Keeping your head protected when you’re fishing, or boating is important. It’s an often overlooked part of preparation, but it shouldn’t be. Wearing a boonie hat can prevent serious sunburn. It also cuts back on glare and can keep your head cool. Your health is important, so you need to take precautions.

A good boonie hat has a wide brim and covers your head and neck. It should also have a chin strap or some kind of retention strap string. Maybe even an insect net. There are plenty of different types. They all serve to keep you safer and healthier in the woods or on the water.

Let’s take a look at what a boonie hat even is, where they came from, and how to wear a boonie hat.

What is a Boonie Hat?

Boonie hats trace their origin to the military. Many branches have employed them, or similar bucket hats, over the years. They became extremely popular after the Vietnam War.

You’ll notice most boonie hats have a fabric tape band around the crown. This will feature a series of branch loops. Modern anglers may use this to store small pieces of gear. Soldiers had a different use for them.

When military forces were using boonie hats during the Vietnam War, this was a foliage ring. Troops would stuff vegetation into those rings. It increased camouflage for added protection.

The design of a boonie hat is ideal for hot, humid conditions. It can keep rain off your face and prevent moisture loss through sweating. It shields you from the sun and allows air circulation.

Boonie hats get their name from the word boondocks. It means a rural area, or anyplace considered off the beaten path. Originally the Tagalog word that it is derived from, meant mountains.

What is a Giggle Hat?

You may hear the term giggle hat used interchangeably with boonie hat. A giggle hat is the Australian Army version of the boonie hat. The difference is minimal, but there is one. The Australian Army giggle hat should have a thinner brim.

People may also call this a bush hat. A bush hat is often characterized by a wide brim that is down. That’s where the name slush hat also comes from.

Australian military forces issued these hats to troops in the Second World War. The design was adapted from British Army hats that were issued to soldiers in hot climates. It’s different from a patrol cap, which does not have a brim all the way around.

How to Wear a Boonie Hat

Wearing a boonie hat is not as simple as wearing a ball cap. The retention strap string often throws people for a loop. If you’ve never worn it before, it can be confusing.

The Front Strap Method

The string on your boonie hat can be worn loose in the front. This way of a wind picks up in your face, it blows back but not off. There are some concerns with wearing it this way. A rear wind is going to blow the hat right off of your head. Likewise, if you’re in the bush, snags are a concern. If you get hooked on a tree, the strap will choke you.

You can tighten the strap to prevent choking hazards. Many people find this uncomfortable, though.

The Rear Strap Loose Method

The retention string on a boonie hat can be left loose and at the back of the hat. It hangs to the back of your head. If a wind picks up from the rear, it blows the hat forward but not off of your head. Be aware that this method can cause issues. If the strap gets under your collar, it can become annoying.

The Rear Strap Tied Method

This way to wear a boonie hat is ideal. The strap tied at the back of the head. The strap should not hang low enough to hit your collar. It should also be tight enough to resist wind and snags. If done right, there is only a mild tightness at the back of your head.

It does take practice to wear a hat like this. To get the position right and to figure out how to get it on and off without a lot of effort. Once you have it down, it should be comfortable and effective.

The Tied on Top Method

Some people prefer to wear a boonie hat without the strap. You can loop the strap over the top of the hat and tie it in place. It gives the hat a cowboy look, which can be cool. This gets rid of the strap problem but makes new ones. If it’s a sunny day, you are at a greater risk of burns. The tied strap is going to pull up the brim at the sides. Also, any wind will pull your boonie hat off.

Some people prefer this method because of how it pulls the brim aside. Those not used to a boonie hat and the wide brim sometimes find it annoying. And it’s true, the brim of a boonie hat can obscure your vision. However, the wide brim is a feature of the hat. It keeps rain and sun away better than other hats. Also, remember the purpose of a boonie hat. This was something a soldier would wear as camouflage. Troops didn’t want a hat that defined their face. The brim is good at obscuring you from view.

If your brim is in your way, there are solutions. The easiest way to fix a problem with a wide boonie hat brim is to tilt your hat. Adjust its position so you can see what you need to see.

The Under Hat Method

Similar to the tied on top method, instead of looping it over the hat, do it under. The strap is on your head but under the hat. This is better at avoiding sunburns. However, in a tight fitting hat, this will be very uncomfortable.

The Strapless Method

Some companies make boonie hats with detachable strings. Other people will simply cut the string off. This gives you more of a bucket hat than a proper boonie hat. A bucket hat is fine, but it’s not a boonie hat. If you want a boonie hat, you need the strap.

If you don’t want the strap, some companies do make “modified” boonie hats. They may have extra bands in the crown to keep it tight on your head. This would be a better solution than a removable strap. Some companies offer these as well, but it may be a waste. The odds on losing a removable strap are high.

The Bottom Line

Boonies are a multi-use sort of hat. You can adapt them from casual everyday wear to hunting and fishing. They offer superior protection and a lot of advantages over similar hats. Just make sure it’s the kind of cap you want. If the string is too annoying to you, try a slouch hat or a patrol cap. There are a lot of quality fishing hats with smaller brims as well.

If you do want a true boonie hat, then just wear it how it feels most comfortable. Odds are you don’t need to be in any extreme conditions and climates. Remember, members of the air force and army have had to wear these for survival. Today, you can be a little more casual.