Buff 5-Panel Air Cap review: lightweight and breathable, but offers little protection from the sun

A beautifully breathable small-peaked cap for protecting your eyes during summer escapades

The Buff 5-Panel Air Cap on a pebbly beach.
(Image: © Pat Kinsella)

Advnture Verdict

Super lightweight and as breathable as a hat can possibly be, the 5-Panel Air Cap from Buff provides some protection from the sun – the extent of the solar cover for your eyes and face is limited by the small size of the visor, but this is a deliberate design to keep the cap from blowing off your head in windy weather. There’s an excellent sweatband on the interior of the cap, and the mainly mesh construction of the upper is great for ventilation. Baldies should beware, however, because the sun’s rays will go right through it.


  • +

    Super breathable

  • +

    Easy to adjust

  • +

    Some recycled material used

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    In-built sweatband

  • +

    Ultra lightweight and packable

  • +

    Minimalist but well-made


  • -

    Small peak

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    Low to no sun protection for the head

  • -


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Meet the reviewer

Pat Kinsella running through a forest
Pat Kinsella

Pat Kinsella has been chasing adventures and writing about running and outdoor escapades for decades. In pursuit of stories he has set (short-lived) speed records for trail-running Australia’s highest peaks and New Zealand’s nine Great Walks, run 100 miles along the serrated Singalila Ridge on the India–Nepal border, completed an ultra across the mountainous roof of Mauritius, and taken part in various trail and fell-running challenges in the UK. A regular writer for Lonely Planet (contributing to titles such as Epic Runs of the World), he has also authored guides to exploring Devon and Dorset by foot, recently wrote a book about pub walks and another about Caving, Canyoning, Coasteering and other adventures.

Buff 5-Panel Air Cap: first impressions


• List price: $40 (US) / £33.95 (UK)
 Gender: Unisex
• Sizes: 1 size
• Materials: Synthetics (31% recycled)
• Weight: 41g / 1.4oz
• Colors: Black / Gray / Military
• Compatibility: Summer running, hiking and trekking

This lightweight running and hiking hat immediately reminded me of cycling caps, which are tight fitting and deliberately designed with small peaks to prevent them being blown off the wearer’s head by the wind while people are pedalling. I’m guessing Buff’s starting concept was broadly the same for this 5-Panel Air Cap, which can be pulled tight with a bungee and toggle at the back, and features a conspicuously small peak – a design with pros and cons, as we’ll see below. 

The other feature that immediately grabs the eye is the mesh material used across the head – the airy element referenced in the name – which also scores both negative and positive points.

Buff 5-Panel Air Cap: design and construction

Although minimalist and extremely lightweight, this is a well-made cap, with four panels of synthetic mesh securely stitched together to cover the head, a small but reliably rigid and relatively wide peak (which I assume counts as the fifth panel), an integrated sweatband and a smart cord-and-toggle fastening system at the back.

The Buff 5-Panel Air Cap on the reviewer's head, photographed from the back

The smart cord-and-toggle fastening on the back of the hat adjusts to multiple sizes (Image credit: Pat Kinsella)

This cap has a unisex, one-size-fits-all design (which works thanks to the lace-style fastening system). About a third of the total material used is recycled.

I’ve been putting the 5-Panel Air Cap to the test, to see how it compares to the best running hats on the market.

Buff 5-Panel Air Cap: on the trails

I have been testing the 5-Panel Air Cap from Buff while running and rambling around the exposed coastal paths, beaches and hilltops of Dorset and Devon in southern England, in increasingly bright and sunny conditions, and with temperatures steadily rising.

For some people, even the best running sunglasses are uncomfortable or annoying to wear (and carry), and for them a cap is an obvious way to help keep the sun out of their eyes while they’re on the trail, track or road. A cap can also protect your eyes and the skin on your nose and upper face from the harmful effect of UV exposure. This protection is all dependent on the shading provided by the peak of the cap, however, and on Buff’s 5-Panel Air Cap, this is quite limited because the visor is notably small.

The reviewer running along a beach wearing the Buff 5-Panel Air Cap

The Buff 5-Panel Air Cap's small peak makes it much more likely to stay on your head in windy conditions (Image credit: Pat Kinsella)

On the upside, I have been able to run in very windy conditions without worrying about losing this cap over the side of the vertiginous cliffs that line the South West Coast Path where I do most of my training. The bungee chord lace system at the back of the cap, which is tightened by a tiny toggle, allows me to get this cap securely positioned on my head, and the small visor doesn’t catch the wind.

The mesh used in the main body of the cap lets my head breathe beautifully as I run. When I work up a sweat the in-built absorbent band that runs around the inside of the hat soaks it up, and prevents perspiration from running painfully into my eyes.

A picture of the Buff 5-Panel Air Cap worn by the reviewer, showing the mesh fabric on top of the hat

The mesh area on top of the hat doesn't offer much protection from the sun's rays (Image credit: Pat Kinsella)

I’m lucky in that I don’t have to worry about this (yet), but bald blokes should definitely be very careful about getting sunburned (or ending up with a very interesting tan pattern) on their heads, as this mesh offers little-to-no protection from solar rays. (This does rather make you wonder what it’s there for, but personally – from a style perspective – I think I’m far more likely to wear a cap over a visor or a headband, and I think I’m not alone in this preference.) Suffice to say, if this applies to you, be sure to apply sun screen to your head. Alternatively, you could wear a traditional Buff or similar underneath, but that would largely negate the breathable benefits of the cap.

The price tag does seem steep for a (mostly mesh) cap, I have to say, but this is a well-made piece of kit, and should last a long time. It’s also extremely lightweight, which is ultra useful. Conditions change a lot when you’re running and hiking, especially over longer distances, and this cap is very easy to stash in a daypack or hydration vest, to be pulled out or put away as required. 

Pat Kinsella

Author of Caving, Canyoning, Coasteering…, a recently released book about all kinds of outdoor adventures around Britain, Pat has spent 20 years pursuing stories involving boots, bikes, boats, beers and bruises. En route he’s canoed Canada’s Yukon River, climbed Mont Blanc and Kilimanjaro, skied and mountain biked through the Norwegian Alps, run an ultra across the roof of Mauritius, and set short-lived records for trail-running Australia’s highest peaks and New Zealand’s Great Walks. He’s authored walking guides to Devon and Dorset, and once wrote a whole book about Toilets for Lonely Planet. Follow Pat’s escapades on Strava here and Instagram here.