Know Your Army Hats

Hats, lids, covers—whatever you like to call them, headgear has been a part of American military uniforms since the formation of the Continental Army. The headwear worn by US military personnel has evolved significantly over time. From the round and cocked hats of the 1700s and 1800s to today’s army hats, they all have a connection to the United States military.

Because hats differ by service branch, this article will concentrate on the three types of army hats made to wear with the Army Combat Uniform. While hats worn by other service branches, such as the Air Force, are similar to those worn by the Army, some of these may apply to other branches.


The black beret was authorized for wear with the Army’s utility uniforms, including the BDU, aviation BDU, maternity BDU, desert BDU, combat vehicle crewman uniform, food service uniform, hospital duty uniform, flight uniform, and cold weather uniform, including the service uniforms, on the Army’s birthday in 2001.

The decision by then-Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki sparked considerable controversy, particularly because Army Rangers had worn black berets since the Vietnam War. It was their unique headgear. With Shinseki’s well-intended but unwelcome directive, every soldier would be required to wear the black beret with their service uniforms and utility uniforms.

Soldiers despised the beret right away. These military hats must be cut, shaped, and formed over several weeks, months, and even years. Because they do not breathe, personnel assigned to hot weather climates are usually uncomfortable wearing the beret.

Not to mention that, while they were intended to help give the United States Army a more professional appearance, they made many soldiers appear less than professional since they didn’t know how to form and wear the berets correctly. Many soldiers were transformed into pastry chefs.

The beret was the required headgear for those in garrison when the Army Combat Uniform was introduced. They could wear a patrol cap or a Boonie if they deployed, but the beret remained.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by United States Army (@usarmy)

Today, berets are worn with the Army Combat Uniform by Special Forces, Airborne, and Ranger units. Other Army units wear their ACUs with the OCP pattern patrol cap.

Boonie Hats

These military hats with broad brims were first seen in Vietnam. Due to comfort and ease of wear, the Boonies have been a fan favorite among soldiers since their introduction.

In Vietnam, boonies were a substitute for patrol caps, but high-ranking commanders disliked their crumpled, unkempt appearance. These military hats did not convey the proper military image that many officers expected from their troops.

Nonetheless, in the case of these types of hats, function triumphed over form, resulting in a victory for the rank and file. Over the years, variations of the Boonie hat were introduced to complement the Desert Camouflage Uniform. These were used during Desert Shield/Storm in the 1990s.

As the Army joined the Global War on Terror, the desert camouflage uniforms changed, as did the Boonie hats. The Army said farewell to the BDU. As the Army transitioned to the digital Army Combat Uniform phase, the Boonie hats were modified to match the futuristic and often derided digital ACUs.

a man wearing a Boonie hat and his military uniform

Along with uniforms and caps, senior leaders have acknowledged that when the force speaks, it should be heard, and the Boonie hat has persisted as a component of any deploying soldier’s packing list. The Boonie has offered a cool, comfortable headpiece for military personnel downrange in the arid, desert climates in which American forces have fought for several decades. Soldiers and leaders adore them, so they will likely be around for a long time.

What is the origin of the term “Boonie” hat? Depending on which veteran you ask, there are different war stories, but even army historians are baffled.

Patrol Cap

The patrol cap is another one of those military hats that is simple to put on. It’s simple to put on and has a brim to protect you from the sun. According to a United States Army historical survey, the patrol cap, formerly known as the M-1951 field cap, first appeared in 1943.

The cap had a marginally longer visor and reinforced stitching in rows. The cap had a fold-down, flannel-lined flap that protected the ears and back of the head when the weather got cold.

As the cap was being developed, some officers thought it was too sloppy to deliver a proper military image. Some commanders enforced using cardboard in the cap to keep it crisp and straight to make their soldiers look sharper.

Professional appearance became a primary concern within the ranks of the Army in 1953 when Army Chief of Staff Gen. Matthew B. Ridgeway imposed a policy directing troops to boost their soldierly image. Commercially manufactured blocked and stiffened models of these military caps were sold through post exchanges and were a standard-issue throughout the 50s. They were dubbed the “Ridgeway Cap.”

The Army formed a headgear study group in 1958 to find an alternative for the Ridgeway Cap. As any soldier who has served in peacetime knows, priorities shift in garrison when there is no war to train for. A greater emphasis is placed on military bearing and appearances.

In 1962, they introduced a new cap design. These military hats were called “Cap, Field, Hot Weather.” The lack of cold weather earflaps made the cap a hot weather item.

Baseball-style caps in the shade olive green 106 were the new types of military hats. They were made of a polyester and rayon blend and had soft visors and round crowns made of six triangular segments that met at the top. Each segment of these military hats had a ventilation eyelet.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by United States Army (@usarmy)

According to an Army historical survey, soldiers initially despised the cap. In tropical climates, the rayon and polyester proved too hot, and soldiers disliked the appearance of the high front panel. After significant opposition from troops in the field, an upgrade of these military hats began to be issued near the end of the Vietnam War.

They used these army hats until 1985, when the M-1951 field cap, now known as a patrol cap, was brought back as a piece of the Battle Dress Uniform (BDU) in the desert and woodland camouflage patterns. These military hats were also a piece of the Army Combat Uniform in a universal digital camouflage pattern.

Unless otherwise directed by higher-level commanders, the Army Combat Uniform in occupational camouflage pattern (OCP) now requires the wear of the patrol cap.