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Protective headwear has been used by runners for millennia, taking on new forms alongside running apparel as fashion and performance fabrics evolve. But the best running hats of 2023 have come a long way from the Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. trucker hat. And though some runners still opt for the bandana they use to mow the lawn, laser-cut running hats with premium moisture-wicking materials are becoming popular for marathon training.
Those fancier, tech-forward running hats have taken over the running world in part because they offer a form of self-expression, but mainly due to their functionality. This trend coincides with the explosion of wellness and workout culture during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic when running felt like one of the few safe ways to get out of the house (and away from intrusive thoughts).
For those asking, “Why don’t I grab one of my trusty old baseball caps and just toss that bad boy on?” Well, the answer lies in the name — those caps are for baseball and aren’t designed to support the physicality of long-term running, sprinting, or any of the elements that accompany a regular run.
Robert Wilson, the Head of Marketing at London-based SOAR Running, explained that in terms of finding the best running hats, “you want something when you’re running to basically feel like you’re not wearing anything, for it to feel like you’re running naked.”
The reasons that professional marathon runners buy these incredible caps stem from the same problems any runner faces: the need for a hat that actually fits, allows the scalp to breathe, is sweat resistant, wicks away water during a light rain, and of course, most importantly, is stylish.
From the most expensive brand on the market (a name mainly the pros will recognize) to even the cheapest of options, the best running hat to take out on the next jog, run, or race is out there. All that’s left to do is find the right color.
What The Experts Say
Wilson notes that runners, athletes, and fitness enthusiasts alike are reaching specifically for running hats because they want something that, for starters, simply won’t be falling off of their head at each turn. A majority of these hats are 5-panel hats that wrap around the back with an aerodynamically designed bill that won’t be flipping up and off a dome when running fast or a gust of wind is blowing.
Aside from features like a drawstring for snug fits, a bill that protects skin from the sun (super important), and ventilation holes that regulate temperature, Wilson said there’s one other key component. “Once you’ve nailed functionality and performance, people and runners use a cap as a way of bringing a bit of flare and a bit of identity to running.” These days, running is all about showing your true colors.
Janji Transit Tech Cap
Why It Stands Out: With a deep 5-panel design, Durable water repellent (DWR) finish, UPF 50 rating, wind-resistant soft shell, and adjustable back strap, it doesn’t get much better. But Janjji takes it three steps further, offering a five-year warranty, recycled polyester construction, and a 2% donation of their sales to clean water projects.
Hot Take: This cap truly takes the cake as the best running hat in our eyes. It does everything right — it has all of the specs and features a runner could possibly want and then some, and it has more personality than just about every other hat on the market. Just look at the color — this hat screams “I’m a runner, and I’m proud!” It also screams “please don’t hit me with your car,” with the reflective logo on the back for visibility in low-light running situations. In cities like Los Angeles, that goes a long way, no cap.
Rnnr Distance Hat: Unicorn
Made For: The runners who are fed up with feeling like there’s an actual oven atop of their head while running that’s slowly baking their brains. Runners who have decided they need a breathable, lightweight hat that will let the breeze sift right through their gorgeous locks, freeing them from that wretched sweaty trap.
Hot Take: With mesh liners running across the entire length of the hat on both the left and right sides, this hat will ensure that runners stay cool even on the hottest of days. If the design doesn’t do it, Rnnr promises “your legs will give out before your hat will.”
BEST RAIN PROTECTION
Gore Wear Unisex Cap
Coolest Feature: Their rad neon yellow Unisex cap adds an extra layer of visibility on top of their reflective side paneling for those late-night runs. This running hat quite literally has people covered for whatever mother nature might throw at them.
Hot Take: Mother nature? Yes. This is a hat made by Gore-TEX — the same Gore-TEX that makes the impenetrable winter jackets that wicks water as if it were allergic to it. This cap is made from 100% polyester, and despite its microscopic pores that are about 20,000 times smaller than a drop of water, the cap is still extremely breathable.
Headsweats Performance Reflective Race Hat
Made For: The runner who fancies a nice late evening jog, or sprint for that matter. An extremely reflective hat is an essential piece of clothing for such a hobby and one that could even save a life. For the most reflective running hat, look no further than Headsweats Performance Reflective Race Hat.
Coolest Features: This bad boy is lit up with an extreme dose of vibrant orange and features a reflective brim that wraps around the head for extra visibility. If Thor Odinson was a runner, he’d love this hat thanks to the large gap in the back that’s perfect for weaving hair through with no issues.
MOST HEAD COVERAGE
Outdoor Research Sun Runner Cap
Why It Stands Out: The Sun Runner Cap features a nifty little snap-on and off cover that shades the neck and face for an added level of protection that a regular brim cap just can’t provide. Thankfully, this doesn’t sacrifice breathability for coverage because hidden behind that little cape are two panels of breathable mesh to keep runners from roasting on toasty days.
Hot Take: Every year it feels like it gets hotter and hotter which means protective gear becomes just as important as sunscreen. To not turn into a lobster after every run, Outdoor Research has it covered. They’ve made the best running hat for sun coverage without compromising on other stuff runners want.
The North Face Class V Camp Hat
Why It Stands Out: Similar to the Janji Transit Tech Cap, this running hat is simply cool, and better yet, affordable. It’s a statement piece to add to anybody’s outdoor getup but also a very capable and functional running hat. Made with 68% recycled nylon and flash-dry materials for moisture management this hat will keep runners cool while also making them look super cool.
Hot Take: If running is supposed to usher in a sense of personality and identity, as Wilson mentioned, consider North Face’s Class V Camp Hat ready for any kind of mood. Aside from this cool colorway, there are eight other colors to choose from to pair back with the running shorts or moisture-wicking t-shirt of the day.
LIGHTEST RUNNING HAT
On Running Lightweight Cap
Coolest Feature: On Running’s Lightweight Cap satisfies the need for speed without making runners feel top-heavy. With three cool blue options and laser-cut ventilation, this hat truly feels like it was made with marathoners in mind.
Hot Take: This is the best running hat for that “naked” feel Wilson described. But for such a light hat, it’s also performance-ready, made from a tear-proof, moisture-wicking fabric with dual sweatbands.
Soar Running Cap
Why It Stands Out: With a wraparound five-panel design and easy pull drawstring, this hat is sure to stay snug to a head. Also featuring laser-cut ventilation holes, this hat keeps a runner’s mind on the road instead of on the sun. Given that it’s machine washable, breathable, moisture-wicking, and super cool in yellow, the only other question is does it come in black? (The answer is yes).
Hot Take: When Tim Soar set out to create a running apparel brand in 2015, he did it with three things in mind. Innovation, functionality, and style. SOAR is now on its third iteration of the Running Cap, and this one is its best yet. With Soar himself testing out all of the products, rest assured that this cap is the cremé de la crop of running hats.
Gadiemkensd Reflective Outdoor Hat
ROI: While some of the best running hats for men can deliver on performance, they can get kind of pricey, sometimes upward of $60. It’s kind of a lot. But Gadiemkensd offers a running hat with a ton of the features seen among the top brands but at a fraction of the price.
Hot Take: There are six color options to choose from, including a pretty unmissable orange and it has a reflective brim, UPF 50+ protection, and breathable mesh sides. Even for a low-budget option, over 5,000 people on Amazon said it’s a great hat for running.
Frequently Asked Questions About Running Hats
Do you have to wear a special hat for running?
There’s certainly no onus on anybody to wear a “special hat” while running, but there’s a reason these hats are selling like hotcakes — they’re scientifically engineered for runners. It’s like the difference between buying a Toyota Prius or a Rav4. Both will get to the mountain, but only one will make it up.
What about winter running hats?
Many of these hats are perfectly suited for running in the winter weather, particularly for those who live in California. However if wind chill is a major factor, and if dealing with sensitive skin, we would recommend a lightweight beanie like this one.
Where can I find extra large running hats?
Fortunately, most running hats come in a one size fits all option that’s adjustable and fit larger heads. However, if you’re finding that there’s never been a hat that fits, Santa Monica, California indie brand, Oddjob, is a big-hat destination with one big idea — good headwear for big heads. They have a great XL and XXL running hat in addition to other big hat styles.
What’s that Run-DMC hat called?
Some would prefer to call it a bucket hat, but here at SPY, we like to refer to it as “fly.”