Running Cap Roundup 2017-18

The realm of technical running headwear has improved by leaps and bounds in the past 20 years—really, even in the last five years—and it has me excited about the caps I get to choose from for daily outdoor adventures. I’m historically a begrudging hat wearer who donned available ill-fitting ones primarily just in races or really long training runs out of a dutiful nod to sun safety. Upon returning to Colorado, a cap and sunglasses have been my daily defense against the elements and the inevitable eye and face-muscle fatigue that siphon off energy later in the day during my outdoor adventures. I’ve been lucky a time or two to find ‘the perfect visor,’ which I would then wear until it literally fell apart.

As the popularity of trucker hats and technical, adjustable, brimmed hats has sky-rocketed more recently, I’ve noticed significant improvements in the quality, comfort, and fit of the variety of hats out there. Though I’ve never felt ‘hip’ enough to pull off the trucker-hat look, the two trucker hats in this review are so comfortable, I’ve decided to own my non-hipster ways and wear them frequently anyway. I selected five running-hat options that seemed to represent the various directions hat designs have gone. They’re tried and well-tested and, with the exception of one, are now in my regular rotation. The one that isn’t has been pilfered by my son, and truth be told, it fits him perfectly.

Oiselle Runner Trucker

Oiselle, an athletic apparel company who prides themselves in being “by and for women athletes” has done an amazing thing with their one-size-fits-most Oiselle Runner Trucker ($30). They’ve found four ways to update this iconic style and every one of them is exactly what I needed in order to love a trucker hat.

First, the soft front panel is fitted like a baseball hat in shape and isn’t overly thick or tall and therefore does not retain much heat. The backside that sits against the forehead is lined with a very soft wicking polyester material that makes moisture disappear before you know it’s there. The same lining extends completely around your head to the closure in back in the form of a lightweight sweat band. The beautiful sublimated art on the front panel features one of three pieces of work by Sarah Attar, one of the first two women to represent Saudi Arabia in the Summer Olympics in 2012 and 2016.

Second, they’ve replaced the uncomfortable plastic mesh of most trucker hats with soft, large-hole mesh that conforms to your head perfectly while trapping no heat or moisture. This also makes the hat extremely comfortable to wear in reverse should you find the sun at your back or below the horizon. Because this is black, you can remain blissfully unaware of just how dirty your hat has gotten, but if you have an inkling, it’s quick and easy to hand wash and air dry.

Oiselle Runner Trucker 1

The Oiselle Runner Trucker. All photos: iRunFar/Kristin Zosel

Third, the rear closure is a simple bungee/toggle attachment that makes adjusting the hat on the fly very simple. There’s plenty of space to fit a ponytail through the opening, but if short hair or braids are more your style, the hat fits just as well. This is also very comfortable when worn in reverse though the toggle ends up being in your vision at times—I only thought it was a huge insect in my peripheral vision a couple times. It in no way bounces or contacts my head.

Lastly in the innovation department, Oiselle has made the brim foldable for easier packing without resulting in any flimsiness of the brim. This is so incredibly functional because at the start of an early morning run or race, I’d prefer to have my hat stuffed in my pack which doesn’t work so well for my usual trucker-hat styles. With the Oiselle Runner Trucker, the fold lines up perfectly with the pleat in the front panel, so it fits beautifully in my outer pocket for easy access when the sun gets higher. The black lining of the brim further reduces sun glare off the environment which I always appreciate.

The only concern I have for this hat is the durability of the mesh over time. I have some threads that are fraying here and there from where the mesh is sewn into the polyester lining, but so far, a quick snip hasn’t resulted in any further fraying.

This is my all-time favorite trucker hat based on comfort and air flow. I will indeed be ordering myself one of the other two front panel designs when the time comes. Outstanding, Oiselle and Sarah Attar!

Oiselle Runner Trucker 2

The adjustable toggle of the Oiselle Runner Trucker.

Headsweats Trucker

Headsweats has been making hats since 1998, beginning with their Cotton Classic. Now, more than a million hats later, they are certainly one of the most well-known headwear companies in the business. My second favorite trucker of all-time is their Headsweats Trucker ($26). I specifically tested the Headsweats Coloradical Trucker, but there are a great many other designs offered in this hat model. It fits my large head perfectly without being too deep or tall. Headsweats uses the more comfortable and form-fitting six panel baseball style design that through this testing period I found that I prefer. Instead of the harsh plastic mesh in the posterior half of the hat that is most common, they have employed their Eventure mesh which still provides structure to the hat but is less abrasive overall. The traditional snap back closure has plenty of room for any sized ponytail or man bun and allows for the designation of “one-size-fits-most.” I don’t find any snap back closure to be particularly comfortable when worn backward against my forehead, but I suspect I’m in the minority on this.

Eventure woven fabric lines the rest of the front of the hat, the brim, and the very soft, white, polyester terry sweatband which lightens the weight and improves the moisture management and breathability over the standard style. Headsweats also utilizes black woven fabric on the underside of the brim which, again, is very helpful in sunny climes.

The front panels of this hat are thinner but still very structured therefore the build-up of heat is significantly less while still retaining the look and style of a traditional trucker hat. One eye-catching touch is the black inner lining of the front two panels includes the names of many of Colorado’s Fourteeners—a nice nod to the Coloradical name!

When the running temperatures are a bit cooler or I’m hanging out outside, this is hat I most often reach for. I love the fit and look of the six-panel design. It’s durable and though it doesn’t pack down as small as some, it easily keeps its shape with a little support from extra clothing in a pack. I get a lot of compliments on this hat in particular from men and women alike. The Headsweats performance trucker series has something like 48 different five-panel and five different six-panel designs for your perusal. Of course, Headsweats has several other styles of hats and visors available as well in preselected and customizable designs. This hat is handwash/air dry only.

Headsweats Trucker

The Headsweats Trucker.

BOCO Gear Endurance Mesh Hat

In the truly lightweight performance-hat category, the BOCO Gear Endurance Mesh Hat ($25) from their performance line is most excellent. It folds and rolls up to the size of a small, flexible gel flask for easy stowage in your pack’s front stretchy pocket or slips between your hip and your waistband when you aren’t needing it on your head. It dries incredibly fast and yet still has enough of a brim structure that the sun stays out from behind your sunglasses and off most of your face in winds below 35 miles per hour. The brim tends to buckle a bit with greater windspeed.

This hat was co-developed with folks from the San Francisco Running Company, so it’s hard to imagine how it might be improved from a trail and ultrarunning perspective. The hat is 100% polyester and is incredibly soft whether the wicking sweatband or the Dry Tech mesh is against your skin. The rear enclosure allows room to fit a ponytail and consists of a snap buckle with an interior gutter to tuck in the extra ribbon-like material that comprises the strap. This one-size-fits-most hat is exceptionally comfortable no matter which direction you wear it, and I’ve found it to be the perfect hat for hot weather running and as a ‘brim extender’ under a lightweight wind or rain jacket. As you might expect from expert designers, the underside of the brim is indeed black, and in a nod to the utilitarian nature of ultrarunners, this hat is actually machine washable.

As with Headsweats, BOCO Gear is a dedicated headwear company with a huge selection of custom and pre-designed headwear from cold-weather styles to technical running and triathlon hats to lightweight technical five and six-panel trucker hats. I have a few of their five-panel truckers and though they’re a bit heavier weight, they are also very comfortable on the run and at a BBQ. You can’t go wrong with anything from BOCO Gear.

BOCO Gear Endurance Mesh Hat

The BOCO Gear Endurance Mesh Hat.

Outdoor Research Swift Cap

Outdoor Research began in 1981 and has been designing top notch outdoor gear “based on adventure” since then. Their most popular running and training hat is the unisex Outdoor Research Swift Cap, a 71-gram/2.5-ounce hat that comes in 11 different color combinations. For those with greater need for sun protection, this cap offers 50+ SPF where the solid 100% Supplex nylon fabric travels from the brim centrally over the hat to the enclosure strap. The nylon mesh crown liner adds excellent moisture wicking, and the ventilation is enhanced by the mesh-only sides. The stiff brim is moldable to get the curve you prefer and offers dark grey lining beneath. This hat is packable in the large pocket of your pack with just a bit of support beneath the brim if you prefer to protect the curvature.

I appreciated this hat most on cooler days with and without wind. I have a fair amount of hair, so the cooling aspect of the hat is slowed somewhat by the Supplex material over the central aspect, but I appreciated this on cooler days as it made the hat a bit warmer than the full mesh ones for autumn runs. The polyester sweatband lining the forehead is exceptionally soft and comfortable and the combination of the quick-release buckle (pony-tail hole included) and the adjustable strap makes it relatively easy to dial in the one-size-fits-most fit. There’s a strap gutter along the inner sweatband to hold the extra length of the strap which I really appreciate. For me, this hat was less comfortable to wear backward due to the buckle. Hand washing and line drying will definitely keep this hat functioning best.

Outdoor Research Swift Cap

The Outdoor Research Swift Cap.

Patagonia Airdini Cap

New to Patagonia’s line of technical running hats is the Patagonia Airdini Cap (price unknown). It will be available starting in mid-January. This is the lightest-weight hat (28 grams/1 ounce) I tested with the most flexible brim. It packs up smaller than a pack of endurance chews and again can easily fit in a shorts pocket when you’re not wearing it. The Airdini is made of the same wind- and water-resistant material (100% nylon ripstop with DWR) as the very popular Houdini jacket that has become standard as an emergency layer in many trail runners’ packs. There is a slightly more breathable nylon ripstop panel with mechanical stretch along the lateral aspects with the stretchiest nylon/spandex material along the rear quarter of the hat. This allows for some accommodation to different head sizes, but this hat comes in S/M and L/XL which makes guessing the fit a little more challenging if you aren’t somewhere you can try it on.

Patagonia has made this a unique running hat in the following ways. First, the fit is reminiscent of a cycling cap where wearing the brim up almost makes more sense than the brim down. With the brim down, you lose some vision above your eyebrows, but get a fair amount of protection from wind-driven rain or debris. This would work well under a cycling helmet as well for a bit of added wind and precipitation protection as long as your helmet fit remains snug.

Patagonia Airdini Cap 1

The Patagonia Airdini Cap.

Second, the rear quarter has no accommodation for a pony tail thus requiring those of us who typically wear our hair that way to adjust. Where this hole might normally be, there’s a small key or gel pocket with a fold-over enclosure. My SUV fob didn’t feel the best, but my gel was fine.

Third, because of the Houdini fabric along the top and middle of the hat, it retains a bit more heat than the fully mesh hats close to the same weight. This makes it a perfect hat for cooler fall weather. It wouldn’t be my first choice on a hot day, but with wind and the chance of rain this time of year, it’s a great hat option to have. It dries in a flash and is so lightweight and small, it’s a no-brainer to stuff in the pack.

Fourth, the very close fit of this hat made it really secure in the wind. It also functioned well under my Houdini jacket as it provided the brim for better face coverage when it was blustery. My sister tried the Airdini as well (pictured) and had no issue with fit over her newly shorn hair. If you’re typically in between hat sizes, I’d recommend sizing up. I would definitely be most comfortable in a L/XL but tested a S/M. My kiddo is very happy about this arrangement as it’s his new favorite hat for biking (under his helmet) and hiking.

Patagonia Airdini Cap 2

The Patagonia Airdini Cap pocket.

Overall Impressions

There are a lot of great hats out there on the market these days that combine function, style, and comfort with technical features and packability. I love where the technical trucker is going as I mention above, and I definitely appreciate the fully mesh and ultra-lightweight options as well. With the customization options available from some of the companies, I’d love to see race directors move away from the cheap and uncomfortable giant foam trucker hats for race swag to something from any one of these companies. Kudos to the ones who already have.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • Do you run in any of these hats? If so, what say you about the one you have?
  • What features do you appreciate most in your trail and ultrarunning headwear?
  • Do you vary your hat choice based upon temperature, precipitation, the length of time you are running, and more?
Folded Running Hats

From left to right the Patagonia Airdini, the BOCO Endurance Mesh Hat, and the Oiselle Runner Trucker folded up.

Kristin Zosel

is a mom, wife, ultrarunner, physical therapist (on sabbatical), and transcriptionist for iRunFar.com. Her love of steep uphills, high mountain environments, and Swiss “lovely cows” keep alpine visions dancing in her head and strong cappuccinos in her mug.

There are 15 comments

  1. Luke

    I am unhip enough to not consider a hat a fashion accessory. I need a hat that can provide actual protection from real sun. That means it needs to be white, and it needs to provide full head and neck coverage. And never a visor – a hat is for keeping your brain from baking and preventing sun exposure related illnesses, not just shade.

    Right now for me that’s the Outdoor Research Sun Runner. Stow the neck shade in the pack for most days and it’s a nice functional hat, not conspicuously fashionable or unfashionable . Break it out midrun when you need to avoid getting baked.

    I would love to find something like it that also has a nice way to take on ice.

    1. KristinZ

      The Western States 100 Store and the Zombie Runner online store both show running hats with a large brim, drape, and either an ice pocket or special cooling technology. Perhaps you’d like these?

      1. Luke

        Thanks for the suggestions. The Columbia hat at the WSER store doesn’t have the ice pocket, and I’m quite skeptical of magic cooling tech – thermodynamics, dynamic heat balance etc being the law of the land and all, they really need to explain where the heat is going without the bro-science before I’ll buy. The zombie runner hat is making me take back what I said about not caring about fashion because yikes – I guess I do care a bit! In both hats you mention the drape isn’t removable, so that makes them at best a specialty hat that comes out of a drop bag before a hot section. I was hoping for something a bit more everyday, like the one I currently have and referenced above, but with some kind of ice pocket.

  2. Nick

    I have an enormous head – large enough that no “one-size-fits-all” hat/visor has ever fit. It’s quite frustrating that companies like Headsweats don’t seem to produce a second “for-even-bigger-heads” size, but it’s probably a small market so I understand.

    Does anyone have recommendations on a straw hat for running, and preferentially one that comes in specific sizes? I like the idea of moderate sun coverage on my head, a nice brim to take the sun off my back/shoulders/chest, and enough ventilation to keep things cool.

    1. KristinZ

      Check out [ wallaroohats.com ] based in Boulder, CO. They have amazing “straw” and etc hats for large heads… and if they’re not big enough for you, they refer you to a company that has proven to be big enough. They have great customer service and offer hats that are certified by the Skin Cancer Foundation as well as offering SPF 50+ hats. These aren’t your typical “running” hats, but it sounds like more what you’re looking for. I have one of their cowboy style hats (not for running) and it is top notch on comfort and coverage.

    2. Matt

      I got the same issue as well. Sometimes I find prana/northface caps in the size L/XL that fit alright and I’ll wear to run in, but typically never in other brands with the more trendier lines of runner hats. Considering how much business Heatsweats and now Ciele does, it is frustrating they still stick with the one size fits most

  3. Torsten Heycke

    Like Luke, I’m looking for a hat that can stow some ice. At Western States this year, Ryan Sandes sported a nifty Salomon hat with ice storage on top that cinched up quickly with a toggle cord lock or similar. It looked a bit like a tam o’shanter and was maybe not exactly cool-fashionable, but cool for the heat. Doesn’t seem to be commercially available.

    1. KristinZ

      I’m hoping some of the Western States and Badwater crowd chimes in. I’ve been away from true heat running for awhile, so I haven’t been in the market for these. Zombie Runner (online currently shows this)
      carries a “Desert Hat with Drape and Ice Pocket”–perhaps that’s what you’re looking for?

  4. josh

    I have a Headsweats hat that serves dual running and hanging out purpose. Adjustable in the back so I can attach to my hydration pack on a long run. Not keen on the designs but it will suffice.

    I have switched to trying out other traditional trucker hats during different types of weather. Lighter colored cheaper hats for summer, heavier darker colors for fall/winter (Salsa brand is a new fav)

    I would love if the designs on the hat and color options were a little different.

  5. Jonathan Gardner

    I wear a hat for just about every run to control my hair and protect my noggin from insects (summer) and cold (winter). In a billed summer cap, things I specifically look for that not every cap delivers are 1. A dark underside of the brim to cut down on glare, and 2. A short enough brim, or the ability to flip the brim upward, so I able to look upward.

    1. KristinZ

      I’m not sure… I don’t wear hats when I have a headlamp on. Looking at where that pocket is on my sister’s head in those last two pics, a gel would probably work fine in the pocket under a headlamp, but I’m not sure a key would feel great.

  6. rms

    Yeah, I’m disappointed at this review. None of these hats provide any sun protection for your scalp, nor was any mention made of covering the tops of the ears. What was the point of this article? In any case, my goto setup is to fold down the sweatband so it covers the eartips and forehead. This pins the ears to the head for more warmth, increases sweat pickup along the forehead, and makes the hat grip the head: It will not come off, even in high winds. For extended runs, I’m never without a UPF50 neck gaiter, which is long enough to pull over the top of the hat, providing nearly complete head, neck & face protection. Gaiters don’t flap around or catch the wind like largebrimmed hats either, no chipstrap required. Stolquist sungloves & longsleeve shirt complete the ensemble

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