The remarkable design of the conical straw hat

On a recent trip to Vietnam, Kelly and I splurged on a pair of straw hats (US$2 each) to keep the sun off our faces. I loved the straw hat immediately — the novelty was great; now I could be mistaken for a local! (heh), and it did indeed keep the sun off our faces. But I soon found out, that’s not the only benefit of the age old conical straw hat. In fact, this hat has at least seven benefits over and above protecting us from the scorching sun (of which there was plenty) and the rain (of which there was little). Don’t believe me? Read on…

The (at least) 8 design features of the conical straw hat

1. Protection from the sun and rain

Sun and rain protection

(Tap the image for larger version)

The wide brim of the hat reaches beyond most hats, offering exceptional protection from the sun and rain1. The conical shape also means the widest part of the hat sits low in relation to your head, protecting you from reasonably low lying sun (sunrise/sunset-ish) and even angled rain.

2. One size fits all

One size fits all

The conical straw hat is made from two pieces: The conical straw part, and the strap, made from a strip of material, usually cotton.

Due to the open shape of the cone, the hat doesn’t hug your head like a typical Western-style hat (cowboy hat, sun hat, baseball cap, etc) and allowing for it to site on any head size. The strap is tied to the supporting ‘beams’ on the inside of the cone, and can be untied and retied to suit any head height, not unlike the strap at the back of a typical baseball cap, except the mechanism to change sizes and to secure the strap to the hat are one and the same. Genius.

3. Two tensions in one hat

Two tensions in one hat

It’s easy to untie and retie the strap to suit your head, but what if you have it set at a comfortable tension and you run into some wind, or clock a decent speed on your bike? What do you do in this situation when there’s no time to quickly adjust for a gust of wind, or your hands are busy steering around pesky street chickens?

The answer is in the where the strap is tied to the hat. The strap is tied slightly in front of the hat’s centre-line. This allows for two slightly different strap lengths in relation to your chin within the one hat. When wearing the hat with the straps slightly forward of the centre line, you have one strap tension. If you turn the hat 180 degrees, with the straps now slightly behind the centre-line, the same strap length must now stretch a little further, increasing the tension, and holding the hat onto your head a little tighter. The further away from the centre-line you tie your strap, the larger the difference in tension from 0 and 180 degrees.

4. Ease of installation

Easy installation

For a hat with a strap, it’s extremely easy to put on. You slip it on in two simple and smooth steps:

  1. You bring the hat up towards your face, making the loose strap touch your chin
  2. Once the strap touches your chin, you raise and flip the hat on to your head.

That’s it! The width of the brim ensures it slides on without getting caught on anything. Compare that to putting on another hat with a strap, like a bike helmet. It’s great. The first time I saw a local put their hat on I wasn’t sure I saw the whole picture; it happened so smoothly and quickly it looked like some sort of visual trick, or magic. but it really is that simple.

5. Built-in face mask

Built-in face mask

There are plenty of motorised vehicles in Asia, most many of which would not pass even the loosest of air pollution regulations. Pollution os a common problem in much of Asia, and many people choose to wear face masks to protect themselves from it.

As the strap on the conical straw hat is usually made from a cotton material, you can tie a wide strip of material, say 15cm wide, and stretch it out to cover your nose and mouth when you need a face mask. When you don’t need it, you just pull it down from your face and under your chin to transform it into a plain strap, without having to even adjust the hat in any way.

6. Built-in sweat band

Built-in sweat band

Asia is humid. The sun is high and hot, and the regular rain and lack of wind creates crazy humidity. So you sweat. A lot. The cotton strap in the hat acts as a sweat band for your chin, stopping beads of sweat from your face running down your neck. The wider the strap (see face mask section above) the more material to soak up sweat.

7. Built-in amplifier

Built-in amplifier

This is something I noticed only last week while at The Perhentian Islands in Malaysia2. We were walking along the beach and I was adjusting the strap on the hat. Once done, I slipped it on an immediately noticed an increase in volume and clarity of our sandy footsteps. I took the hat off and put it on to hear the difference again.

I guess the angled shape of the cone bounces sound towards your ears, much in the same way as a radar dish bounces signals towards the receptor in the centre. Remarkable.

8. Bowl

Bowl

And of course you can use the hat a impromptu bowl or receptacle. You might not want to fill it with liquid, and you’d be best advised to not fill it with something you didn’t want all over your head later on, but for holding fruit, or tennis balls, or jewellery, or a great variety of other things, it works admirably.

Conclusion

I’m considering wearing it whenever I need to go out in the sun, despite it looking bizarrely out of context in the streets of Kuala Lumpur (or Melbourne for that matter). It’s that great a design.

Ease of use, simplicity, effectiveness. It could almost be designed by Apple in California.

  1. We never ourselves experienced rain in our hats. Any information about rain protection is theory combined with common sense, as well as an inkling the Asians had taken rain into account over years and years of daily downpours.
  2. I was extremely excited to have a proper reason to wear the conical straw hat again!