It may be tempting to incorrectly identify a balaclava or ski mask 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 the best ski mask 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.
Best Ski Mask Balaclavas
Quick Answer: The 7 Best Rated Ski Masks For 2020
- Smartwool NTS Mid 250 Pattern Balaclava
- Beardski Prospector Ski Mask
- Fantastic Zone Balaclava
- Buff Balaclava
- ZANheadgear Neoprene Face Mask
- Seirus Innovation Unisex Neofleece
- CTR Howler Windproof Balaclava
Our reviews of the top rated ski masks with our buyers guide will help you choose the right mask for you.
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.
It comes in 30 colors and styles so you are sure to find one that matches your style and/or ski jacket.
If your looking to make a statement on the slopes then the ZANheadgear is for you. If comes not only in a half and full mask design depending on how much protection from the cold you want. The mask comes in some of the most unique designs I have ever seen.
The crazy designs not only make a statement they do serve a useful purpose of helping your friends and family find you on the slopes.
The Zangear is available in standard black and the colored ones are reversible to plain black if you want a more plain look.
It only comes in one size but being made of stretchy neopene it will fit most faces. I prefer the half mask style as it fits with my googles better and I like to wear a Turtle Fur gaiter to help keep my neck warm.
The scarf section being made from 200 wt Polartec® fleece will keep your neck warm on those freezing cold days on the slopes.
The opening for your nose is large enough to allow you to breathe easy and not fog up your goggles. I like that it comes in four sizes so you can get the perfect fit, making it ideal for kids.
The mask is waterproof and has breathable liner so if you start sweating it will be able to evaporate. It has a velcro closure for easy on easy off and the perfect fit, hard to go wrong here.
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.
Author’s Expertise / Why You Should Trust Our Reviews
I started writing online for my own outdoor sports blog in 2010. Right out of the gate I landed opportunities to test gear for Road ID, Hydrapak, Wolverine, Helle Knives, Pearl Izumi, and GU Energy. Those were the days when growing a no-name blog was easy. Today niche blogging is a different story.
In 2012 I left Central Wyoming College with a degree in Outdoor Education and Leadership. Soon after, I was on a month-long expedition with the National Outdoor Leadership School’s Outdoor Educator Course which helps would-be outdoor guides ascend from “aspiring” to “inspiring”.
Between here and there I’ve participated in and spoken at length about outdoor pro-deal programs for companies like Patagonia, Smith Optics, Giro, Therm-a-Rest, Platypus, MSR, Columbia, and many more. I still work closely with tons of outdoor gear companies to review and analyze products. If you have a product opportunity you’d like to discuss, please review my guidelines and contact me here.
After several seasons of guiding backpacking trips and working as a certified Alpine Ski Instructor at Deer Valley Resort in Park City, UT for several seasons, I had to move on. As any educator will tell you – teaching doesn’t pay the bills very well.
In 2016 I began building my freelance writing career as readers and other bloggers reached out to me for help with technical outdoor sports content strategy for online businesses. Within weeks I was overloaded with requests for freelance writing and my new career blossomed.
How to Choose the Best Ski Mask
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’ve suggested few of our favorites.
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
One of the most common materials used in ski masks because it is inexpensive and durable. Nylon will also breathe letting out moisture.
- Can be woven tightly to be windproof
- More durable than most other outdoor fabrics
- Often used in combination with other fabrics as a blend
Probably the warmest fabric and also very soft. Wool has the downside of being itchy to some people.
- Great moisture wicking
- Odor resistant
- Overall best choice for most applications
Another synthetic fabric that is very warm and inexpensive. Being a synthetic, it is durable and will last a long time.
- 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.
If you plan on skiing in very cold weather look for a ski mask that has smaller eye openings so the goggle seals against the mask. If the eye opening is tool large it will leave skin exposed and then leaves you exposed to frost bite.
Most ski masks are made from a stretchy material that will form fit to your face. All of the neoprene ski masks have a velcro closure system on the back that allows you to fit the mask you your face. If you go with a mask that covers your head then you will need to get the proper size since they will not have an adjustable 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.
FAQS About Ski Mask Balaclavas
Q: Why do my goggles fog when I use a mask?
A: The problem with balaclavas and ski masks is that they don’t tend to agree with one another. Even using dual pane lenses can’t always prevent your goggles from fogging up when you use a ski mask.
Understanding why this is happening is key to working around it!
When your goggles are cold from outside winter air, they can condense the moisture from your breath almost instantly. This turns into the fog on your goggles. To stop this from happening you need anti-fog coated lenses or dual pane lenses.
However, when your breath is direct straight on to the goggles, no lens in the world can prevent fogging. When you wear a ski mask often it deflects your hot breath directly onto the lens of the goggle which then causes fogging instantly.
Another common mistake is tucking your ski mask up under the goggles to cover your nose and hold the mask up in place.
Eventually, moisture from your breath will wick up the fabric and begin causing fog inside the goggles. Unfortunately, the only way around this is to never tuck neck warmers or masks into the goggles.
Q: Do you use a neck warmer or a ski mask?
A: Depending on who you ask the definition of each thing is going to overlap. I think in general, however, that ski masks tend to refer to whole head coverings while neck warmers tend to sit around the neck only.
Personally, I use a base layer and a fleece that I can pull up over my mouth when things get really nasty. I have only once worn a full balaclava on the slopes and that was a -15 (actual) day when the tip of my nose got frostbite from a single run.
There are two reasons I tend to avoid masks and prefer neck warmers (or masks that can be pulled down when not in use). First is the fogging issue we already talked about. Second, I hate having an extra layer of fabric under my helmet – it usually gets uncomfortable or gives me a headache by the end of the day.
Q: What do I do with my ski mask when I don’t want to wear it?
A: Keeping your gear on you is always a smart move. You’ll thank yourself when the bluebird day at the base lodge turns into a whiteout at 11,000 feet on the side of the cornice.
I think it’s really important that every skier keep a neck warmer or ski mask on hand at all times. My best advice for you is to find a ski jacket that has ample pockets. Just two zipper pockets is never enough room.
Look for accessory pockets on the inside of the jacket near the chest. If you can find it, a jacket with a pocket along the small of the back is also a lifesaver – we used to have these on our instructor uniforms and they were great!
Q: Are windproof ski masks worth getting?
A: I think a windproof ski mask is a great backup. When things get nasty enough to use a full ski mask, you probably want all the protection you can get.
When it comes to masks, you really don’t need much insulation or warmth. Mostly just keeping the wind off your face will keep you warm enough to keep going.
That’s why I usually carry a thin windproof ski mask as a backup to my fleece neckwarmer when I’m out on the mountain.
Q: What kind of ski mask should I get my kids?
A: Kids have a hell of a time getting ski masks and neck warmers on and off throughout the day. I would know – I used to teach children’s ski school for years!
To make your life, the kid’s life, and your instructor’s life easier look for a helmet with a built-in ski mask. These days you can find kids helmets with matching goggles and neck warmers that are all built together.
They usually use magnets to keep everything together and make stuff easy to get on or off. You can probably find magnetic ski masks or velcro masks for kids. You’ll thank yourself.
Whatever you do, don’t tuck the ski mask under the goggles like every parent ever. Your kid’s goggles will fog up, they won’t tell you, they’ll get frustrated because they can’t see, you’ll get mad at them, well… you can see how this will go in circles. I’ve watched it happen so many times. Save yourself a headache.
Outside Pursuits Overview
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!
I hope this guide was helpful for finding a good ski mask balaclava to fit your needs. If you want to comment or recommend a mask I didn’t include, please use my contact form to get in touch.
New to skiing? See my beginners guide to skiing for tips and advice.
Have fun and enjoy your day on the slopes!