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Dino Haak

Professional Ski Expert

Ski Masks

Featured On:

  • SkiMag
No, not the Greek pastry, balaclava is another term for ski mask. I have to admit that I had never worn a balaclava before this season, because as a ski instructor I want my students to see my facial expressions. I want them to see the honesty in my face as I coax them down their first black diamond slope, convincing them that it will all be okay. Last year one of my new students, an eleven year old on vacation from Texas with his mom, wore a balaclava on all four of his lessons with me. To this day I have no idea what the young man really looked like, but I do know that he never complained about being cold. When the temperature here in Washington State drops, it can be bitter, particularly for someone used to Texas sunshine.

Due to the proximity of Puget Sound, there is always some moisture in the air, which can literally freeze your skin, and it's on those icy days that I have always wished for something other than goggles to shield my face. Wearing any sort of face-mask always seemed restrictive to me, and I was under the impression that covering my nose and mouth would inhibit my air intake. Well, I was wrong. This season, I decided to try out balaclavas and was pleasantly surprised by their cozy warmth and good ventilation. For the most part the look was quite acceptable, although I have to admit that I did find a few atrocious looking styles with protruding nose pieces that made me look like a bank-robber. I’ve decided that when buying a balaclava you should generally think function, not looks. Most importantly, make certain your balaclava features breathing holes as well as moisture-wicking materials.

The masks reviewed here not only have a decent look, all of them keep your face, neck and forehead warm and dry and won’t interfere at all with your ability to breathe. Some are primarily meant to be worn under a hat or helmet, whereas others are the kind of balaclavas you can wear solo instead of a hat or helmet.

Best Ski Masks by Dino Haak

The Best You Can Get

  • Outdoor Research WindStopper Gorilla Balaclava

    Dino says: The OR Research Gorilla is highly versatile featuring an attachable face mask for the most bitter-cold conditions. With the face piece attached, your eye area is the only part of your face not covered. This mask is highlighted by a by a nose flap (thus the Gorilla reference), and when I first saw this proboscis, I immediately wanted to put the balaclava back on the shelf. But once on, it really does look pretty cool. Gives you an air of being serious about your sport and that you’ll participate in it no matter what conditions you encounter. The nose piece actually encourages optimal airflow, and a contoured edge on the upper part of the mask keeps it in place when you wear goggles. Probably the most important feature is the Gorillas’ ability to keep the wind out. Even the warmest balaclava will strain in windy conditions, but the Gorilla will keep you protected. I was able to wear this one out on the slopes, and in combination with my goggles, I kept me feeling completely sealed in and warm. No wind whistled through, even when I skied fast on a cold, windy February day. Heck, with the added goggles, you could probably hike up the Matterhorn in a winter storm and keep a warm face. If you do become little too toasty, simply loosen a side of the Velcro just a tad around the nose piece and you’ll immediately feel some air flowing in. This is one rocks! One of the very best!

    • Attachable Velcro face piece
    • Contoured upper edge for use with goggles
    • Wind-stopper fabric
    • Weather resistant
    • High quality materials
  • BreathXchange Full Mask Sport

    Dino says: Now this is an interesting balaclava, one that I have to say must be one of the best out there. The BreathXchange Full Mask Sport is designed using what is called advanced heat exchange technology. When I first looked at it, it conjured up some images from George Lucas’ Star Wars episodes, but I have to say I am highly impressed with how effective the heat exchange technology works, and also how cool the mask looks when you put it on. The balaclava has a very simple design made from fleece, covering everything but the eye section, and features a slightly protruding mouth piece. Actually, the magic lies in the mouth section of this mask. It contains a module that catches the heat as it leaves your mouth on exhale, then adds this warmth back to the air you inhale through the mouth piece. It will also trap moisture from your breath, adding it back to your inhale, humidifying dry, ice-cold air for more breathing comfort. Breathing the warmed air will not only help to keep your face warm, it actually helps in maintaining your core body temperature in very cold conditions (so I am told). Another thing I noticed about the mouth piece is that it doesn’t muffle your voice or restrict speaking. This I know to be a benefit, because some of my balaclava-wearing students are extremely hard to understand. This balaclava is definitely a high-quality piece of gear that I can fully recommend as one of the most unique and most advanced cold-weather masks currently available on the consumer market.

    • Uses a unique mouthpiece that warms the air you breathe
    • Allows for the very best air intake for a covered mouthpiece
    • Keeps your voice audible
  • Mountain Hardwear: Power Stretch Balaclava

    Dino says: This one is warm enough to take mountaineering and works beautifully on the slopes. It is primarily made of Polartec® fleece for warmth, coupled with other components for some solid moisture wicking. This balaclava is very warm and constructed in a non-bulky way to fit easily under your helmet or hat. Looking at it by itself, it reminded me a little bit of a dive suit head piece, but when you put it on, it nicely hugs your head and face in a very unobtrusive way. This would be one of the masks I would chose on an icy day when I have to teach a lesson. The fleece feels very soft and the materials used are very light. Also, it can be easily packed in a ski coat pocket without showing. The Power Stretch balaclava has, in my opinion, one of the best warmth-to-weight ratios. It comes with a lifetime warranty.

    • Made from Polartec® fleece
    • Moisture wicking
    • Stretchable fabric for ideal fit
    • Breathable
  • Outdoor Research: Sonic Balaclava

    Dino says: Outdoor Research seems to be the authority on the market when it comes to high end balaclavas, so it is not surprising that three models in this review are made by the same company. All three OR balaclavas I have tested have a different fit and feel. The Sonic balaclava is designed for the cold, featuring Wind-Stopper Technical Fleece that is sure to keep the wind out and your head warm. The type of fleece used in this model is breathable and moisture is wicked to the outside of the fabric. At the mouth, there is a built-in mesh breathing port that allows for unrestricted air intake even though it is covered by a thin layer of fabric. The ear section is fortified to keep your ears toasty. This balaclava fits snugly thanks to its contoured shape, but make sure to get the right size (you can choose between small, medium and large) so you won’t have developing folds. The M size seemed to fit me just perfectly (and I have a good sized head) since the face opening is nice and large.

    • Made out of Wind-stopper Fleece
    • Breathing through a mesh breathing port
    • Fortified ears
    • Snug fit
  • The Psolar EX Balaclava

    Dino says: Just like the BreathXchange Sport Mask, the Psolar EX features a similar thermal conversion module that catches the heat of your breath as you exhale and in return warms the cold outside air before it enters your lungs. It also traps the moisture of your breath, which on one hand keeps your mask dry, and on the other hand humidifies the dry, cold incoming air for a more pleasant inhale. I am told the thermal conversion module works in such a powerful way that a breath taken at zero degrees Fahrenheit will actually enter your lungs at a cozy 75 degrees Fahrenheit after being filtered through the module.

    The mask is super warm yet breathable, so even if you do sweat, the moisture will evaporate quickly. In case you sweat a lot, my recommendation is to take the mask off as it is probably not cold enough outside for you to have to put on a pro balaclava like the Psolar EX. This balaclava fits like a glove, is machine washable (including the breathing module) and the soft inner fleece layer feels nicely comfortable to the skin. It is definitely a high quality, functional mask made of highly durable materials. If you plan to do some business in the coldest of conditions, this is the mask to take along with you.

    • Made of a combination of fleece and neoprene
    • Windproof and waterproof
    • Breathable
    • Stretchable for head-hugging fit

You will be happy with any of these

  • REI Performance Headliner

    Dino says: The first thing you notice about this balaclava is how light it is. It also has very little bulk so you can easily roll it up in your jacket to pull out only when needed. It probably is not the first pick if you want to wear it by itself, but its light fabric coupled with a very contoured fit make this one a great choice for an under-helmet or under-hat liner. It can be washed and will dry easily, which also makes it a good piece of equipment for your overnight backcountry adventure (in case the mask gets drenched by the elements). This balaclava wicks moisture away from your skin, keeps you dry in all conditions, and, according to the manufacturer, it will not loose its wicking ability in the wash.

    • Easily washable
    • Form fitting
    • Very lightweight
    • Moisture wicking
    • Will dry fast
  • Outdoor Research Option Balaclava

    Dino says: The Research Option offers a dual layer fabric that features nylon on the outside to provide durability and a polypropylene inner layer to wick moisture to the outside. This mask will keep you dry and warm in all but arctic conditions. Somehow, it feels just right around the neck too. Worn as a gaiter, it rolls down perfectly so that it almost looks like it could be a part of a jacket. It is stretchable enough that you can wear it as a hat or even headband (if you slip the top of your head through the face opening). The seams on this one are flush with the material so you won’t feel them in any way. Even though it is not labeled as a wind-stopper per se, the nylon exterior does a nice job in keeping the wind out.

    • Especially lightweight
    • Dual layer fabric
    • Good fit
    • Flat seams
  • Seirus Ultra Clava

    Dino says: The Seirus Ultra Clava is a nice all-round balaclava that keeps you dry and protected from the wind. Made from weather-resistant four-way stretch fabric with a layer of fleece on the inside, this balaclava can very much stand on its own, yet is slim enough to fit under a helmet or hat. I especially liked the soft fleece layer on the inside. The warmth of the fleece in combination with the weatherproof outer materials makes this mask suitable for most cold weather conditions. The Seirus Ultra Clava stands out as one of the most comfortable balaclavas I have tested.

    • Weather-resistant fabric
    • Inner fleece layer
    • Windproof
    • Waterproof
    • Breathable
  • Under Armour Cold Gear Hood

    Dino says: This is a nicely form-fitting balaclava. The material hugs the contours of your head and face and it can be worn alone or under a helmet or hat. There really are some ski masks that need to be worn under something, because by themselves, they just look hideous and downright scary. Not this one! Its moisture wicking ability is first class, keeping your face warm and dry no matter how much you sweat or slobber. The coolest thing about the Cold Gear Hood is that you can wear it four different ways. Use it to fully cover your face, including mouth, head and neck, or pull it underneath your chin. If these aren’t enough options, you can simply cover your lower face and neck or just use it as a neck warmer (this looks like an oversized turtle neck). It is lightweight and highly pack-able.

    • Offers the ability to wear it four different ways
    • Moisture wicking fabrics
    • Nicely form fitting stretch material
  • Kenyon Malden Balaclava

    Dino says: If you want to step into the exciting the world of balaclavas but want to go easy on yourself, try the Kenyon Malden. This is a no-nonsense mask that will do what it is supposed to do: keep your face warm when you’re skiing. This may not be the mask to take on your next trek up Mt. Everest, but it will do perfectly fine for a cold day on the slopes. The Kenyon Malden is lightweight and features a simple yet functional design. It is windproof, breathable, and thin enough to fit easily under a helmet or hat, and it dries very quickly. The eye opening is a little bit smaller cut than on most other balaclavas, but it worked just fine for me, especially when I put on my goggles. Another mask that is light enough to keep folded in your pocket so you’ll never be without it when temperatures drop.

    Make sure to try it on because this one is tighter fitting than most other masks. Size XL fit me just perfectly, but I usually would choose size L for most face masks.

    • Breathable
    • Windproof
    • Lightweight
    • No bulk
    • Dries quickly

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