Squall. Downpour. Tempest.
No matter what words you are using to describe the weather you just came out of, equipment and clothing is essential in returning back to shore safely and comfortably during a storm. Dry suits, boots and technical gloves are all commonplace in the foul-weather duffle bag of many sailors. However, one essential article that is often overlooked is a sailor’s hat.
For normal weather, hats are, for the most part, a matter of personal preference. The shade from a five dollar hardware store straw hat is the same as the shade from a $60 hat made from modern fabrics like America’s Cup sailors wear. And everyone has their own opinion on the fashion of hats, so a general comparison of the best sailing hats would be similar to comparing candy bars; there is no way to get an objective front runner.
What separates hats is how they perform once the weather turns sour. The same cheap straw hat might fly off at the first breath of wind over 15 knots, and the $60 ball-cap might soak through easily and make the sailor’s head wet, cold and miserable.
So we set out to compare four of the most technical, highest technology hats to see which one would prevail in a battle against themselves and the elements.
We have tested and found that the Grundens Sandhamn 21 Sou’Wester hat is the best foul-weather hat for the worst Mother Nature can thrown at you.
At first glance, the Sandhamn looks like the hat on the Morton’s Salt man. That is because the Sou’Wester hat design has been around for more than a century, and they are the best design to keep water away from the wearer’s eyes and face. Originally, these “oilskin” hats were made out of sail canvas, and covered with tar. Thankfully, the production process has been modernized, and the hats produced now are mostly made from polyester.
The Grundens Sandhamn 21 is many large and lengthy steps up from a canvas hat covered in tar. It is made from nylon, and covered with 100% waterproof PVC. The inside is lined with polyesther fleece which has a great balance of light weight and warmth. There were no problems with overheating while wearing the hat during lulls of foul weather, or even wearing it around the marina in Morro Bay, where the weather is anything but foul.
One of the most functionable features of the hat is its welded water ditch. Other Sou’ Westers are easily folded up, but in inclinent weather, nothing is stopping the wind and water from unfolding the front bill and soaking your face. The Sandhamn’s water trough is built into the hat, and doesn’t waiver under any amount of natural stress. This was a strong selling point for those who tested the hat. Many of the other hats allowed water to flow freely into the face of the wearer. Great for an outdoor shower and rinse, but not so great for finding the winch that you need to grind.
The Sandhamn protects its wearer from every direction. The back of the hat stretches far enough down the back of the user to protect their neck from spray and harmful UV rays. It might not be as acceptable to wear into the yacht club as some sailing hats, but the Sandhamn does the best job in all of the categories we were looking for in the best foul-weather hat, as we describe below.
There are innumerable variations of hats out there designed for sailors, from modified baseball caps to bucket hats to more traditional Sou’Westers like the Sandhamn.
In a close call, we found the that the Sandhamn 21 beats out every other foul weather hat, even more expensive GORE- TEX hats. This one, The Kokatat Nor’ Wester, is made of the popular all-weather fabric GORE-TEX. It has a floating foam bill, and a mesh lining on the inside. It looks and feels about as modern and high-tech as a hat can get, with reflective tape and two incredibly vibrant colors to choose from. A major drawback that the Kokatat hat has is its soft foam bill. Unlike the Sandhamn 21, which has a welded trough on the top of the bill to deter rainwater, the Kokotat has a foam bill that is easily manipulated by downward-pouring rain. In addition, the hat has nothing to offer in terms of warmth. For the most extreme conditions, the Kototat Nor’ Wester falls short of the Sandhamn 21.
On the more traditional side, the closest competition to the Grundens Sandhamn 21 is an inexpensive version of the same hat. This one, made by Dutch Harbor Gear, is ideal for those concerned only about price.
This Sou’Wester is made from 100% polyesther, and has lined ear flaps that fasten similarly to the Sandhamn’s. The two are nearly unmistakable from 30 feet away, but where the Dutch Harbor hat lags is in overall quality. It feels much thinner and flimsier than the Sandhamn, and although we wouldn’t couldn’t do a cold temperature test, it can be deduced that the Dutch Harbor hat’s insulation is not as good. Also, the Dutch Harbor hat does not have a welded water gutter in the bill of the hat, which dosn’t fare so well in the heaviest of rain storms.
Some comparable hats to the Sandhamn 21 are made by well-respected marine apparel brands. The Helmsman hat, made by Gill, is their offering for inclinent weather headgear.
It feels about the same to wear as the Sandhamn 21 and the hat is very well constructed from similar waterproof PVC fabric. It is slightly less bulky than both of the Sou’ Westers, which we found helpful when busy jumping from deck to deck. Its major drawback, though, is its lack of neck protection. Sun isn’t the only thing the neck is exposed to when wearing The Helmsman; water from rain and spray is not repelled from the neck in any fashion during use. For those reasons, we knew the Sandhamn is the better choice.
Every experienced sailor knows that being prepared for foul weather is absolutely essential to keeping yourself safe and dry during storms. Grundens has been making the best in foul weather gear for over 100 years. Their company started in Sweden in 1911, making oilskin garments. Their production only ceased briefly for World War I, but has continued ever since they restarted production in 1928. One of Grundens’ primary focuses is product durability and quality. One gCaptain forum member said he still uses his Grundens foulies from more than 25 years ago, despite his wife buying him new, more modern equipment from other brands.
The Sandhamn 21 is no exception to the incredibly high quality found in other Grundens foul weather gear. From the thick, sealed seams on the hat, to the comfy, soft fleece lining, it is by far the best hat to protect your head from the worst weather nature can throw at you.