The Cycling Cap, Improved

The Cycling Cap, Improved

I’m a fan of the cotton cycling cap. Even though jerseys that flutter in the wind and ankle socks are as fashionable as hoop skirts, the cotton cycling cap is no less stylish now than when Fausto Coppi wore one. Neat trick. There’s something to be celebrated in that. I like being able to see at least one of cycling’s oldest traditions still in heavy rotation.

But, that said, I have often wondered what it would take for me to conclude that someone had finally improved upon the world’s least-technical material. Sure, we have the mutt—the thermal cycling cap—but it’s special purpose and isn’t a substitute for a cotton cap.

I’ve tried my share of polyester caps, and while it’s nice that you can sublimate them, they really are no substitute to the OG version.

Then this spring, in the midst of the rainiest winter on record in my town—we topped Seattle, people!—I was introduced to the Seal Skinz Waterproof Cycling Cap. Waterproof you say?

I learned years ago in spring road races in New England that a cycling cap did nearly as good a job of keeping debris out of your eyes as glasses, but didn’t fog up in the wet. So in seriously wet conditions, I make sure I have a hat in case I end up ditching the eyewear. During my recent trip to Japan, with daily rain and temperatures in the 50s, I needed to keep my head warm and dry as well as my eyes clear of road detritus.

The Seal Skinz cap kept my head warmer than any other cap could likely have accomplished. Just being dry, or at least dry-ish, made me a good deal more comfortable, but the extra insulation offered by a dry garment preventing the cold wind from sailing across my pate turned out to be a great help. It’s reasonably breathable thanks to the micro-porous membrane sandwiched between two layers of polyester. The inside of the cap is lined with mesh to better wick away whatever moisture you’re head does release.

The camp carries a suggested retail of $40, which isn’t bad considering the non-technical cotton cap usually goes for $20 or $25. Unlike most cotton caps, the Seal Skinz waterproof cycling cap comes in two sizes, S/M and L/XL.

My only knock against the cap is that the bill is too stiff. Flip it up and it causes the cap to pull tight, and that’s only if it stayed flipped up, which it wasn’t keen to do. Considering my need in the cold and wet, I didn’t actually mind.

Final thought: a warm, dry head is a happy head.


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  1. Miles Archer

    I’m looking for a cycling cap to keep my head cool, not warm. I have to wear something under the helmet otherwise I get sunburned in the shape of the vents and end up looking something like Avatar the airbender. I’ve been wearing a headsweats cap, but am thinking of getting a traditional cap that I can wear off the bike too.

    1. Author

      Yeah, point made. I wouldn’t want to look like Avatar, either. Now my seven-year-old aspiring ninja is of a different mind.

      For what it’s worth, nothing will stay wet as long as cotton….

    2. Spider

      I’ve had great success with the Assos sweat cap and so has my friend who is bald, wicks really well and does protect – we are down here in Australia so the summer sun really bites. It’s called the Robofoil (like most Assos things, they work very well but have ridiculous names.

      Giro made a cap last summer that had a brim on it and the same ultralight wicking polyester in white – I can’t find them anymore but they also do a SPF skull cap in white

  2. George Mount

    I still have waterproof team caps from Italy but they are much better then that one as they have a bill in the front and in the rear. Once you try one of them you’ll see how much better they are in the rain than single bill caps.

    1. Jakula

      George, how do your double-billed caps avoid getting in the way of your helmet retention system? It’s definitely an interesting idea, but my mental image isn’t working out logistically.

  3. claude boxley

    Note also that there are nice lightweight wool caps available from Walz, Randi Jo Fabrications, and likely other companies. These are good for keeping warm in the wet.

  4. Mark Young

    My favorite hat is the Castelli Retro (I like the fact that it has a deeper “head” than others (say, my Mavic, or Masi hat). I bought two a couple years ago and cannot find them anymore.

    I know you are talking about waterproof, but I would like to see the Retro made with a mesh center (obviously for hot locations). The mesh would allow the air coming through the helmet to keep my head cooler. I suggested this to Castelli, but they apparently don’t take suggestions from the public.

  5. Spider

    Been riding a Gore waterproof cap the last few weeks (suggested by Bill Strickland of Bicycling), excellent! great breathability and water shielding. really impressed. Best bit of kit I’ve tried this year.

    I had an awful time with the Assos waterproof one….poor venting and self destructed in the washing machine (in a washing bag) within 2 washes, then the brim snapped. Pathetic.

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