Birder/Author Gary Swant in his Tilley Hat.

Birding : Tilley Hat is Perfect for the Job

Montana birding: The right hat protects skin, comfortable to wear 

By Gary Swant : September 19, 2017

I have been replacing wooden steps and decking at my home and have been thankful for the right equipment. My reciprocal saw and a power planer make all the difference in getting the old deck off and trimming boards to fit on the new steps.

So it is with birding. There are two categories of quality equipment one needs to acquire to really enjoy watching birds. One is for comfort and the other is efficiency in watching birds.

With all of the cancer concerns today, I want to share possibly the most important outdoor article of clothing you can wear. I’m talking about protecting the top of your head. For many including me, I have lost the hair on my head, and direct sunlight on my bald head is really uncomfortable, not to mention the potential health effects of too much sun. The effects of sun exposure are cumulative and we need to take skin cancer seriously. Many my age are going to dermatologists and get suspicious and cancerous skin removed. Most birders I encounter in the field are wearing baseball type hats that offer some protection to the scalp, but none too little to the face, ears, and neck. Others wear a wide brimmed hat, but I found most of them are very hot and uncomfortable. I can’t even imagine how hot felt cowboy hats are and I see folks wearing them all seasons of the year. One solution is to wear a straw hat or the baseball hat with fishnet fabric. They are cooler, but you are back with the issue of sun on your scalp.

The best solution, in my opinion is a “Tilley” hat. I was first introduced to them, when I found one in a parking lot. I picked it up and looked inside and it had a phone number, which I promptly called. The number was no longer in service. I wasn’t concerned as the hat looked new and they come with a two-year guarantee against loss for the original owner. You get the next one at half price. I figured he would get a new one, and I would enjoy this one. I wore that hat on an African birding adventure and an admirer said, “Don’t you just love the secret money pocket in a Tilley?” Now my wife had washed the hat several times. Did I mention that if they get dirty you just wash them and they look new? I quickly had him show me the pocket. I felt money and hoped for a treasure. It turns out that I had three of the cleanest five dollar bills I have ever seen. I also lost the hat about five years later. Yes, there was still $15 in the secret pocket.

I enclosed a new picture with this article of me and my new Tilley. I hope they use it. Don’t I look great, and at least 10 years younger?

One final thought, a Tilley is not inexpensive, but what do you expect with such a great guarantee. In future articles I want to write about other clothing that will make your birding experience more pleasant and safe. Next month I will feature juvenile birds and how hard they can be to ID in the fall. You can check out Tilley hats, at, and no I don’t get a commission, but you will probably want to buy me a cup of coffee to thank me if you buy one.

Good birding this fall.

Gary Swant of Deer Lodge taught biological sciences at Powell County High School for 25 years. After retirement he founded GoBirdMontana,, an environmental consulting and bird guide service. He can be reached via email at This column features bird species of the Upper Clark Fork River Valley from Butte to Garrison. Swant hopes the column will inspire people to take an interest in observing birds.

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