I've been promising this review for a while, but now I have a few minutes I will post something. It is based on the email I sent to Ken after I received the hat, together with his responses to my comments, and some photos of the hat.
I waited a while for Fieldmaster #23, more so than I - or Ken - expected. We all know the wait on these hats is currently a little longer than he would like, but it not without good reason, and I'm sure Ken knows we're all behind him during the difficulties. Just keep this in mind if you are considering one for a specific event, and give Ken plenty of notice.
When the hat arrived, it was well-packed, and some random person had written "GIFT" on the box to avoid it being picked up by HM Customs. I know Ken wouldn't do anything so legally questionable himself, so I attribute this to hobos. Anyway, it meant I avoided not only a customs charge, but also Parcel Farce's own "clearing fee". So that put me in a good mood from the start.
When I opened the box, this is the hat I found inside (as you can see, I requested mine open crown):
I'll quickly go over the only - and very slight - cons, before getting onto the pros.
On first inspection, the crown had a couple of small “dings” in it, front-left and rear-back. You can make out one of them above the front of the bow in the first picture, but you really do have to know they are there to notice them, and I doubt they will ever affect the overall integrity of the felt. They have since brushed out with a damp sponge. The front one is hidden in the creased, and the rear one isn’t particularly visible. It might be a small storage or manufacture issue, but Ken is already on the case with it, telling me that he will make sure the rest of the batch are OK.
Most of the hats I have see have their liner label underneath the sweat-cap plastic, to protect the label. With the Camptown, the label is adhered on top of the plastic. People seem to like to take their Camptowns through the rough, and I suspect that after prolonged wear the name I wondered if the company may have worn off. Obviously this is less important to us as wearers than it is to Ken himself, since people need to know the name of his hats in order to track them down. Ken supplies replacement labels on request, and includes a spare blue or red label with each hat. He has also assured me that the labels are printed with a quality that should withstand extended wear, and since I have been wearing the hat for two weeks now, I agree with him that the print is tougher than I expected.
If you look at the first picture again, you may also notice the tacking stitches holding the bow in place are a little big. Personally, I don’t have a problem with them, because of the intended purpose of the hat (which I’ll go into in a second), but they might look a little utilitarian to some people, and they are more noticeable than most bow stitches. For those of you who may be bothered by it, they're easy to change anyway, as most of us replace ribbons at some point. Since wearing the hat, I have come to think of these stitches as part of the hat's character, and something I actually like.
Now the plus points of both this hat and my whole Camptown experience so far:
Ken a terrifically friendly and approachable guy to deal with, and makes his customers feel as if their business is actually wanted, which is not the case with a few others I have read about lately. If I had a problem I would have no hesitation in contacting Ken about it, and I have no doubt he would do all he could to rectify it.
The felt quality of the materials is very good indeed. The satin lining is nice, the felt feels very sturdy and the ribbon is a good, complimentary colour. The felt is also a really nice colour, a great reddish brown in daylight. I have experienced no dye-running issues with this hat at all, and do not hesitate to wear it in the rain. It is a solid hat that I think will endure hard use. As to the effectiveness of the vented sweatband, I can’t say yet because its too cold for me to be sweating, but it is very comfortable, and has adopted my head shape much faster than my other hats (although that might be partly due to my own increasing experience).
Despite Ken doing a dimensional trim to the brim, I felt the brim was still too large for my face, so I trimmed it down further. Since the brim is positively vast to begin with, there is plenty of lee-way for a screw-up like me to goof this up and still make it right. Its a little crooked, as is the crease I put in, but so is my face, so it looks balanced.
As you can see, this hat has a meaty crown, more than capable of the sort of straight-sided, un-tapered wonderfulness that has some of us near pooping ourselves with glee.
Shaping the Fieldmaster took a little more "assertion" than a fedora-wearer may be accustomed to. I tend to avoid steam in favour of a misting bottle, but the Fieldmaster demanded steam. As a result, the stiffer felt has kept its shape much better. The felt is more comparable in thickness and stiffness to my "Resistwoul" western conversion. It is unsurprising, then, that two of Ken's biggest fans so far have been Daniel Jones and Dostacos, who are probably more familiar with the thicker felt. I have quickly become used to this felt, too. I, too, am a fan of this hat.
Initially, when I sent my comments to Ken, I put the hat’s quality as about comparable to my Federation Deluxe, which has been my daily hat since I got it. Since then, my opinion of my Fieldmaster has increased further. I would say that it is a more solid, sturdy hat than my Fed Dlx, and has become my "go-to" hat. My Fed Dlx feels floppy and insubstantial in comparison now, and the crown seems somehow limp and unsupported next to this hat.
In summary, this is a substantial hat, not without its little quirks and eccentricities, all of which are well worth getting used to. This hat has character and personality, and will probably survive the zombie onslaught I wish would happen far better than I would myself.
I would certainly consider doing business with Ken again in the future, but I fear he may be doing himself out of business – this hat is so solidly put together, I doubt people will ever need a direct replacement.
I hope that sounds like a fair and balanced review. I'll try to post some more photos of the hat soon.