I'm melting...mel-l-l-ting." My Oz-inspired lament drew half-hearted smiles from my fellow hikers. Trudging across a barren, shimmering mesa in the high-noon heat of the Grand Canyon, we were feeling some allegiance with the Wicked Witch of the West. The next shade tree was 3 miles away, and the temperature was hovering somewhere between fry-an-egg-on-my-boots and throw-another-hiker-on-the-barbie. With my neck reddening and thermostat soaring, I recalled the most important rule of life under unrelenting sun: You've got to make your own shade.
An effective sunblocking system starts, of course, with a liberal application of sunscreen (see Body Language, June, for a rundown of the best). Next comes a good hat to shade your vulnerable parts-eyes, ears, nose, neck, and noggin. Whether you're in the treeless expanses of the Southwest, making an alpine traverse along a high-country trail, or snowshoeing through the mountains, a hat helps prevent sunburn, snow blindness, heat exhaustion, and long-term skin damage.
Several obvious options have drawbacks: baseball caps don't shade your ears or neck, sombreros don't pack very neatly, and fancy Lawrence of Arabia-style desert caps can be quite costly. Then a fair-skinned friend showed me an inexpensive, homemade solution that lets him keep his cool. His creation, a baseball cap outfitted with a bandanna "cape," provides wraparound coverage and requires less than a hour to make.
After stitching up a hat of my own, I put the design through a four-day hike in the high, hot reaches of Texas' Guadalupe Mountains National Park. Only a tall glass of lemonade could've kept me cooler. I liked the system's versatility (you can remove the bandanna if you need more ventilation), and I returned home as pale-faced as I started.
To make your own backcountry sun bonnet, grab an old baseball cap and bandanna, and follow these simple instructions.
- Light-colored bandanna (reflects sun better)
- Light-colored baseball cap (the ones with a nylon forehead and mesh back stay cooler and dry faster)
- Four sets of hook-and-loop tabs (square or round, about 1 inch by 1 inch), $0.75
- One spool of medium-weight polyester/cotton thread, $0.89
- Sewing machine or medium needle if sewing by hand
- Several fine pins
Step 1: Sew the scratchy halves of two hook-and-loop patches to the outside of the cap's crown just above where the brim begins. To retain more peripheral vision, move the tabs back a bit. Then sew the two corresponding halves to two corners of the bandanna. Don't worry, the fuzzy tabs won't irritate when you wear the bandanna alone.
Step 2: Mark two spots on the back of the cap for the other two hook-and-loop patches. Sew the scratchy halves on the outside of the cap, and the fuzzy halves to the bandanna. If
your cap has an elastic band, line up the corresponding tabs while wearing the cap.