Named after the Battle of Balaclava during the Crimean War, the original design was knitted from thick wool to keep soldiers heads warm during the harsh winter campaigns. Nowadays you can buy balaclavas in all types of materials from lightweight base layer to heavy weight polar fleece. In America you would know it as a Ski Mask.
A typical balaclava fully covers your head and also your neck, with an opening in the front for your mouth, nose and eyes. This can either be a single slot opening or separate holes – just think of the SAS.
If you do not own or have never worn one, then let us extol the virtues of the much maligned humble balaclava.
Wearing any type of helmet, whether that be a motorbike helmet or a safety helmet, is going to lead to your head sweating due to the poor breathability of the protective outer material. Without wearing a balaclava, this sweat will be absorbed in to the supporting inner foam, creating an ideal environment for odour creating bacteria to prosper. Not only will your helmet be smelly, it will also need replacing earlier as the foam is attacked by naturally occurring acids in your perspiration.
Wearing a lightweight balaclava under your helmet will help absorb sweat and is easily washed after use.
Balaclavas insulate most of your head and neck in one go. If you wanted the same level of protection without wearing one, then you would need a separate hat, neck tube, face mask, and head band. This obviously adds extra bulk and weight.
The adaptability of a balaclava makes it one of the best pieces of emergency kit to keep in your backpack should the weather take a turn for the worse. Not only is it a full head and neck covering, it can also be turned up in to a beanie hat, or a neck tube if required. The flexibility of the material will also allow you to cover your nose or leave it exposed depending on the weather conditions.
Most of your head is covered when wearing a balaclava, so there is much less surface area for heat to escape from. The thermal insulating properties can obviously be adjusted depending on the materials used in its manufacture. A lightweight base layer fabric is thin enough to be worn under a helmet and is ideal for Spring and Autumn use as well. When the weather starts getting colder then you will need to change to a mid layer balaclava, whilst winter mountaineering will require a thick polar fleece design.
LOOK A BAD ASS
You cannot argue with the fact that you look ‘well ard’ wearing a balaclava - Think Jason Statham. Just make sure you take it off before entering a bank!
BUY A BALACLAVA
If you are still not sold on the idea of wearing a balaclava then you obviously have not experienced biting cold for any length of time. It may not be the trendiest piece of headgear available but who cares what you look like in a 80mph gale on top of a snow windswept mountain.