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…
What a charming and good-looking woman is there on your side !!
I also have two Tilley T3 hats. One in khaki and the other one in olive
and I like them very much.
I’ve been using a T3 for a number of years as well. It too shows the signs of a hard life!!!
There’s only one thing I don’t care for with it: After a hot sweaty day no the trail, the heavy cotton does not dry quickly. Which means the next morning, as I put it on, my head feels suddenly cold and clammy! Yuck!
For sweat dissipation, I find the nylon Tilleys to be the superior hat!
I see your point about the cotton. I’ve actually been pretty lucky as things tend to dry very fast in Colorado and many times I can dry the inside of my hat by the campfire. I sometimes forget that other places aren’t as dry as here.
I’ve also tried the nylon Tilleys but still like the cotton for the classic way they look and how the brim stiffens in the rain.
I wear a Donegal tweed flat cap that my wife gave me as a gift and it works magnicifently. I’ve worn it in snow and rain and early morning chills and it never lets me down. At this stage, it is becoming a good luck charm and i don’t like to leave it behind…worth its weight in gold.
+1 on flat caps. I picked up mine while I was in Yakusuka, Japan on a port stop in the Navy. It has a woodland camo pattern and a fly fishing logo of some sort embroidered on it. Mine isn’t tweed, but it rolls up small enough to stick in a pocket so I always have it with me. It doesn’t offer as much coverage as a wide brimmed hat, but the convenience of its packability means it’s the hat I most often have with me when I’m out.
The only thing I don’t like about fully brimmed hats is that you can’t get them inside the hood on your parka. That’s why I wear baseball caps.
For warm weather, a thin well ventilated nylon runners hat and a bandana used as a neck shade meets all my needs. It’s light, somewhat water proof, cool (ventilation), can be rolled up into your pocket and dunking a banadana into a creek and puting over your head sure keeps the bugs and heat off. For winter, a cheap REI elements flap hat that buttons below you chin, breaths add warmth and in water proof.
I found this write-up using Google image search so of course the first thing I saw was you and your lovely miss. Because of the pic I thought “tenkaratalk”, (ten karat talk), was your blog about your imminent wedding, LOL! Anyway I enjoyed your write-up, your quite prolific, I’ve read a lot of your stuff on light weight stoves. Keep writing, I appreciate it.
About to buy my first T3 at 56. Not sure how I missed this hat after decades of backpacking, camping, and fly fishing!