Best Sports Headwear: Buying Guide For All Activities

For runners and other athletes, the right sports headwear is an essential investment to keep you comfortable in a variety of weather conditions.

Sports-specific thermal headwear will help to combat wind, rain and freezing cold and keep you training right through the winter, while in summer time it’s useful to keep sun and sweat out of your eyes and aid in moisture management.

Which sports headwear is right for me?

As above, the main consideration when choosing sports headwear is whether you need it to stay warm in winter, or cool in summer. You may well find that a selection of sports headwear for different seasons and occasions will be what you need.

• Season: Different headwear is suited for different seasons. Winter sports headwear will have thermal properties to trap a layer of air next to your skin and help keep you warm, and will often also be wind- and water-repellent.

Summer sports headwear, on the other hand, will often be designed to keep sun and sweat out of your eyes so a bill or peak to offer shade is essential, as is a material with good wicking properties to draw moisture away from the skin. Some summer sports headwear is ‘barely there’, in the case of running visors, for example, but other designs – perhaps suited for the follically-challenged among us – provide full coverage to protect your scalp against harmful UV rays.

• Materials: As with other athletic clothing, sports headwear can be made from natural materials (Merino wool or cotton) or synthetic fibres (polyester, fleece microfibre or nylon). The former generally provide excellent thermal properties and a natural ability to absorb perspiration and odour (wool especially, cotton not so much) but can be bulky and/or irritating to sensitive skin. Manmade materials can be designed to prioritise moisture management (wicking) and made extremely light and thin while retaining durability.

• Helmet or not?: A key consideration for some sports headwear – for example with cycling and skiing – is whether or not it can be worn under a helmet, so for this you need something low-profile and low-bulk that fits snugly to the head. Thankfully there is a huge range of suitable designs on the market – from thermal skullcaps and light summer headwear to the classic cycle cap, as well as a range of versatile, multi-function headbands and tubular ‘Buff’-type garments. So there’s no excuse for not wearing a helmet!

• Peak/Bill: One option when choosing sports headwear is whether or not to pick a type with a peak or bill (as with a baseball cap or visor) or without (as with a classic wool beanie). A bill can be handy to offer shade in strong sunshine and to prevent sweat and rain from running into your eyes.

• Wicking: The ability to draw moisture away from the skin and to the surface of the fabric where it can evaporate – a process known as wicking – is one reason to consider wearing a light cap in the summer if you don’t want sweat running into your eyes.
• Thermal properties: For winter training and running you will want headwear that keeps you warm and insulated. Wool or synthetic microfibre caps will do an excellent job of this, and many use materials with additional treatments or membranes that are wind- and water-repellent.

• Visibility: For anyone training during the hours of darkness in winter, sports headwear with reflective paneling or piping – or even a high-visibility cap or buff – will help you be seen and stay safe.

Common types of sports headwear:

• Baseball caps: Cotton or synthetic caps with a large peaked bill, these may be regarded by some as more fashion than performance apparel, but are favoured by many runners during the summer months to keep sun, hair and rain out of their eyes. Look for lightweight, sports-specific baseball caps with synthetic materials (for moisture wicking) and adequate ventilation.

• Sports beanies: When the mercury really drops, wool or acrylic beanies offer great winter warmth. For cold-weather wear and ski-slope style look for a fleece-lined beanie for insulation, with some measure of breathability to help prevent overheating.

• Skull caps: These are low-bulk, form-fitting caps that sit tight to the head. There are two main types – winter versions with thermal properties and wind/water resistance, and lightweight, synthetic summer versions whose main purpose is moisture management and sun protection (they will keep sweat from running into your eyes and protect your scalp from the sun’s rays). With winter skull caps you usually have a choice of materials (Merino wool or man-made fibres) and additional features such as ear flaps (very advisable for cold conditions) or a bill.

• Visors: The classic ‘open top’ visor design is perfect for runners and triathletes training and competing during the summer months. The large peaked bill offers excellent shade while a fleece headband absorbs sweat before it can run into your eyes. A word of caution though – anyone bald of bonce will need to lather on the sunscreen, or choose headwear with more coverage.

• Other sports headwear: There is a whole range of ‘other’ sports headwear on the market to offer protection against wind and cold, from specific types – winter balaclavas, neck gaiters and headbands – to other designs whose main selling point is their versatility. In the case of the latter, it’s worth mentioning the ‘Buff’ type tubular scarf, a lightweight synthetic garment which can be worn in a huge variety of ways – for example as a neckerchief, headband, wristband, mask, hairband, balaclava, scarf, scrunchie, pirate cap, beanie or bandana.

This type of multi-function garment can be an excellent option for changeable conditions or as an accessory to other sports headwear.

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