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Hoods or hats for stalking?

Hoods have become commonplace on hunting jackets but in most situations are inconvenient, so why have they usurped the trusty hat? Alasdair Mitchell ponders.

In the world of hunting apparel, the hood is everywhere, usurping the good old hat from its rightful position. I don’t mean to sound rabidly anti-hood; I cherish an ancient Barbour Longshoreman smock that has a hood. But the design seems appropriate when you are crouched in a creek, trying to gain whatever shelter you can. I can imagine that a hood is also useful when you are sitting in a hide in a downpour, or facing into gale-driven sleet when hind stalking. But for most shooting, why on earth would you want to deploy a hood, as opposed to a hat? (Read our list of the best hats for shooting.)

All manner of modern hunting jackets now come with hoods as standard. In the US, especially, hunters seem to be wearing their hoods up more than ever. Many of the big brands make hunting jackets with non-detachable hoods. By contrast, certain European makes have hoods that can at least be zipped off or rolled up.

I recently bought an expensive stalking jacket from a famous New Zealand manufacturer. It is undoubtedly well made. It has a permanent hood. The jacket’s waterproof material is fairly thick and rather stiff. The hood is made of the same stuff, but there is no way of strapping it down. So it bunches up on the back of my neck, effectively catching the wind, branches and rain. It gets in the way of my bino harness straps. If I need to take a prone shot, it is liable to push my hat off from behind. Yet I cannot leave it up when taking a shot because it obscures my view. (Read our advice on the best waterproof jackets for shooting.)

This hood does have a cinching mechanism to bring it closer around my face, but doing so effectively restricts my peripheral vision while at the same time muffling any sounds from outside the cocoon. I am seriously considering just cutting the thing off, or at least trying to get it modified so I can remove it most of the time.

You see plenty of overseas hunting videos where the person carrying the rifle is tramping along with their face almost completely obscured by a hood. In some cases, the wretched thing is pulled up and over a baseball cap. It’s as though the wearer wants to disconnect from the outside world. A good hat, by contrast, shields the face from wind and rain while leaving the ears and eyes free to detect game. If it is really windy or cold, you might use ear flaps. For even better concealment, you can pull up a face mask or neck gaiter. The length of the hat’s peak, if any, is a critical factor. A hat that is ideal for driven game shooting might not be suitable for hill stalking because the peak might catch the back of your scope. But part of the glory of hats is that you can choose one for any situation — or even carry more than one type in a pocket or pack.

Why do clothing makers insist on foisting permanent hoods on us? Maybe I am old-fashioned. Perhaps hunters want hoods and the manufacturers are merely satisfying market demand. However, I have a suspicion that, just like the makers of smartphones, they are always trying to boost the perceived value — and hence price — of their kit by adding ever- more features.