A gear review of one of the most versatile pieces of outdoor clothing: the balaclava.
There are certain pieces of gear and clothing that I have used over the years and have been a constant item in my pack:
- The boonie hat for sun and rain protection
- Surplus wool glove inserts
- The humble bandanna
- Thrift store dress shirt
…and add to this list the balaclava.
Not to be confused with a delicious Greek pastry (mmm….pistachios, flaky crust and honey), the a balaclava is amazingly versatile piece of clothing.
Please don’t wear the pastry! 🙂
This photo from Wikipedia nicely demonstrates the myriad of uses:
I’m less Nordic skier looking and more Mediterranean dock worker looking….but I digress.
I have used the same med-heavy weight polypro balaclava for years. It is the only hat I take for three season outdoor use. Since I’ve switched to a quilt as my mainstay for three-season and shoulder season backpacking, the balaclava has helped quite a bit with the sleeping system. The balaclava helps keep the heat in a bit as I strategically move the quilt over my head as I settle in for the night.
Wearing a green balaclava with a green quilt in poncho form is not suggested, however.
In shoulder season and definitely in winter, the balaclava works in conjunction with a traditional fleece or wool beanie and serves as a scarf, gives more coverage to the face and head, serves as a lighter beanie if the temps warm up a bit or even as ear warmers if I just need my boonie hat but it is a touch too nippy for no ear protection. The balaclava also fits quite nicely under a bike or climbing helmet.
Sporting a balaclava scarf in the -5F weather….
As mentioned, my balaclava of choice is simple polypro one bought at the Sierra Trading Post in Cheyenne, WY back in 2001. Still have it, still use it. The material would be equivalent to medium to expedition weight long underwear.
Any ski shop, surplus store (EBay affiliate link), Amazon, or big box store like Sports Authority and even Costco should have something similar available (more so during mid-late Fall as ski season approaches). Mine weighs ~1.5 oz and the versatility to weight ratio IMO is fantastic. At ~$15 +/- the price is excellent, too.
Overall conclusion: For the weight, price and versatility, I have really made use of my balaclava over the years. When mine finally wears out from all its use, I will definitely pick up another one. A balaclava will always have a place in my kit for all four seasons.
When buying one in a store it is fun to put it on all ninja like but don’t stop there, different materials have different amounts of stretch so you do need to wear it a bit in all the options shown above to make sure it is not too tight in any of those positions.