This year, we dropped a ridiculous amount of cash on outdoor gear at the REI Flagship store in Denver. A lot of it was stuff we genuinely needed for our outdoor activities, but I had one purchase that was just for me: a Seattle Sombrero. I am a dedicated hat-wearer when participating in outdoor activities. They are vital to keep the sun off, keep the rain off, spray bug juice onto (especially 100% DEET; you don't want that on your skin), and to keep branches out of your hair in thick undergrowth. They are also nice as a basket, pillow, or mask (if you want to nap in the sun at mid-day). I've traditionally relied on a GI boonie hat to keep the sun off, but boonie hats have a tendency to get soggy when it rains and they aren't very warm in the cold.
The Seattle Sombrero is produced by Outdoor Research, a firm that makes great gear which is widely used in a variety of applications (backpacking, climbing, mountaineering, NOLS, even military). Here's a picture:
REI carried a variety of nice hats and the price on the Seattle Sombrero originally made me blanch: spend $40 on a hat? Holy cow! There were many light sun hats and a few other waterproof offerings as well. However, many of the waterproof hats which were lighter and less expensive were made of simple non-breathing, non-vented nylon. That is a recipe for a sweaty mess. So, with a bit of trepidation (but faith in REI's 100% satisfaction guaranteed return policy), I ponied up for my Seattle Sombrero. Since then I've used it on several Alaska trips this summer.
THE GOOD: The sombrero is well constructed. I could find no faults with the design and there are no obvious weak points. The chin strap is tied on to two loops rather than sewn to the hats; I like this feature as it is easy to replace the chin strap if desired. If it broke (perhaps from snagging or something) you could easily replace it in the field with para cord or something.
For the aesthetically inclined, the Sombrero comes in a variety of colors. This is nice because some users may want a high-visibility red vs. a subdued forest green and black color scheme.
It also performs as advertised. I've worn in out in the rain and it keeps you 100% dry. The fabric breathes well, avoiding problems with sweat and overheating. Additionally, the brim is wide enough that it will help keep your upper body dry in light rain or drizzle without needing to don rain gear. Nice! The brim also tucks up with some velcro on both sides so you can wear the hat "Aussie style" if it isn't raining.
THE BAD: I haven't found any major "bad" issues yet. I'd say that the biggest issue with this product is price. $40 is a lot to pay for a hat when you can get a GI surplus boonie hat for ten bucks. Still, this is a quality product with good value for the dollar.
THE UGLY: The hat has a warm fabric liner that goes between your cranium and the gore-tex outer material. While this is soft and cushions the hat, it is also warm. This is great when the temperature is cooler (say, less than 60 degrees or so) but when it gets warm and sunny then it can be a bit much, and you can't take off a layer. However, they do call it the "Seattle" sombrero, not the "Houston Hat," so I think it is ok as long as you use it in appropriate climates.
Additionally, I am wary of spraying 100% DEET products onto the brim. I have long applied DEET to the brim of my hat instead of to my skin in order to minimize exposure to nasty chemicals (and thus skin irritation and such). However, some reporting indicates that DEET can have bad effects on breathable synthetic fabrics like gore-tex. I know that this was the case years ago, and am not sure how current stuff holds up. We'll find out!
BOTTOM LINE: I can recommend the Seattle Sombrero if you participate in a lot of outdoor activities in a rainy climate with expected temperatures between 30-60 degrees (i.e., the Pacific Northwest). It might also be appropriate for seasonal use in other parts of the country (i.e. fall-winter-spring), swapped out with a lighter hat for the hot summer months. It is a little pricey but I have been pleased with the performance of this product. I can reccomend it.
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