We recently got a pile of hats from Shred Alert; everything from insulated bill caps with stylish flair, to classic stocking caps. I check these guys out every year at the Outdoor Retailer show, and their amazing selection astounds me. Grab a cup of coffee, or better yet, allocate your lunch break, and check out Shred Alert’s website. How owner/designer Heather Edwards can come up with so many ideas is beyond my comprehension — I guess she lives and breaths hats, and probably dreams them too.
At any rate, aside from the blatant plug above, Shred’s product got me thinking about hats. Sombrero, chapeau or capello, call it what you will — the hat is a constant we mountain dwellers take for granted, but is always worth thought and improvement.
Since my hats always get damp from sweat or precip, I’m partial to wool or wool blends that keep insulating when wet. I like the modern versions with fleece liners that keep the itch factor at bay and wick moisture away from your head so they feel dry next to your skin. But I’ve got a few wool/synthetic blend models that seem to combine the moisture advantages of wool with the comfort of synthetics.
But I don’t forget 100% synthetics. When I’m fit enough to climb quickly and make heat, for the uphill I like a thin synthetic cap such as those worn by nordic ski racers. I keep a thicker hat at the ready and change caps for the downhill or when my thin chapeau isn’t enough. If I’m using a helmet, the thin hat works well underneath.
With spring here it’s worth stating the obvious: Hats are also important for sun protection. During spring and late winter using a brim hat can give your skin a major break from brutal rays. Bill caps provide a modicum of such protection, but hats with a full brim are better because they protect your ears and neck to some degree — even if they do DQ you from any chance at a modeling career.
Another form of “hat” that’s been my constant companion for decades is the balaclava. Here at WildSnow we pretty much make it a rule to always carry a lightweight balaclava in a jacket pocket or stowed in our backpack. In the dark of winter, having something to cover your face can make the difference between success and failure on a climb. When temperatures warm up in spring, high winds can still blow ice particles and even gravel into your face — a balaclava is effective protection from such. More, if your helmet fits normally (not too tight), a lightweight balaclava can be comfortably worn underneath.
Pound-for-pound, a balaclava might be the most effective insulation you can carry. Reason: We generally don’t wear much insulation on our heads, and unlike hands and feet the head and face doesn’t restrict blood circulation to save heat. Thus, even a small amount of insulation added to your head, face and neck has immense effect on body warmth.
A good bet for lightweight balaclavas are the silk models. For something slightly warmer look for ones made from synthetic such as polypro in various thicknesses.
Basic tips, yes. But always good to review the basics once in a while.
WildSnow.com publisher emeritus and founder Lou (Louis Dawson) has a 50+ years career in climbing, backcountry skiing and ski mountaineering. He was the first person in history to ski down all 54 Colorado 14,000-foot peaks, has authored numerous books about about backcountry skiing, and has skied from the summit of Denali in Alaska, North America’s highest mountain.