Apparel FAQ Tips

Cowboy at Heart? Look the Part! (Cowboy Hat Materials)

woman riding horse wearing a cowboy hat
Written by Holly N.

High-Quality, No-Regrets Cowboy Hat Materials

I know several cowboys, and they’re always wearing their cowboy hats. They stand outside in howling wind, blazing sun, or driving rain without appearing remotely concerned—probably because their cowboy hats provide all the protection they need.

No self-respecting cowboy leaves home without his hat, and for good reason! A high-quality cowboy hat protects your head from the elements, doubles up as an emergency water bucket, and proves handy when fanning the flames of a failing campfire. But, what are these versatile hats made from?

straw hat on cowboy boots

Source: Canva

Cowboy Hat Common Materials

The most popular materials used for making cowboy hats are felt, straw, and leather.

Traditionally, cowboy hats were made from felt—and it’s still the most popular material due to its durability and versatility. You can also find cowboy hats made from wool, oilskin (a type of heavy cotton cloth waterproofed with oil) and palm leaf, which is sometimes used instead of straw.


Fur felt is durable and versatile, providing shade from the sun and warmth at night.

Fur felt is also waterproof so you can use your hat as an emergency bucket to water a thirsty horse.

Top-quality cowboy hats are usually made from beaver fur felt, while cheaper versions often use hare or rabbit fur.

felt cowboy hat

Source: Canva


Straw cowboy hats are traditionally worn between Memorial Day and Labor Day, when the hotter temperatures make fur felt cowboy hats uncomfortably warm.

Straw is lightweight and breathable, making it cooler than felt.

It shades you from the sun, while keeping your head cool. A cowboy hat made of straw isn’t as durable as a fur felt hat, but will require less maintenance.


Leather is a relatively new fabric for cowboy hats and hasn’t gained the popularity of either the fur felt or straw versions.

Leather is naturally weather-resistant, provides shade from the sun, and lasts longer than straw.

It’s not as breathable as felt or straw, however, so it does get hot during summer.

Cowboy Hat Material Comparison Chart

  Pros Cons
Felt Waterproof, versatile, long-lasting, provides both shade and warmth More expensive than other options, and may be too hot in summer
Straw Lightweight, breathable, provides shade from the sun More affordable than a felt or leather cowboy hat but less durable and not necessarily waterproof
Leather Weather-resistant, durable Not a traditional cowboy hat material, and not as breathable as straw or felt

Cowboy Hat Quality Indicators

Regardless of what material you opt for, you don’t want to waste your money on a cheap, poor quality cowboy hat. So how do you know that you’re buying a top-tier hat?

Common Indicators:

Price – A higher price range usually indicates a better quality product, although the material also affects the price. Straw hats are cheaper than felt or leather hats, because straw as a material is cheaper to source.

A cowboy hat made from pure beaver fur will also command a higher price than one made from rabbit fur.

Brand – If you want quality, buy from a reputable brand that has the benefit of experience. Discover the top cowboy hat brands here.

X’s – Every cowboy hat comes with an X rating.

The higher the rating, the better the quality.

With fur felt cowboy hats, the X indicates the quality of the fur used in the felt. For instance, a 100X cowboy hat will be made of premium beaver fur felt, while a 4X hat will more likely be made of buffalo pelt or a rabbit fur blend.

cowboy wearing hat and horse silhouette

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What does 100X mean on cowboy hats?

In most instances, a 100X indicates that the hat has been made from 100% beaver fur, although it does vary from brand to brand.

Q: What are high-quality cowboy hats made of?

The highest quality cowboy hats are made of pure beaver fur—usually from the soft fur from the belly of the beaver.

Q: What is better wool or felt cowboy hat?

Felt is more durable than wool and also holds its shape better, especially in wet conditions. Wool hats tend to feel sticky in the heat, and cause your head to sweat more than felt hats. They aren’t particularly waterproof either!

Q: What is the most common material for cowboy hats?

Cowboy hats are most commonly made from either fur felt or straw.

Q: What kind of hats do real cowboys wear?

A lot of cowboys still prefer wearing cowboy hats despite the ever-increasing range of options.

Q: Do real cowboys wear felt hats?

Real cowboys wear felt hats in the winter, but usually switch to a cooler, lighter straw hat for the summer.

Q: What cowboy hat do most cowboys wear

Most cowboys stick with the long-standing traditional brands of Stetson and Resistol, even though some smaller brands are making excellent hats at competitive prices.

straw cowboy hat on fencepost

Source: Canva

Parting Thoughts

Felt or straw are your best options for cowboy hats. Both materials have been tried and tested for more than one hundred years, proving their functionality time and again. Whether you’re looking for protection from the elements or simply a way to liven up a particular outfit, felt and straw cowboy hats will never let you down.

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About the author


I am Holly, an equestrian enthusiast whose journey with horses began at the age of six in the UK. I've ventured from competing in various local events such as showjumping, cross country, showing, and gymkhana to a more serene but equally enthralling role in South Africa. Presently, I reside and ride in the breathtaking landscapes of South Africa, employed as a trail guide at Wild Coast Horseback Adventures.