It may be tempting to incorrectly identify this face-warming device as a delightful pastry but it’s not. Balaclavas are a specific type of face warmer. The term has recently come to be used ubiquitously to describe any face warming device – from neck warmers to full face, windproof fabrics.
We’re going to avoid neck warmers and stick solely to the more dedicated balaclavas and their modified counterparts. Today we can find balaclavas in fleece, wool, or other synthetics such as polyester. Each has a purpose.
They’re made to be thick or thin, sometimes windproof, and often feature breathing holes to leave room for breath to escape. The best balaclavas, however, are chosen specifically to match the needs of the wearer for snowmobiling, skiing, or other winter sports.
I personally own several different balaclavas – a thin merino one for running, a thick windproof one for the coldest windy days on the mountain, and a few in between for other levels of activity. Choosing the best balaclava is based on users’ needs and activities but we’ll suggest a few of our favorites.
Quick Answer: The 5 Best Balaclava Ski Masks For 2017
- Smartwool NTS Mid 250 Pattern Balaclava
- Beardski Prospector Ski Mask
- Fantastic Zone Balaclava
- Buff Balaclava
- CTR Howler Windproof Balaclava
Best Balaclavas and Ski Masks
Balaclava Ski Mask Reviews
I personally own this balaclava and love it to death! For any occasion but the most extreme winds, this balaclava is all I need. When activity levels are high, this is my go-to choice.
With flat-sewn seams all around the lightweight merino wool sits comfortable on my skin.
It’s thin enough that breath easily passes through without needing breathing holes.
Fortunately, it’s also extremely lightweight so it accompanies me on most of my cold weather backpacking trips.
I tend to stash it in an inside coat pocket when skiing just in case I encounter some really nasty conditions, then I’ll add it under my neck warmer and it’s thin enough to be worn comfortable under a helmet.
Overall I would say this is the best balaclava for skiing and just all around cold weather use. Use of merino wool means it dries quickly and resists the buildup of old breath odors, too!
This one makes our list for a pretty simple reason: it makes you look like a hardcore mountain man. This neoprene face-only mask is easy to take on and off while you’ve already got a hat, helmet, and goggles on.
I’ve personally seen many skiers use this for warmth and the neoprene mask plus the long “beard” acts as balaclava and neck warmer all in one.
It’s definitely nice to be able to don the balaclava after all the other ski gear and remove it as needed throughout the day without having to undress on the mountain.
The only downside is that it’s bulky and heavy. If you want to take it off, you’ll need a backpack and not just a pocket to store it in.
Unless, of course, your pockets are mega-size.
There’s something to be said about what might be the coolest ski mask as well, because these are definitely all the rage right now.
It’s pretty hard to argue with the price of this thin, polyester balaclava. It’s made to be windproof using polyester fabric which exhibits natural wicking ability for rapidly drying breath and moisture off the garment.
One of my favorite things about this particular balaclava is that it features a separate upper and lower half which means the mask can be worn in a huge combination of ways.
It’s also possible to adjust this ski mask balaclava to cover any combination in between.
Definitely earning top marks for frugality and versatility! However, because the fabric is windproof and the mouth features no dedicated breathing holes, after a period of time you will likely get moisture buildup.
There’s also the very real potential for hot breath to be accidentally directed up toward goggles or glasses where it can cause fog.
Nope, not a joke. This one is literally just called the “Buff”. They’ve been popular for years in the hiking and backpacking world for their versatility and usefulness in so many forms.
It’s really just a stretchy, thin polyester tube usually available in wild colors and patterns. What’s neat about it is that you can wear it in 12 different styles. Such as:
- Do Rag
It’s pretty thin, though, so you won’t want to fight the most frigid winds of the north with this on. It is, however, a great solution to just about every neck warmer, head warmer, balaclava, pirate mask need you’ll have.
Finally, we’re going to take a look at a fully windproof balaclava with a hinged upper and lower construction. One of the biggest drawbacks of windproof balaclavas is the buildup of wet breath. Fortunately, this balaclava takes that into account with a dedicated mesh breathing patch around the mouth to let out breath without letting in too much air.
The issue with just putting holes in a balaclava is that they let in the wind, snow, and other nasty weather. By using a mesh breathing panel, however, you can allow the passage of breath and fresh air without directly letting in the cutting, cold wind.
You’ll also be able to tuck this balaclava inside your coat to keep everything tightly wrapped up. Elongated neck segment is flared at the end to help drape over the shoulders and tuck well inside the jacket. Overall, this is the best balaclava for extreme cold and a great choice for the seriously nasty weather you might encounter in extreme conditions.
How to Choose a Balaclava Ski Mask
Design and material are the two biggest assets that any balaclava can have. Why’s that? Because it’s the combination of these two factors which makes or breaks a balaclava.
When picking out a balaclava you’ll have to choose between a few different materials though many fail to spend adequate time understanding the differences.
- Great at wicking moisture and drying quickly
- Often builds up “stink factor” from breath and wear more quickly
- Good lightweight material choice
- Can be woven tightly to be windproof
- More durable than most other outdoor fabrics
- Often used in combination with other fabrics as a blend
- Great moisture wicking
- Odor resistant
- Overall best choice for most applications
- Highly water resistant
- Doesn’t let the breath escape well
Balaclavas are, by design, meant to cover the head, face, and mouth. Usually they only leave an opening for the eyes and sometimes they leave mouth and nose “breathing” holes.
In today’s market, however, you’ll find “mask” type designs which cover only the cheeks and mouth. You may also find convertible balaclavas which are meant to function as neck warmers, masks, and balaclavas all in one. I’ll describe a few ideal designs for different wearers:
For the Helmet Wearer
Most ski and snowboard helmet wearers (or winter mountaineers) will want one of two options:
- Thin merino wool balaclava
- Removable “mask-only” balaclava
I find that thicker material under my helmet really bothers me and often causes headaches. Further, the added material makes many helmets fit improperly or function unsafely. Either choose a thin balaclava or a face only, removable type mask with an adjustable Velcro strap.
For Full Protection
If you’re not wearing a helmet and want full head protection, then you’ll want a traditional balaclava to cover the head, face, and mouth. When choosing this type of protection, you’ll probably want to either wear a hat over the top portion for extra warmth or you’ll want to choose a thicker balaclava that’s entirely windproof.
Be careful choosing a windproof balaclava, however, as they’re almost always waterproof as well. This means you’ll want breathing holes or you’ll be marinating in stinky breath by the end of the day.
When it comes to balaclavas, warmer is not always better. Even in the nastiest winter conditions, most physical activity will keep you warm enough to only need a thin balaclava. When the serious weather hits, or if you’re riding a snowmobile or motorcycle in cold weather, you may need a dedicated windproof balaclava.
You’ll definitely need to choose based on your level of activity, weather conditions, and personal preference. We’ve offered up a choice to meet everyone’s different needs so pick the best face mask for you!