Hats and Gear to Heat Your Head

Posted by  Thursday, November 07 2013 6:00 am
expert
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When choosing something to insulate your head, first, consider your environment and weather conditions.

Most outdoors enthusiasts have heard statements about the amount of heat lost through one's head if left uncovered in cold conditions. Granted, if you leave any part of your body exposed to low temperatures, you'll quickly loose heat; however, for some reason many neglect to properly insulate their heads in cold weather. This guide discusses options to ensure you keep your cranium cozy in the cold.

The Basics of Heat Loss

Heat escapes from the body several ways when outdoors. Convection and evaporation are the two biggest culprits, although respiration is also applicable. 

Heat-loss by convection occurs when warm air surrounding the body is pushed away by moving cool air. Wind-chill is an example of convection heat-loss. 

Heat-loss through evaporation is needed to regulate your body temperature in hot weather. In cold conditions, evaporation can quickly suck away warmth, especially if you've been active and then are stationary, leaving your skin exposed. Evaporation removes heat (energy) from the body as water is converted from liquid to gas. 

In both convection and evaporation, exposed and unprotected skin loses heat faster than if you are properly covered. Thus, when choosing headwear, select clothing that will cover and insulate your noggin, but also block wind to reduce the change of convection and evaporation heat-loss.

Headwear Materials

Let's overview some materials used in outdoor apparel before listing the clothing options for keeping your head warm. Today's marketplace features garments made of all-natural, completely synthetic and blended materials. Certain textiles are designed to wick moisture away from the skin, such as: nylon or silk. Other materials feature tiny fibers that trap warm air (insulating the body) as well as wicking moisture. Two popular insulators are wool and fleece, with many synthetic fibers also available, such as Thinsulate Insulation. Finally, treated and layered garments (outer layers), like nylon lined with water-proofing products (such as Gore-Tex), provide wind and rain protection, allowing the insulating (mid layer) and wicking layers (inner layer) to properly function.

Selecting Proper Head Gear

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Face masks can give hunters complete protection from the bitter cold.

When choosing a hat or another garment to insulate your head, several things should be kept in mind. First, consider your environment and weather conditions. A hat suited for a fall hike will be a lot different from one needed when ice-fishing on a wind-blown open lake. As with any o utdoor clothing, layering is critical to comfort. Some hats come lined, giving you both moisture-wicking and insulating properties in one piece of clothing. For extremely cold temperatures, it's better to wear multiple pieces of clothing, layering these items on top of each other. This way you can adjust the system as needed to match the severity of the conditions. 

Types of Head Gear Available

Stocking Caps and Hats: For decades, a knit-wool hat was the standard in outdoor headwear. Today, they are still extremely popular but new versions of an old favorite are often lined with fleece or another material. This liner reduces wind from penetrating through the hat as well as wicks moisture away from the skin. It also eliminates wool's itch. There are also many new styles of full-face stocking masks that are very effective at keeping your face and head warm.  

Hats are also available made entirely of acrylic and fleece. These hats come in various colors, camouflage patterns, and even reversible options with camo on one side and blaze orange on the other. Materials used come in various thickness' allowing wearers to choose from a light hat for cool weather to a heavier one for cold temperatures. The lightweight, no-frills, and one-size-fits-all traits of these hats make them a favorite for many.

Within the category of hats, several other models are also available with more sophisticated features than the generic, knit-wool hat. These hats and caps come in different sizes, allowing the wearer to get a custom and snug fit. Many hats feature visors, resembling ball-caps, but are insulated inside for cold temperatures. Examples include: Radar and Woodsman Hats, as well as Waterfowler's Legion Caps. These hats all feature fold-down, lined earflaps, allowing one to adjust the fit of the hat to match the temperature and current climate conditions. Many of these styled hats also include a Gore-Tex liner in their construction to protect against rain and snow. In addition, these liners also block the wind. 

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The advantage to balaclavas is that they protect both the neck and the head, covering more surface area.

Another style of hat for extremely cold temperatures is the Mad Bomber Fur Hat, also called a Trooper Hat. These hats are usually lined with rabbit's fur for a soft, natural insulation, with fold-down ear flaps. Flaps are secured in place with a snap-lock, chin strap. In the past, these hats featured a leather exterior, but more recent synthetics (like nylon or polyester) are more popular and often include a Gore-Tex liner.

 Balaclavas: Balaclavas can be used as a liner or as stand-alone head protection. A balaclava is a snug-fitting, one-piece hat that fits over the head as well as the neck with an opening for the face and mouth. The size of the opening varies, and many models feature adjustable openings, usually by folding the material up or down or by using a draw-string to adjust the size of the hole. The advantage to balaclavas is that they protect both the neck and the head, covering more surface area.

Balaclavas used as liners are thin and made of moisture-wicking materials (often silk) although high-end models featuring super-fabrics also exist. Insulating models come in several heavier fabrics and fleece is the most popular. Like hiking socks, wearers have a choice between combining an inner and outer balaclava for proper moisture-wicking and insulation, or your can purchase a model designed to provide both traits in one garment, with the layer concept built into the unit's construction. 

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Ears can be the first extremities to get frostbite and ear bands and warmers provide adequate insulation to the ears without covering the entire head.

Ear Bands and Ear Warmers: Up to this point, I've mainly discussed headgear for cold temperatures; however, in cool climates or when engaged in outdoor aerobic activity, sometimes hats provide too much insulation. In this case, ear bands and ear warmers can be the perfect compromise. Ears can be the first extremities to get frostbite and these clothing accessories provide adequate insulation to the ears without covering the entire head. Ear bands wrap around the forehead as well as the ears, providing more protection to exposed skin, while ear warmers (or earmuffs) wrap around the top or the back of the head.

Hoods: Hoods are an excellent way to keep your head warm and they're beneficial because you can wear or remove them to adjust to temperature and wind. Hooded sweatshirts can provide all the protection that's needed on a cool spring morning. In cold temperatures, an outer-layer, rain jacket with a hood is a great defense in windy and wet conditions, sheltering the entire head and neck. 

Hoods block the harsh conditions, but also trap-in body heat, making an excellent outer layer to balaclavas or hats. The same protective hood qualities are found in Type V Personal Floatation Devices, also referred to as survival suits. I find the one-piece protection of a jacket-and-hood combination is better than a hat and neck warmer, or a balaclava, in really windy and cold conditions. With my hood up and the wind at my back, the breeze flows right over my head and shoulders, unable to creep into the neck of my jacket like it would if I didn't have the protection of a hood.

Keeping your head warm is critical to cold-weather comfort (and safety) when engaged in outdoor activities. Like choosing any piece of outdoor gear, individuals will find owning a few types with different features and insulating qualities will be enough gear for most temperatures and environments. Remember the rules of layering when buying a hat and you'll be properly protected outdoors. Finally, when in doubt take a mid-weight wool hat; they're easy to pack, light-weight and can make a big difference in your comfort in cool and cold weather conditions.

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Last modified on Thursday, January 09 2014 4:19 pm
Tim Allard
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Tim Allard hails from Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. He's a full-time outdoor journalist and author and photographer of the multi-award winning book, "Ice Fishing - The Ultimate Guide" (2010), which is also available in French under the title, "Pêche sur glace". Tim regularly contributs to numerous North American print and online publications. For more information visit www.timallard.ca.

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