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Reviews > Clothing > Hats > Outdoor Research Swift Cap > Test Report by Richard Lyon
OUTDOOR RESEARCH SWIFT CAP
Initial Report May 18, 2009
PERSONAL DETAILS and BACKPACKING BACKGROUND
Male, 63 years old
I've been backpacking for 45 years and regularly in the Rockies since 1986. I do at least one week-long trip every summer, and often take three-day trips. I'm usually camping in alpine terrain, at altitudes 5000 to 10000 ft (1500 - 3000 m). I prefer base camp backpacking, a long hike in with day trips from camp, but I do forced marches too. Recently I've been actively reducing my pack weight, though I still always sleep in a floored tent and tend to favor my favorite camp conveniences over minor weight savings.
PRODUCT DESCRIPTION and DETAILS
The Swift is a baseball-style cap, described by Outdoor Research (OR) as follows: "This hat has a full mesh liner crown for superior ventilation in warm weather. The shaped bill and nylon panels offer protection from the sun." I'd describe it the other way around: a mesh liner hat with nylon fabric panels across the top and front. As may be seen in my photo below and on the manufacturer's website the letters "OR" are embroidered front and center.
Manufacturer: Outdoor Research
My first impression is that the Swift is a great idea for aging male hikers like me – guys who have lost most or all of their hair on the top of their heads. I have a very fair complexion that has made me extra careful to wear a hat and lather on sunscreen every time I'm outdoors. A hat makes my head perspire, but a wet head beats skin cancer, so the hat stays on when I'm in the sun. Once upon a time long ago, sometime during the last century, I could get away with a mesh crown, but no longer. There's still hair on the sides though, and when I tried the Swift on for size the fabric panels completely covered the thin spots, meaning that I can have mesh on the sides and not have to put sunscreen on top of my head.
The Swift is slightly smaller than a standard adjustable-size baseball cap. Here's a photo of it flanked by an official Major League Baseball cap, which is sized and noticeably larger, and an adjustable cotton cap that I own. If not apparent to the naked eye I can attest that the Swift has a 0.3 in/7.6 mm narrower diameter across the headband, and that the brim is 0.1 in/2.5 mm shorter than the other adjustable cap. The headband and nylon mesh however allow enough stretch to expand to give a comfortable fit. At 7 5/8 my head is at the upper limit of OR's recommended size range for this one-size-fits-most lid, but there's a bit more give than I need, as I had to tighten the adjustment strap at the back to fit properly. That nifty feature is a big improvement over my other baseball caps. The adjustable band in the back has a quick-release buckle for easy, one handed releases, and I was able easily to thread the strap through the buckle to adjust the hat size one-handed (and my left hand at that) with the hat on my head.
I wore the hat on a day hike and to my local dog park yesterday, about six hours total. The plastic buckle didn't chafe against the back of my head; I really didn't notice it was there. The TransAction headband was soft against my hair; during the next four months I shall examine its advertised wicking ability.
The Supplex fabric panels are paper-thin, making this cap very light. (I weighed it three times to confirm my measured weight above – twenty per cent below its featherweight listed weight.)
The Swift's shaped and stiffened bill suits my preference, and it's small enough to make it very easy to stuff this cap into one of the pockets of my hiking shorts. A few such stuffings didn't alter the brim's shape or integrity. This will be another test criterion as I tend to treat my hats badly on the trail.
I like the Swift. Lightweight, good ventilation, and unobtrusive, I'm hoping it lives up to its promise in the Texas summer heat.
I have worn the Swift Cap often, in fact almost daily, since filing my Initial Report. This simple baseball-style cap has become one of my favorites for sun protection on summer days.
The Swift has accompanied me on several day hikes and one three-day, two night backpack. Three of the day hikes took place in the Teton and Gros Ventre Ranges near Jackson, Wyoming, in early June. Temperatures ranged from 45 to 65 F (8-18 C), with plenty of rain showers. I also regularly wore the Swift on early morning, late afternoon, and pre-bedtime walks with my dogs around home, in temperatures from 70 to 106 F (21-41 C), in dry weather. As noted in my Initial Report, my thinning hair and fair complexion mean doctor's orders to wear a hat whenever outdoors in the sunlight. That advice applies especially in summer, when the daily weather here in North Texas rarely varies from "sunny and hot." My office has a business casual policy and I have donned the Swift on almost every working day for use when outdoors.
The backpacking trip was in early July in the Absaroka Mountains, Montana. Summer has come late to the Northern Rockies and weather conditions were more like spring: 35-70 F (2-21 C) with frequent thundershowers, constant wind, and long, lovely spells of sunny weather. As explained under Observations, I wore the Swift mostly in the mornings and evenings, at the lower end of this temperature range.
Even with the spring rain almost all my use of the Swift has been at low humidity.
Sun Protection. The Swift provides adequate sun protection for a baseball cap. I have not needed to apply sunscreen to my brow or the top of my head, thanks respectively to the bill and fabric covering of the cap. That's quite useful, as perspiration can cause sunscreen on the brow to bleed into my eyes, and it's always a nuisance to rinse glop off my head. Though the Swift's bill is slightly smaller than one on an adjustable, one-size-fits-all, souvenir-style ball cap, I haven't been able to detect any difference in coverage and protection from glare.
A baseball cap has its limits, however. Whenever I expect to be outdoors for more than an hour, I want sun protection for the back of my neck and more of my face, so on backpacking and fishing days I'll opt for a bush-style hat with a wide brim that encircles the hat's crown. That doesn't mean the Swift gets left behind, though. This cap is so lightweight and so packable that I will often stuff it into a pocket in my pack or hiking shorts. When I get to camp, hopefully at least partially shaded, I'll swap my Tilley for the Swift. This was very welcome in the Absarokas. In early July it stays light until past 10 pm, and when setting up camp, preparing and eating dinner, and doing some exploring or fishing the Swift's bill still functioned to keep the sun out of my eyes and a hat on my head kept the mosquitoes out of my hair. The same was true around camp in the morning, before the sun reached its zenith. When it came time to start hiking, I returned the Swift to a pocket. At these times the Swift's bill came in handy when it rained, holding the hood on my rain shell over my head.
Ventilation and Breathability. In a word, great! The mesh at the sides works really well to wick or vent perspiration away from my head – much better than my usual alternative, a cotton baseball cap. This has a double benefit. My head doesn't stay wet, and my cap doesn't stay soaked for very long. I did wear the Swift through a rain squall when ascending the final mile to Silver Lake in the Absarokas, a steep, rocky climb that generated ample sweat. While the tip of the Swift's bill was soaked from the rain when I reached the lake, the remainder of the hat fabric was almost dry, as was my hair.
Weather-worthiness. The Swift definitely isn't waterproof (and it is not advertised as such). Its thin fabric soaked through very quickly when I was caught in the rain on a Wyoming day hike. The Supplex fabric dries exceptionally quickly, however, from a drenching from either rain or sweat. This cap is wind resistant, meaning that it's been easy to keep it from blowing off my head. The small buckle on the nylon band in back allowed easy cinching (or un-cinching) when wind conditions changed. As noted in my Initial Report I can do this one-handed without removing the hat.
Durability. This is another category in which the Swift gets high marks. I am not kind to hats, baseball caps in particular. Often I'll stuff them into a pocket in my jacket, trousers, or shorts with the bill bent down the middle. At other times the stuffing is into a full pack or pack pocket without thought of what's immediately adjacent. Despite my certain mistreatment the Swift looks as good as new, even the snow-white crown and bill. I selected white to reflect the sun expecting greater prominence of the inevitable smudges and stains from backcountry use. But the Swift has proven resistant to tree bark, pine needles, and whatever else fell on or rubbed against it. The few marks that I did notice were easily removed with a bandana and water. The underside headband shows no sweat stains, and all stitching remains intact. A virtuoso performance.
The good and the bad. I like just about everything, especially the Swift's light weight and excellent ventilation. The only thing I'd like to see changed has nothing to do with performance. I'm not fond of using products to advertise and would like to see the prominent "OR" logo on the front of the cap removed.
LONG TERM REPORT
I found a new use for which the Swift is just about perfect – packrafting. In mid-September I attended a three-day introductory packrafting course, held on the Yellowstone River between Gardiner and Emigrant, Montana. This course was done in a backpacking format; we camped along the river for two nights and rafted during the days. On Friday and Saturday daytime highs were in the mid-80s (~30 C) and warm nights, not below 50 F (10 C). Clear skies until a cold front blew through very early Sunday morning, with accompanying thundershowers that continued off and on until mid-morning when it cleared again. The high on Sunday was about 60 F (16 C) and we got a large dose of the constant wind for which Paradise Valley is famous (upstream too, making for fun paddling). I wore the Swift under a helmet when rafting, and as my only headgear during breaks and after setting up camp each night.
"Regular" backpacking wasn't ignored. I took the Swift as camp headgear on two trips in the Northern Rockies: a three-day, two-night trip in Yellowstone Park, Wyoming in early August, and a seven-day service trip in the Swan Valley, Montana, during the last week of August. Temperatures in the Wyoming and Montana were glorious – highs about 75 F (24 C) and nighttime lows about freezing.
I have also continued to wear the Swift on weekends around home, whether day hiking or just doing chores or errands. I estimate that during the past four months I've worn the Swift on at least fifty days.
I won't waste my readers' time repeating Observations in the Field Report. Everything I liked after two months I continue to like. This cap breathes exceptionally well, protects my brow and the top of my head from the sun, and weighs so little that I don't mind packing it as a second daytime hat on a backpacking trip, as I did on the three trips listed above.
A New Use. My packrafting course revealed two more reasons to like the Swift. The fabric is thin enough so that I can wear the cap under a helmet, thus adding a bill to shield the sun to the protection of the helmet. This was very welcome on the Yellowstone paddle, both in avoiding sunburn and to keep an eye on the river unblinded by the bright sun or glare reflected off the water. The helmet I used has its ventilation holes on the crown – exactly where the Swift has full fabric coverage. This trip also showed that the Swift dries extremely quickly. Much of the first day of the course involved practicing re-entry after being pitched from the raft, so I spent considerable time under and in the water, plus splashes when charging through the rapids. The cap was dry in only a few minutes after getting out of the water, allowing its use in camp in the cooler evenings without fear of a chill.
I used an old ski helmet for this course, so this pairing ought to work this winter when I am skiing.
Limitations. My opinion of the Swift's limitations also remains the same. I don't consider it to furnish sufficient coverage of my face and neck to permit wearing it on prolonged hikes in sunny weather. I'll continue to wear a broad-brimmed Aussie-type flax hat for warmer weather or a comparably styled waterproof rain hat once autumn arrives. As stated in my Field Report, this is a limitation on any baseball-style cap. (Note: To be fair, Outdoor Research has addressed this to some extent in another product, the Sun Runner Cap. This looks like a Swift with snaps on the bill to which a sun skirt may be attached. One of my packrafting course instructors wore a Sun Runner and has included a photo of that cap, with skirt, under her helmet in her Test Series of that product on this site.)
I have only two problems that are specific to the Swift. I still don't like the prominent "OR" on the crown; if Outdoor Research believes it necessary to use a billboard approach perhaps it could employ a softer color contrast – grey or off-white. That is what it has done on one of the company's rain hats that I own. I would also like to see a larger size offered or a slightly wider bill on the hat, for greater coverage. That desire may however be prompted by my angling pursuits or fat head.
Durability and Care. Over four months' good use the snow-white bill has picked up a few smudges. Most I've been able to remove by hand-applying a mild solution of water and non-detergent soap. After the packrafting trip I tossed the cap into the washer with other light-colored woolens and synthetics and it emerged without any ill effects on stitching, shape, or integrity. Some marks remain, faintly, just enough to provide some character. No need for the dryer; the Swift air-dried as quickly at home as it did in the field.
This test has taught me that even a product as simple as a baseball cap can be refined and improved expressly for technical outdoor use. The Swift's still simple, but it's exceptionally functional for my outdoor activities. I think it's terrific. At $20 US it's also a bargain. I shall continue to wear my Swift as long as it lasts, and then I'll get another one.
My Test Report ends here. Many thanks to Outdoor Research and BackpackGearTest.org for this testing opportunity.
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