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February 2, 2009 Comments (0) News

Tilley’s T4IS and Airflo LTM6 Review

No matter what, gear is just gear.  You can’t take it with you, though many pieces of gear have important meanings in life that we treasure.  In my life, the Tilley T5 hat has become one of those, as it helped me propose to my girlfriend.  Through an idea from a friend, I used this green canvas hat to ask the woman of my life to marry me on top of a mountain in NC. There is a tiny pocket in the Tilley T5 hat, and I placed the ring inside that perfect little nook and gave the hat to Ashley. Upon closer inspection, she discovered the ring and me on the ground, yatta yatta yatta, mush mush mush.  She accepted both the hat, the ring, and some how, the dirt-ridden human that is Joe. Great, now she had the Tilley, so I had to get another one as well.  But, this gave me the chance to carefully look over Tilley Endurables’ offerings to make the best selection for the types of outdoors activities that I like to do.  It also gave me a chance to talk to the Tilley’s folks and get their guidance on which one would be best suited for me.

Company History

Tilley is the epitome of tough.  A lifetime warranty was not enough for this company.  They pride themselves on their relationship with the customer and the iconic presence these hats have made for themselves.  They pride themselves in customer service; if the color doesn’t suit you, send it back; if it doesn’t fit, send it back; if it wears out for any reason, send it back.  They even have an insurance policy for the first two years, stating that the owner can replace it if it is lost for any reason, for 50% of the catalog price.  They will rely on the owner’s good word that it was actually lost. That is just the type of company (owner) Alex Tilley wants to have.  The Tilley company started in Alex Tilley’s basement.  He would who would not settle for anything less than his picky tastes, and wouldn’t listen to what could or could not be done by the “experts” at other hat companies.

About The Hat “Virus”

The hat virus can grab hold of you like a strangler fig.  You see an exceptional character in a movie, or a friend outside with a unique hat and you go “Hey, I need a good hat like that!”  I’ve tried the hat thing before, but most of them wore out and became unusable.  Too many people were wearing hats though, and I needed something to protect the ears when I was out in the canoe.  I interviewed around and many people suggested Tilley due to my active lifestyle.  I was first put off by this, because it seems everyone owned a Tilley. But I took a quick look at the website and saw that there were a ton of different models to suit my needs.  I went to the local sporting goods store and saw some more there.  I finally decided that I would try one out, and see if they could hold what little brains I had left under the protection of the brim.

Insects?

The first Tilley I got was the tough T4IS, treated with Insect Shield.  This is handy for me, as  a person fond of both bugs and reptiles, I often find myself in the most God-forsaken mosquito cesspools regularly.  I loathe the sound of mosquitoes in my ear as I’m trying to sleep, call me crazy.  Before the treated T4IS, about the only thing keeping our good friend Culicies from sucking my blood would be a lit backwoodsman cigar in my mouth or a heavy amount of deet.  But I discovered that there were noticeably less critters in my face when I wore this crazy iron tough hat.  Deer flies were also alleviated, as their behavior normally dictates them to land on the top of the head.  They called it quits while I was on the coast of NC, a notorious place for large blood sucking flies.

I took the Tilley down to the Everglades, one of the mosquito hotspots of the world, to test out this hat and make sure I wasn’t imagining its effectiveness. Though there were still mosquitoes around me, I will say that there were noticeably less than when I took the Tilley hat off and tried a different hat.  However, since that was the only ounce of protection I had, those little vampires quickly moved to my arms and legs to continue their meal.

Features:

We like to stash small things, and the pockets inside the top brim of the hat are perfect for that.  One such pocket was the compartment that I used to hide the engagement ring.  It doesn’t take much to figure out what kind of things you can store in your hat, from money and credit cards, all the way to a little back up kit that I keep in my cotton T4IS hat. My kit consists of an extra hat band, paracord, a small razor blade, some matches and a bit of 50 pound fishing line.  I try to keep it pretty light due to personal preference.   

Another nice feature is that in each hat there is a layer of closed cell foam to help the hat float.  I took the foam out of both of mine just because I liked the pliable feel of the hat without the foam, and they still float (don’t ask me how I know this).  If one looks at the inside of the hat, they can see a large tag entitled “The Tilley hat” with some information about the features.   This information is also in  French, as well.  Additionally, it has an area where you can put your number and name should your new found heirloom get lost.

Joe’s Animal Onslaught

The T4IS has accompanied me on many different expeditions.  It has been my true friend while working bees, and has even helped quiet down a naughty gator that was getting out of hand during a reptile talk. (The darkness over the eyes calms the crocodilian down). I’ve used the T4IS in a pinch to move a small venomous snake off the road by, picking the little guy up with a stick and placing the small copperhead into the crown.  Then I picked up the hat up by the hat band, out of the little booger’s strike range. It has been the play toy of the neighbor’s new puppy more than once, and still has not seen a bad wear mark. I like my T4 so much, I take it hunting, and rub charcoal all over it to break up the outline.

Tilley Tough

Tilley hats are the absolute essence of tough.  There are a few reasons I will stand by this fact. These hats are all completely lock-stitched.  As matter of fact, everything is lock-stitched on all their hats and clothing. Lock-stitched pants?  Yeah, don’t worry; I’ll be buying a pair for review later. The toughness of these hats have shown themselves through and through by resisting abrasion from rocks, thorns, and even tin as I used my T4IS to protect my hand while moving a large piece of metal.  Every facet of construction of their hats exude quality and promise a lifetime of use.  All are made in Canada, except for the winter hats such as the fedora, Casablanca, and Oslo hats, which are manufactured in the United States.  

Tilley’s Nylon LTM6 Airflo hat

Tilley has quite a legacy with the cotton duck canvas hats they produce. There are stories about these hats that prove Tilley’s test of time. So what happens when the people at Tilley work with a seemingly less resilient material?  Let me back-track a bit.  There is a dilemma about toughness and weight.  Normally, when you want something to be extra light, you sacrifice toughness, such as a rain coat for example.  Sure you have an ultra- light, GORE-TEX nylon shell, but it can be torn apart by briers.  If you have one of the tough vinyl rain coats such as many mariners wear, then you have something very tough but sacrifice the light weight.  Most backpackers wouldn’t wear offshore foul weather gear, and most seasoned crabbers wouldn’t use an ultra-light weight backpacking shell to ward off rain. So, I’ve seen nylon hats fall apart and unravel due to cheap build quality, or the continuation of an evil rip, or a thread that has come undone out of the weak fabric.

So how was Tilley going to combine their tough legacy with the ultra-light features of nylon?  The LTM6 airflow hat encompasses light weight and mesh to provide wonderful breatheability, and it is perfect for the extremely hot weather that I like to frolic in.  But mesh and the woods don’t really go together very well, especially if one is in the thick undergrowth of a forest trying to reclaim lost land.   I decided to tests its build quality by wearing the hat for work, beating bees off of my legs, and using it to scoop clusters of the bees up if they are swarming.  I used it to shield me from the sun, hold the sweat off of my brow, and still pack about and fold into my bag.  It performed wonderfully for the rigors of working outside day after day.

Then, getting into the brush, I wore the hat trip after sweat soaked trip.  Sure, wearing a hat in the thick bush can get in the way.  The thorns will sometimes snatch it off the head, but conversely, while walking in the thick woods, the brim of the hat can be used to shield the eyes from evil shrubbery.  I was used to the tough cotton duck hat protecting the eyes and forehead, but I was bit skeptical of the ruggedness of this ultra light hat. The skepticism was erased when I fell out of a tree into a patch of briars. I tore a hole in my Dickie’s pants, but the Tilley nylon airflow hat was unscathed.

Nylon Vs. Cotton.

On my most recent snake hunting trip, I took both hats with me down to the Everglades.  I wanted the T4IS Cotton hat with the insect shield, but I also wanted the airflow hat for the hot weather.  Now, Tilley really could impress me by making a nylon insect shield hat too.  If I was really going to make a big deal about insect-repelling properties, I could spray my nylon hat with Permanone and get it over with. The Permanone only lasts two weeks though, and the insect shield treatment in my T4IS is permanent for many washings.  Not to get side tracked, but the Permanone smells funny as well, and it doesn’t go on your skin.  It is just a treatment for clothes.  

Back to the Nylon revolution…I had trouble trying to figure out which hat I liked more.  It wasn’t until the 87 degree day (in December, mind you) out in the winds of Flamingo, Florida where I really felt like it was no contest.  The mesh feature of the Air Flow hat just whisked away all of the residual heat radiating from my head, and dunking it in the clear everglades water and putting it back on my head also helped lose heat through this evaporative cooling effect.  The wonderful weightless hat on the top of my head was a joy, keeping the sun off my ears and face for the remainder of the trip.  This will be my choice from now on in any sub-tropical or desert climate

Stow Away

One thing about this hat is the fact that you can take it anywhere.  I have a large cowboy Sunbody palm hat too, and don’t get me wrong I love it, but in terms of packing it on the plane, I really have to have a good reason to deal with the awkwardness of that big headpiece.  The T4IS Cotton hat isn’t too hard to stow, but I feel it takes a while to get the shape back in the hat.  The Air Flow hat can be thrown in as an afterthought, stuffed in the far recesses of my luggage, only to spring back to life anew!  It holds its shape well for a hat that had just gone in a ride folded up like a forgotten sock.

Hat Cord

Each of the hats come with a specialized hat band designed to hold them on your head.  This stemmed from the high wind that sailors like Alex Tilley had to contend with out on the open water.  I don’t mind the cord at all, but I felt it got in my way sometimes.  No problem on Tilley’s part though, as the hat band can be taken off and folded up into the hat itself.  In the T4 hat, there is even an integrated piece of Velcro that can hold the string.  The Velcro also functions to hold sunglasses securely  on the side of the hat if you want to use that configuration.  Back to the cord though; I took both of mine completely off and stowed them in the hat pocket.  I can take them out and rig them up right away if necessary during high-wind situations.  I wanted to try the hatband out though, as Tilly has a unique way of affixing the hat, with a cord going both under the chin and on the back of the head, much like the hats worn by the Canadian Mounted Police.  It stayed on my head during a 70 mph truck ride in the back of the bed.  It was hell trying to get a picture of that though.  Unlike the boonie hats, these hats give the user the ability to choose if they want a band or not, and that is a big factor for me.

Style and Conclusion

What isn’t more stylish than a hat?  “See the hat, see the man” quotes a good friend of mine, Steve Watts.  The Tilley hats are at home at an outdoors party, or a get-together where you might have to pull out the unstained khakis from the back of the closet.  Yet, you can also look just as good covered in mud in the humid swamps of South Carolina.  I’m still looking for ways to customize mine so it can have a touch of that uniqueness, but they still look great without any thing but dirt on them.  Not to mention you can chuck these guys in the washer easily.  Top that with the over-the-top warranty and craftsmanship, and you have a hat that is a winner all around.  My hat is off to Tilley Endurables for making a fine product that has become more than a head piece.  It has become a legend.

Visit:  www.tilley.com

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