Balaclavas have been around for a long time, either in the military or sports.
The use of balaclavas began in the military and quickly became famous for cold-weather sports. You will find many styles of this headgear around, which sportspeople wear when bombing down a steep slope, cycling, or general outdoor use.
You even find balaclavas for wear during warm weather conditions. Find out about the history of this interesting piece of headgear and its pros and cons before you decide which balaclava style works best for you.
What is a balaclava?
A balaclava is a face mask made from wool or synthetic fibers and covers the head and face. A balaclava covers the entire head and face except for the eyes, nose, and mouth area and is used in sports such as skiing as protective clothing. Some balaclava styles don’t have mouth openings and expose only the eyes.
Other names for the balaclava include a ski mask or a balaclava helmet despite being made from a soft material. Another name for this headgear is a Bally, which is U.K. slang for this piece of clothing. Bank robbers frequently wear balaclavas to disguise their appearance, a sight commonly seen in movie scenes. Besides sports and nefarious reasons, the balaclava is widely worn in military or policing roles for protection and as part of camouflage.
Balaclava styles, colors, and materials differ depending on their use. When athletes use this type of headgear, the balaclava is commonly black and is made from a stretch fabric with additional features for waterproofing, windproofing, and warmth.
History of the balaclava
The history of the balaclava or balaklava dates to the Battle of Balaklava during the Crimean War in 1854.
This battle took place between the offending Russians and the defending Allied troops composing the British, Turkish, and French forces. Allied forces were defending the port of Balaklava in the Black Sea in the south of Crimea to protect their supply route.
Unfortunately, the British lost control of the primary supply route to Balaklava on the roads from the elevated Sevastopol. Russia had already established its naval center in Sebastopol, which was under threat of destruction by British troops at the time.
Despite several battles such as The Thin Red Line and The Charge Of The Heavy Brigade, the Allied forces failed to capture Sevastopol. The reason for the failure of Allied forces was later attributed to poor military intelligence and decision-making.
Heavy losses resulted on both sides but not before British supporters knitted balaclavas to protect their soldiers in the Crimean war. Bitterly cold weather took its toll on the Allied forces, encouraging those at home to ease their suffering.
One way to achieve this goal was to send protective headgear to their soldiers, which made a significant difference in their daily lives. As essential as the original balaclavas were, they were designed well enough to provide the soldiers with warm, and limit frostbite.
Since the mid-1800s, the popularity of balaclavas has grown. Now, you find this headgear used across industries in a range of types and styles.
Types and styles
As you may expect, there are a broad array of balaclava styles on the market. The type of balaclava you wear will depend on the level of protection you need for work or sport. Most people will want to wear balaclavas for protection, whether in cold or warm weather.
Many people will also want to wear glasses or helmets with their balaclavas. Whichever style you select, you will probably want to protect your face, ears, mouth, and neck from the elements.
1. Solid front balaclavas
The solid front balaclava is ideal for skiing, riding motorcycles, snowmobiles, or bicycles in cold weather. The front of this mask is rigid to keep the fabric away from your nose and mouth and prevent you from constantly pulling at the mask with your hands.
This solid front balaclava exposes only the eyes, and the closed fabric insert around the nose and mouth prevents moisture buildup and fogging. Most importantly, the solid front balaclava maintains warmth.
2. Convertible balaclavas
Convertible balaclavas are versatile, allowing you to wear this cozy polar fleece headgear as a full balaclava, hoodie, a half mask, or a neck warmer.
Because this balaclava is thick, it is not ideal for wearing under helmets. If this balaclava style doesn’t suit you, try out the windproof convertible balaclava.
3. Windproof Convertible Balaclava
The convertible windproof balaclava is as versatile as the convertible style, except that it is thin enough to wear under a helmet.
Also, the fabric is breathable, lightweight stretches in four directions, and contains moisture-wicking features for optimum comfort.
4. Extended neck warmer balaclavas
Get a neck-warming gaiter that covers your head with a thin, warming fabric that connects to the thicker neck warmer.
This balaclava style does away with the irritation of keeping a scarf and beanie in place and looks sophisticated while being functional. You can also wear this neck-warming balaclava with a helmet.
5. Hoodless balaclavas
Going with a hoodless balaclava is ideal when you need to use a helmet. This hoodless mask is made from neoprene for a comfortable fit. It also has adjustable Velcro snaps to maintain its position as a wraparound face mask.
For an even better fit and to prevent slippage, you can secure it further by hooking the ear covers over your ears when skiing or taking a ride on your motorcycle. Your hoodless balaclava will even shed light rain and mist, adding to its functionality.
Now that you have some insight into some of the balaclava types and styles available, is it better to wear a balaclava or ski mask to protect against a face shot? Is there even a difference between balaclavas and ski masks? Let’s find out.
Balaclava vs. ski mask
Balaclavas and ski masks are essentially the same types of headgear. If differences do exist, they are minor. The minor differences relate primarily to the purpose of the balaclava and the ski mask, resulting in the use of different materials in the creation of these two types of headgear.
Balaclavas use various materials to create warm and cold weather condition headgear. Similarly, different balaclavas are made to suit multiple sports such as skiing, snowboarding, snowmobiling, canoeing, cycling, work, and more.
Balaclavas are traditionally made from knitted materials and have the usual eye, nose, and mouth gaps. Many times, the balaclava will only have holes for the eyes and mouth and are often loose-fitting masks for head cover against the weather or camouflage.
Ski masks also come in various styles, but the materials used to make them have become highly advanced. Ski masks are designed to limit the damage of sun, snow reflection, wind, cold, and water.
Ski masks often include inserts to promote breathability and moisture-wicking to ensure you breathe with ease and reduce the moisture content on your skin from condensation.
Balaclava and ski mask styles cover the entire head, neck, and head and leave gaps for the eyes only, the eyes and nose, or the eyes, nose, and mouth. The balaclava and ski masks are made from a range of materials such as wool, neoprene, polar fleece, cotton, polypropylene, acrylic, or silk.
Some products combine materials for warmth, breathability, protection, and moisture-wicking. All these styles are manufactured to safeguard your face from weather or other environmental conditions.
All balaclavas are not suitable for wear under helmets, but all ski masks are designed for wear with helmets. It is vital to wear ski helmets to protect yourself if you wipe out on slopes, but not everyone uses balaclavas in situations that also require helmets. Modern ski masks and balaclava materials also contain anti-fogging properties, so you can wear them with goggles to maintain visibility when taking a line down a ski slope.
If you’re into skiing, then purchase a balaclava designed explicitly for this sport. If you aren’t a planker or a two-planker, choose a balaclava that works for your specific conditions.
Cold weather balaclava vs. warm weather balaclava
Cold and warm weather balaclavas differ pretty significantly. Icy weather headgear is noticeably designed to withstand extreme weather conditions. Balaclavas for cold weather focus on warmth, and polar fleece combined with thermal fabrics improve heat generation and retention.
Most people who purchase cold weather balaclavas also look for masks that fit under helmets, especially in snow sports. These masks should promote breathing, have waterproofing capabilities, and be wind resistant.
Balaclava’s versatility in style is another benefit that users seek to allow them to adjust full face and head masks into half masks or scarves.
In many cases, both balaclava types are available in various versatile styles to adapt to changing weather conditions as required. All-weather balaclavas also provide rigid structures around the eyes and nose to promote easy breathing and to limit the level of moisture contact with the skin.
The primary difference between the cold and warm weather balaclavas is the fabrics used to make them. Warm weather balaclavas frequently use thinner, lighter materials suitable for running or warmer days on the slopes for plankers and two-plankers.
Thinner, warmer weather balaclavas are available in as many styles as the cold weather balaclava, with neck gaiters being a popular choice to cover the lower half of the face. Again, breathability is vital in these balaclavas, as is a moisture-wicking fabric to keep the face dry.
Cold vs. warm weather balaclavas speak to degrees of cold weather, so people select the mask type to match their needs. Mask performance and ease of wear generally inform purchases to suit outdoor conditions, whether freezing cold or a little over the zero-degree mark.
Pros and cons of balaclavas
Balaclavas have advantages and disadvantages. However, progressive technology is pervasive and is present in the manufacture of balaclavas.
Advanced technology accounts for more pros in balaclavas today than cons, and this headgear has undoubtedly progressed drastically in the past 170 years.
The pros of balaclavas far outweigh any disadvantages because the cons are close to nonexistent.
- Balaclavas are extremely warm in cold weather and cool in warm weather.
- Balaclavas protect your head, face, and neck from inclement weather conditions.
- This type of headgear contains breathable materials to limit fogging and moisture retention due to moisture-wicking fabrics.
- Balaclavas or ski masks are lightweight.
- These masks are made from stretch fabric for a comfortable fit.
- Polar fleece and wool balaclavas retain and help generate warmth.
- Balaclava materials support wind and waterproofing.
- You can wear this headgear for sports, work, or general warmth or cooling indoors and outdoors.
- Ski masks and balaclavas are available in an assortment of styles to match various tastes.
- An array of masks ensures you can protect yourself in many different conditions.
- Depending on the type of balaclava you purchase and the reason you use it, some can be noisy in windy conditions.
- Balaclavas can block out too much sound at times, leaving you vulnerable in environments where hearing is vital to your safety.
- Not all balaclavas are suitable for wear with helmets, but ones made from thinner fabrics cater to this need.
- Some users may find wearing balaclavas a claustrophobic experience, but the protection value outweighs this issue.
As you can see, it is problematic to come up with cons because balaclavas provide so many benefits. Whether you want to wear this headgear while skiing, snowboarding, or canoeing, balaclavas offer more benefits than inconveniences.
Your reason for wearing a balaclava depends on why you want to use this headgear.
If you want a balaclava for snow sports, then purchase a ski mask designed for wearing with goggles under your brain bucket. Skiing is a high-risk sport, so you need all the protection you can get on the slopes.
Choose a balaclava to keep your face warm when cycling in cold conditions, or get a warm-weather balaclava that is lightweight. Your choices are covered quite comprehensively when it comes to face protection with these masks. So, you can get a face mask that works in most conditions and for several purposes.