It's no secret that the equatorial sun is harsh. In this guide, you'll learn how to choose the best sun protection hats. We also answer commonly asked questions about sun protection. And we include our top picks for the best sun protection hats.
Choosing the Best Sun Protection Hat
If you're like me, you probably don't like hats very much. Before we moved to Ecuador, the only hat I wore was a ball hat.
The summer we arrived (2009), I met a Canadian who had spent the majority of his life in Ecuador. He grew up there as a kid, and after some years abroad, he returned. For most of his life, he lived on the coast and wore thin linen shirts. He was fair-skinned and he warned me to dress for the sun, because it is different in Ecuador. He had skin cancer, and the day I met him his face was marked from the removal of numerous spots. He said his back was even worse.
Until that conversation, I had been pretty careless about sun protection.
In this post, you'll learn about the UV Index in Ecuador – and when you need to protect yourself from the sun. You'll also learn the 8 factors to consider when choosing a hat for sun protection.
This guide is very comprehensive, so we’ve broken it up into these four main sections:
- Top Pick: tl;dr See our top choice for the best sun protection hat. (jump to section)
- What's the UV Index in Ecuador? Chart, reference by city, explanation of the UV Index scale. (jump to section)
- 8 Sun Protection Features to Consider: (jump to section)
- Best Sun Protection Hats: Best choices for men, women, kids, unisex and other sun protection accessories (jump to section)
- Sun Protection FAQ: All your UV questions answered. Well, at least 10 of them. (jump to section)
- 6 Sun Safety Tips: How Not to Get Cooked in the Equatorial Sun (jump to section)
This is a pretty big guide. If you're just looking for our top recommendation, I've put together this quick guide.
Here are our top picks for the best hats for sun protection:
Top Pick: Best Sun Protection Hat (Men/Women)
Bora Bora Booney II Sun Hat by Columbia: This Columbia hat is affordable and boasts the following features: UPF 50+, adjustable chin strap, adjustable drawcord (one size fits all), omni-wick sweatband and mesh vent panel too keep you cool.
This is our top pick sun protection hat for both men and women. Comes in six colors navy, fossil-tan, grill (pictured), peatmoss-olive, sage, and steel-powder blue.
Top Picks: Best Sun Protection Hat for Kids
Sunday Afternoons Kids Sun Hat: This hat gives exceptional sun protection – including UPF 50+ and a full 5.5″ neck veil to cover the back of neck. Mesh ventilation on child and youth sizes (no mesh on baby sizes).
This is our pick for the best sun protection hat for kids. Comes in 16 colors and prints, and many sizes (baby, child, infant, youth) to fit your child's size and preference.
8 Hat Sun Protection Features
There’s nothing worse than being so sunburnt it hurts to smile because you weren’t wearing a hat.
That is the quickest way to a miserable holiday and apart from being a funny travel story years down the track, do you really want to be that person? So, let's discuss what all the best sun protection hats have in common.
- UV Protection: A good UV protection hat also helps protect your eyes from cataracts and your skin against melanoma (the world’s most common cancer), aging and damage so be sure to look for a good UPF and SPF rating.
- UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor) measures the amount (see explanation below) of ultraviolet radiation that can reach your skin after penetrating through your clothing fabric.
- SPF is the Sun Protection Factor, found in sunscreens, cosmetics, and creams which measures the time it takes for their protection to wear off and your skin to redden, then burn.
The hats fabric, namely tightness of weave, material it’s made from and color all affect the UPF.
- UPF: 15-24 (Good) Blocks 93.3 – 95.9% of UV Radiation
- UPF: 25-39 (Very Good) Blocks 96.0 – 97.4% of UV Radiation
- UPF: 40-50+ (Excellent) Blocks 97.5-98+% of UV Radiation
How UPF is Calculated: “For example, a fabric rated UPF 30 means that, if 30 units of UV fall on the fabric, only 1 unit will pass through to the skin. A UPF 30 fabric that blocks 29 out of 30 units of UV is therefore blocking 96.7%.” ~ wikipedia.org
Light colors reflect UV rays. So a nice white, cream or beige is a good choice – as are other light natural tones like light olive, grey or tan. Light colors offer the best protection.
Of course, there is always room for a splash of color in the band or rim to add some style but the main color should be light.
Dark colors heat quicker, absorb more and also make your head very hot which may give you heat headaches.
2. Tightness of weave
Tightness of weave – the tighter the better. Those floppy straw sun hats with big holes in them may look good but they let a lot of sun penetrate which results in less protection.
For harsher sun climates, choose a tight weave with a decent UPF rating (96% and up) for ultimate protection. Most adventure hat manufacturers will include the UPF rating when describing the hat.
Breathable material with a tight weave make the best sun protection hats.
A material like cotton or cotton blend is good, as is polyester. It’s comfortable enough to wear all day, you can usually find them in just about any color you want and they are lightweight, foldable or crushable making them easy to pack.
Adjustable straps or drawcords you can pull to tighten around your head, and a chin strap will help your hat stay with you and not fly off the side of a boat or over a mountain cliff when the wind gusts.
Don’t worry about looking dorky, most good sun protection hats have straps these days so every smart person on your tour will be wearing one. And you can tuck the strap inside when you don't need it.
Skin Cancer Foundation of Australia recommends at least a 3+ inch wide brim on your sun hat. This is wide enough to offer protection for your ears, face and neck.
Other personal factors to consider are functions like moisture-wicking and cost. Thankfully, these days you don’t have to break the bank to buy a great sun hat that fits all of the above criteria.
Protect yourself from the sun with a quality travel umbrella. Here are some of the best options.
6. Moisture Wicking
A lot of good sun hats will have a moisture wicking lining which draws sweat and water away from your head so you don’t get a rash or are too uncomfortable.
This will be a great feature if you’ve been swimming and put your hat on over wet hair. It helps draw it up and away.
And while hats are important, there are some drawbacks – namely: they can be hot. Wearing a hat on a hot day will make you sweat more. Moisture wicking is an important feature – it will keep you comfortable.
Foldable, scrunchable or compressible are the qualities you want in your travel sun protection hat so it doesn’t take up too much space in your luggage. And so it doesn't come out of your luggage looking like a balled up newspaper.
The good news is that most of them fit into one or more of these categories so you’re bound to find the perfect packable hat in just about any design.
8. Intended Use
Your activity will depend on your style of hat: swimming, hiking, fishing, boating, lounging on the beach or sightseeing.
For example: if you are hiking around Galapagos clifftops and zipping between islands on a boat, then you will need to ensure your hat will stay on your head under the higher winds so you will need a chin strap or headband tightener built in.
Whereas if you are chillin at the beach and going swimming then it is not as necessary. Before your purchase, just think about what you have planned during your trip to make sure that your hat will do everything you need it to do to keep you safe.
12 Best Sun Protection Hats: Men, Women, Kids
Here are some great choices in each category of unisex, men, women and kids best sun protection hats along with some other accessories to help keep that harsh sun at bay.
Best Unisex Sun Protection Hats (3)
1. Columbia: Bora Bora Booney II Sun hats
This is our Top Pick (see top of post) Designed for adventuring, hiking and all outdoor activities with a moisture wicking headband built in and large mesh front, this hats wide brim not only protects you from the sun but keeps your head cool by allowing heat to escape.
A UPF 50+ rating and light colors add further protection while 92% of customers say it’s a great fit from the start, comfortable wearing all day and packs down flat for ease of travel.
2. Linikis Unisex UV Protection Sun Hat (with Neck Flap)
Quick dry, stain and water resistant this lightweight foldable sun hat even has breathable mesh on both sides of your head to help you stay cool.
The ventilation mesh makes wearing it all day more comfortable and the adjustable band and chin straps means it fits everyone, staying on your head no matter where you choose to roam.
3. Quick-Drying UPF 50+ Sun Hat by HomePrefer
You can tuck the neck flap back up under the 3-inch rim when you don’t need it, transforming your hat into a stylish sun hat fit for any outdoor occasion.
UPF 50+ it’s soft lightweight fabric also dries quickly so you can even wear it floating in the ocean or exploring around waterfalls.
Best Sun Protection Hats for Men (3)
4. Outdoor Research: Crusade Wide Brim Hat
For hot climates (coast, Galapagos, and the jungle) I recommend the stone color – it is cool but doesn't show too much dirt. The other colors (khaki and carbon grey) would be great for cooler climates – like the sierra region (Quito and Cuenca).
Comes with an adjustable drawstring (tucks up inside when you don't need it), UPF 50+ rating, wicking sweatband, and a 3-4″ brim.
5. iColor: UV 360 Solar Protection UPF 50+ Sun Cap
Waterproof, it comes with protective neck flap and face mask with breathable mesh offering 360 protection from the harsh sun and mosquitoes as well.
Offering UPF 50+ it’s ultralight and windproof with the adjustable head and chin straps making sure it stays no matter what conditions you find yourself in. With a foldable brim it is designed for travel packing down into a tiny package to slip into your luggage, daypack or bag.
6. Einskey Sun Hat for Men
Wide ventilation vents down both sides allow good air flow keeping your head cooler and the wide down sloping brim keeps 98% of the harmful UVA and UVB rays from ever reaching you.
Moisture-wicking in the headband adds a layer of comfort to this lightweight, foldable easy to pack a hat.
Best Sun Protection Hats for Women (3)
7. UPF 50+ Beach Hat by HindaWi
Available in a great range of light colors it’s proof that you can have UPF 50+ in a feminine and chic design. It’s also reversible, meaning you get two hats for the price of one and you can even fold up the back to vary the design.
You choose how you wear it with a detachable bowknot, and it’s 100% satisfaction money back guarantee is just icing on the cake.
Extremely packable, it folds down into an attractive little package easy to slip into your daypack, beach bag, handbag or luggage. Lightweight and breathable, it’s comfortable all day no matter which weather conditions you find yourself in and has a chin strap if the wind picks up.
8. Siggihat UV Protection Sun Hat
It has a detachable chin strap to help on those windy days or cruises so it doesn’t fly off, and you can even help it stay on your head easier by pulling your ponytail or bun through the built-in hole.
It’s front wide brim and neck cape coverage allows for maximum protection for your face and neck from those harmful UV rays.
9. Ordenado Waterproof UV Protection hat
UPF 50+ waterproof polyester cotton blend means that this lightweight hat is comfortable and breathable in a more classic outdoor wide brim hat design. The large side ventilation mesh vents offer great air flow which helps keep your head cool.
The 4-inch all around brim keeps the harsh sun off your face and neck, while being floppy enough to pack down easily into your luggage.
For those really hot days it has a sweat absorption mesh lining and for those really windy days it has an adjustable chin strap.
Best Sun Protection Hats for Kids (3)
10. Sunday Afternoons – Kids Play Hat
This is our Top Pick (see top of post) (UPF 50+ and available in a range of fun colors, this hat offers great sun protection for your wee ones.
From baby sizes through to youth, this hat is designed for kids. Both water and stain resistant, the wide down sloping brim also helps everything run off while offering maximum sun protection and helps keep glare down.
A long neck cape means that it can be worn anywhere comfortably so if the kids lay their heads back, it won’t come off.
The smart design chin strap detaches under pressure preventing choking hazards while the adjustable head strap means they can wear it for years, just adjust it out as you go.
11. SwimZip Sun Hat
Corrosion resistant eyelets for the breakaway chin straps and the fact that it floats makes it the perfect hat to take on a beach vacation or boat cruise. Fun bright colors also help it be found in a jiffy.
You can also get matching UPF 50+ swim suits and sets from the same company.
12. Sun Protection Zone
Pink with flowers or blue with swimming sharks, they are fun, comfortable, lightweight and have adjustable straps providing your kids with everything they need.
Find more great gifts for campers in our huge guide.
Other Sun Protection Products (3-5 choices)
JoeYoung: Balaclava neck scarf
Fun and available in a huge range of prints, these great designs can be worn six ways. There is something for everyone while gaining that UV protection you are after, completely covering your neck and half of your face as a great accompaniment to caps.
Cool and comfortable they also have a money back guarantee if you are not happy in any way.
An umbrella, sun shade and wind break all rolled into one, this great umbrella blocks 99.98% of UV rays making it a great addition to any trip if you are planning on spending any amount of time beachside.
Set it up as a canopy or a dome, the UPF 50+ protection rain or shine under its 8ft wide canopy provides shelter from the elements.
Large side pockets and top air vents provide good airflow, keep you cool and prevent it from blowing away if the wind gusts. If the winds does pick up, you can stake it down. Packing down into its own slender carry bag, you can slip it into your luggage and take it with you on your vacation.
Polarized 100% UV protection glasses by Sungait
Lightweight, strong framed, flexible and polarized for great vision and protection against UVA, UVB and UVC rays it provides optimal protection for your eyes with block glare and UV400 eye protection.
Hardy, durable and shatterproof they are able to stand up to just about anything making these the perfect travel sunglasses to take with you on your next outdoor adventure. They also come with their own cleaning cloth, storage carry bag and small repair screwdriver.
10 Sun Protection FAQ’s
1. Is the sun stronger near the equator?
Sunlight is neither stronger nor weaker on the equator. But because the rays have less atmosphere to travel to reach areas on the equator, there is less atmosphere to absorb the UV radiation.
According to the U.S. Food & Drug Administration, exposure to UV rays is increased when they travel less “distance through ozone-rich portions of the atmosphere to reach the earth's surface”.
2. Does UV stand for Ultraviolet radiation?
Yes, it does. There are actually four types of UV radiation. While UVC and UVD can’t penetrate earth’s ozone layer, UVA and UVB can, are harmful and affect all life on earth not just humans.
Both UVA and UVB are harmful to your skin and are the main cause of melanomas, the most common cancer that affects thousands of Americans each year.
So, what is the difference?
UVA penetrates through your first two layers of skin further down into the subcutaneous layer under your skin. That is why it is so harmful and is capable of damaging your skins DNA on a cellular level.
UVB is not as strong, only penetrating through your epidermis (skin you touch) to your dermis, the underlying skin.
3. Is it true that UV rays can hurt me, even behind the clouds?
Yes, UV rays can penetrate through clouds. They are powerful enough to reach earth from the sun which is 149,600,000 km away and pierce our ozone layer.
Although clouds do reflect and stop some of the UV from reaching us, they do not stop all of the UV rays. It is estimated that 80% still penetrate through.
4. What actually causes sunburns?
5. Why do UV rays cause sunburn?
It burns because it is your bodies reaction to the UVB light damaging your skins DNA on a cellular level.
UV rays are a form of radiation capable of burning your skin from solar rays if you are out in the sun too long. Depending on your skin type, you can burn in as little as 15 minutes.
The sun is the natural, organic source but not the only source of UV radiation. All forms of UV light are harmful to your skin, including artificial ones such tanning lamps, UV germicidal irradiation and welding arcs.
6. What does UV light do to your skin?
“By damaging the skin's cellular DNA, excessive UV radiation produces genetic mutations that can lead to skin cancer. Both the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the World Health Organization have identified UV as a proven human carcinogen.” SkinCancer.org
Basically, excessive sunburn causes skin damage and can lead to skin cancer.
7. Can you get sick from a sunburn?
The short answer is yes. Dehydration and headaches are the most common symptoms. In more severe cases you can feel nauseous as your body is experiencing what are known as first- and second-degree burns.
- A first degree burn only affects the outer layers of your skin: redness and some inflammation.
- A second degree is when it has penetrated deeper and affected the underlying layers of your skin: blisters, peeling and painful to the touch. This is more serious and you can feel nausea, headaches and weakness.
Your body will draw liquids away from your internal organs to the surface to help your skin heal. To lessen the impact of this, drink lots of water or other fluid with some electrolytes in it like a sports drink to help your body cope with the trauma of the burn.
8. How do you know if you have sun poisoning?
Manifesting as a severe rash, with small incredibly itchy fluid filled white blisters (similar to hives) it is also known as ‘sun allergy’ which is the most extreme form of sunburn.
It is a sensitivity to the sun and unfortunately, the fairer your complexion, the more at risk you are. If you are fair, especially redheads and natural blondes, then make sure to always wear a high SPF sunscreen and reapply every couple of hours.
Sun poisoning symptoms include: swelling, large blisters, headache, dehydration, and in more severe cases nausea, dizziness, rapid pulse and even fainting. These symptoms can last from a few days to a few weeks.
9. What is best treatment for sunburn?
- Cool it down with cool water, then use a light moisturizer while it’s still damp. (DO NOT: use oil-based moisturizers or petroleum, as they will lock the heat in making it worse)
- Keep it moisturized for the next few days.
- Cover up, keep out of the sun and replenish your fluids. No guys, this does not mean beer, water is the what you are after. This will help hydrate the skin for healing.
- Take an aspirin or other anti-inflammatory like ibuprofen to bring down swelling and inflammation.
Of course, there are herbal and natural treatments excellent for helping your skin to heal like Aloe Vera.
If you have any on hand, then go outside, cut off a leaf and peel the skin back to reveal the jelly-like gel inside and apply directly to your skin.
For the next few days, cover up and wear loose-fitting light clothing to allow your skin to heal without rubbing, chafing or damage while it’s healing.
10. Will My Sunburn Turn into a Tan?
More reading: How to avoid a sunburn in Ecuador
Why I Love My Coolibar Sun Hat (Review)
The sun in Ecuador is strong all year round. And because there is no winter (well, at least no ice, snow, and wind chill) we are outside a lot. We need to be very careful to avoid sunburn.
When we first arrived in Ecuador, I wore the famed Panama hat (actually made here.) While they are fine, the Coolibar sun hat has quickly become my favorite for sun protection.
Why I Love My Polyester Coolibar Sun Hat
- The shell is 100% polyester which means it's durable and packs easily for travel.
- It's lightweight and breaths because of the weave.
- The sun protection is excellent at UPF 50+.
- It goes easily from the beach to shopping, or something a little more formal.
Straw hats are worrisome because the rain damages them – and they can lose their shape.
In light rain the polyester is worry-free.
This hat is comfortable, looks good. And most importantly it has a 50+ level of sun-protection.
Sun protection is important everywhere and even more so living/traveling in the Andes mountains.
The UPF 50+ of these sun hats means that they block 98% of the sun's UVA and UVB radiation.
Where to Get Your Coolibar Sun Hat
Shopping online will probably be your best option unless you live near a retail store. We ordered our Coolibar Sun Hats on Amazon and had them shipped to us in Cuenca Ecuador.
If you are planning a trip or move abroad, order before you travel if possible. It can be hard to find a good quality sun-safe (travel/weather friendly) hat abroad. To help, we created this guide to the best sun protection hats.
To ensure a good fit make sure you read the customer reviews on Amazon before placing your order. The reviews said that the style hat I was ordering was a small fit and they were right. I have a small head so it's perfect, but if my head were any bigger it would be too small.
We ordered a different style for our daughter because her head is “one size fits all” perfect.
Have you tried the Coolibar line of sun hats? What is your favorite all around hat for sun protection? Please share by commenting on this post.
How do you handle sun protection? What do you plan to use on your next trip to Ecuador? Let me know in the comments.
Bryan Haines is a co-founder and blogger on GudGear – and is working to make it the best resource for outside gear. He is a travel blogger at Storyteller.Travel and photographer at Click Like This. He is also co-founder of Storyteller Media, a company he started with his wife, Dena.