The Best Balaclavas (Review & Buying Guide) in 2021
Protect your face and head with a warm balaclava.
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BY Andra DelMonico / LAST UPDATED ON January 1, 2021
Spend any amount of time outside in the winter, and you’ll quickly be longing for a way to keep your face and head warmer. Beanies and scarves only do so much and can be cumbersome during certain activities. You need a better way of insulating your head and neck while also protecting them from the elements. If you're snowboarding, skiing, or motorcycle riding, you'll also want it to work with your safety gear, aka your helmet.
A balaclava is a perfect solution. They fit like a second skin and completely cover your head, face, and neck. All that’s left are your eyes, and with the right pair of goggles, those are protected too. Depending on your intended activity, you can even wear it under a helmet. This guide will help you choose the perfect balaclava for your outdoor activities.
Stay warm with this four-season fleece-lined balaclava. It protects against wind, dust, and UV rays. The fabric is stretchy and breathable for a secure and comfortable fit.
- Mesh breathing panels
- Four-way stretch
- Helmet compatible
- The bridge of the nose is loose
- Short neck length
Cover as much as possible with the winter balaclava. It comes in neon yellow, black, and grey. Configurable for six options in how you wear it.
- Refined stitching process
- Mesh breathing panels
- Limited fit
- Fogs goggles or glasses
Slip this 100 percent fleece balaclava over your head and stay warm in cold temperatures. The fabric is breathable for extended-wear comfort. It’s wrinkle-free, lightweight, and quick-drying.
- Machine washable
- Side seams to avoid irritation
- Not waterproof
- Not windproof
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Benefits of a Balaclava
- Stay warm and dry. You lose heat through any area of your body where your skin is exposed to the elements. Wearing a balaclava keeps your head and face warm in colder temperatures. Many are made of insulating or waterproof materials for increased effectiveness.
- Protect your helmet. If you ride a motorcycle, then a balaclava will extend the life of your helmet. The pads inside your helmet break down from your sweat. A balaclava creates a protective layer and prevents your helmet pads from becoming soaked in sweat or covered in makeup.
- Protection. Wearing a balaclava provides you with an extra layer of protection. This could be from sunburn, cold burn, dense brush, or anything else that you may come into contact with.
Types of Balaclavas
These balaclavas have a rigid front piece that protects your face. This makes them more comfortable for people who feel suffocated in traditional all fabric balaclavas. The rigid front prevents the balaclava from suffocating you on the nose and mouth. They’re also great for addressing the fogging issue that can happen with all fabric balaclavas. If you ride motorcycles, this rigid front is perfect for protecting your face from bugs, rain, and road debris.
These balaclavas are typically made of fleece and are incredibly popular because they’re so versatile. You can wear them as a full balaclava, ninja hood, half mask, or neck warmer. You’ll like this type because it will give you just the right amount of extra warmth, and you can adjust it if you get too hot or cold. Be careful with this style when riding a motorcycle or snowboarding; the fleece can be too thick to fit under your helmet.
This balaclava style has become more people recently due to its ability to stay in place over just your face. It’s especially popular with snowboarders and motorcycle riders because you don’t have to take your helmet off to adjust it. The balaclava will cover your face and ears but leave the top of your head bare. Some people find the thicker neoprene and Velcro used to make these masks to be stiff and uncomfortable.
Neck Warmer Focused
If you want some extra warmth but hate having your face and neck covered by snug fabric, then this is a smart solution. This type of balaclava is a perfect combination of a neck warmer and balaclava. It doesn’t fall like a typical neck warmer and doesn’t have the confining face covering of a typical balaclava.
Founded in 1889, Carhartt headquarters are based in Detroit, Mich. It’s known as one of the leading apparel companies for work clothing. It’s trusted for its quality products that are well made and durable. The Carhartt Men's Knit Insulated Face Mask will give you a thick and warm insulated layer to keep you warm in the coldest of temperatures.
Trailside Supply Co.
Dedicated to producing quality outdoor gear, Trailside focuses on developing and selling clothing that’s durable enough for outdoor activities. Its customers appreciate that the clothing is lightweight and comfortable for a variety of outdoor adventures. This Trailside Windproof Balaclava is functional and stylish in dark blue.
Based out of Bend, Ore., Blackstrap embraces a passion for the outdoors through its development of a clothing and accessories product line. It focuses on clothing and gear that’s multifunctional and reliable. The Blackstrap Expedition Balaclava is a standout for its extra warmth abilities.
- Under $15: You’ll find these affordable balaclavas to be lightweight and easy to care for. They may lack some of the more innovative features, but for basic warmth and protection, they’ll work perfectly.
- $15 to $20: There are quality balaclavas available in this price range. They come in a range of colors and types, so you’re sure to find the perfect one for your needs.
- $20 and up: These more expensive balaclavas tend to be specialty items with innovative features and specific intended uses.
You can buy a balaclava in a wide variety of materials, including wool, cotton, nylon, neoprene, and multi-fiber blends. The material you choose will depend on your intended application. Nylon is ultra-lightweight and thin, making it perfect for fitting under a helmet. Neoprene is thick, but this makes it incredibly insulating.
Most of the masks on the market are a one size fits all design. This approach will work for most people. However, if you have an especially small or large head, you’ll want to look for a more customized fit. Always try your mask on before you need to use it. Wear it for a while and confirm that it’s comfortable for extended wear.
Face and Neck Coverage
Depending on your intended activities, you may or may not want full neck coverage. While all balaclavas offer some neck coverage, others provide more. If you want more neck coverage, look for one with a neck gaiter. These have more material around your neck for better heat retention. You can tuck the bottom into your collar to keep out the cold, wind, and snow.
- Goggles Integration. Some balaclavas are designed to be worn with goggles, and others aren’t. Wear the wrong balaclava, and just breathing will fog up your entire goggles. This blocks your sight and makes it impossible to see. Having sight ability is critical when you’re headed down the mountain while skiing or traveling the backroads on your motorcycle.
- Helmet Compatibility. If you plan to wear yours while motorcycle riding or skiing, then your balaclava needs to fit under your helmet. Look for thinner materials that will fit like a second skin. Then put your helmet on over it and wear both for 30-45 minutes to see if hot spots develop.
- Design. The vast majority of balaclavas are plain black. But that isn’t your only option. You can find them in colors and patterns to express your style. Some come in camo prints that are perfect for hunting applications. Many motorcycle riders choose black so that it’ll look good with the rest of their gear.
Best Balaclavas Reviews & Recommendations 2021
- Look for a balaclava that’s easy to clean. You’ll want to regularly wash yours to keep it clean and sanitary, so a machine washable one is the smartest option.
- The stitching can become uncomfortable, so look for one with flatlock stitching or some other method and ideal seam placement that will be non-irritating to your skin.
- Use the rolling technique to make it easier to put your balaclava on. You can adjust your hair while rolling it on and prevent uncomfortable pulling.
Q: How should a balaclava fit?
It should be snug enough that it stays in place while you move around. There shouldn’t be any gaps around the edges. However, it also shouldn’t be so tight that it restricts your blood flow or feels tight.
Q: What is the best balaclava for skiing?
It should be lightweight material that’s breathable so that it will wick sweat away but also insulating to help you retain your body heat. Fast-drying fabric is also vital to help you stay warm.
Q: What is the purpose of a balaclava?
The primary purpose is to keep you warm and dry. They can protect you from heat, sun, branches, bugs, and flying debris.
The Tough Headwear Store Balaclava Ski Mask is breathable, protective, and comfortable. In contrast, the AstroAI Balaclava Ski Mask is an affordable option that uses a refined stitching process for its construction.