A combined experimental and analytical study of a hat-stiffened carbon-fibre composite panel loaded in uniaxial compression was investigated. A buckling mode transition was observed in the panel's skin bay which was not captured using non-linear finite-element analysis. Good correlation between experimental and numerical strain and displacement results was achieved in the prebuckling and initial postbuckling region of the loading history. A Marguerre-type Rayleigh-Ritz energy method was applied to the skin bay using representative displacement functions of permissible mode shapes to explain the mode transition phenomenon. The central criterion of this method was based on the assumption that a change in mode shape occurred such that the total potential energy of the structure was maintained at a minimum. The ultimate strength of the panel was limited by the column buckling strength of the hat-stiffeners.