglasses holder, the hidden pocket, etc. It’s like a Mac. Everything just works. My old army hat was like a PC.
- It acquires a dignified patina. OK, so maybe this point isn’t “practical” but you have to admit that “cool” factors enter our minds when we think about gear. My Tilley T3 has picked up a certain well-worn look over the years and I like it. It’s not pure white anymore but a slightly duller version of white that alludes to adventures and memories I’ve had in special places. The brass ventilation grommets have turned a beautiful turquoise color from the saltwater corrosion that records oceanic adventures. It’s stained in a few places from who knows what. And the sweat stains are testaments to hard hikes, long days on the river catching fish, and trying times on non-air-conditioned and overcrowded buses abroad.
If you look around this site enough, you’ll see my Tilley accompanies on most of my outdoor adventures. Probably you and I won’t look so good after doing all the things my Tilley and I have done together—but our Tilleys will. I’ve worn mine for fly fishing, backpacking, international travel, sea kayaking, days at the beach, mountain biking, camping, caving, you name it! So, that’s my “tip of the hat” to Tilley (sorry). Tell me about your favorite hat, what you use it for, and why it’s so great. Please include any cool history or anecdotes behind it. That’s the best part!
Jason, signing off…