Why do military members wear hats outside?

If you’ve watched a bunch of movies about the army, or if you have had family members in the military, you’ve likely noticed how almost every single member of the military is usually wearing a hat while outdoors. But why is that so common?

Military members are required to wear hats (called “cover”) outdoors for protection from the elements and as a way to increase camouflage. Other military hats worn by officers are used to distinguish rank within the military.

Hats (or “cover,” as called by the military) are used as a way to keep members of the military unified and safe, which is especially when they’ve been deployed overseas. Keep reading if you want to know exactly how “cover” can protect soldiers and their many other uses in the military.


A huge reason, probably the biggest reason military members wear hats outside, is the ambush factor. If a platoon is planning an attack on a different army, it’s probably a good idea to make sure that the platoon is as disguised as possible.

Old military uniforms used to be bright and flashy, and that’s because the old style of warfare was very different than modern tactics. Generally speaking, before World War I, troops would stand out in the open and march at one another, brandishing swords and sometimes yelling for glory, usually in a “For Narnia!” style. The uniforms and hats were in bright colors so they would stand out and be intimidating; after all, there’s a reason the phrase “the Redcoats are coming!” is still repeated by Americans today. Redcoats sound terrifying, and what could be scarier than the color red?

But as the world changed, military battle tactics changed. Technology and weapons adapted, so commanders were less reluctant to send their troops out against open-fire machine guns. World War I introduced what’s known as “trench warfare,” or when both sides dig trenches to use as protection while they fire their weapons at the enemy (who was also usually hiding in their own muddy trenches). It’s also not super effective, like playing paintball with a bunch of people who are deathly terrified of getting paint on them. Nobody will move out from behind their protection for fear of getting shot.

Nowadays, using trench warfare tactics and marching armies is less common. The type of warfare that has persisted is the type that revolves around subtle, evasive tactics. Guerilla warfare is full of fighting strategies that revolve around ambushing and using geography to one’s advantage. Guerilla armies are also called “invisible armies” due to their ninja-like surprise tactics. And these armies must be as invisible as possible if they want to win.

Having “cover” doesn’t just make soldiers look sharp, it also helps them blend into their surroundings. There’s a reason many modern soldier outfits are green, brown, or tan. That way, they’ll easily blend into the background when they’re on a mission. Modern soldiers can’t wear feathers in their caps like Yankee Doodle. They need to be stealthy, and part of being stealthy is covering their natural hair color with a hat that will better suit their environment.

Protection and Practicality

The soldiers in the military are usually the ones doing the most legwork. They’re the ones out there fighting, following the orders of their officers, and that usually means that they spend a lot of their time outside. And when someone is outside most of the time, they’ll likely end up looking like a tomato if they don’t take proper precautions. Serving in the military is already a huge sacrifice, and it would be horrible if part of that sacrifice meant getting skin cancer from serving their country.

While most military hats don’t block the neck and ears, they still keep many harmful UV rays from hitting the face, which can be extremely helpful to someone who spends hours outside for days on end.

Another practical reason soldiers wear hats outside also has to do with the sun. While the sun is great for providing life with a never-ending energy source, it can be extremely blinding at times. If a soldier is on an extremely precarious mission and they miss their target (or make a silly mistake) because “the sun was in their eyes,” that would not fly. In order to keep horrible mistakes from happening in battle (mistakes that could spell the difference between victory and defeat), most soldier hats have brims around the front to keep the sun out of their eyes, with the added bonus of keeping their faces from crisping up like bacon.

Distinguish Rank

Not all members of the military are soldiers. There are intricate ranking systems for each and every military and branch, and while that’s too much to unpack all at once, here’s the list of rankings for the United States Army, from the lowest rank to the highest:

  • Second Lieutenant
  • First Lieutenant
  • Captain
  • Major
  • Lieutenant Colonel
  • Colonel
  • Brigadier General
  • Major General
  • Lieutenant General
  • General
  • General of the Army

If you’re not a member of the military, it can be hard to keep all those ranks and titles straight. And that isn’t even getting into the rankings of the soldiers, which ranges from Private to Corporal to Sergeant, and more. It can be almost too much to keep in, and trying to remember who is who while in the field of battle might seem impossible. But the different ranks have different uniforms and in most cases, different hats. The hats that these officers wear outside can help keep things straight. That way, soldiers know whose orders they need to be following, and depending on the situation, it can be a matter of life and death.


Sometimes, the reason that something is always done is just that, well, it’s always been done. Originally, members of the military would always have to have “cover” (hats on) because it acted as literal cover, but over time, it has morphed into a rule of etiquette for the military. It’s the same reason that people dress up for weddings and funerals. You should never show up to a wedding wearing basketball shorts and a tank top (unless it’s a really weird wedding), and soldiers in the military should never be outside without their cover.

Wearing hats in the military is a sign of respect and a way to stay unified as a group, but its practicality has worn out over the years. If a soldier really needs head protection, they can wear a helmet. The tradition of wearing hats outside has hung on for longer than it needed to, but if you think about it, would the military count an official group if everyone wasn’t always wearing a bunch of funny-looking hats?

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