Most cold-weather clothing is cozy and approachable: think fluffy fleece, pom beanies, and snugly sweaters. However, when it comes to winter sports, performance is a major concern. That’s why balaclavas are an essential piece of gear for anyone that loves skiing, snowboarding, snowmobiling or other winter sports. These practical face coverings are thin enough to fit underneath helmets but still provide protection from the cold, snow, wind and UV light. The best balaclavas can also be worn in a variety of ways, and some feature a mesh paneling around the mouth that makes it easy to breath and talk, even with your face covered.
Most of the best balaclavas and ski masks are designed with a fitted hood and attached face covering. Forget the cartoony 3-hole ski masks you’ve seen on TV. This design also makes the best balaclavas more adjustable than traditional face masks. You can keep the mask part over your mouth when you’re outside or under your chin once you get inside. Likewise, you can just wear the mask and put the hood down if you’re wearing a beanie.
When shopping for a balaclava, there are a few questions you need to answer first:
- What materials are used? Typically, you’re looking for a combination of fleece and a stretchy material like spandex.
- How much of the face is covered? Do you want a ski mask that covers everything but your eyes, or a mask that leaves your nose, mouth or whole face uncovered?
- Is this particular balaclava adjustable? Some ski masks can be adjusted and worn as a neck gaiter, full ski mask, or partial face covering, while others can only be worn as a full-face covering.
- Are you wearing other protective equipment? If you’re going to be wearing ski goggles or a helmet, make sure you buy balaclavas that won’t fog up your goggles and will fit snugly under a ski helmet.
What’s the Difference Between a Ski Mask and a Balaclava?
While there may have been a difference between balaclavas and ski masks once upon a time, today these terms are used interchangeably by both retailers and outdoor sports enthusiasts. Both terms are used to refer to coverings that protect your neck, head and parts of the face. Some balaclavas cover everything but the eyes, while others can be adjusted to leave your nose and/or mouth exposed as desired.
While many people associate ski masks with criminals, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t wear them. It just means that context is key; there’s a time and place for balaclavas. Dinner with the in-laws? Wrong time. A weekend motorcycle road trip in snowy weather? The right time.
The best balaclavas and ski masks are ideal for any cold-weather outdoor activity, whether that’s working outdoors or summiting a mountain. In terms of ability to keep a face and head warm, it’s hard to beat balaclavas. Scarves are good, but they’re not as fitted, and they can come unraveled during strenuous activity.
Tough weather requires tough solutions, and these balaclavas fit the bill. Keep reading for the best ski masks and balaclavas available right now.
1. Self Pro Balaclava – Windproof Ski Mask
This balaclava from Self Pro is designed as a one-size-fits-most option for both men and women. The front is lined with mesh so it won’t obstruct breathing. A soft polar fleece lining keeps the face comfortable and warm without being itchy. Self Pro makes some of the best balaclavas and ski masks for outdoor sports, and this design features a long neck for superior wind and cold protection. This head covering can be worn as a full balaclava, a hat, neck gaiter, or partially cover your face as needed.
Pros: Breathable front, comfortable fit, wind-resistant. Flexible design. Easily fits under winter sports helmets.
Cons: Can cause glasses to fog up.
2. Ergodyne Winter Balaclava Ski Mask
If you aren’t afraid of a bold color — which can actually be quite useful on the slopes — then this is one of the best balaclavas available right now. The ski mask has wind-resistant mesh paneling around the nose and mouth for protection and breathability. The nose, mouth, and chin areas are segmented with pouches to prevent the mask from putting too much pressure on the bridge of the nose or leaving marks on your face. Thanks to the hinged design, this mask can be worn in three different ways: as an open face balaclava, neck gaiter or full ski mask. Multiple colors are available, including high-vis lime green, mossy oak camo, blue, and black.
Pros: Variety of colors available, breathable but wind-resistant mesh front, can be worn under helmets.
Cons: Depending on face shape, the eye holes might not be cut deeply enough, which can result in the rim brushing against the lower eyelid.
3. Super Z Outlet Fleece Ski Face Mask
This mask has a unique design that somewhat resembles the hood of a sweatshirt. It has a looser fitting design with drawcords on the side that can be used to tighten the mask. There’s a mouth and nose covering that can be pulled up or down, so this mask can be worn as an open-faced hood or as a balaclava. The fleece material will keep you warm in the elements, but it also feels good against your skin. This mask is also available in multiple colors including bright red and blue, plus subdued gray and black.
Pros: Great option for those looking for a looser-fitting design. Drawcords allow you to tighten the mask to desired fit. Multiple colors available.
Cons: Thicker material and wider silhouette isn’t ideal for wearing under a helmet.
4. Tough Headwear Balaclava Ski Mask
This balaclava is from the aptly named Tough Headwear, and it’s designed for outdoor adventures. The two connected but separate parts of the mask allow it to be worn with the face covered or uncovered, and mesh paneling along the front of the mask makes it breathable, preventing moisture from building up or fogging up your goggles. In addition to black, woodland camo and hunter orange masks are available.
Pros: Available in multiple colors. Mesh paneling for breathability. UV protection. Works with helmets.
Cons: Material is somewhat thin.
5. Fantastic Zone Men’s Winter Balaclava Face Mask
If you’re not afraid to look like a character from a video game (or if that’s the look you’re going for), then consider this mask from Fantastic Zone. Instead of fabric, the front of the mask has a structured rubber mouth covering with mesh panels. This allows for better airflow and it’s designed to not put too much pressure on the bridge of your nose. The rest of the mask is made from a soft and warm fleece material.
Pros: Soft and warm fleece material that won’t irritate your skin. Rubber mouthpiece with mesh panels for better airflow.
Cons: Unlike most of the options on this list, you can’t wear it as a gaiter or a beanie. It can only be worn as a full-face covering.
6. Self Pro Ski Mask
The best balaclavas are designed to provide both protection from the elements and breathability, which is why we’re big fans of this mask from Self Pro. Around the mouth, the silicone face mask and mesh panels provide great airflow, which lets you breathe and talk easily. The rest of the ski mask is built with a soft fleece-spandex blend that helps retain body heat while wicking moisture away from the skin. The mask is stretchy enough to fit men, women and children. The eye holes provide a clear and unobstructed field of view.
Pros: Streamlined look, stretchy fabric for a near-universal fit. Wind and moisture resistant. Excellent face mask for easy breathing. Won’t fog up ski goggles.
Cons: Good for cold weather, but may not be ideal for extreme temperatures. While we like the face mask, this design means it can only be worn as a full-face covering.
7. aegend Balaclava
While many of the options on this list have a mesh panel across the front, this option has a more sleek ninja-like design. It’s made from a blend of synthetic fabrics including a high percentage of stretchy spandex, meaning it will comfortably fit on most faces. Like most of the options on this list, it can be easily worn in multiple ways. You can cover just the lower part of your face, just your head, or cover both.
Pros: Made from polyester and stretchy spandex to fit most faces. Sleek minimalist design.
Cons: Red tag on side of mask is visually unappealing. Only comes in one size. For men with larger builds, mask will fit very tightly and leave marks on the skin.