I’ve been challenged in the hair department for quite a while and spend a lot of time in sunny places, so I rarely go on a trip without packing one of my Tilley hats. I’ve tried a lot of brands over the years and they always come out on top.
Tilley Endurables hats are made in Canada and guaranteed for life. If you buy one and it craps out on you ten years later, you can return it and the company will either repair or (more often) replace it. That’s a sign of a company that really believes in its workmanship and it shows in the quality of what you get. (More on that return process further down.)
These are not cheap hats like you would buy on a street corner that are rejects from a factory in China. They’re well-designed and made to hold up to rigorous travels in tough conditions. If you lose your hat within the first two years they’ll even replace it for half price.
When I was editor of Practical Travel Gear I tried out a few different models from them and could hold and try on their others while at a trade show I attended each year. My two female writers reviewed women’s versions and also raved.
My favorite is probably this Mash-up one. It’s like the famous Airflow one you’ve probably seen Canucks wearing around the world for as long as you’ve been traveling. It’s got a mesh strip around the top that lets the heat escape. I like the look of this one better though because of the textured fabric, actually made from the cuttings left over from other hats. So it’s eco-conscious too! Each one is different; mine is actually a light gray compared to the photo above, as seen at the top of this post.
Unfortunately this was my favorite hat when I first wrote this post. At one point I was walking across a bridge in Tampa Bay, I didn’t have the chin cord on, and a gust of strong wind blew it off my head into the water. I went looking for it on the little island close to there, by kayak even, but never found it. These hats float, but who knows where the currents took it.
I have another Airflo one still though that I’ve been packing since 2006. It looks a little worse for wear, so it’s the one I pack when I need to stuff things really tight in my suitcase.
Another one I used to pack a lot is the Two-Tone TRH4 one pictured below. because it lays down flat and still looked okay when I took it out on the other end. This hat was probably on 30 trips with me and showed up in half the photos taken of me by a friend or family member on the road. Alas, after a decade or so it got waylaid on a trip, never to be seen again.
Tilley Hat Features
Unfortunately I can’t find a current version on their site that’s black underneath like that except a snap-up one, so the closest is probably the Orbit. It, like all of these, comes with some useful features for travelers:
1) A little secret pocket inside the top of the hat where you can store money or a credit card. (Apparently this has made them the official hats of the American Association of Nude Recreation.)
2) Mesh at the top or air holes on the side to let heat escape. Very handy in hot and sunny places.
3) A “meant to last” chin strap that’s adjustable and detachable. Yeah, go ahead and laugh you haters, but I’ve seen at least a dozen people lose their hat on a windy boat or on the side of a cliff. Including me.
4) Rated UPF 50+ for sun protection.
5) With the cloth ones, they’re pre-shrunk and you can toss them in the washing machine. (Air dry though.)
6) They come in real hat sizes, not “one size fits most” or an ambiguous size like “large.”
If you don’t like the travel hat look, they also make fedoras, raffia hats, wool ones for winter, and others.
What you spend on one of these might make you gulp—they’re typically $70-$120—but you are investing in quality that will even out over years of wear.
Tilley Endurables hats are easier to find in Canada, where there are full retail stores with clothing too, but you can always order direct from the company online. They are rather hard to find from most online retailers now that the company has changed hands, though you can also find some of the best-selling Tilley hats at REI. Last, you’ll often see them on the rack of independent retail shops selling outdoor gear.
The Tilley Hats Return Process
Back when the founder still ran the company, they had a very liberal return policy that even covered items lost soon after you bought them. They were trying to build up an army of loyal fans, so you basically shipped the worn out or failing one back, included some money for shipping, and they sent you a new one.
There will always be some scammers taking advantage of a system like that though, plus the new owners were looking to tighten the belt, so now the policy is a little more complicated. It is more eco-friendly though, so I’ll say it’s a wash.
If your old Tilley hat wears out somehow, as one of mine did when the plastic brim stabilizer started poking out through the side, the company will replace it. You don’t send them the hat anymore though. Instead you fill out a form and attach two photos in two phases: the first is one of where the defect is for them to approve the return.
The second photo is a bit more traumatic: you have to destroy your hat completely by cutting out the whole top of it. Then you send them a photo of that proving that you’ve done it. The idea is that you don’t return a ruined hat and then keep wearing it around as a negative advertisement, plus this keeps people honest.
You’ll notice that I also had to write the date on there with a permanent marker. No way this hat is getting reused in any way! That saves the shipping option though, so a tad more eco-friendly since it was going to get tossed either way.
You can see all the legalese and fine print on the company’s return policy at that link, but it’s fairly straightforward. Tilley Endurables hats are still guaranteed for life and that’s still on the tag on the inside of every hat.
The one thing that could enable them to wiggle out of it now though: they ask for an order number. If you bought the hat eight years ago, got it at a physical retail outlet, or received it as a gift, you probably won’t have that (or a receipt), but they let me slide on that and I’m assuming they do with most people.
See their best-selling hats here and head over to the sale section to find models that are currently discounted. They don’t just make guy hats either. There are plenty of Tilley hats for women, some of them quite fashionable.
See more rundowns here on what I think are the best travel gear brands.
Thursday 12th of January 2017
Thanks Tim, I've been looking for a hat that looks good for traveling. Not a big fan of the hiking hats when I'm not hiking.