I admit it, I’m not much of a sun person. My half-German heritage gives me fair skin and that means painful sunburns. So when I booked a trip to the Riviera Maya on the Yucatan Peninsula, I knew I’d need a good sun hat and I turned to Tilley Endurables, my favorite hat maker.
I had two big requirements for a summer hat. I wanted a hat with a nice brim hat for good sun protection and it had to easily pack into my suitcase. (I’ve traveled with too many so-called packable straw Panama-style hats that are inconvenient to carry and, if you pack them in the suitcase, they they get squashed and look weird forever.) Two summer Tilleys met my criteria: the T5CN Tilley Plaid Hat ($76) and the T7MO Organic Cotton with 3D Mesh ($78).
I was worried when I first saw the Tilley Plaid Hat on the website that the plaid fabric would look like something out of the 70s and not work with any of my outfits. I was pleasantly surprised when the hat arrived and featured a soft khaki color with a very subtle plaid pattern that blended easily with nearly anything I was wearing. Several of my traveling companions commented on the hats attractiveness.
Even better was the fact that this hat is incredibly lightweight. Weighing less than three ounces, it provided sun protection without weight. In fact, I often forgot I was wearing it. Made with a nylon/cotton blend, it was cool as a cucumber even in 85+F. degree heat and high humidity. With its medium brim and light weight, it was small enough to clip to my camera bag or slip into my side bag when I didn’t need it and it became my go-to hat for most of my trip.
However, the ancient city of Tulum 30 minutes outside of Playa del Carmen, has virtually no shade and, when we traveled to this archeological site, I knew I needed the big gun in sun protection, my Organic Cotton Tilley with 3D Mesh. This is a serious sun hat with a broad brim that’s longer and sloping in the back to protect the neck from sun. Its sueded organic cotton is soft and, while not as light as the Tilley Plaid, its still relatively lightweight while offering a whopping 50 SPF of sun protection. The dark underbrim helps cut the suns glare and the big 3D mesh panel in the back helps vent hot air and allows cooler air to flow in.
Like all other Tilley hats Ive tested, both the Plaid Hat and the Cotton Mesh Hat are machine washable and pack well, easily returning to their original shape. You wont lose them because they tie on in the wind and they’re rain resistant and they even float. Both come with a secret Velcro pocket, are insured against loss, and are guaranteed for life not to wear out (now how often do you get that these days?).
The culmination of my Real Test for these summer Tilley hats didn’t involve sun at all. On my last day in Playa del Carmen, I wore my Tilley Plaid and strolled down 5th Avenue for a little shopping. Much to my suprise, big fat raindrops started to fall.
Like other travelers, I ducked inside the awning of a shop to wait out the shower. When the rain turned to a torrent, I made a break for the nearest coffee shop and the Nanosphere weather-repellent finish on my Plaid Hat made the water course off my hat and kept my head perfectly dry. Suddenly, my sun hat had become a lightweight rain hat!
After lingering over a cup of java for 45 minutes watching rain gush off the patio roof and no end in sight, I hopped a cab for my hotel. By now, of course, my Plaid Tilley (and everything else I was wearing) was completely soaked. With no time to allow anything to dry, I stuffed the hat into a plastic sack and packed it into my suitcase.
When I finally arrived home eight hours later around midnight, I popped open my suitcase and pulled my Plaid Tilley out of its plastic bag. It was nearly dry and, despite being squashed for hours soaking wet in my suitcase, my Tilley shook out into its original shape with almost no wrinkles. Now this is a tough hat that’s great for both sun and rain and one that’ll travel with me often.
— Reviewed by BH