Reviews

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.

Best Overall
Tough Headwear Store Balaclava Ski Mask
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Summary
Summary

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.

Pros
Pros
  • Mesh breathing panels 
  • Four-way stretch 
  • Helmet compatible
Cons
Cons
  • The bridge of the nose is loose 
  • Short neck length
Best Overall
Tough Headwear Store Balaclava Ski Mask
Best Value
AstroAI Balaclava Ski Mask
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Summary
Summary

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.

Pros
Pros
  • Refined stitching process 
  • Mesh breathing panels
Cons
Cons
  • Limited fit 
  • Fogs goggles or glasses
Best Value
AstroAI Balaclava Ski Mask
Honorable Mention
Redess Fleece Balaclava
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Summary
Summary

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.

Pros
Pros
  • Machine washable
  • Side seams to avoid irritation
Cons
Cons
  • Not waterproof 
  • Not windproof 
Honorable Mention
Redess Fleece Balaclava
Woman With Balaclava Face Mask
Amazon

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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

Solid Front 

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. 

Convertible

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. 

Hoodless

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. 

Top Brands

Carhartt

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. 

Blackstrap

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. 

Balaclava Pricing

  • 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.

Key Features

Material

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. 

Fit

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. 

Other Considerations

  • 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

Best Overall
Tough Headwear Store Balaclava Ski Mask

Slip this balaclava on and protect your face and head from wind, dust, and UV rays. The breathable and four-way stretch fabric is soft and comfortable against your skin. It’ll wick sweat away from your skin to help you stay dry. The fleece lining is insulating to keep you warm. It’s compatible with helmets and goggles, thanks to its snug fit design. There are mesh panels on the inside to allow air to flow for increased comfort. You can choose from four configurations for how you wear it. This balaclava is designed to be comfortable throughout the year for four-season usability and comfort. 


Unfortunately, you may find the bridge of the nose to be too loose. The neck length on this balaclava is also shorter than other models.

Best Value
AstroAI Balaclava Ski Mask

Slip this winter weather balaclava over your head and stay warm in the coldest of temperatures. What’s nice about this option is that it comes in two sizes: small or medium. There are also three colors to choose from: black, gray, and neon yellow. It’ll protect you from UV rays, wind, dust, snow, sleet, rain, and freezing temperatures. Its thin design makes it compatible with wearing under a helmet. There are six configuration options to choose from for how you wear your balaclava. The superfine fleece material is effective at keeping you warm and is non-irritating against your skin. 


The drawback of this balaclava is that it has a limited fit. Those with a medium to large head size will find this model to be too small. It also tends to direct your breath upward, which causes your glasses or goggles to fog. 

Most Comfortable
Redess Fleece Balaclava

Stay warm and cozy in this balaclava. The fabric is a 100 percent fleece composite that’s both breathable and heat insulating. You can wear it while skiing, motorcycling, running, biking, snowboarding, and hunting. The inside is a soft fleece, while the outside is a polyester and spandex blend. What makes this balaclava different is that the seams are located on the sides to help avoid irritation. There are six ways you can wear this balaclava, making it versatile. You can wear it with a helmet and goggles. You’ll find it to be quick-drying to help you stay dry while wearing it. It’s also machine washable for easy care. 


Unfortunately, this balaclava isn’t windproof or waterproof. This makes it less protective than other options. However, it’s effective at keeping you warm, so it’s useful when temperatures drop. 

Most Durable
Balaclava Ski Mask

Stay toasty warm in this double-layered high tech polyester fleece balaclava. The outer layer is durable and waterproof. The inner layer is super soft and plush. The inner plush layer is non-irritating, soft, lightweight, breathable, anti-deforming, and scent repelling. This keeps your balaclava looking and feeling like new despite many uses. You can adjust it to wear with or without the hood portion, thanks to the facepiece being separate. There are also drawstrings on the neckpiece to give you a snug custom fit. What makes this balaclava stand out is the decorative trim around the headpiece to look more fashionable. 


Unfortunately, this balaclava is on the smaller side. This results in a very snug or even tight fit on some larger wearers. It also lacks insulation for colder temperatures.

Honorable Mention
Oldelf Tactical Balaclava Mask

Wear this balaclava, and feel like you’re wearing a hoodie. The tactical inspiration of this balaclava makes it extra warm and durable. It’s made from fleece and comes in five colors, green, black, grey, blue, and red. You can wear it as a scarf, mask, hat, or snood. The cozy material is windproof yet also breathable. What makes this mask stand out is the extra material around the neck and drawstring on the hood. This lets you create more looks and gives you more options in how you wear it. 


Unfortunately, some people may find the extra material to be bulky and uncomfortable. The extra bulk can also limit your peripheral vision, making it less than ideal in working applications. However, if you wear it right and are looking for a fashion statement, this is a great option.

Honorable Mention
AstroAI Balaclava for Cold Weather

This windproof balaclava is perfect for skiing, snowboarding, and motorcycle riding. It comes in black, gray, and blue. It’s constructed from superfine stretchable fleece. This makes it protective from the cold, wind, rain, snow, sleet, dust, and UV rays. It’s compatible with glasses and goggles. What makes this balaclava stand out is the quality of the material. It’s lightweight, stretchy, breathable, and non-irritating. You’ll appreciate its durability, with no pilling, fading, deforming, or retention of unpleasant smells. The ergonomic nose piece is cushioned and lined with mesh to prevent fogging. The face and neckpiece are constructed from a three-layer composite to stop wind and water from getting in. The neckpiece extends down onto your shoulders for a secure seal with your shirt to prevent drafts.


One drawback of this balaclava is that it runs big. It fits people with a head circumference of 25 inches or smaller. 

Honorable Mention
Carhartt Men's Face Mask

Sometimes you need a bit of extra warmth and protection while on the job. This balaclava comes in dark grey, black, brown, orange, and bright yellow. This makes it perfect for when you need increased visibility, and black would cause you to blend in. The fabric is 100 percent acrylic and requires hand washing only. It’s a rib-knit design for a stretch so it can conform to your head and neck. You’ll stay warm thanks to the Flex 40G insulation. It also has an extra-long neck for the maximum amount of warmth and protection. 


Unfortunately, it’s one size fits all, which can be limiting. The opening is a simple hole, which can limit its comfort. It’s also a bit narrow, which can negatively affect your peripheral vision.

Honorable Mention
Trailside Supply Co Balaclava

This warm balaclava is made from 100 percent polyester. It’s reusable and washable for easy care requirements. It comes in six dark colors for a sleek look. It’s one size that will fit most people. You can wear it in various combinations to suit the amount of warmth and protection you need. This makes it suitable for a wide variety of outdoor activities, including running, skiing, snowboarding, and motorcycle riding. There are two warmth options. Autumn for sweat absorption and sun protection. Winter for extra warmth and wind protection. What makes this balaclava stand out is the extra-long neck for better protection. 


Unfortunately, the generic size of this balaclava can make it too large for some users. This can create gaps or a baggy fit. 

Honorable Mention
Irelia Fleece Ski Mask Balaclava

The rigid front of this face mask has a soft mesh lining that helps prevent fogging of your goggles or glasses. Its hinged and breathable design helps it to be comfortable for long term wear. What makes this balaclava stand out is the five possible options for how you wear it. You can wear it as a balaclava, neck gaiter, bandana, half cover, and full-face cover. The material is a soft and stretchy fleece that blocks the wind. The front face mask piece is 3D molded and vented to make breathing easier. 


Unfortunately, the holes in the mask portion let cold air in. This can make your face colder than you’d like. The stitching isn’t the softest and can be irritating if the balaclava is tight on your head. 

Honorable Mention
Blackstrap Hood Balaclava

Express your fashion sense and style with the countless color and pattern options that this balaclava comes in. It’s made from a tri-blend synthetic material that has a comfortable four-way stretch. The material is lightweight and thin, making it comfortable when wearing it under a helmet. It’s protective with a UPF rating of 50+ to block 97.5% percent of harmful UV rays. The mouth area is dual-layered and hinged for increased comfort. The moisture-wicking and quick dry material help keep you warm and dry. You can also wear goggles or glasses while wearing the balaclava. 


One potential issue with this balaclava is that the material is very thin. However, this is an asset if you're wearing it under a helmet. The neck length is also a bit short, making it too short if your shirt or jacket doesn’t have a high enough collar.

Tips

  • 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. 

FAQs

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. 

Final Thoughts

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.