Four life lessons I’ve learned from a Tilley Hat

Tilley Hats have been with me my entire life. Padre gave me my first one when I was 15 years old. It went something like this:

PADRE: Here, wear this.

ME: You’re giving me your hat?

PADRE: Yep.

ME: But you love your hat.

PADRE: Yep.

ME: And I get to keep it?

PADRE: Unfortunately.

ME: Why?

PADRE: Because I don’t want to deal with you being sunburned.

*LONG PAUSE*

ME: But Dad…that’s is your hat.

PADRE: It’s yours now. Put it on.

*ANOTHER LONG PAUSE*

ME: …I don’t know, this just really feels like an important moment. You know, a father passing something down to a son.

PADRE: Max, it’s just a hat.

*I START GETTING EMOTIONAL*

ME: Yeah…but it’s YOUR hat.

PADRE: …

ME: I just…I just think…I just want to say thank you for…

PADRE: Would you just put the hat on before you get sunburned?

Father-son bonding at its best.

Since that time Padre and I have owned two more Tilley’s between the two of us. They’ve taught us some important lessons. Here are some of them:


GOOD PARENTING IS PATIENT PARENTING

This is my son, Jack.

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He is possibly the only person on Earth whiter than me. Unfortunately for Jack, he also seems to hate hats.

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This is obviously a bad combination of traits for Jack. So, what does a good parent do?

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TIE THE GODDAMN HAT ON HIS HEAD SO HE CAN’T GET IT OFF

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Nah. Just be patient, remind him that hats are pretty baller, and trust that he’ll figure it out in the long run.


NEVER ALLOW YOURSELF TO BE FULLY SUBMERGED IN YAK POOP

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A few years ago, at the very beginning of a very long field season my Tilley was blown off my head and landed in a giant pile of yak poop. Looking on in horror, there was nothing I could do before it was stepped on by a yak, fully grinding it into the giant pile of poo. With no laundromat for hundreds of miles, I washed the hat in a near by stream, put on my bravest face, and wore it every day for two more months. It never smelled quite right. And because it didn’t smell right, I didn’t smell quite right. For two months.

So, while this isn’t an everyday situation many people come across, take it from me: never allow you or anything you own to be fully submerged in yak poop.


BE FLEXIBLE

This is Padre’s Tilley hat:

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It is actually older than the universe.

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As many of you have noticed, his hat has a strange shape.

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Why on earth would anyone want their hat to point up in the back, you ask? Well, that’s because Padre the the last human being alive to insist on carrying the heaviest possible pack everywhere he goes.

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And these heavy packs ride high enough that the back of his hat would rub against the lid of the lid. So the hat is left with a conundrum: Do I keep my shape and get left at home, or bend a little and get to see some cool stuff?

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Go see cool stuff.


KNOW WHEN IT’S TIME TO SAY GOODBYE

All of which brings us back to that first Tilley my dad gave me:

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By this point the hat had been on a couple hundred backpacking trips, fully submerged in yak poop, floated a mile or so down a river with me frantically running after it, and stored wet, rolled up in a ball, for weeks at a time. By the end, the front drooped so badly that I could only see out by tipping my head back.

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But I loved that hat. And I couldn’t let it go.

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Until one night, while walking around camp getting ready to Rim-to-River-to-Rim the Grand Canyon the next day, I walked straight into a tree because I couldn’t see what was in front of me. I knew it was time.

30 minutes later I walked out of the gift shop at the Bright Angel Lodge with a brand new Tilley in hand. It came with us to the river the next day.

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And it’s been with me ever since

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But it will never be the old one.

And sure, Tilley probably would have replaced it, but I don’t want it replaced. Instead I’d rather keep it around, hanging in my office, where I can look at it an remember everything. Where I can remember the far away places

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and those closer to home.

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The beautiful moments

And the terrifying ones too.

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PADRE: Max, its just a hat.

No, Padre, it’s so much more than that.

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Max Wilson is a graduate student studying ecology at Arizona State University. He writes here at Lesser Places, occasionally for Backpacker.com, and even more occasionally for scientific journals. You can follow him on twitter @maxomillions.

3 thoughts on “Four life lessons I’ve learned from a Tilley Hat

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