Back in the mid-70’s I did a lot of trout fishing and backpacking and I was looking for the best fishing hat I could get and would spare no expense for it. In one of the outdoor gear catalogs I got, I saw the ad for The Ultimate Hat, and I spent more money for that than I have ever spent on a hat before or since. Now I can tell you what I think of it. I’ve had about 40 years to try it out, in all sorts of conditions and social situations.
Although hats went out of fashion long ago and now both men and women commonly care more about their hair than their hats, hats are still important for the person who works and plays outdoors. In the winter you see lots of people with knit caps or beanies, and in the summer the trend shifts towards baseball caps. Out the woods or on the lakes, past the summer snow bunnies and the beach crowds, you still find people who wear real hats, but there aren’t too many functional choices today. It’s impossible to find a hat that’s good for everything, but if there were such a hat, I would have it. That’s what I thought I was investing in when I bought The Ultimate Hat. I could wear it backpacking, fishing, sailing or just for a walk through the park.
Hats have several practical purposes. They keep the sun off the top of your head and shade your eyes. They stop mosquitoes and no-see-ums from drilling holes in your scalp and put a barrier between the top of your head and meat-eating horseflies and deer flies. Hats keep your head warm in winter and keep the rain and the snow from leaking down into your eyes. They even help with the sweat so you don’t go sweat-blind. The Ultimate Hat manufacturer implied that their product was the solution to all of this, plus being comfortable and nice-looking.
Although I tried to like The Ultimate Hat, I never did. The light construction stopped it from gripping my head enough to withstand the slightest breeze, and the shoestring strap that keeps it from blowing away is just uncomfortable. The cloth isn’t thick enough to stop a mosquito from drilling through and there’s no air gap between the hat and the top of your head. If the bugs can’t find a stable drilling platform on the outside, they fly in through the over-sized ventilation grommets and have a party inside. Then when you slap at them you drive the cheap brass grommets directly into your skull. The Ultimate Hat’s brim soaks up the rain and the sweat and drips as much inside the brim as off the lip of it, and it’s just wide and stiff enough that if you wear it with a backpack on the pack will knock it off your head at every other step. If I tied the Ultimate Hat on and snapped the windward side up, it was ok for canoeing, but I would always try to snap it closed with one hand and the snap it made when I finally overcame the pressure and the pain of that was loud enough to make my skull bone echo. Mostly I’d have to take it off and smash the snap shut with my fingers. I didn’t even find the color suitable for my purposes. I suppose some people don’t sweat or accumulate dirt and skin grease after a few hours of exertion, but I do. The Ultimate Hat quickly accumulated a wide ring of yellow waxy greasy stains that wouldn’t go away with an application of soap and water. The best thing about the Ultimate Hat was that I could throw it in the washing machine and then leave it on the back seat of my car underneath some notebooks and maps for years at a time.
Yesterday I washed it again, thought maybe I’d wear it in the garden in the spring next year before the bugs come out, and the fabric tore loose from the brim. So I’m officially done with The Ultimate Hat and I won’t be getting another one, even though I did check their website to see what they offer. You can get better hats at Walmart for $40 less. Those hats will only last a year or two, but you’ll actually wear them.