History And Development
Before The Vietnam War
The origin of its current design is difficult to determine. One could go back about 100 years and take a closer look at the fisherman’s hats known as “bucket hats” which were made of wool or tweed and bore a slight resemblance to today’s boonie.
In the late 1930’s, the US military made hats with a wide brim that went all the way around the head. First made from denim and later herringbone twill, they were dubbed “Daisy Mae” hats (after a comic book character of the time). The hat also partially resembled what we know today as a boonie.
But US troops weren’t the only ones wearing these types of hats. The British Commonwealth and its armed forces had their own hot climate uniform, which included a “bush hat”. This hat was commonly worn by Commonwealth troops during World War II and later during the Malayan Emergency (a guerrilla warfare during decolonization in the 1950s and 1960s).
The Australians dubbed their version of this hat “Giggle Hats” because of the shorter brim and more or less funny look. Even then, the design was popular with the troops for its comfort and practicality in warmer climates.
The Vietnam War And The Special Forces
However, none of these conflicts made the boonie famous. That only happened during the Vietnam War when it was widely used among special forces such as the MACV-SOG and the Long Range Reconnaissance Patrols. Initially, hats purchased from local sewing shops came in a variety of styles and were made from mostly recycled fabric in tiger stripe or ERDL camouflage, as well as olive green.
But as soldiers are, these hats have been extensively personalized with slogans, logos and the like. Of course, this made their wearers feel very connected to them.
In 1967, the U.S. military began making boonie hats on a regular basis, officially naming them “hat, jungle, bug-netted” in typical military nomenclature. They complemented the standard patrol and baseball caps worn by soldiers in the garrison, paving the way for the Boonie’s success.
During the Vietnam War, the Boonie got its famous name – although it’s not entirely clear why it ended up being called the Boonie. Some believe that Boonie is a reference to the Tagalog word bundok, meaning mountain.
Without context, however, that seems far-fetched, but it does make sense when you consider that bundok morphed into boondocks, a slang word introduced by Americans living during the Philippine-American War (1899 -1902) fought in the Philippines. Boondocks referred to mountain people.
The term later evolved into a description of anything wild and eventually shortened to Boonie – a fairly appropriate name given Vietnam’s landscape, which ranges from mountainous terrain to jungle deltas.
The boonie hats became standard equipment and were worn in all major jungle climate conflicts fought by various nations and non-state actors. They appear in photos from the Gulf Wars and the war in Afghanistan.
Boonies are so common today that it’s hard to imagine a time when they weren’t worn by armed forces somewhere.
The Idea Behind Boonie Hats
The boonie hat is not just a fashion statement, but a product born out of necessity. Given the hot and humid climate that boonies are designed for, they are more comfortable than a helmet and offer better protection from rain and sun.
The round shape of the helmet is another reason why boonies are necessary. Due to its wide brim and uneven shape, a boonie helps break up its wearer’s silhouette and disguise the easily recognizable shape of their head. Additional concealment is possible by tucking some foliage into the vegetation loops – each military boonie comes with a vegetation band (it’s a ring along the crown of the hat and consists of many loops).
However, the wide brim also has disadvantages. When wet, it tends to sag, obstructing the wearer’s field of vision. Some troops – particularly reconnaissance units – have solved this problem by cutting the brim shorter. This led to a design known today as the “Recce Boonie”.
Depending on the country, boonies can come in different styles. This can include various types of ventilation (eyelets, tunnels and mesh), as well as snaps to attach the brim to the crown to make the boonie look more like a safari hat.
Boonie hats are known for the ease with which they can be modified in the field. For example, Vietnam War-era reconnaissance units sewed orange elements into their boonies. This allowed them to give signals to the planes overhead simply by raising and lowering their hats. When the hats were turned inside out, the elements could also be used for identification, allowing troops to easily spot their own people from the air when the going got tough, even before IR markers were deployed.
Another modification of the boonie hat is flat inner pockets for storing documents. This modification made sense for use in damp and wet jungles, as the head stayed dry the longest.
Last but not least there was the band – a basic feature but essential to keep the boonie in place so it doesn’t get lost.
We took all of these features and modifications into account when designing our Striker Gen. 2 Boonie Hat. For example, there is an integrated wire in the front and back of the wide brim, with which you can shape the brim as you wish. This way you can better control your field of vision, even when the boonie is wet. Other functions that we have added are special ventilation openings for ventilation and an inner pocket for documents.
Current State Of Headwear
How does the boonie fit into today’s headgear world? First, military/tactical hats and caps are generally considered part of the uniform. In fact, soldiers in almost every army on this planet must wear something on their heads at all times when outside of a building or vehicle.
Over the decades, different styles of hats/caps have gained popularity – just like the boonie hat. The Patrol Cap is one of them. It is still worn, especially in everyday garrison life or on patrols when helmets are not needed.
American headgear designs have had a massive impact on subcultures themselves and have been adopted worldwide.
However, the US wasn’t the only country known for iconic headwear. A regular feature in German-speaking countries is the field cap, the style of which dates back to the headgear worn by German and Austrian mountaineers and members of mountain brigades in the 1930s and earlier.
The British, meanwhile, still wear berets in the garrison. And the distinctive French “Bigeard cap” continues to have its place in several armies.
The war on terror (or rather, 21st century conflicts) and the trend towards security privatization have paved the way for a comeback of the good old baseball cap.
However, instead of referring to them as baseball caps, they are now commonly referred to as “operator” or “contractor” caps. This is appropriate given their wide use among military contractors and special forces operating in civilian disguise. In contrast to actual baseball caps However, the operator caps are supplied without a top button (to avoid painful injuries in the event of any hits or the pressure of the ear protection bracket) and have a distinctive Velcro surface on the front.
Along with the boonie hat, these caps are now the dominant headgear on the commercial tactical market, right behind the obligatory patrol caps and field caps for everyday garrison use. This is also the reason why you will find both types of caps in our product range.
It should be clear that the boonie hat is far more than an accessory for a Sunday fishing trip. For several decades, this simple headgear has provided soldiers with protection from the elements and concealment from their enemies.
Along with the Operator Cap, the hat is a highly sought-after piece of gear throughout the tactical community and among civilians. Given current trends, its popularity might be as unassailable as its status as a legendary piece of headwear.