The 10 Best Balaclavas of 2021

Face coverings can provide much needed warmth on the slopes

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TRIPSAVVY-best-balaclavas

Chloe Jeong / TripSavvy

The Rundown

Best Overall: Self Pro Windproof Balaclava at Amazon

"A top-rated product intended for both men and women."

Best Budget: BCOCOB Balaclava Two-Pack at Amazon

"Comes with a matching balaclava for a friend or family member."

Best for Warmth: Under Armour ColdGear Infrared Tactical Hood at Amazon

"Offers superior insulation, thanks to its innovative fabric."

Most Breathable: Zerdocean Thermal Full Face Balaclava at Amazon

"Allows you to breathe easily while keeping everything but your eyes covered."

Best for All Sports: Outdoor Research Ninjaclava at Amazon

"Suited for skiing, mountaineering, winter cycling, and more."

Best for Hunting: Turtle Fur Ninja Performance Balaclava at Amazon

"Offers UPF 50+ protection and blocks 97 percent of UV rays."

Best for Women: Burton Burke Hood Face Mask at Amazon

"Features pretty colorways that breaks up the monotony of a conventional balaclava."

Most Versatile: Oldelf Tactical Heavyweight Balaclava at Amazon

"Doubles as a hat, snood, neck gaiter, or scarf as well as a standard balaclava."

Best for Men: Phunkshun Ballerclava Hinged Balaclava at Phunkshun Wear

"A hinged balaclava that makes it easy to pull down the lower half for talking."

Best for Kids: Blackstrap Industries Kids’ Hood Balaclava at Amazon

"A kid-sized hinged balaclava available in tons of cool patterns."

Balaclavas are the best friend of outdoor sports enthusiasts for good reason. By definition, a balaclava (also known as a ski mask) covers most, if not all, of your face, affording unparalleled protection from the cold, wind, and sun. There are several different styles to choose from, including full face masks, open balaclavas, and ingenious models that can switch between the two.

Read on for our picks of the best balaclavas available.

Best Overall: Self Pro Windproof Balaclava

A simple yet high-quality all-rounder, the Self Pro Windproof Balaclava is a top-rated product intended for both men and women. Made from CoolMax® premium high-tech polyester fiber, it’s breathable, absorbent, and excellent for wicking moisture away from your skin on warmer days. Whether you wear it on its own or under a helmet, it affords protection from the cold, wind, and sun—making it the ideal companion for a full range of outdoor sports.

An extra-long neck provides maximum skin coverage, while the versatile design means that you can wear the balaclava in a number of different ways. Opt for the traditional full face mask, transform it into a skull cap or neck gaiter, or leave the upper part of your face uncovered with a ninja-style hoodie. Available in classic black, the balaclava mask is one-size-fits-most (even children). For added convenience, it’s machine-washable and quick to dry after a session on the slopes. 

Best Budget: BCOCOB Balaclava Two-Pack

BCOCOB Balaclava Two-Pack

Courtesy of Amazon 

This BCOCOB Balaclava Two-Pack is the perfect budget buy, especially if you’re looking for a matching balaclava for a friend or family member. Made of soft, lightweight polyester, the cut covers the forehead, chin, and cheeks but leaves your eyes and nose free for easy breathing. If you require additional ventilation, you can drop the chin or turn the balaclava into a scarf or neck gaiter.

Intended for all kinds of outdoor pursuits (from skiing to motorcycling and climbing), the balaclava mask fits well under a helmet and features an extended neck that tucks into your jacket. Consequently, you don’t have to worry about snow, wind, or dust creeping under your collar. The stretchy fabric provides a snug yet comfortable fit; and when you’re finished for the day, cleaning the balaclava is as simple as throwing it in the washing machine. 

Best for Warmth: Under Armour ColdGear Infrared Tactical Hood

Under Armour ColdGear Infrared Tactical Hood

 Courtesy of Backcountry

The Under Armour ColdGear Infrared Tactical Hood is incredibly lightweight, making it much more comfortable than a traditional woolen balaclava. Despite its relative thinness, it also offers superior insulation, thanks to its innovative ColdGear® Infrared fabric. This fabric uses a thermo-conductive inner coating to absorb and retain your body heat, while the close fit prevents drafts and protects your entire face—leaving only your eyes uncovered.

On warmer days, you can drop the chin or fold the balaclava hood into a neck gaiter for increased ventilation. The material also wicks sweat and dries quickly—making it especially effective for playing sports in sub-zero temperatures. Better yet, the balaclava’s four-way stretch fabrication offers unparalleled mobility and is odor-resistant. One size fits all, and you have a choice of two colors: black or desert sand.

Most Breathable: Zerdocean Thermal Full Face Balaclava

Dropping the chin of your balaclava or turning it into a neck gaiter when you need greater ventilation is all very well—but what happens when it’s too cold to do so? That’s where the Zerdocean Thermal Full Face Balaclava comes in. It features a perforated mesh vent that allows you to breathe easily while keeping everything but your eyes covered.

The balaclava mask’s molded nose-piece makes for an extra snug fit, while the soft fleece lining keeps you both warm and comfortable. The fabric itself is stretchy, affording a great range of movement that prevents you from feeling restricted even when fully covered. When the sun does come out, it’s still possible to drop the balaclava’s chin and hood. Colors include black, gray, and army green. 

Best for All Sports: Outdoor Research Ninjaclava

Outdoor Research Ninjaclava

Backcountry

Specially made for extremely cold conditions on the slopes, the Outdoor Research Ninjaclava boasts nylon fabric that fends off wind and water. Even more, its soft Motion Fleece backing offers warmth and helps wick moisture. This balaclava mask fully covers your head, nose, and face, and can also easily open if you need to take a snack break or to release excess heat. Machine-washable and breathable, the Ninjaclava is suited for skiing, mountaineering, winter cycling, or other winter outdoor activities, thanks to silicone prints that keeps goggles in place.

Best for Hunting: Turtle Fur Ninja Performance Balaclava

A good balaclava mask should do more than keep your face warm: it should also protect you from the sun’s harmful rays. The Turtle Fur Ninja Performance Balaclava achieves that goal admirably, offering UPF 50+ protection. It’s also moisture-wicking, making it an especially good choice for winter sports or warmer climates.

It’s brushed on the inside for superlative softness, while the 92 percent polyester/ 8 percent spandex blend makes for a snug yet non-restrictive fit. Transform it from a full face mask into a neck gaiter or scarf with a quick tug of the hood. Designed to fit adults and teenagers alike, the balaclava comes in a range of different colors, including Black and Blaze (bright orange). A variety of camouflage prints make it especially popular with hunters. 

Best for Women: Burton Burke Hood Face Mask

Though most of the balaclavas in the market are perfectly suitable for men and women, the Burton Burke Hood Face Mask is especially popular among women. Made of soft polyester, it features a hooded design in unique colorways and prints that break up the monotony of a conventional balaclava. Additionally, the cinched hood allows you to tighten the balaclava face mask after putting it on, so you can adjust the tightness as needed and fit it over whatever your preferred athletic hairstyle is. It also offers a one-year warranty.

Most Versatile: Oldelf Tactical Heavyweight Balaclava

While many balaclavas can be adapted from a full face mask to a neck gaiter, the JollyGift Windproof Hat Tactical Balaclava offers a whole new level of versatility. Designed to look like a standard hoodie (complete with drawstrings), its ingenious design allows it to double as a hat, snood, neck gaiter, or scarf as well as a standard balaclava.

It’s made from premium soft fleece fabric, making it exceptionally soft and comfortable. A double layer offers added warmth and helps to make the balaclava windproof, while the extra-long neck means you don’t have to worry about unexpected drafts. You can personalize your style even further by choosing from five different colors ranging from army green to red.

Best for Men: Phunkshun Ballerclava Hinged Balaclava

Phunkshun Ballerclava Hinged Balaclava
Courtesy of Phunkshun.

Colorado-based Phunkshun specializes in masks, neck tubes, and balaclavas for winter sports, fishing, and of course, now, pandemics. The products are not only effective, they’re focused on sustainability with each piece of headwear using an average of six recycled water bottles.

The Ballerclava features a helpful hinged design that makes it easier to free your mouth when you need to by tugging the lower half under your chin. The fabric is treated for water repellency as well to prevent it from collecting moisture (and then freezing). The Ballerclava also comes in different versions with additional fleece lining for warmth if desired. There’s even a Helmetclava that goes over your ski helmet for a cocoon of warmth on those extra-cold ski days.

Best for Kids: Blackstrap Industries Kids’ Hood Balaclava

Blackstrap has been making this signature balaclava since 2008 and it has a ton of features great for anyone, but especially active kids. It offers 50 UPF sun protection and is infused with properties to stave off the inevitable stink, as well as quick-dry wicking technology to keep it from getting soaked and freezing. It’s also washer-dryer safe for easy refreshing.

Perhaps most importantly, it comes in a ton of cool patterns that’ll make the little ones excited to actually wear it. It’s a universal size for most kids ages 2 to 7 and the four-way stretch fabric and hinged design make it flexible and easy to wear.

Final Verdict

For an affordable, all-around option it’s hard to beat the simple, versatile Self Pro (view at Amazon). If you need insulation, Under Armour’s Cold Gear (view at Amazon) provides extra warmth while retaining a reasonable price point. And finally, if you’re a serious winter athlete, the Outdoor Research Ninjaclava (view at Amazon) is purpose-built for staying warm while sweating it out in the cold.

What to Look for in Balaclava

Material: There are tons of different balaclavas available online and what sets the good ones apart from the cheap-but-questionable ones are materials. Because cotton absorbs moisture easily, avoid any balaclava that is primarily cotton, though some quality products use some cotton in a blend.

Coatings: Because collected moisture is the curse of a functional balaclava, the best ones include a Durable Water Repellent (DWR) coating to help shed the moisture and prevent it from soaking into the fabric itself. While they might seem warmer in your hands, thick fleece neckwear is more likely to capture moisture, even if it’s treated.

Sizing & Adjustability: Most balaclavas are universal size whether for kids or adults, but how you intend to wear it will determine the type you buy. Traditional balaclavas are meant to be worn underneath a winter hat or ball cap. But there are other balaclavas meant to be worn over a hat or even over a ski helmet as an insulative layer, so just be sure of what type you’re buying before you purchase.

Price: As with many products, you generally get what you pay for in balclavas. Because of the simplicity of the design, they can be produced very cheaply and you can find plenty of options for less than $10. If you’re not too demanding and you use is casual and infrequent, these cheaper options might be plenty. For regular use and for winter athletes that are concerned with performance for longer periods of time, consider the higher tier of balaclavas that will fall in the $25-$40 range and be quality construction with more advanced materials and coatings.

FAQs

What’s the difference between a balaclava, a neck tube, and a neck warmer?

Balaclavas go over the head and down to the neck and usually have some kind of opening around the face. Neck tubes are just that: tubes. They can be worn loose around the neck and pulled up over the mouth and nose as-needed. They’re usually a lighter, moisture-wicking fabric. Neck warmers are basically neck tubes but they’ve been around longer and are usually fleece or some other thicker, insulative fabric.

Should I get an insulated or lined balaclava?

This depends on how you intend to use it and the weather conditions where you’ll be wearing it. Insulated or lined balaclavas are of course warmer than thinner activewear fabrics so if you’re going to be in extra-cold environments, they’re a solid choice. However, if you’re going to be actively sweating while wearing it, look for a balaclava that’s built to shed moisture, insulated or not. Heavily insulated balaclavas can collect moisture when you’re hot and then freeze solid when you’re not. If the winter temps are fairly mild, consider a lighter material. It will still protect you from wind and cold but will more reliably shed moisture and stay soft.

Do I still need to wear a winter hat with a balaclava?

Most balaclavas are meant to be worn underneath a beanie or winter hat of some kind. If you want an all-in-one solution, there are two-piece balaclavas available that feature extra fleece lining on the top of the head.

Especially if you’re skiing or snowboarding, you will want a thicker hat or helmet on top of most balaclavas to protect from the fast-moving air that will quickly chill your noggin.

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