Choosing a Stetson

Choosing a Stetson:

Doc Russia wrote the top post on first aid kits, giving us the benefit of his skills and knowledge. I'm going to write about an item of kit that I know a little something about, which you can expect to use more often than a first aid kit -- but which can be just as useful to your survival, if you spend a lot of time outside.

I'm going to say a few words about how to pick a Stetson hat. Most of what I have to say will be useful to you if you prefer another brand of hat, or a custom hat; but a Stetson is what my grandfather passed to me, and so Stetsons are what I wear. Also, I want to warn you a bit about some bad marketing ideas Stetson is undertaking at this time, so you avoid getting a bad hat that ought to have been good.

Don't get me wrong -- they still make hats in the old fashion. They just also now make hats in other fashions, one of which is very good, and the others of which are not. The old fashion is their "authentic X" beaver felt; the new fashion that is very good is the buffalo felt hat.

Stetson is, however, making the same bad mistake that Harley Davidson made a few decades ago. They're letting their brand be affixed to substandard products. They've added their product name to several lines of cheap hats, including wool felt (their "Stallion" line, for example) and various Australian style hats. It took Harley years to overcome the collapse in their value that this marketing strategy brought on. I hope the folks at Stetson will reconsider before they ruin an old and highly-respected name.

By the way, if you want an Australian hat, buy an Akubra -- they're not expensive, they're better than the Stetson variants, and they're the real thing. Don't buy from David Morgan (who sells some fine goods, but overcharges for their Akubras). Rather, buy from the Strand Hatter in Australia. They'll be glad to ship to you, they have more styles on offer, and it's cheaper.

If you're buying a Stetson, though, don't buy online at all. This is one of the few items you will always get cheaper at a bricks-and-mortar store. Find a good feed-and-seed, or a Western wear store, that can order one for you. If you have more than one in the area, shop around. You'll often get prices half of what you can find online.


The main thing about the style of hat you pick is the use you intend for it. That's why you should pick one style over another.

I will only give you one general rule on style that is aesthetic: the bigger the man, the bigger the hat. This is to to with width, not height. A broad shouldered man needs a broad brim, as a small brim will look foolish on him. If you have a big chest and a thick neck, you don't want to wear something tiny. Get a big hat. By contrast, if you're a relatively slim fellow, a big hat will look a bit awkward.

That said, choose what suits your life. If you're outside a lot in open country, you'll want a broader brim to shade your face and eyes. If you spend most of your time in wooded country, you'll want a smaller or upturned brim to make it easier to move around the trees. If you live in a city, you may want a smaller hat like a fedora that's easy to fit in the tighter spaces of crowds and elevators. Function is more important than look.


Use determines this also. You'll need to know how much rain your area gets, how hot it's going to be, and how bright. You'll also need to know if you want it mostly for horseback riding, or walking afoot, or for use on camping expeditions.

There are three kinds of hats Stetson makes that I recommend: authentic beaver felt, buffalo felt, and woven Panama straw hats. The straw hats are actually made under contract in Panama, but they're very good. I am not going to say more about them than that -- just pick a style you like, in your size, and buy it if you like Panama straw hats. These are good for summer wear in hot climates (like the South). They breathe well, but offer more substantial protection from the sun than the sort of straw hat you can buy at Walmart. I have one of these, but remember, you'll get it cheaper than that if you work with a local store.

You might want a straw hat as well as a felt hat, if you live in a hot enough place. Otherwise, one hat can do you for your whole life, if it's the right hat.

Now, as to the felt hats: never buy a wool felt hat, or a "fur" felt hat that doesn't tell you what kind of fur. It's probably rabbit. They're cheap and good looking, but when they get wet, they get soggy. You can put Scotch-guard on them if you want, but you're better off buying a better hat. (Same for those Aussie hats, by the way: they're mostly rabbit fur felt. Great hats, when it's not raining.)

Also, I wouldn't buy a Stetson "fur" felt hat that isn't either from its American Buffalo collection, or bearing "authentic X" beaver-felt. For example, its "Gun Club" hats have Xs stamped in the hatband, but they are substandard hats. One of them I encountered had water-soluble dye! Great, just what everyone wants: first rainstorm, and black or dark-brown dye is dripping over your face and into your clothes.

What you want is a beaver-fur felt hat, or a hat from Stetson's American Buffalo collection. They have different qualities, though, so let me tell you a bit about how they're different.

First, the buffalo hats are cheaper. You can get them for half the price of a modestly good beaver hat.

Second, the buffalo felt is a lot less stiff. It'll seem stiff in the store, because it's been starched. Once you've used it for a while, in wind and rain, it will become somewhat floppy. It holds its shape well enough, but when the wind hits it the brim will push up, for example.

This has good and bad effects. Buffalo felt hats are ideal for hiking and camping, for example. If you're hiking under trees or through canyons, they'll give against limbs or rocks. If you're wanting to fan a fire to life, they've got a bit more "snap" than a beaver. The best thing I've ever found for kindling a fire, in fact, is my buffalo Stetson.

For horseback riding, they're less ideal. They're fine at the trot, but you get up into a canter or a gallop, and the wind you generate can take the hat right off your head, even if the hat fits perfectly.

They are also not as waterproof. If you live in a climate with a wet season, or you think you might get caught out in a long rain, a beaver is what you want.

The amount of beaver fur felt in the hat is expressed as a number of "X"s. This is not a standard. Every manufacturer uses different percentages. Thus, a XXX hat may have ten percent beaver felt, or only five, or twelve. A XXXX hat may be twenty-five percent, but it may be less. It used to be that 20X was 100% beaver, but that's not true any more either.

I find that a XXXX hat (that's four X's) is good enough for the roughest wear. If you want a purer hat, and can afford it, go for it: but beaver pelts get more expensive every year. That's why even a XXXX hat, far from a 20X or 100X hat, costs twice what a buffalo hat costs.


You only need two things to shape a hat. The first is hot water. The second is a hat jack. The hat jack is optional, actually, but it does help.

You want to make sure that you get the right size. The biggest mistake you're apt to make is to try the hat on, and decide which one feels best. That seems reasonable, but it's the wrong way around.

What you want is a hat that fits you all the way around your head. You want to make sure there is no place at which you can fit a fingertip between the band and your skull. A lot of people have more-or-less oval shaped heads. The hat from the factory may be tight front and back, but with a gap at the temple. Though it's too tight, the hat is too big.

You want to find a hat that is the right size for your head. Try on several, until you find the one that seems likely to fit if all the gaps were expanded into the tight areas. We can do that -- I'm about to tell you how. Once it's shaped to your head, this hat will fit perfectly.

Take your hat home, and pour water into a kettle. Boil the water, so a stream of hot steam blows out of the spout. Fold the sweat band inside the hat down, and expose the felt to the steam until the hat is moist and warm all the way around. Now, fold the sweat band up, and put it on your head (or the hat jack). Wear it until it is cool and dry. The hat will now be formed to your head.

By the way, the same tactic will let you reshape the brim or the bash. The bash is somewhat harder to do, but if you're patient, you can learn. The brim is easy: just steam it, put it where you want it, and let it cool.

This technique will also let you repair a hat that's gotten out of shape through use.


Resistol hats and Stetson hats are closely related these days. Custom hats depend on the hatmaker. I've seen some good results and some bad ones. I can only endorse two from personal experience.

Peter Brothers makes fine hats. I gave one of these as a gift once, and it was beautiful.

Also, Sackett's in Jasper, GA, has a hat maker who goes by the name "the Hat Man." He is a fine old gentleman of eighty years or so, who used to make hats for the Hollywood cowboys back in the heydey of the Western film. They don't have a web page, but you can reach them at 678 454-4677. His stuff is outstanding. I've never owned any of it, but I've seen what he can do close up.

Any kind of felt hat you buy -- rabbit, wool, whatever -- can be reshaped/resized using the steam method I was talking about above. You can put it back into shape that way as often as you like without hurting it.

The only thing it might not work on are those "crushable" hats you see for sale at department stores these days. I wouldn't suggest buying one of those, as they are neither waterproof nor likely to last through hard wear.


A single good hat will last you a lifetime. It can protect you from rain or sun, keep you warm, kindle a fire, or dip water to dump on the head of a pretty girl... I mean, to offer for your horse to drink. This should give you a basic notion of how to buy a hat that will fit you and last, will be well-made of high quality materials, and suit the practical needs of your life.

If you have any questions, shout out.

Movie Night


Anyone feel like having a "movie night" next weekend? I was thinking of 'A Bridge Too Far'. That said, I won't be making the Grim style long posts that analyze the movie; I'll be keeping it short. I'm back in college after a six year hiatus, and these philosophy courses, my major, have me doing some heavy reading.

Thank God for the Chinese

"Thank God for the Chinese."

China Daily is an English-language, state-run mouthpiece publication for the People's Republic of China. It can be counted upon to put forth the official propaganda of the state. This stuff is naked propaganda of a type that you just don't see in the free world. For example:

The railroad station in the Angolan town of Dondo hasn't seen a train in years. Its windows are boarded up, its pale pink facade crumbling away; the local coffee trade that Portuguese colonialists founded long ago is a distant memory, victim of a civil war that lasted for 27 years. Dondo's fortunes, however, may be looking up. This month, work is scheduled to start on the local section of the line that links the town to the deep harbor at Luanda, Angola's capital. The work will be done by Chinese construction firms, and as two of their workers survey the track, an Angolan security guard sums up his feelings. "Thank you, God," he says, "for the Chinese."

That sentiment, or something like it, can be heard a lot these days in Africa, where Chinese investment is building roads and railways, opening textile factories and digging oil wells. You hear it on the farms of Brazil, where Chinese appetite for soy and beef has led to a booming export trade. And you hear it in Chiang Saen, a town on the Mekong River in northern Thailand, where locals used to subsist on whatever they could make from farming and smuggling--until Chinese engineers began blasting the rapids and reefs on the upper Mekong so that large boats could take Chinese-manufactured goods to markets in Southeast Asia.
Just the sort of thing China Daily loves. All the world is joined in praise of the wise leadership of Hu Jintao, and the Chinese Communist Party!

Only one thing is different in this case.

The article was originally printed in Time. The editors of China Daily are only reprinting it.

If you'd like to compare it with something the Chinese wrote for themselves, you might consider their opinion piece from the same issue, "China Implementing Harmonious Diplomacy." I'd have to say the folks at Time have learned the lessons well.

Straw Poll

PJM Straw Poll:

Pajamas Media is running a 2008 Presidential Straw Poll. You can vote here, just click on the flag.

It's a little unusual, in that you get to vote for a nominee from each party. That might give us a sense of which candidates have the biggest cross-party appeal, since it will let us know which Democrat is most acceptable to Republicans, and vice versa, while also allowing independents of various stripes to select which candidates best suit them.

I'm going to endorse -- for the purposes of this poll only -- these candidates:

Democratic Party: Bill Richardson

Republican Party: Duncan Hunter

Richardson is the best of the Democratic list, being NRA endorsed, and a successful diplomat. He's weak, in my reading, on North Korea. Even though that was one of the areas of his success as a diplomat, his proposal to directly engage the DPRK in negotiations is foolish. The DPRK wants us to slim down from the six-way talks to bilateral talks, as a breakdown in the six-way talks reflects badly on China. Since China is the only party that can really put pressure on the DPRK, it is in our interests to have Chinese "face" concerned with their ability to bring the DPRK to a settlement on these issues. If we go to bilateral talks, the DPRK is free to break off from the talks at any time. There is no practical penalty to doing so; they will blame the US, which will cost them nothing.

China, meanwhile, wants to be in the six-way talks as a point of international prestige. The price tag for that is forcing at least some concessions from the DPRK every time we come to the table. If we're going to try to resolve the DPRK's nuclear situation through diplomacy, the six-way talks are the right way.

That said, he's a pretty good, moderate candidate. Among the Democratic party's current national leadership, I'd say he was the best by a long shot.

On the Republican side, I think Duncan Hunter may need an introduction to many readers, but a few words should suffice. He is a former Army Ranger (75th), former Airborne (173rd in Vietnam), and has in Congress chaired the Armed Services Committee. Our friends at China E-Lobby have endorsed him in the Presidential race over all candidates of both parties. He is stronger on the immigration/border problem than Richardson (from my point of view), but has a weakness in his connection to a firm involved in Duke Cunningham's scandals. Investigations have not found that Hunter committed any inappropriate actions, as Wikipedia notes:

A Department of Defense inspector general found that the department awarded ADCS, a company owned by Brent Wilkes, a $9.8 million contract in mid-1999 after "inquiries from two members of Congress." Hunter has repeatedly acknowledged that he joined with Representative Randy Cunningham that year to contact Pentagon officials, who then reversed a decision and gave ADCS the contract, one of its first big ones.

Between 1994 and 2004, Wilkes and ADCS gave $40,700 in campaign contributions to Hunter. In 2003, Wilkes's foundation hosted a "Salute to Heroes" gala to give Hunter an award, just as it did for Cunningham a year earlier. The Wilkes Foundation also gave $1,000 in 2003 to a charity run by two of Hunter's staffers. However, Hunter has not been found to have committed any crimes or ethical violations. Wilkes is currently an unindicted co-conspirator.
Again, compared to the rest of the field he looks pretty good. It's amazing how much chaff there is in each of the parties' candidate fields this time around.

Second choices, for me, if it interests you:

Democratic: Hillary Clinton (Yes, I know, but she's tough.)

Republican: Newt Gingrich (Yes, I know, but he's smart.)

Haditha unmasked

"Haditha Unmasked"

I haven't said anything about the Haditha case, except that we ought to keep silent about it until the process is complete. I also detest reporting based on anonymous sources.

Nevertheless, I will pass on this article, which my anonymous source says lines up with his anonymous sources, though the article is based on still yet other anonymous sources.

So what does that mean about the accuracy of the piece? Hell if I know. But if you're compiling reports and analysis on the subject, here's one thing more to read. It's got some analysis of the investigation itself that I won't endorse, but you can match up the analysis with how the case appears in the press.

I wish to stress that you should apply your own critical analysis to what's offered here. See if the accusations it makes match up with the details from the case as it develops. If so, this may explain why the case is developing as it is. If not, set it aside. I'm offering it as information, not intelligence.

Choose lawyers

Freedom of Choice:

Thanks to reader CC for this piece on military counsel.

In our society, people have long had the right to choose to have a lawyer represent them in almost any matter, whether they are seeking benefits from the Social Security Administration, filing a lawsuit against a corporation or defending a parking ticket. Veterans were uniquely denied the option until last year. In historic legislation signed by President Bush on Dec. 22, 2006, Congress repealed an anachronistic 19th century prohibition.... For veterans, there will be more choices and competition. Veterans' service organizations will continue to offer free representation. Attorneys will have no incentive to prolong proceedings, as they can only be paid if their client prevails. They will focus on helping the VA find evidence to substantiate their client's claims. Everyone will benefit if veterans' claims are more efficiently processed. Claimants for every other kind of government benefit have long been permitted to choose to retain counsel. Veterans are joining their ranks. Now is no time for Congress or the president to retreat.

Abu Sayyaf Leader Killed

Abu Sayyaf Leader Killed:

It's a good day for the GWOT in the Philippines. That means it's a good day all the way around, as the islands in the southern Philippines are an area of refuge for the region's Qaeda-linked terror groups.

I think the real solution in the area is to work with the MILF, who (Islamic militants though they are) seem mostly to want to be left alone to run the place. If we could come to some arrangement whereby they got to do so, in return for denying sanctuary to terrorists and keeping the land clean of Qaeda-style radicals, that would improve the situation. Naturally, however, there are political difficulties that have made it hard to do that -- the alternative claims of the MNLF and its "peace process," as well as the ties of regional grandees to the Arroyo government. The MNLF/MILF claims to authority have to be integrated, which is harder than it sounds even though they were once a single group. The political patronage issue is just as sticky as you'd expect in a place like the Philippines.

So, they'll be a while sorting out that mess. In the meantime, this is good news.

UPDATE: Francis Marion, just back from the bush, promises updates at his place. Go see what he has to say.

Praise of Zippo

In Praise of Zippo:

Last month we had a discussion on survival, in which I suggested you ought to carry a matchbook in your wallet or about your person as a regular matter. Special Forces blogger Francis Marion dropped by to offer a suggestion:

They say a good Boy Scout can start a fire with two matches; I say any Green Beret can start two fires with one lighter. So, why matches when a lighter can start more fires easier and it's waterproof.
This reminded me that I had, somewhere, my grandfather's old Zippo lighter. It had long ago stopped working. Still, the lighter advice sounded wise, and it would be a chance to reconnect with something my grandfather had left me. (This would be my mother's father, not the grandfather who left me his Stetson hat.)

So, with some effort, I dug the thing out of where I'd put it for safety's sake. Then, I sat down to find a repairman who might be able to fix an old Zippo.

I'm probably the last person in America to learn this, but I wouldn't need to look far. Zippo fixes their lighters, free, forever. I mailed it to them; they sent it back today, less than a month after I'd shipped it. It works perfectly.

Having not smoked much in my life -- an occasional cigar only, on Doc Russia's recommendation -- I was not steeped in the Zippo legend. It turns out they've got quite a history, including honorable participation in WWII.

My thanks, ladies and gentlemen of Zippo. I'm glad to have my grandfather's old lighter back. I'll carry it proudly, and pass it on to my son.
A Peaceful Teacher:

Michael Totten's latest from Lebanon visits a moderate imam, one of a high degree by the accounting of such things. It's worth reading, to see something good growing up right in the middle of Hezbollah country.



Professor Glenn Reynolds, known of course as InstaPundit, has a piece in the New York Times. It is on the subject of communities passing laws requiring gun ownership.

Professor Reynolds was just this weekend advocating the late Colonel Cooper's work. Jeff Cooper was the sort of man I expect to see 'get' this: a fighting man who happened also to be a careful thinker, and student of history. InstaPundit is, of course, a law professor, who came to his views by studying Second Amendment issues in the law.

I've always liked InstaPundit, which hits on a number of interesting issues every day. Reynolds largely stays out of the way of those issues -- although you know what he thinks about them, he usually provides more of an invitation to think about the matter for yourself than an answer to digest. I like that approach (and so do a lot of others, apparently), though I don't often use it myself.

Still, one gets a sense for the guy by reading his posts. He is a happily married, decent, peaceful guy who likes to make fairly intricate meals (that he thinks of as easy and simple), brew his own beer, and talk to attractive or interesting ladies. In other words, a normal, decent guy whose tastes are those one expects of the upper-middle class.

It's good to see a man like that write something like this:

Last month, Greenleaf, Idaho, adopted Ordinance 208, calling for its citizens to own guns and keep them ready in their homes in case of emergency. It’s not a response to high crime rates. As The Associated Press reported, “Greenleaf doesn’t really have crime ... the most violent offense reported in the past two years was a fist fight.” Rather, it’s a statement about preparedness in the event of an emergency, and an effort to promote a culture of self-reliance.

And it may not be a bad idea. While pro-gun laws like the one in Greenleaf are mostly symbolic, to the extent that they actually make a difference, it is likely to be a positive one.

Greenleaf is following in the footsteps of Kennesaw, Ga., which in 1982 passed a mandatory gun ownership law in response to a handgun ban passed in Morton Grove, Ill. Kennesaw’s crime dropped sharply, while Morton Grove’s did not.
A practical point, which is linked to this analysis:
Precisely because an armed populace can serve as an effective backup for law enforcement, the ownership of firearms was widely mandated during Colonial times, and the second Congress passed a statute in 1792 requiring adult male citizens to own guns.

The twin purposes of self and community defense may very well lie behind the Second Amendment’s language encompassing both the importance of a well-regulated militia and the right of citizens to keep and bear arms. As the constitutional and criminal law scholar Don Kates has noted in the journal Constitutional Commentary, thinkers at the time when the Constitution was written drew no real distinction between resisting burglars, foreign invaders or domestic tyrants[.]
I'm sure you've grown tired of reading me write that "a citizen has a duty to uphold the common peace and lawful order," to perform which duty he has a right to the appropriate tools. Colonel Cooper likewise wrote on the topic, persuasively to those who read it through, for decades. And there are others in the blogosphere who do so: Kim du Toit and Geek with a .45 being two of my favorites.

I suspect that the average American would admire Colonel Cooper if they knew anything about him, but would consider him 'out of the mainstream.' He surely was, for entirely positive reasons: but for whatever reason, the American public puts an odd amount of weight on the notion of 'mainstream.' An idea needs a legitimizer to become widely accepted, someone who can say, "Yes, this is normal and OK to believe."

I'd like to thank InstaPundit for bringing these ideas before a larger audience, in a form that they will consider. Some will reject him as "mainstream" simply because he holds this view. Otherwise, however, there is no reason to do so. He's doing good work talking about these issues in that forum, and I appreciate his doing so.