I’ve used balaclavas as part of my kit for about two decades now.
They are versatile, provide a lot of warmth in a small package, and pack up nicely.
The one I’ve been rocking since 2001 is with me in all four seasons and has more days on it than any other piece of gear or clothing than I own. It’s been with me on ski tours, guiding, my long trips, and when sleeping with it on my head one night, a packrat even tried stealing it! :O
In short, it is a piece of clothing I value for practical and nostalgic reasons.
When Chad of North x North (NxN) asked if I’d be interested in testing out his version of this mainstay of my gear, I readily agreed. Though I tend to dial in my system, I’m not averse to trying out new equipment from time to time.
Just in time for winter, I received a hooded neck gaiter, and I’ve been putting it through the paces these past few months here on the Colorado Plateau.
Here is my four-month review of this garment.
The gaiter itself
The gaiter is thinner than my mainstay polypro balaclava and consists of merino wool vs. the synthetic material. A major plus, for me anyway, is that it is made in the USA. And, at $30, makes a competive price for a merino wool garment.
The garment is longer in the neck than my previous balaclava; more material does make more weight at 2oz total, but more versatility as well. Naturally, the merino breathes better than synthetic material. The hooded neck gaiter folds up noticeably smaller than my balaclava, too.
How I use the hooded neck gaiter
I struggled at first to find a niche for the new item in my system.
I have a simple rule for all my gear and clothing: If I have to think about the equipment and clothing, it means it is not working for me.
I’ve been using a new bladder, and I find I am futzing with it too much to make it a part of my system.
If I am fiddling too much with pack straps or clips, then the pack is not efficient for my use.
In the same way, I found the hooded neck gaiter did not work for my system initially. When I ski tour, I wear a very light fleece hat and keep my balaclava for when the conditions get colder or windier.
But this balaclava is too thin for that purpose.
But as I started using it, it occurred to me, make this neck gaiter my primary hat during the day.
And it worked well.
Meaning I could wear it rolled as a lightweight hat without it getting too warm, or roll it down quickly if I need some slight additional warmth.
And when I need an additional hat when skiing, stop for the evening or enjoy a cold morning with some hot coffee? Break out a warmer hat.
In short, I hiked along all day in the colder days of winter and adjusted as needed. I stopped thinking of testing the clothing and started thinking of the hooded neck gaiter as part of my everyday winter use.
NxN also provided a double weight version of this product. It weighs, well, double standard neck gaiter at 4 oz. If I backpacked more on skis as when I lived in Colorado, I suspect I’d put the item more through its paces. I did find the product very warm with my limited use in the nearby Abajo Mountains, and my inclination is that I’d use the warmer product in the same way as the above product, just in colder and more blustery conditions found in the high mountains vs. the high desert. And only $5 more vs. the hooded neck gaiter, but a lot more warmth packed in a garment if your needs call for it.
How I won’t use the hooded neck gaiter
While I see this as part of my winter system here in Utah, I can’t see me using it as part of three-season use oddly enough. The hooded neck gaiter too thin to wear as a hat at night by itself for my purpose (I’m bald after all) but too warm to wear as a headpiece during the day.
My older balaclava works better for me as a three-season hat for when I need some warm, but not too warm, head covering at night with a bit of added versatility. I think the North NxN gaiter works best for me when wearing all day and adding a warm hat as an adjunct at night or in the morning. Something I rarely, if ever, do during three-season backpacking.
However, once late fall occurs wherever I happen to be backpacking, I do not doubt I’ll again use the hooded neck gaiter/warmer hat combo.
The North x North hooded neck gaiter makes a well made, reasonably priced, made in the USA product that serves me very well as a useful adjunct for cold weather backpacking and hiking. And I plan on using it this way going forward with no hesitation.
Others might find their needs different, but for three-season use, I’ll use a simple fleece hat or even a mid-weight balaclava. Less follically challenged might find this well made hooded neck gaiter not just adequate for their needs, but an excellent overall tool in their gear kit.
Disclosure: North x North provided the hooded gaiters to me for my review at no cost.