In New York City, there are so many wacky happenings and eccentric pedestrians that it’s hard to turn heads. If you need proof of this, just look at the Instagram account @subwaycreatures. Getting anyone to just look up from their phone can take a moon-landing-level spectacle. And yet, as I bounced down a hill in Central Park one evening on a jog, I did it. A man in a bro tank depicting Darth Vader squinted at me as I approached at a fast clip, and cranked his neck to gaze at me as I strode by. Although my headphones were in — blaring “I Got Nerve” by Miley Cyrus, naturally — I heard a faint, “nice lid.”
The lid in question was a daffodil yellow and chlorine blue “running a bucket hat” from Nike. Yes, you read that right. A bucket hat… for running. Street style meets athleisure. The hat first came on my radar when my editor sent a link to me as a lark. “Am I the only person who thinks this is hilarious?” she asked. “Picturing someone running by me wearing this is making me lol.” She clearly wasn’t alone.
I was curious if a running bucket hat would have any functional use, or if, as I suspected, it would just prove to be an “on trend” yet useless nuisance. Would it be like the 18K Gold Dumbbells promoted on Goop — nice looking, if overpriced and unnecessary?
To be frank, I was expecting to run into issues with the bucket hat before I took my first step. Specifically, I didn't think my ponytail would fit comfortably beneath the bucket. But surprisingly, that was not an issue; I tend to go for a George-Washington-style low pony on jogs, which nestled snuggly under the brim. Another concern I had was that the hat would bounce right off my head as I pranced down the pavement, but this too was quickly allayed. Thanks to a bungee cord drawstring, I could adjust the fit to my (admittedly small) head size. I tested the hat over the course of five or six runs, and it never felt less than secure.
Plus, the thing just made me smile. Not because it looked incredibly cute on me, but because there was a playfulness to it. When I walked out of my room in a tie-dye running outfit and the hat, my roommate laughed out loud. Even paired with an all-black bra and leggings, it looked goofy. But it cheered me up when I looked in the mirror.
That’s not to say that the running bucket hat is perfect. In fact, its cons are stark. Although Vogue called bucket hats, “this summer’s slam dunk” trend, in many ways, this particular take on the trend felt more like an airball.
For instance, Nike boasts on its website that the bucket is breathable and uses DRI-FIT technology to wick away sweat. But I felt moisture starting to pool around my hairline within minutes of picking up my pace. It got itchy, and I had to take the hat off to wipe my brow on longer runs. To be fair, however, this may be more of a general “hat problem,” as I’ve run into the same issue with baseball caps.
The bungee cord presented another drawback. Despite keeping the hat securely on my noggin, it hits just the wrong spot on the back of my ears, making me constantly worried that one wrong move could cause one of my AirPods to fly out and fall to its doom in a subway grate.
Still, the bucket-style bill was an interesting change of pace. While it didn’t shield my eyes from the sun as much as a baseball cap would have, it did protect my neck from a burn. It also occurred to me that if it suddenly started raining, the bucket hat would offer more 360-degree protection, and would probably shelter my AirPods from water damage, which is a plus.
But to me, the biggest downside is that the hat needs to be hand-washed. Naturally, I instead chose to not wash the hat at all — so it started to smell by the fourth run.
But even with all the disadvantages the hat had, it was fun, like rocking one of the picture-hats folks wear to the Kentucky Derby on an average Monday. I’ll admit that I have theater-kid-adjacent energy, and don’t mind being the center of attention. So a small part of me enjoyed the occasional double-takes I’d get when I ran in the hat. I felt on display, which was kind of galvanizing. Since I assumed (accurately or not) that people were looking at me and my silly hat, I ran a little faster — especially if I was dashing past someone hot or a person with judgy-looking eyebrows.
That extra nudge of motivation I noticed may not have been entirely in my mind. Some research indicates that sharing that you’re taking steps to achieve your goals can push you to make more progress towards achieving them. “Knowing that someone else is watching you can be a powerful motivator,” explained continuous improvement expert James Clear, in his book Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way To Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones. Sure, you could scratch that itch by signing up for races and posting pictures of your training progress to Instagram (I’m guilty of sharing the occasional, perhaps unnecessarily braggy “half marathon training leggo” post myself) — or you could wear an outlandish hat. It’s a way to feel seen, for better or worse. It’s inspirational peacocking at its finest.
That said, no one needs a $40 running bucket hat, and in my opinion, this one certainly doesn’t offer any significant technological improvements on your standard running baseball cap. For now, mine has been relegated to the bottom of my hamper until the day I get a burst of a different and more fleeting type of motivation: the kind that will prompt me to actually hand wash my delicates.