I have a confession: I hate beanies.
Yes, I hate beanies. I hate beanies more than I hate any other type of outdoors gear. I hate beanies so much that the very old shot above was the only picture I could find of me in a beanie. Even my very beautiful wife cannot distract me from my beanie hatred.
Why? Because my skin tone could be politely described as on the pink side of iridescent and beanies fail the first test of headwear: provide shade. Obviously, there is a way around this problem, and that is to cram your beanie-ed head into whatever other shade providing headwear you already have on hand.
But that sucks. Either your hat is too small to wear with a beanie or it is too large for all the other times. So us iridescent-skinned people are left with a terrible choice: be uncomfortable, be cold, or be sunburned. Or at least that’s how it used to be.
The Tilley TecWool Ball Cap attempts to solve this problem in an elegant way. They start from a solid foudation, a ball cap made of their absurdly warm TecWool material (essentially a wool/synthetic blend). It’s a good looking, particularly in the blue, which shows the herringbone pattern well. And in case you’re worried about such things, the wool is well lined, to keep the itchy wool away from your
receding perfectly adequate hairline.
Inside, however, is where the magic happens. As with many of Tilley’s winter hats, the cap hides fold down integral ear warmers. When deployed your simple baseball cap transitions into just about the perfect cold weather hat: one that both keeps your ears warm and has a big enough brim to shade your face.
So what are the downsides to such a system? A couple of things popped up during testing. Most seriously , the brim of the cap sits low, and when the hat was worn with the ear warmers in their optimal position I noticed the brim would touch much glasses. This isn’t a deal breaker in and of itself, but it did constrict airflow and caused my glasses to fog up consistently when I was doing significant cardio, like post-holing between fishing spots.
If you made me pick more nits I’d say the ear warmer material is relatively thin. Upon first inspection I thought it was going to be a problem, but I found over a couple of days actively fishing in temperatures between 10-15 degrees (F) that my ears never chilled. That being said, I’m not sure whether the ear warmers would be adequate for a night sitting still in camp below zero degrees with little activity. And finally, the fact that this is a cap, rather than a beanie is going to limit it’s usefulness inside a mummy bag. Together these characteristics combine to make this a better hat for cold day trips than as a single headwear solution for winter backpacking. And that’s fine. Not every piece of gear in the world has to be designed for spending weeks and weeks on end in the backcountry, after all.
It’s been a busy winter here at LP, and the TecWool Ball Cap has been with me every step of the way. When I decided to go fishing after the storm of the century, it was my first choice.
When Curry caught his first fish on the fly, I was wearing it.
And when it came time to show Jack the snow, it was perfect.
Did Tilley fix the beanie by making a baseball cap? No, that’s probably a bridge to far. What they did do, however, is make a warm, reliable, good looking cap with that fits perfectly in the niche of winter day trips. In less than a season, the ball cap has made it all the way into the hallowed ground at the front the closet where I put the gear I use all the time. What better endorsement can there be?
DISCLAIMER: Tilley Endurables provided me the TecWool Ball Cap for testing. Though this may change in the future, there is no financial relationship between Lesser Places and Tilley Endurables and I am not sponsored by Tilley Endurables. Tilley Endurables had no editorial control over the contents of this review.
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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.