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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 the best 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 breathe and talk, even with your face covered. And, now, the best balaclavas are even becoming a popular trend to wear for those who don’t even participate in winter sports. So, if you want to pair one with a casual winter coat and some snow boots on a walk to the bank, try your best not to make the other patrons panic. It’s fashion, folks.
Most of the best balaclavas and ski masks for winter skiing are designed with a fitted hood and attached face covering. Forget the cartoony three-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 for skiing, 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 or winter outdoor activity, whether that’s working outdoors or summiting a mountain. In terms of the ability to keep a face and head warm from winter weather, 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 Ski Mask
This winter-ready 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 in the snow, 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.
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. With this color, you’ll definitely be a standout in the snow, too.
3. Carhartt Knit Insulated Balaclava Face Mask
Here at SPY, we love Carhartt. And we absolutely mean it when we say it. We’ve raved about Carhartt beanies a couple of times before, but this time around, we’re loving this balaclava that’s perfect for skiing. It is made to be a bit stretchy so it will fit over most face shapes and head sizes and even comes in a few colors to choose from if you want to stand out in the snow. It’s also comfortable as it gets and is packed with 40-gram insulation to keep your face as warm as can be.
4. 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.
5. Minus33 Merino Wool Midweight Balaclava
BEST MERINO WOOL
Merino wool is known for being some of the softest, most cozy ways to cover yourself up in the colder months. And, lucky for you, this midweight balaclava from Minus33 is covered in 100% merino wool. This three-season face mask is ideal for chilly weather of all kinds, so you can continue skiing and snowboarding without the added chill. The mask is easily machine washable and dryable so you can simply throw it in with your dirty socks and undies, too. Minus33 has these masks available in an overwhelming number of colors, so whether you stay true to an all-black sense of style or love to buff your look up with pinks, greens and blues, there’s most certainly an option available for you.
6. Tough Headwear Balaclava Ski Mask
BEST FOR ADVENTURES
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.
7. Your Choice Camo Balaclava
Whether you’re hunting in the middle of the woods and want to blend in or walking down the streets of Brooklyn in hopes of standing out, a camo balaclava sounds exactly up your alley. This one uses a thick fabric to keep your face warm from bitter winter winds and stays extremely soft no matter what. It protects not only from wind, but dust and UV rays as well. In addition to this, the balaclava even has an adjustable design to fit your face perfectly.
8. Fantastic Zone Men’s Winter Balaclava Face Mask
BEST RUBBER FACIAL COVERING
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, which we all know is perfect for winter weather.
9. 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, yet still has the ability to cover your face from wind, cold rain, snow and other winter-related weather issues. 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.
10. aegend Balaclava
MOST CLASSIC DESIGN
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. It’s a great way to keep your face covered from brisk winds and snowy winter weather nonetheless.
11. BLAMO Clothing Mango Socky Balaclava
If you’re looking to spice up your balaclava style a little bit, we definitely suggest you consider this funky pick from Etsy. This bright mustard balaclava is pointed out by the makers as a “manifestation of your inner wild child”. It’s got two pointy ears that poke out on top of your head and two rounded sockets so you can see out with your eyes. While you might not be able to fit a helmet or hood over this, it’s still a fun option that will most definitely get you a few laughs.
12. Self Pro Balaclava Fleece Hood
Imagine you cut your favorite hoodie right at the neck. Although it would probably look aggressively silly, Self Pro found a way to make it look cool with their Balaclava Fleece Hood. Keep your face away from the chilliest of temps, the dustiest of winds, the hottest of UV rays and more for maximum protection from our world’s dangerous environments. The fleece uses is some of the most premium we’ve seen with the ability to absorb moisture and prioritize breathability for all-day wear. It’s definitely one of the most worth-it options for when you want to wear a hoodie but you don’t necessarily want to wear a hoodie. A layer without the extra layer!