Army Stetson Hat: Facts, Regulations, Information and History

Today, I’d like to take a few minutes and educate you about the Army Stetson hat.

There’s nothing quite like the Army Stetson hat. It really stands out and captivate people’s attention, especially compared to the unattractive beret. While I never served as an armor officer, or in a cavalry unit, during my 15+ years in the Army, it would have been an honor to do so.

The purpose of this article is to share the information I’ve compiled online about the Army Stetson hat. Keep in mind, there are a lot of things I don’t know about it as well. A lot of the information about it is secretive and varies from unit to unit. At the end of this post, I would appreciate any input you might have about it.

army stetson hats

The History of the Army Stetson Hat

The Army Stetson hat has a long and proud tradition in the Army.

The Cavalry stetson was the headgear typical of cavalrymen during the late 18th century into the 19th century, including the Indian Wars and the Civil War. Before John B. Stetson, for whom the hat is named, introduced the Boss of the Plains hat in 1865, troopers wore hats in a similar style, but quickly adopted the Boss of the Plains as an unofficial standard. Source.

The Details of the Army Stetson Hat

The primary purpose of the hat is to promote esprit de corps among the cavalry troopers, similar to how soldiers serving in airborne units get to wear the maroon beret.

What’s on the hat? Who gets to wear it? What is it all about? If you’re wondering about the answers to any of those questions, here is what I found on the official 1st Cavalry Division website.

The “Cav Hat” is a standard black Cavalry hat, Stetson or other appropriate brand, with a 3 inch brim and a black leather chin strap. The chin strap is fastened to the hat cord and goes through the brim. The chin strap is worn behind the wearer’s head unless mounted. When mounted the chinstrap may be worn under the chin to maintain the hat’s position on your head and keep it from falling off. If your “Cav Hat” does not have a chin strap, it is just a black hat commonly referred to as a “cowboy hat”.

Hat cords are worn and represent the rank of the wearer. General officers wear solid gold cords, field and company grade officers wear black and gold hat cords, warrant officers wear black and silver hat cords and enlisted Troopers wear Cavalry yellow hat cords. The hat cords should be adjusted so that the acorn on the ends of the cord comes to the edge of the brim. Cords may be knotted if the wearer wishes. While many refer to the knots in the cords as “combat knots” there is no documentation available to support this idea. The Division MOI prohibits any other type of hat cords for those Troopers currently on active duty with the 1st Cavalry Division.

Normally the branch insignia of the Cavalry, crossed sabers, are worn on the front along with the rank of the wearer. The rank is worn above the branch insignia evenly spaced. Both are centered on the front of the hat. Regular sized Distinctive Unit Insignia (DUI), commonly referred to as unit crests, or miniatures of your unit are traditionally put on the back of the “Cav Hat”. Additional items like a CIB or CMB may also be placed on the “Cav Hat” along with reunion pins or other items if you are a Veteran. Some of the “Cav Hats” worn by our Veterans are festooned with numerous pins, miniature medals and other items. Active Duty Troopers assigned to the First Team must follow the guidelines of the MOI.

Who Can Wear an Army Stetson Hat?

This seems to be the million dollar question. The Army Stetson hat is not an authorized headgear in the Army, as per AR 670-1, but cavalry units are allowed to wear these hats at the discretion of the unit commander (normally squadron level). Basically, the wear of these hats is considered a tradition among cavalry units.

After doing some research online, here’s what others were saying.

The stetson isn’t really earned. It is commonly accepted that if you belong to a cavalry unit that you can usually wear the stetson with your appropriately colored acorns. What is earned are your combat knots on the acorn rope. Also, spurs are earned via deployments with the Cav or Spur Rides. Source.

and…

You will wear the Stetson only when assigned to a Cavalry unit, which includes Cavalry Squadrons within all BCT formations, Cavalry Regiments, and the 1st Cavalry Division. There are two types of Spurs, Silver and Gold. Silver Spurs are earned by completion of a Spur Ride event with your unit, and Gold Spurs are earned as “Combat Spurs” by completing a deployment with a Cavalry Organization. Source.

They are all unofficial awards, and are governed by local policies and not by Army Regulations.

When is it Worn & Who Can Wear One?

Troopers in Cavalry units wear their Army Stetson hat in place of their patrol cap or beret. It is normally worn during official functions, such as ceremonies, parades, dining ins and dining outs. Traditional, Army authorized headgear is normally worn during day-to-day operations.

The hat must be earned, normally at a Spur Ride. During the spur ride, troopers can earn their Stetson and spurs by completing a series of mental, physical and leadership tests. Each Cavalry Squadron does their own Spur Ride, and has their own customs and procedures for earning the hat.

From the research I found online, anyone can earn a Stetson hat, as long as they are assigned to a Cavalry unit. In other words, you don’t have to be a scout or tanker. The Supply Sergeant, maintenance personnel and administration folks also qualify for it as well, once they complete a spur ride or serve with the unit in combat.

Each Stetson hat will have different colors (cords) based upon the Soldier’s MOS or Branch. They are mostly worn by senior NCOs and officers, but junior enlisted can wear them too. Commanders in cavalry units can use their discretion as to when their soldiers can wear their Stetson.

Enlisted soldiers wear a yellow hat cord, Warrant Officers wear a silver or black cord and commissioned officers wear a gold and black cord.

Soldiers wear cross sabers on the front along with their rank insignia (aviators wear their wings) and on the back, soldiers can have their airborne, air assault or other related pins. What accessories go on the Stetson, and how they are worn, varies greatly by unit.

stetson hats soldiers

Where Can You Buy One?

When you search online, these hats cost anywhere from $150 to $300, plus additional money for the accessories that go with it. Places to buy your Army Stetson hat include:

  1. Clothing and Sales (on the base)
  2. Amazon
  3. eBay
  4. Order Online

Questions About the Army Stetson Hat

What you read above is what I found out online about the Army Stetson hats. There’s still a lot of information I don’t know about them. Here are some questions I don’t know the answers to:

  1. Can any trooper participate in the Spur Ride?
  2. Do troopers have to participate in the Spur Ride, if for some reason they don’t want to?
  3. Once you’ve earned the Stetson hat, can you still wear it when you are no longer assigned to a Cavalry unit?
  4. Which types of Cavalry units are eligible for it?  For example, could a Reconnaissance Troop in an Infantry Brigade wear a Stetson hat?
  5. Can Stryker Units wear them?

Any information that you know and could share with our website visitors would be very helpful.

Final Thoughts

The bottom line is that Army Stetson hats have a proud tradition in the U.S. Army. Although I never got the experience to serve in a Cavalry unit myself, I can’t think of anything more exciting than earning the right to wear one of these hats.

What are your thoughts? Do you have any information you can share with our readers? Leave a comment below to let us know what you think. I look forward to hearing from you.

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AuthorChuck Holmes

Chuck Holmes is a former Army Major and combat veteran. Chuck is a successful blogger, author and entrepreneur. You can call Chuck during business hours at (352) 503-4816 EST or you can email him at chuck@part-time-commander.com. Learn more about Chuck's favorite home business.

38 thoughts on “Army Stetson Hat: Facts, Regulations, Information and History

  1. I would like to ask a question. I served with the H Co. 2/11 ACR 73-75, on the E/W German Border. I was an enlisted man, Regular Army, E4, 76P parts supply clerk and kept the tankers (and support vehicles) running. I road with them, slept with them, did border tours, Reforger and Graff qualification with them. We never had the Spur Challenge that I recall, but we proudly wore our Black Berets and sometimes our Yellow sash. I never saw a Stetson until much later when when I was out of the Military. And while I have never referred to myself as a Vietnam Veteran, as a show of respect to the men that fought that war, I’ve been told by many Vet’s it is appropriate. I will proudly wear my Beret, and consider it as scared as any Stetson, I’m curious if I can legitimately wear a Stetson.

  2. I’m a 63H who did a spur ride and deployed with an armor unit to Iraq and Afghanistan. I wear my Stetson and silver spurs with pride. I’ve been in Armor battalions 90% of my Army career and was the FET. I love my 19 series. Last year I was The first female to get the Noble Patron Saint of Armor according to CSM Gainey. Armor and Calvary are the best I’ve worked with and working with them truly is….. “The best job I ever had”

    • You have every right to be proud. Thank you for this uplifting comment.

  3. As a former Cavalry Squadron Commander, Let me correct some things, Cavalry is Branch non-material, it is a mission and way of life. All branches can be CAV, earn their spurs and Wear a Stetson with pride. MOS 19Ds are SCOUTS- yes they wear the Stetson and can earn spurs, but so can IN, MI, EN, FA and all the other branches that serve in Cavalry Regiments. So IN LRSD recon units are not Cavalry unless they are in a Cavalry Unit, but Infantry serving in a Cavalry unit are Stetson and Spur eligible.

    Aviation has a long history as being in the CAV! Aviation Scouts are in about a traditional scout role as they come.

    Come along and earn your Spurs,

    See you in Fiddlers Green

  4. I was attached to 2-6 CAV while deployed to Iraq back in 2008 – 2009. I received my Order of the Spur but not sure about the stetson. Can i get one is my question?

  5. Half of all the units I was in, were Cav, I got my CIB carrying a M60 (in 1970 B 3/5 Cav). I got out & put a few years in Active Reserve. With an eight year break in service (USAR doesn’t count) I had to do Basic all over again, & if you think NOT charging a M240 before you close the cover is easy you’re NUTS! Anyway I know how you guys feel the Spurs & Stetson’s hadn’t started up when I got out. . . Everything I’ve read says I’d be OK, but this is something I would NOT want to mess up, because I don’t know all the little secret crap that would make me look like a total knob.

  6. Hey yall. In 03-04 we were attached as 51Ms (Firefighter) with 1/1 Cav F troop. I learned from the Commander later that we were honorary Cav and earned the chance to wear the stetson. Mine is still in the box and waiting to be worn. I have been retired for 5 years now. I would love to wear it, bit I do not want to step on any toes.

    • I say, slip it on and give us a picture. You deserve it.

    • If you earned the 1st Cav patch for your right sleeve you earned the right to wear the stetson. You should have received the Order of the Spur also.

  7. I was in the 1st 9th Recon in Vietnam 1965, “Blue”! Rode in on a HUEY, search and destroy, then picked up by HUEYS, gun ships was our help! Could I wear a Stetson?

    • I believe you have every right in the world to wear a Stetson George. Thank you for your service.

    • was it a cav unit if not then no. I served in the 6th squadron 17 cavalry regiment and you can buy a stetson but if must be formally broken in before you can wear it.

    • Yes! Wear it with pride George! My mentor flew with the 1/9th in Vietnam as well and he wore his Stetson and 1/9 Cavalry Insignia proudly.

      Dana C Neal (R) 1SG

  8. Aviation units designated as Cavalry also wear stetsons. I’ll be doning one of these very shortly.

    • I am bummed that the Kiowa is going away…this is a huge mistake on the Army’s part! AIR CAV is awesome! That’s my opinion and I’m sticking to it!

  9. Justin,
    I have to respectfully disagree with a couple things =) all in good fun, of course. But I do sense a little bit of that cav/infantry rivalry coming out in your post!
    Looking at the RSTA squadron that I support here in Oregon, C Trp is all infantry on the MTOE. TAG has designated that they are THE elite unit in the state, as the only dismounted reconnaissance troop in the brigade. They may all be blue corders, and some have more than earned their CIBs, and they are all very proud of who they are – but they have adopted their mission with passion and dedication (they used to be an infantry unit until recent years when things got reorganized). They get all the cool training – zodiac boats, helocasting at AT, etc. I think the recent addition of an AR officer as their commander who earned both spurs during his time on active duty helps instill the pride in their mission even more. These guys are not only grunts, they really are training the dismounted recon mission and setting a new standard. It was a hard transition for them at first, from what I was told, but they can’t really call themselves grunts so much anymore. I also think that the CO holds them to a higher standard for their performance since they all ‘grew up’ in the infantry and are more than comfortable in crappy conditions out in the field.

    I understand and respect that you are a purist and think that the Stetson should only be for those CAV specific MOS holders, but our SCO directed people like me to wear them too. I think to wear it with anything other than pride is doing it a disservice. Their reasoning has been that the FSC does everything with the rest of the squadron (especially my platoon with C Trp) and we are more a part of the Cav than we are the BSB (and I agree with that assessment). I am proud to support the Cav, and I want to represent it the best I can.

  10. Chuck,

    You have a great post here, but I must correct a few items:

    -Troopers wear the Stetson in place of a patrol cap/beret IN CERTAIN SITUATIONS, depending on the unit. usually Fridays…
    -Technically, yes, but let’s be real…only tankers and Cav scouts deserve to wear them. nothing I hate more than some 11B wearing a stetson with a blue cord trying to be like us. You don’t see me rocking a yellow cord… It disgusts me to see other MOSs wearing our Stetson…
    -Soldiers will wear crossed Sabers if they are strictly CAV (19D, etc.) but my stetson rocks an Armor branch insignia…

    -No test is necessary for the Stetson per say…the testing and Spur Ride is for…well, your spurs. If you’re a 19K or 19D and you’re in a CAV unit, you will wear a Stetson…that’s it.
    -You can wear a Stetson after leaving a CAV unit, but most don’t. See posts with a CAV unit know that their Soldiers will be wearing them. Others don’t. For example, I am proudly one of the very first Armor Officers to complete ABOLC at Ft. Benning after the move from Ft. Knox. We weren’t allowed to wear our Stetsons outside of the Harmony Church area because…well, Infantry Commanders got all butt-hurt. Not to say that I didn’t do it anyways…
    -If you ain’t CAV, You AINT SHIT! We mean that. An 11B who THINKS he is RECON is living in a fantasy. Keep your blue cord, you are a grunt. The Stetson is for those who are TRUE CAVALRY SCOUTS!!!
    -Again, most Stryker SBCT Companies are Infantry. However, we have CAV units within the Brigade. Those guys wear the Stetson. For me, an MGS Armor guy, I have one but get a goofy look when I wear it around the Infantry… Jealousy I suppose.

    • Thanks for the all the comments and input about the Army Stetson. I will update my post with what I had that was wrong.

      Chuck

      • Ha, it wasn’t that it was “wrong” Chuck, more as it was “wrong” in my eyes. Obviously, you can see that Candice disagrees with my perspective. To that, I must come back and say while I respect all that her Infantry buddies and herself does for the RECON mission, the Stetson is an iconic symbol that dates back to the old Cavalry Scouts who rode in on horseback. As that horse transformed into the tanks and Bradleys we use today, the tradition still holds. To me, the Stetson is not a RECON thing, it is a MOUNTED, ARMORED CAVALRY THING.

        The Stetson is not linked to RECON it is linked to MOUNTED CAV. That is why it upsets me. Light recon, all high-speed secret squirrel as they might be, they are NOT CAV! I repeat…they are NOT CAV! They are Infantry Soldiers performing a unique mission. I urge you to consult with any TRUE RED-BLOODED SCOUT or TANKER and I am sure that they will agree. That Stetson was NEVER meant to don a blue-cord. If we are going to say that it is acceptable for Infantrymen to wear a Stetson because they are doing a CAV mission, then I guess I deserve to wear a CIB rather than a CAB while I was doing an Infantry mission…agree or disagree? Ask a grunt, I am sure he will disagree. All is fair, but not when it comes to the Stetson and the Blue Chords.

        • Very neat perspective about the Stetson, Justin.

          I’ve learned a lot from your comments.

        • =) I don’t get into pissing matches between cav and infantry because I am NEITHER! I claim aviation day in and out, that’s where I grew up and earned my stripes. Anyway, the only question I have for you Justin, just so I can clarify what you are saying, is that mounted recon counts as true red-blood Cav because they have 19D in their unit, but the 11B don’t count even though they are a Cav troop too?

          Just curious! Never heard anything from anyone before, even all my Armor friends. The C Trp commander I mentioned in my last post seems to think they are all Cav and treats them as such. And he is a true tanker (I know you two would get along).

          • Ha, and rightfully so (you shouldn’t get in pissing matches..) What I think is going on with your unit, and correct me if I am wrong is that it is MTOEd to be a traditional CAV unit. To fill those slots, they used 11Bs rather than 19D or paying to reclass everyone to 19D? Is that accurate? I think if your unit Commander wants to treat them as CAV and all that hoopla then that is on him, I am sure he outranks me anyway… But, talk to some guys at Ft. Hood. HBCT, tankers and CAV scouts and they will tell you they HATE when the Infantry clowns have a Stetson on…and the only reason they have one on is because they are 11Bs in a CAV Unit. I still think that my argument about the CIB and CAB trumps everything in this debate…wouldn’t you agree? If I am a tanker and am dismounted on patrol and get shot at, I deserve a CIB because I was doing an Infantry mission…vs. a CAB just because of my MOS…

            • I like you point about the CAB v. CIB. If you aren’t infantry, you will never get a CIB, even if you are on an infantry mission.

            • Justin, I think what happened is my husband’s unit was an infantry company assigned to another Bn until several years ago when they reorganized and got assigned to the Cav. Instead of reclassing everyone…
              well actually, in a RSTA squadron, isn’t the dismounted recon unit traditionally made up of 11B anyway? They have the sniper section and a mortars section that goes with HHT during combined training events. The logistics make sense to me on why they wouldn’t make them 19D only. 11B are well-suited to that mission, from what I’ve observed.

              Funny story, when this reorg first happened, my husband hated being associated with the Cav and having to wear a stetson. He said he wasn’t Cav, he was a blue cord through and through. He had to get used to it, though, and so did everyone else in his unit. They are directed to wear the stetson by higher, but I’m sure most of them wouldn’t even care if they were told not to anymore.

              As far as the CIB thing, the whole issue to me is maybe that the Stetson isn’t an official award and is a tradition, whereas the CIB is something more official. Maybe if they made the Stetson and the spurs something that you had to be MOS specific to get, and not just associated with the mission like I am, then it would be better. I’m not sure. I do think it’s weird that the blue cord is something my husband earned by virtue of his MOS but if he goes to flight school he has to take it off because he will be an officer. I got to keep my enlisted aviation badge, but he can’t keep his blue cord? They essentially amount to the same thing (that we had a certain MOS as an enlisted Soldier), whereas he earned his CIB in a different way. He also earned gold spurs just like a bunch of people I know (what’s your opinion on that?)

              • I should clarify that he earned his CIB in 2004 while belonging to an infantry unit doing an infantry mission, not on his 3rd deployment where he was in a Cav troop.

    • I am a 19D 1981-1988. 11th ACR, 2/9th Cav, and 1/37 AR Scout plt. I wear a Cav Stetson every time I am out on my horse. Never been questioned. Only 19 series should wear them as far as I am considered. Scouts Out!!!

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