Wearing the hat at Lake Ozette on the Washington State Olympic Peninsula in the winter.
Call it a beanie, toque or watch cap: I have used this for years, sometimes down to 20 degrees F when I’m hiking, or with a hood when I’ve stopped hiking. It’s somewhat rain resistant – fleece retains its warmth when wet and dries fairly quickly. Fleece is stretchy, so it stays on my head under the windiest conditions.
The hat is a single layer of fleece, with the bottom rolled back to make two layers over my forehead and ears. Warmth is easily adjusted by the roll of it: rolled less for more coverage of my forehead and ears, rolled more for less coverage.
I sleep in a top bag with my head completely exposed, to keep breath moisture from getting into the bag, and I wear the cap to keep my head warm. The set-up is good down to about 35 degrees F, and the hat weighs two ounces.
This is the same idea as the watch cap, except it’s longer (all the way down to my neck) with a cut-out for essentials like breathing and seeing. It’s bigger around than the hat, so I can easily wear the hat layered inside.
I find the balaclava too restrictive for day use. I use it to keep my head warm when I’m sleeping. I wear the watch cap underneath, and the combination keep me warm to below freezing, maybe 25 degrees F. Below, that I use a polyester batting insulated hat.
In my sleeping bag with watch cap and balaclava.
A pillowcase, you may ask? I’ve tried plastic pillows and stuff sack pillows, but I don’t like those materials against my face. I like a pillowcase to absorb some moisture and be soft against my skin. My pillowcase only weighs 1.5 ounces, so it’s a luxury I can afford in my weight budget.
Currently, I use a simple rectangular block of foam as pillow, but you could use a plastic blow-up pillow or spare clothes. I kind of object to spare clothes, because I want to be able to wear all my clothes and still have a pillow.
I previously had a pillowcase with a folded bottom so the raw edge wasn’t exposed, but my current iteration has a raw edge – it just doesn’t matter with fleece, which doesn’t unravel, but sort of curls up a bit on the raw edge. The pillowcase is two inches longer than the pillow and stretches a bit to fit the pillow fully inside it.
So soft and fluffy, it’s worth the (wee) weight penalty.
You can find fleece at your local fabric store. Malden’s Polartec 200 would be a better (lighter) choice. I used black, but they make it in many colors (or patterns, if you want to support your favorite sports team). Some fleece has longer fiber (pile) on one side, but I prefer two-sided.
Mark the fleece with a white “dressmakers marking pencil” (found at the same fabric store). The fleece fibers don’t allow a very precise line, but it’s good enough, and the pencil mark will wash or wear off. Cut the fleece with regular scissors or sewing shears, and raw edges needn’t be protected.
Use a 2 mm stitch length, normal stitch, reverse the stitch direction at the beginning and end of a seam to lock the stitch. Unlocked stitches will slowly come out. Sometimes I do a second row of stitches, but it’s probably unnecessary.
The only thing I don’t like about fleece is that it’s heavy for the warmth you get. Roughly speaking, warmth is determined by insulation thickness. I crudely measured by placing the material on a flat surface, holding a straightedge over the top surface, and measuring the thickness with a ruler. I also measured some polyester batting insulation with light nylon on the top and bottom.
|Fabric||Thickness (inches)||Weight (oz/yd)|
|Polyester batting with lining||¾||5|
As you can see, the polyester batting is about six times thicker (warmer) for close to the same weight. This is a crude measurement, but however you calculate it, fleece is a lot heavier for the warmth.
Down provides even more warmth for the same weight, but for a small item like a hat, this doesn’t matter. I never have a large item of fleece clothing, like a jacket or pants, because of the excessive weight.
The trick is to have the hat loose enough to be comfortable (don’t cut off blood flow) and tight enough to stay on when it’s windy. Fleece is typically stretchier in one direction than the other. You want the stretchy direction to go around your head, not up and down.
Cut a piece of fleece 26 inches wide in the stretchy direction by 14 inches long.
Fold your fleece rectangle over so it’s half as wide. Sew it together half an inch from the edge, forming a tube or cylinder. Make sure the fabric is cut and sewn perfectly: you don’t want the cylinder wider at some places and narrower at others.
Now try the cylinder on your head and test for comfort and snugness. If it’s too loose, make another row of stitches closer in, making sure that the resultant cylinder is the same width all along its length. It’s easy to put in another row of stitches, but difficult to rip out a row if you make it too small, so don’t go too far in. The starting width should be big enough for even the biggest heads (like mine!). Don’t cut off the excess fleece until you’re all done. When you’re happy with the size, you can put in a second row of stitches for strength.
Next, put a row of stitches in a curved shape to close up the top of the hat. The exact shape of the curve isn’t important, though the cap will look aesthetically better if it’s an even arc. From the top of the curve to the bottom (where it meets the side) should be about 3 inches.
Cut off the excess fabric about 0.25 inch from the seam. The beauty of fleece is that the raw edge doesn’t unravel, so you don’t have anything else to do! (I have worn the hat shown for a few years, so it seems to have stretched out a bit at the bottom, and the width is no longer the same from top to bottom.)
Try the hat on. Fold up the bottom so it is double thickness over your forehead and ears and tweak, cutting some off the bottom to shorten it if needed.
The balaclava is made much the same as the hat, except that it’s wider because it doesn’t have to be tight to stay on in the wind, and so it will fit over the hat. It’s also longer to cover your neck, and there’s a hole for your face.
Cut a piece of fleece, 30 inches wide and 18 inches long. Fold in half and sew together, half an inch from the edge. Try it on, while wearing your hat. It should fit loosely. If it’s too loose, you can sew the seam closer.
When you’re happy with the width, sew a curved top, just like the hat. Cut off the excess fabric, 0.25 inch away from the seam.
Be careful cutting the face hole – fabric can’t be uncut. Make the hole on the side opposite the seam so that the seam of the balaclava runs up the back of your head. The exact shape isn’t critical. The measurements in the diagram below fit me, but you may want it a little different. You might want to try it on to determine where the hole should be in relation to important things like your eyes. Start with a very small hole, try it on, see which direction and how much bigger the hole should be, etc.
Start with a piece of fleece 10 inches wide (in the stretchy direction) and 20 inches long. This size works for my piece of foam (8.5 x 6.5 x 2 inches), which is only JUST big enough for comfort without being any bigger or heavier than necessary. You may prefer a different size, and if you simply stuff it with spare clothes, size isn’t that critical. If you have a plastic pillow, you will have to figure out your own dimensions.
Fold the fleece over in the long direction (this is opposite the two hats above). Sew on each side, half an inch from the edge, to form a rectangular sleeve. Try the pillowcase on for size and make it smaller if needed. Cut off the excess fabric 0.25 inch from the seam. Done and done!
My case weighs 1.38 ounces. The 8.5 x 6.5 x 2 inch piece of foam weighs 4.37 ounces. Total is 5.75 ounces, which is kind of a lot for a pillow, but it’s a luxury I choose to splurge on. Added bonus: the fleece is washable!