Ever heard of the term “balaclava”? In case you haven’t and you a bit confused, don’t be. It’s not some exotic dish, and you’re still reading the correct article. A balaclava is a name given to a particular kind of face warmers.
Although it technically refers to a specific type, the word has become associated with about any form of product that you’d use to keep your face warm in the winter, like neck warmers for example.
But today, we’re going to leave those aside and talk solely about the more typical balaclavas and anything that strongly resembles them. If you look around the market, you’ll find that these ski mask balaclavas can be in different forms and made out of different material. Some are made of polyester, others are more traditionally made from wool or fleece. Some can be thin while others are made thick. You can find those that are windproof or that have breathing holes.
At the end of the day, the choices are endless, but we might be able to help you find what best suits your preference, for all your winter sports and activities.
So, without further ado, here are the best balaclavas available today.
- Smartwool Men’s NTS Mid 250 Pattern Balaclava
Right off the bat, we have one of our favorite ski masks that we’ve had the chance to review. It’s the type of balaclava that you can wear with no hesitations or second thoughts when you go out for almost any type of weather (won’t be of significant help when facing extreme winds).
The Smartwool Men’s NTS Mid 250 Pattern Balaclava is made of lightweight and comfortable merino wool with flat seams all over it, making it quite durable and weather-proof.
You won’t find any trouble breathing through the fabric, even with the absence of breathing holes, since it’s quite thin. What’s also convenient about it is its significantly lightweight which makes it effortless to carry around on any winter trips you might plan.
So, if you’re out and about enjoying the cold landscape and you want to be prepared for anything, you can just put it in any of your coat’s pockets, and you won’t even notice it. You might find yourself wearing it with a neck warmer or a helmet, but it still won’t pose any problems because of how thin it is. And if we might add, the merino wool that’s used in making it means it significantly slows down the buildup of any breath odors and drying it after washing doesn’t take much time.
If you’re looking for the overall best balaclava, then this is it. For any skiing or cold weather activities, this is a pretty awesome pick.
- Thin and portable
- No odor build-up
- The neck is a bit short
- Beardski Prospector Ski Mask
One particular reason that made this ski mask a worthy candidate to be on our list: the look that it gives you. You might think that’s a bit silly, but just look it up and tell us that that manly mountain beard isn’t something you want to try on. It’s a neoprene mask that covers only the face and can be worn and taken on off easily even when you’re wearing goggles, a helmet, or a hat with it.
You might be thinking it can be a bit strange to wear it in public, but the matter of fact is you can see several people rocking it outdoors and for good reason. The long beard and the neoprene mask combo act as both a neck warmer and balaclava at the same time.
One great thing about is that it allows you to put your skiing gear in whichever order you prefer as you won’t have to wear it first. You can even take it off without having to take off any other thing.
But on the other hand, the size and weight of it aren’t the most convenient. Since you can’t just shove it in a pocket (assuming you don’t have any ridiculously large pockets), you’ll need to carry a backpack with you at all times.
This ski mask has more to it than meets the eye, but we’d be lying to say that it’s not worth it for the look alone.
- Awesome look
- Suitable for a variety of weathers
- Warms both the face and the neck
- Only hand-washable
- Buff Balaclava
You read that right; there are no missing words in the title of this product. This is simply called the Buff Balaclava. In fact, for years, this balaclava has been very popular among hiking enthusiasts for its immense practicality and versatility.
A thin stretchy polyester mask with a long cylindrical neck is what this balaclava is all about. You can find it in a variety of patterns and colors. And the really impressive thing about it is how versatile its usage can really be. In fact, you can wear it in as much as 12 distinct ways:
The fabric is quite thin, so we don’t recommend using it for the more extreme weather conditions. But on the plus side, it eliminates the need for a neck warmer, balaclava, or a head warmer.
Also, since it comes in 30 different styles and colors, you won’t have much trouble finding the one that fits your visual preference.
- Quick drying
- Wearable in more than 12 ways
- Odor-free thanks to the polygene, elastic fabric
- It may loosen up after wearing it several times
- ZANheadgear Neoprene Face Mask
Want to make everyone on the streets talking about your cool new mask? Check out what ZANheadgear has to offer. You can go with one of two choices, depending on how much protection against the cold you’re looking for: Either you buy the half mask for protecting the lower part of your face, or you can go with the full mask. Either way, you’re going to come out looking so rad with one of the coolest designs a face mask can offer.
But the look isn’t just for show; it can also be quite helpful for any of your friends or family to spot you among all the other skiers thanks to its unique design.
You can find both plain black masks and colored ones for purchase. The colored ones can be reverted to standard black if you’d like to do that.
The fact that it comes in just one size shouldn’t be much of a problem for most people because of the stretchy neoprene fabric that makes it up. And when it comes to the half masks, it makes for a better choice when you want to wear goggles as it would with them much better.
- Good looking
- Comes in a variety of designs
- Suitable for different cold weathers
- May not fit well for some people
- Seirus Innovation Unisex Neofleece
Maybe you’re just looking for practicality and simplicity and give little to no value to the look. If so, then look no further than this Seirus mask, as it might just be the best balaclavas for you. The lower half part of the mask is made up of the usual neoprene fabric, which will stretch to fit your face.
200 wt Polartec® fleece was used to make the scarf portion of the piece to give your neck the warmth you need in the cold winter days.
Breathing out of the mask won’t be a problem thanks to the nose hole, so don’t worry about fogging up the glass. The nose hole actually comes in four different sizes, so whoever wears it will most likely find the one that perfectly fits them.
The fabric of the mask is waterproof, and it has a breathable liner that would allow for any sweat to evaporate. Put in it on and taking it off is also super easy thanks to the Velcro closure.
- Ergonomic design
- Effective vent holes
- Fits perfectly on most faces
- The fleece cover makes the mask soft to the touch
- May fog up your glasses in some positions
Choosing the Best Balaclavas: Frequently Asked Questions
Having tested out several different types of balaclavas over the years, we think we have enough data to determine the standards for choosing a good ski mask.
While it always comes down to the user’s preference, there are two main aspects that a mask needs to deliver on to be considered as a good pick. We’re talking about the material and the design. These two are what it’s all about.
What is a balaclava, anyway?
As opposed to what many people believe, balaclavas aren’t actually a modern thing. They date back to the 19th century, when soldiers used to wear masks to protect their faces from the cold in the village of Balaklava, of which the name originates.
The modern balaclava is a cloth headgear designed to cover the whole face or a part of it. Balaclavas come in different designs, but it all boils down to one single purpose: protecting your face without ruining your experience.
Why do I need one?
Because outdoor adventures in wintry circumstances can be dangerous and unpleasant if you’re not well-protected against the cold. A balaclava can prevent cold from touching your face and protect you against irritations and frostbites that occur in harsh, wintry conditions.
Will I be able to move freely when wearing a balaclava?
Most balaclavas are elastic and can be stretched out, which means that they allow for great movement when you’re wearing them.
When should I wear a balaclava?
If you’re a skiing enthusiast or someone who loves having outdoor adventures in cold weathers, then you should definitely get one of the best balaclavas mentioned above. Not only will they protect you from the cold, but they will also give you an awesome look that’ll keep everybody wowing internally.
Balaclavas can also be used in hill-climbing, special stages of rallies, racing events, some cross-country events, and many other activities and domains.
Can I breathe properly when wearing a balaclava?
Most balaclavas are designed for heavy breathing, but the exact way differs from one product to the other. Some may come with holes for your nose, mouth, and eyes, while others boast a hinged nose and mouthpiece.
No matter which option you choose, make sure it offers sufficient breathing access for the particular sport you’re practicing.
What materials are balaclavas made of?
As you go searching for the best balaclavas for you, you’ll have to choose between several different types of fabric. The problem is that most people don’t grasp the differences between them. So, here they are:
- A perfect water-resistant fabric
- Also, windproof
- Isn’t the best fabric for letting the breath escape out of the mask
- Resistance against odor build-up
- Has good moisture wicking
- Basically, the overall best for most situations
- Usually used as a blend with other fabrics
- Has better durability compared to most outdoor materials
- Windproof when worn tightly
- Very lightweight
- Dries quickly and has excellent moisture wicking properties
- Build-up odors issue
When browsing for the best balaclavas, make sure to choose one that’s made of allergy-free fabric that won’t cause any annoying rush. Additionally, look for a fabric that’s soft to the touch and that can keep your face warm and dry even during the coldest of conditions.
When it comes to heat generation and wind-proofness, nothing can beat polyester fleece reinforced with lycra fiber.
If you want to go the extra mile, you can shell out a few extra bucks and get a balaclava that integrates temperature control technology that can keep you warm and comfy in cold conditions and prevent sweating in warmer ones by moving the moisture away from your skin, making them quite the convenient solution.
Is the design important in balaclavas?
The whole point of the balaclavas is to protect the entirety of the head from the cold weather conditions. That’s why it would usually cover the mouth, face, and head. In most cases, it will also have holes for the eyes (obviously) along with the nose and mouth for breathing.
But when you look around the market these days, you can come across “half masks” that only cover the lower part of the face. You can also find some versatile balaclava types that can be converted to neck warmers or masks depending on the wearer’s desire.
Here are a few different good designs that work for different situations
Which are the best balaclavas when wearing a helmet?
For anyone wearing a ski and snowboard helmet, these designs will work best for you:
- Removable “mask-only” balaclava
- Thin merino wool balaclava
Thick material under a helmet can be quite bothersome and can even lead to headaches for some people. Your helmet may also rest incorrectly on your head because of the thick material, and that can create some risks you don’t want. To avoid all of that we recommend going with a thin balaclava or a face only mask (with an adjustable Velcro strap preferably).
Which are the best balaclavas for maximum protection?
Now you might not want to wear a helmet and still want to give your head as much protection as you can. For that, you should go with a typical balaclava that covers the entirety of the head and mouth included.
When you go with this choice, we recommend you wear a very thick windproof balaclava or a hat on top for maximum warmth
Make sure that your windproof balaclava has breathing holes though because windproof usually also means waterproof. With no breathing holes you’ll be drowning in bad odors after a while, and you don’t want that.
What are multipurpose balaclavas?
Multipurpose balaclavas are those that can be pleated down as a collar or rolled into a headband. Depending on the condition and the activity you’re practicing, you can choose a ski mask that turns into a bandana, neck gaiter, mask, or any other variation.
Multi-purpose balaclavas can be used for sports such as skiing, hill-climbing, cycling, snowboarding, motorcycling, and many other activities.
What size do balaclavas come in?
Most ski masks or balaclavas come in one size that fits both men and women of different ages. Your experience will depend on how stretchy the material is, so make sure to choose one of the best balaclavas that can fit perfectly on any face.
Do balaclavas offer a good vision range?
Answering this question depends on the activity you intend to use the mask for. Different sports require different vision ranges.
If you’re a skier or a cyclist, you need to pay special attention to ow the balaclava impacts your vision. For that, choose a face mask that’s designed specifically for your sport and preference, or one that features large eye holes through which you can easily see your way.
Balaclavas with small eye holes may seem tempting when one thinks of warmth, but the limited vision range can be really dangerous, especially if you’re an extreme sport enthusiast. Besides, you’re most probably going to wear goggles along your mask, which adds to the need for something that offers decent vision range.
What makes goggles fog up when using a mask?
When your goggles are exposed to the cold temperature of the air, they gain the ability to condense your breath which turns into fog rapidly. To prevent that, you should use dual pane lenses or anti-fog coated lenses.
Wearing a ski mask causes the breath to be directed to the goggles and with that, there’s nothing that can stop fog from forming.
Some people would tuck the mask under the goggles to cover the nose. But this, unfortunately, makes matters only worse. So, to prevent this, we recommend that you don’t do this at all.
A ski mask or a neck warmer?
The definition of each may vary depending on whom you ask. But usually, a ski mask would cover the whole face while a neck warmer would only cover the neck area.
A good balaclava isn’t just about your head, as it needs to cover your neck for the best protection. If you go with a balaclava that’s too short, you may end up needing an extra scarf for optimal warmth, which defeats the whole purpose of this cloth.
We personally recommend going with a fleece neck warmer that you can cover your mouth with whenever you want if you’re not comfortable with an entire headgear. Leave the full head coverage for the really nasty cold days.
What to do with the balaclava when not wearing it?
You never know when the weather goes through a 180° change, and you find yourself fighting off the elements of nature. So, we recommend that you always keep your gear on you.
At a minimum, you need to always have a neck warmer and a ski mask. To store them, you should get yourself a jacket with an abundance of spacious pockets.
Is getting a windproof ski mask worth it?
It would make for a great back up whenever things get tense. With masks you’re not really looking for much of warmth or insulation, keeping the wind away from your face is enough.
It’ll be smart to carry a light windproof mask whenever you’re out.
What are the best balaclavas for kids?
It can be tricky for kids to put on and take off their ski masks. To reduce this issue, we recommend going with helmets that have built-in ski masks. You can even find them with goggles and neck warmers. Some might have magnets to make the process of wearing them easier, or even Velcro.
But remember to not tuck the mask under the goggles as we’ve mentioned before. It’ll save you and your kid a lot of trouble.
You’ll have to keep in mind that when you’re looking for a suitable balaclava, your first criteria shouldn’t be warmth. Your physical activity will keep you warm enough with a thin face mask even in the worst conditions. But if things get really nasty, we recommend going with a windproof mask. So, keep what we’ve mentioned in mind and pick the best balaclavas for you accordingly.