Although it's not a necessity like shoes or running shorts, having a running cap at your disposal is one of the most important accessories you can own, especially during the hot summer months.
As well as keeping you cool from the heat of the sun, getting the right cap can also help protect you from the harmful effects of UV rays. But safety isn't the only benefit to wearing a running cap. They're a useful piece of kit for keeping your hair under control, stopping glare from the sun and helping to make things more bearable when running in the rain.
To get these benefits it needs to the be right kind of cap, however. A proper running cap is lightweight, breathable and wicks sweat away from your scalp to evaporate quickly, all of which is key to a cap’s cooling properties.
A running cap also needs to be comfortable, especially if you’re planning on wearing it for long events like marathons, or even ultramarathons. It should also dry quickly and be able to retain its shape even after being shoved into a small kit bag.
Of course, function is not the only factor when picking a running cap – fashion plays a role too. Most running caps opt for an understated look, but there are some brands out there who are admirably adventurous in the range of designs on offer.
Best all-round caps
On Lightweight Cap
It may not be one of the cheaper options on this list, but if you're looking for a running cap that's worth the investment then you won't find many as good as the Lightweight Cap from On.
The design uses laser-cut ventilation technology in the form of hundreds of small holes dotted across the cap, resulting in an impressively breathable and light experience that helps to keep your head cool when things start to heat up. Despite its minimal feel, the fabric is also surprisingly durable, to the point where On claims it's even tear-proof.
For us, the best feature of the Lightweight Cap - apart from the slick design - is its ability to dry incredibly quickly. After a run, run it under a tap for a few seconds and hang it up. In a couple of hours, you'll be ready to head out again.
While other brands dabble in running caps, Ciele specialises in them, offering an unparalleled range of top-notch lids. There are designs to suit every runner, whether you want a patchwork of bright colours or something more understated, and the line-up is constantly being refreshed, so if you’re not a fan of the Standard Stripes Forestbars GOCap we’ve picked out here, rest assured there will be something more to your taste available.
All of the caps back up their style with technical excellence, offering everything a runner wants from their cap. They’re lightweight and made with Ciele’s COOLwick mesh, which wicks sweat away from your head to evaporate rapidly.
The caps are also machine washable, and the pliable brim won’t lose its shape even after you’ve put it through the wash many times. In fact, Ciele is confident enough in the quality of its caps that it offers a Million Mile Guarantee – if you’re not satisfied with your cap you can return it to be repaired, replaced or for a refund.
Nike AeroBill Running Hat
The perforated panels on this hat increase its breathability, while the AeroBill tech in the fabric ensures sweat doesn’t have a second to settle on your scalp before it’s wicked away. Whatever colour you opt for, the underside of the peak is black to limit glare on your run, and hopefully, help you to stay focused on the kilometres to come.
One downside of the AeroBill cap is that it’s hand wash only, which is obviously more of a faff than a hat you can chuck in the machine with the rest of your sweaty kit. However, as a result, the peak is a little stiffer than other running caps, which some runners might appreciate.
Best running visors
If packability is a central concern for you when picking a running cap, this BUFF visor should be top of your list. The soft fabric and flexible peak allow you to roll it up into a ball that can be stuffed into the smallest of spaces in your rucksack or a jacket pocket. When the visor is rolled up you can even easily hold it in one hand, if you have no other storage options available.
That makes the Buff Visor an especially useful option for ultra-marathoners who want something on hand to shield their eyes when the sun comes out during a long run. The soft material of the headband also does a stand-up job of keeping your noggin sweat-free and stretches to fit any head comfortably.
Best running caps for ultras
Inov-8 Race Elite Peak 2.0
If you’re heading out to run an ultramarathon you need to be prepared for changeable conditions, because even if it’s sunny on the start-line you could be facing storms by kilometre 50. The inov-8 Race Elite Peak hat is designed to handle both sun and rain, with a breathable, water-resistant design with a micro-fibre sweatband running around the rim.
The peak and front panel of the cap is where you find the water-resistant fabric, which keeps the rain off your face, while the back is made from a mesh material to boost breathability. The size of the cap is quickly adjusted by the velcro strap on the back, and there are four different colours available including a rather pleasing purple option.
Salomon XA Cap
Comfort is key when you’re wearing a hat for the many hours it takes to complete an ultramarathon, and the Salomon XA Cap excels on this front. This is largely down to Salomon eschewing the standard one-size-fits-all approach to caps to offer a range of sizes, so you can find the perfect fit for you.
The material used in the XA Cap also dries in a flash, and the vents along its sides help with breathability. The fabric also offers UPF50 protection from the sun, and Salomon has gone further than most in offering a good range of colours, even if the designs on offer aren’t quite as distinctive as Ciele’s caps.
Best budget running caps
Dhb Run Cap
Although caps aren’t budget-busters in general, especially compared to other bits of running gear like shoes or jackets, no-one’s going to say no to a bargain, and this excellent cap from dhb is undoubtedly that.
Mesh vents run from the front of the cap and widen out to a larger section at the back to increase breathability, while the fabric used at the front is paper-thin and so incredibly lightweight. The cap can be adjusted using the velcro strap at the back and has a reflective logo on the front for night runs.
The dhb Run Cap also has a couple of loops on the front, and while we’re not exactly sure this is what they’re for, we found they worked well as a place to store gels on the run. That is if you don’t mind sporting a couple of gels on your hat, which does attract some funny looks.
Kalenji Running Cap
Another great option for bargain-hunters, the Kalenji Running Cap is made from a wicking fabric that dries in double-quick time whether it's drenched by sweat or an untimely cloudburst. We wouldn’t bank on the cap being as durable as more premium options and it’s probably wise to wash it by hand to increase its longevity, but the Kalenji cap is otherwise as reliable an option for sunny runs as any other.
The hat can be adjusted using the rip-tab on the back and Kalenji are very precise with the range of heads it will fit – you’re bang out of luck if your head’s circumference doesn’t fall land somewhere between 51cm and 63cm, measured just above the eyebrows.
Best running cap for winter
Soar WoolTech Cap
When we first took this cap out of the packaging in mid-September we thought Uncle Buck had ordered it to the wrong address. It wasn't until the temperature dropped 2 months later that the pure beauty of it suddenly made sense.
The WoolTech Cap, unlike most running caps, is designed specifically for training in the older months. Everything about it, from the ear flaps to the soft fleece-lined interior, is built to keep your head as warm as possible when the weather is at its worst, while still retaining the performance features you need for running.
Despite its lightweight design, the material used not only keeps your head snug but does an impressive job of warding off the wind, rain and snow. There's even a drawcord to really tighten it up when you're making your way across the frozen tundra.
Best general running caps
Alter Ego Running Trotter Splash Cap
Performance running caps don't often tick the box when it comes to looking great for general day wear. US brand Alter Ego running aims to change that with a wide range of caps that are designed to look great and offer performance benefits when used for active lifestyles.
Those features include water-repellent technology to keep your head dry, sweat stain prevention, sweat-wicking elements and a high level of durability so you don't have to worry about replacing them any time soon.
The caps come in an enormous range of types and materials, with some of the most eye-catching designs you're likely to find in a performance hat.