Looking at the in situ photos of the Merino drawcord hat on Rapha's website, you'd be forgiven for writing it off as a fashion piece for helmetless posturing. But beneath this guise is a very practical and effective and bit of winter riding kit that outperforms similar headwear on warmth and functionality.
The chartreuse colour of our test sample is fairly garish - a very special shade of not-quite-hi-viz yellow that I've actually grown to appreciate as the days get shorter and darker. Adding on an extra 360° of increased visibility at head level can't be a bad thing, and little Rapha logo tab and black contrast stripe do their bit to ramp up the sophistication a tad.
The hat is available in several colours including the official Team Sky. The (very) soft merino is supplemented with 7% Nylon and 3% Lycra to add the ideal amount of stretch, and means there's been virtually no loss of shape throughout testing.
Rapha say it can be used as a hat or a collar, and it really shines as the latter. A problem I often find with Buffs and other tubular neck collars/gaitors is that they don't have much body, so the fabric inevitably ends falling down from my chin height and working its way into a sausage shaped bundle by my collar bone. Even Rapha's own winter collar - beautifully tailored as it is (and much thinner due to a lighter weight merino) - suffers slightly in this respect.
Not so with the Merino Drawcord Hat. The thick material has enough bulk to hold its shape perfectly and stay snug around the neck. The drawcord at the top even allows fine tuning for a precise fit, or to adjust airflow to achieve your preferred level warmth. Yes - it really is that toasty. Speaking of air - the thick merino knit does a good job of blocking out the wind too. All in all, it's the warmest neck wear I've ever tried.
In its other guise, a quick pull of the drawcord gathers the top and you have a passable hat. Rapha have thoughtfully added a tuck hole so the cord ends can be neatly hidden away. It's useless for wearing under a helmet due to its bulk, and the casual shape - which gathers at the top/back like a beanie - doesn't make it my top choice for lidless riding (I'd be more inclined to a closer fitting winter peaked cap, which would be equivalent on warmth). It certainly keeps the heat in though, and that merino breathes and absorbs sweat beautifully.
I've enjoyed it most on the hilly but increasingly chilly morning commute. Having an insulating wrap around the neck arteries helps the blood stay warm as it courses through the body, and the snug fit means optimum coverage.
The Merino Drawcord Hat is actually one of the cheapest neck/head coverings available from Rapha, although similar products can be had less from other brands. Even a 100% Merino wool official Buff comes in at a mere £22, and you can pick up cheap fleece drawcord hats online for less than a fiver. Rapha has termed it a 'luxury cycling version of the winter snood', and £30 is certainly a premium for a neck warming tube, though the multifunctionality and off-bike wearability do add extra value.
The idea of the drawcord hat itself isn't new, but Rapha have done a fine job of adapting the concept to a useful road cycling piece. The drawcord itself is nifty, but it's mostly down to a winning material composition: the inherent breathability and sweat absorption of merino, knitted into a thick fabric that offers a very high degree of warmth, good wind protection and doesn't lose its shape. It doesn't really matter how it's worn.
Supremely warm, comfortable and nicely styled, with the Rapha Premium even not too ruinous.
road.cc test report
Make and model: Rapha Merino Drawcord Hat
Size tested: One size
Made from a merino and stretch-fabric blend, the Merino Drawcord Hat uses a heavyweight yarn that ensures maximum insulation in wintery conditions. The natural properties of merino ensure excellent breathability and the hat can also be used as a collar, or even a headband for that bona fide 'Euro' aesthetic. One size fits all.
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
- Insulating fabric
- Merino drawcord
- Drawcord 'tuck hole' to prevent cord flapping
- Contrast tab with Rapha logo
90% Merino 7% Nylon 3% Elastane
Usual top notch Rapha finishing and construction.
Extremely soft high merino mix.
It's Rapha. There are cheaper alternatives, but this particular winning marriage of material and design appears to be a first.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes.
Would you consider buying the product? A bit beyond my price bracket.
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Maybe.
About the tester
Age: 22 Height: 170cm Weight:
I usually ride: Sabbath September My best bike is:
I've been riding for: Under 5 years I ride: Most days I would class myself as: Experienced
I regularly do the following types of riding: cyclo cross, commuting, club rides, sportives, general fitness riding, audax