As a Vietnam Veteran I'm no stranger to boonie hats.
I won't say we invented them, but we definitely made them popular along with our comrades from Australia and of course the Republic of Vietnam soldiers.
To some extent the boonie hat is an offshoot of the Australian bush hat, but when U.S. troops started wearing them they became very popular and a must have during monsoon season.
Eventually the boonie became part of the standard military clothing that troops were issued.
They now come in a variety of styles variations, colors, and camouflage.
The above picture is part of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. Photo Credit: eschipul
The Bush Hat
The Australian bush hat, or giggle hat as it is sometimes called, is believed to be the precursor of the boonie hat.
When reading the history of the bush hat it is believed that it was worn during the first and second world wars.
However, the bush hat was not very common as most Australian troops preferred the traditional slouch hat (see photo). Admittedly the slouch hat is what I envision when I think about Australian
Nevertheless the bush hat was carried into the Vietnam conflict by the Australians and was adopted and adapted by U.S. soldiers.
The true boonie hat is a hat that can be crumpled up and stuffed in a pocket.
It doesn't have a hard brim or rim around it.
They typically are made of cotton or a cotton blend and always have a chin strap.
The hats are very light weight and the chin strap comes in real handy when there's a wind.
My boonie hat, pictured at right, is vented around the head area. I use mine mainly when I go surf fishing as it keeps the sun off my face and neck. The top of my head is getting a little thin with hair so the protection is well appreciated and the venting keeps it cool.
Today's Boonie Hat
The modern boonie hat is available in a variety of colors, but by far the most popular are drab green, tan, and camouflage.
The camo hats come in a number different camouflage patterns. Over the years each branch of the U.S. military has adopted their own camouflage design. Many of these designs are available in the marketplace.
The boonie hat is just the latest in military hats.
Over the history of the U.S. some of the more popular hats were the hats worn by both the confederate soldiers and the union soldiers of the civil war.
Another group of hats very popular with people are the cavalry hats worn by both sides.
You can buy replicas of these hats to this day and many people do.
Besides the obvious reason for wearing a military boonie to keep the sun off and the rain out you may be surprised at some other notable reasons for wearing a boonie.
1. A camouflaged boonie breaks up the normal round shape of the head, making it less detectable in a jungle environment. If you think about it, it's a lot less detectable than a round helmet.
2. Boonies are favored by special-ops type units over helmets because they are light and help hide the soldier. If you've never had a helmet on your head let me tell you, they are heavy and cumbersome. True they do serve a purpose, but they serve that purpose under certain conditions. For example if you're in a fox hole, or guard bunker, yes you want to wear a helmet because you are a target. However, if your job is to infiltrate into enemy territory undetected the helmet is not something you want along.
3. Some soldiers only wear the boonie in off duty time just as you would a baseball cap. Others wear them when they're doing other tasks like filling sand bags.
4. Besides charging through the jungle boonie hats have a number of other uses. Many people prefer them when hiking because of the sun protection they provide. I wear mine when I'm fishing.
5. If you have a boonie hat you will become a fashion star and be featured in fashion magazines. Oh, wait a minute, that's not right. After all they aren't really very fashionable.
Anyway, everyone should own at least one boonie just so you can run out in the rain and check the mail without getting your hair wet.