I imagine many of us aspire to live a story like that of Alex Tilley.  In the early 80’s, frustrated by his inability to find a “proper sailing hat,” he did what many of us dream about, but few of us actually do:  he followed his passion and designed & made one, and very well may have created the best sailing/active wear/sun protection hat in the world.  Customers agree, and Tilley Endurables, dedicated to providing “travelers with endurable clothing that allows their focus to be on ‘the adventure’, rather than the rigours of life on the go,” has flourished.

Tilley certainly isn’t new to Practical Hacks readers. I’ve written about Tilley travel socks here before – and heartily recommend them – but I’ve always been curious about the Tilley hat.  Or, more accurately, hats – Tilley offers about 2 dozen variations on a theme, that theme being comfort; sun, wind, and rain protection; and durability.  From the Tilley website:

Tilley Hats are more than just ‘a hat’. They offer protection from the sun, rain and snow while keeping valuables safe and secure. They are document keepers, conversation starters, family heirlooms and a dashing accessory for most activities. Some customers and admiring fans have acknowledged Tilley Hats as the best-made and most practical hats of their kind worldwide!

What’s more, Tilley hats are backed by a lifetime warranty – if it ever wears out, during your lifetime or during the lifetime of whoever inherits your hat ( ! ), Tilley will replace it for free.

LT5B from Tilley websiteBut are these hats comfortable? Are they as good looking in person as they appear to be on Tilley’s website? A month or so ago I was wandering through the local Blockbuster Video and saw someone wearing what appeared to be a Tilley hat.  I stopped him and asked if it was a Tilley.  It was, and he positively gushed about the hat.   So I began doing a little research – here’s a link to customer reviews of this hat at Cabela’s – there are one or two negative reviews, so I think they’ll give you a balanced impression of customer reactions and thoughts about these hats – and I began looking at the dizzying array of hats at the Tilley site.

Frankly, I’m not big on hats.  I wear a visor almost all of the time when I play golf, resorting to a baseball cap when it’s raining.  And when it gets downright cold on the course, I’ll wear a knit cap.  But when it comes to fishing, or boating, or travel in sunny climes, I got nothin’.  A baseball cap is just too lowbrow for travel (my opinion, sorry), and it struck me that a lightweight Tilley might really fit the bill for these types of activities – plus would be better in the rain on the golf course than a cotton baseball cap.

I was lucky enough to get a Tilley LT5B recently – this is a wide brim, breathable, lightweight (3.7 oz./106 gram), nylon/spandex Tilley that provides excellent sun protection (UPF 50+).  Let’s take a closer look…

Inside the Tilley hat

Inside the Tilley (click for close-up) you’ll notice a couple of things.  First, the wind cords:  when not in use, they’re tucked in the hat much as you see them here, and you never feel them.  In modest winds, the rear cord is used; in heavy winds, both are employed.  The wind cords are adjustable, of course, but I should point out that the hat stays in place very well on its own.  Also, if you’re using this while boating or fly fishing, for example, there’s a section of foam hidden in the crown so the Tilley floats, should you somehow drop it or actually have it blow off into the water.

Also, a small piece of Velcro® secures the “hidden pocket” in the crown – in the photo above left, you can seeTilley LT5B detail a credit card and business card protruding from that pocket.  It’s a great place for storing a few bills, a credit card, or even a magnetic hotel door key.  Also, if you look closely at that image, there’s a small Velcro-secured tab on the left side of the inside of the hat.  This enables you to put the bows of your sunglasses through the two brass eyelets in that side of the hat, securing them with this loop.  Finally, the (black) sweatband:  it’s made with what Tilley calls “TRANSPOR® DRY LAYER” technology.   Whatever they want to call it, it works:  perspiration migrates through the inner layer to the outer wicking layer of the fabric, where it evaporates.

Here’s a close-up (right) of those grommets and the stitching on the hat.  Most Tilley hats, by the way, are produced in Canada utilizing a process involving 41 steps, 23 sets of hands and 15 pieces of fabric/notions. The Tilley Fedora, Casablanca and Oslo Hats are handcrafted in the USA.  (Tilley travel socks, incidentally, are made in Iowa.)

Tiller LT5B from rearHaving worn the hat a while now, I can see why the owner I encountered at Blockbuster was enthusiastic: the hat is good looking, very light, comfortable, and is clearly well made.  On hot days it seems like it’s barely there, it’s so light (and the ventilation grommets help a bit).

As is obvious from this shot, the wide brim design (front, 2-5/8″; back, 2¾”; sides, 2-1/8″) affords plenty of protection from the sun, and as mentioned earlier, the material itself blocks 98% of UVA/UVB radiation,  delivering an ultraviolet factor (UPF) of 50+, the maximum rating possible.

In inclement weather, the hat sheds rain effectively, although I’ve felt a little bit of water getting through the top grommets on a couple of occasions.

If your Tilley gets soiled, you can simply throw it in the washer (delicate cycle), or hand wash in the sink, using cool water in either case; it dries quickly and won’t shrink.  Tilley actually recommends washing frequently, if sweat stains the hat.  Finally, beyond the lifetime guarantee, each Tilley comes with a two year loss insurance policy, with a 50% deductible (in other words, lose it w/in two years and you’ll get a replacement for half price).

If you poke around the Tilley site, you’ll find some user testimonials; a couple follow.  Note that I’ve deleted the authors’ full names, although they appear on the Tilley site:

“As my husband and I crossed a parking lot in Menerbes, France, a man hailed us. ‘Isn’t that a Tilley Hat you’re wearing?’ he asked my husband Tony. ‘They said this would happen!’

“We laughed as we went over to meet him and his wife. They were a delightful couple and the recognition of the Hat was one of the high points of our trip… It happened again in St. Tropez.”
Alice, New York

* * *

“It’s a unique phenomenon! Ownership of the Hat has made me a member of one of the most remarkable clubs I have ever come across. My wife and I were walking along Darling Harbour in Sydney when we were greeted by a lady tourist who smiled broadly and said ‘Tilley’.

“This experience has not been unique for us and after 5 similar occasions in different parts of the world, we realised that unwittingly we had become members of the ‘Tilley Club’ and that it crossed all national boundaries with its password of ‘Tilley’ and sign of a warm smile.

“I am delighted to see the range of items that you now sell and wish you, the Company and the ‘Tilley Club’ continued success as you have brought many warm smiles into our lives.”
Stuart, Scotland
“P.S. Of course, as a Scot, the ‘value for money’ aspect was not lost on me.”

Visit the Tilley site hereTilley Endurables or you can see the LT5B I’ve been wearing at Amazon:  Tilley LT5B @ Amazon.  Amazon carries a broad range of Tilley hats, with prices that are a bit lower than suggested retail (which typically is in the mid $70 range).  Magellan’s also carries a few models.  If choosing the right Tilley seems like a daunting task, the Tilley site includes a comparison chart (excerpt below) to assist you:

Tilley comparison chart

Please comment if you’ve had any experiences with Tilley – or other – travel hats.

The Fine Print:  I have no connection to Tilley Endurables; this post does contain an Amazon affiliate link.

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11 Comments on The Tilley hat: best recreational/travel hat available?

  1. Paul Z says:

    Welcome to the club! I’ve got 3 Tilley Hats (one cotton duck, one hemp, one wool) that I love. I think you’ll find that they’re just like Lay’s potato chips — you can’t stop at just one.

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  2. Michael W. says:

    I used to wear one all the time when I was on my “hiking in Yosemite” kick. I carried one to Thailand in April when we visited Koh Samet (island with beaches).

    The best thing about Tilley hats is that they are made in sizes, so they really fit.

    The worst thing is the hype. They are great hats only because everyone else makes such junk (my closet has about 10 sun hats from other makers and they all messed up what should be simple – it’s only a hat, not the Hubble telescope).

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  3. I own over ten of them and wear one every day! Welcome to the club.

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    Kevin Reply:

    Lisa: Thanks for commenting, and by the way, I am so jealous! Your place must be absolutely beautiful. We’ve spent most of our lives in the Albany – Saratoga area, and have been through southern New Hampshire many times, and it is wonderful country. Congrats – and best of luck with your site & business! kc

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  4. Till says:

    Well, for fishing in the Keys, the jungle in Angkor Wat or hiking in Yosemite I would think this is the ideal hat. I’d gladly get one for that purpose and would not feel ashamed of the look.

    However, for use in a city be it San Fran or Rome, I’d be very much afraid to be the laughing stock par excellence. I’d also be labeled American right away. Or German (for bad taste and safari looks in inappropriate settings); at least the latter nationality would be correct. :)

    I also like to wear a baseball cap. However, I have several other options depending on style and location. I have one of the Kangol summer caps called Ventair. Very light, good sun protection for the head itself and the face but not for the neck. Can be put in any pocket. Cheap. Comes in tons of different colors. Ok for Milan and Paris during the day.
    http://www.amazon.com/Kangol-V.....B00030B1Q4

    I also have a fine Yucatan Panama hat I bought there. I suppose it would be in the $500 class here. I do travel with it but I take good care of it. This is the best site on Panama hats I found:
    http://brentblack.com/
    They do have “low end” rollable travel panamas for $250. I know, I know…

    For the winter I have several bonnets. When I was a child I hated those ridiculous Peruvian bonnets with ear flaps. Scratchy like hell and decidedly un-cool. All of that changed when a dear Peruvian friend brought me one from his home country. The softest wool you can imagine, gorgeous brown tones with Llamas that walk around the perimeter of my head. Super-duper light weight, rather water-resistant, minimal bulk, amazingly warm. These people know how to make THE bonnet, I’m telling you. And here comes the kicker. I can wear this even with a formal grey or black cashmere overcoat and it looks fantastic. The combo has great charm because of the contrast.

    Well, now for those cases when I want to play it all serious and I still need a good hat to protect my balding cranium, I set out on a search. Here is what I got:
    http://www.firststreetleather......090-1.html

    A true Borsalino. Very soft, rollable indeed, very forgiving. Light and rain-proof unless you run into a tropical shower but in that case even the Tilley wouldn’t save you.

    The trick about felt travel hats is that you should look for one that has no lining, no band around the brim, a textile sweatband instead of leather, and an outer hat band that is flexible and forgiving, i.e. when the hat is rolled it won’t wrinkle. Of course, this hat is extremely elegant. You wear this with a Burberry and you look immediately like you know who. Still, I’d feel more at ease with that combo in an urban setting than with a Tilley.

    Here are two threads from FT. The first is hats for the male traveler:
    http://www.flyertalk.com/forum.....veler.html

    The second is hats for the female traveler but contains a Best Of from my male traveler research:
    http://www.flyertalk.com/forum.....veler.html

    I hope that helps some of the practical readers here find the right hat for the hack of it.

    Till

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    Kevin Reply:

    Till,

    As always, superb comments and terrific links. Thanks so much – you add a lot to the conversation!

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  5. Michael W. says:

    Wow great links Till thank you so much!

    I am afraid, though, that when it comes to style, any hat in an urban environment is going to provoke gales of laughter. It’s funny how styles come and go (hats were REQUIRED as part of a suit in my father’s day!) with no regard for the simple necessity of keeping sun or rain off our heads….

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  6. Till says:

    Thanks, Michael. By the way, I forgot to mention that I agree about the Tilley hype. And I agree with the idea of a hat being part of a suit (in my grandpa’s day). My father, a very, very casually dressed country doctor (bald) doesn’t leave the house without a hat. It will be his Indiana Jones hat for the Spring and Fall and a basque or bonnet in the winter to cover the ears.

    In Europe you still see plenty of gents wearing hats for sun and rain protection in urban environments. The fancier the city, the more you will see it. As with many things, it’s a matter of education level, adherence to traditions and money, as much as a matter of functionality.

    Of course, here in Austin, anything else than a baseball cap creates stunned amazement. :) And you better not wear the wrong cap, either!

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  7. Till says:

    MY pleasure! Glad you like it; it is good to give something back. :)

    Also, thanks to your review the hat threads on FT and OBOW are now resurrected and are running parallel to this one. So this should generate a lot of inter-forum traffic and interest; hopefully with some people considering this practical accessory of daily life.

    One more tip. For me the urge to go hatted came when I got a really bad sunburn during an outdoor festival in May of last year. My bald spots went red, itchy and flaky. Not pleasant to have and not pleasant to look at, either. More moderate climates and those lucky guys who keep a full head of hair won’t know what I’m talking about. ;)

    One of the gents from FT recommended to use sunscreen as gel. He recommended to use Neutrogena Ultrasheer Dry-Touch Sunblock. I tried that and it works very well without making the hair look too greasy. My barber also says that it’s perfectly ok to use a sunblock on your scalp even if you are not completely bald. He says just find one that gives you the desired look, as if it were a hair creme.

    Now, the sunscreen won’t protect you from the heatstroke in a really bad heat/sun. A hat is much better in those cases. The Kangol Ventair is a great alternative to the usual cap in my eyes.

    There are also those caps in Ventile Fabric or Loro Piana engineered Storm System cashmere. Extremely fancy! One of those is clearly in my future.

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  8. tilley hats says:

    The Tilley TH8 comes in four sizes and has two cords, front and back, to make sure it stays on, even in a windstorm. The sweatband is very comfortable and the hat is well balanced and feels suitably luxurious.The Tilley TH8 is pretty pricey, but well, life really can look better from under the brim of a beautiful hat.The hat is seriously constructed, durable and UV protective.

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  9. Alan F says:

    I thought I was the only one with ten Tilley hats but I see that Lisa Richards has me beat. Maybe we should start a club for people who LOVE Tilley hats like we do. What’s not to love though? Great styles, unbeatable lifetime guarantee, insured for loss, UPF 50+ sun protection as well as being crushable so even if stashed away in your suitcase they come out looking like new. For anyone who has not as yet discovered the wonders of a Tilley hat, now is the time. They can’t be beat.

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