Updated June 2022
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Buying guide for Best balaclava ski masks

Whether you’re skiing, snowboarding, snowmobiling, or just spending time outdoors in cold, blustery weather, it’s not just your body that needs protection from the elements. You also need to protect your head, face, ears, and neck, and a balaclava ski mask can serve as a comfortable covering for all of those areas.

A balaclava is fabric headgear that covers the entire head, though every style exposes the area around the eyes to allow you to see clearly. Some masks also leave the nose and/or mouth uncovered. Because the balaclava slides over the head, the ears and at least part of the neck are protected from the cold, wind, snow, and rain, too. Balaclavas are typically used for warmth when engaging in winter sports, but you can wear one to protect your head whenever you’re outside in the cold.

Wear a ski jacket that has large enough pockets to hold your gear. You may not want to wear your balaclava all day when you’re on the slopes.

Key considerations


A balaclava’s material plays a major role in how warm and comfortable it is. The most common materials include the following:

Polyester: This synthetic material works extremely well at wicking moisture away from the face, and it dries quickly. Polyester has a nice, lightweight feel and is affordable, too. However, polyester balaclavas that are worn regularly can develop odors over time.

Nylon: This is an excellent option for a balaclava ski mask because it holds up well to regular use and is pretty budget-friendly. Some masks are made solely of nylon, while others use a blend of nylon and other materials. Nylon breathes well and allows moisture to escape for more comfortable wear. Most nylon balaclavas offer serious wind protection, too. 

Merino wool: The wool from merino sheep offers significant warmth and softness, so many people find it to be the most comfortable material for a balaclava. It naturally wicks moisture and doesn’t develop odors. It’s important to choose a high-quality merino wool balaclava, however, or the material may feel scratchy.

Neoprene: This highly durable synthetic material is incredibly warm, windproof, and water-resistant. However, neoprene doesn’t breathe very well, so it can get pretty sweaty when you’re wearing it.

Fit and design

A balaclava is designed to cover the head, face, ears, and at least part of the neck. However, there are quite a few variations in terms of size and design.

Every balaclava has an opening for the eyes, but some also expose the nose and mouth. If you’re going to be in extremely cold temperatures or high winds, you may want to choose a mask that only leaves your eyes exposed. For everyday use, a style with an opening for your nose and/or mouth may be more comfortable.

You can also choose between loose-fitting and snug balaclavas. A loose-fitting style may be more comfortable and breathable, but it might not fit well under a helmet. A snug mask also works best if you want to use it as a base layer for extra warmth.

Did You Know?
You can lose a great deal of heat through your head, which is why a balaclava that covers your head does such an effective job of keeping you warm.



While most balaclava ski masks cover at least a portion of the neck, some feature a built-in gaiter. A gaiter sits around your neck like a scarf to keep out wind and moisture, so it prevents any cold or snow from seeping inside your jacket or under your ski mask. If you’re in particularly cold, windy, or snowy weather, opt for a balaclava with a built-in gaiter.

Gear compatibility

Helmet: If you’re going to wear a helmet for skiing, snowboarding, or other winter sports, you want to be sure that your balaclava fits comfortably beneath it. Thicker masks made of wool can sometimes be a tight fit under a helmet, while a snug-fitting polyester or nylon mask typically fits well under most helmets. You might need to try a few balaclavas to find the one that fits most comfortably beneath your helmet.

Goggles: If you’re wearing your balaclava for skiing, you’ll want to be sure that it works with your goggles. You can fog up your goggles when breathing inside some ski masks.

Fortunately, some balaclavas have integrated visors to eliminate the issue. Others are designed specifically for use with goggles, so you can attach the mask to the lower portion of the goggles frame to prevent fogging. If you’re buying a mask for winter sports, this type of goggles-compatible design may be worth the extra cost.


A balaclava’s color doesn’t affect its performance, but you’ll probably want to choose a shade that you like or that matches the rest of your cold-weather gear. You can find balaclavas in a wide array of colors, though black and gray are the most common options. 

Because balaclavas cover your nose and mouth, you can use one in place of a traditional cloth mask to prevent the spread of germs.


Balaclava ski mask prices

Balaclava ski masks vary in price based on material, size, and other features. Most cost less than $65.

Inexpensive: The most affordable balaclavas are made of lightweight materials like polyester or nylon. They usually expose the eyes, nose, and/or mouth. These balaclavas typically cost less than $10.

Mid-range: These balaclavas are usually made of fleece, neoprene, or merino wool. They typically cover everything except the eyes and may have a built-in gaiter. These masks generally cost between $11 and $35.

Expensive: The most expensive balaclava ski masks are typically made of fleece, neoprene, or merino wool. They cover everything except the eyes, feature a built-in gaiter, and are designed for use with goggles. These masks usually cost between $35 and $65.

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Did You Know?
The balaclava got its name from the Battle of Balaclava in 1854 during the Crimean War. British soldiers wore knit head coverings to stay warm.


  • Try on your balaclava with all your gear. When you get a new ski mask, try it on with your goggles, helmet, and any other gear you usually wear with the mask. You want to make sure that they all fit comfortably together before you get out on the slopes.
  • Layer your clothing. While a balaclava ski mask can help keep you warm, you should still wear layers to keep the cold from getting through to the rest of your body. You can also remove layers if you get too warm.
  • Pick the right size balaclava. While most balaclavas are one size fits all for adults, choose a child-size for kids to make sure the mask fits snugly enough to keep them warm.
  • Dress for the weather. Some stretchy balaclavas are adjustable, so you can pull them all the way over your head on frigid days or just cover your face and nose in milder weather.
Some balaclavas are waterproof. When you’re out in the snow, you don’t have to worry about it becoming wet and making you colder.


Q. What’s the difference between a balaclava and a ski mask?
Balaclavas and ski masks are essentially the same thing, so the terms are often used interchangeably. They cover the head and most of the face, as well as part of the neck, to keep out the cold, wind, and snow. Some ski masks only have holes for the eyes, while balaclavas have a large gap that exposes the eyes and the bit of skin between them. That makes them easier to wear with ski goggles.

Q. How tight should a balaclava be?
 It should be snug enough to effectively block the cold from seeping in and keep the fabric from flopping around in the wind. But you don’t want a balaclava to be too tight or it’ll likely be uncomfortable. It may also be hard to put on and take off.

Q. How should I clean a balaclava ski mask?
It depends on the mask, so always read the manufacturer’s care instructions. Some balaclavas are machine washable and you can just toss them in with your regular laundry. However, some require hand washing because the fabric won’t hold up to machine washing.

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