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  1. #1
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    Balaclava recommendations?

    Turns out that - for me anyway - a balaclava seems to be a great idea in theory, that just doesn't work in practice.

    Bought a Gore balaclava last year. Very well-made and keeps you nice and warm. Typical high-quality Gore product.



    Unfortunately, until you try to use one you'd never really understand that a balaclava has three huge drawbacks:

    1.) You cannot wear glasses/sunglasses -- they WILL fog immediately and completely, and stay that way. The fabric covering your mouth and nose ensures that much of your breath escapes through the main opening for your eyes, where it is directed right at the inside of any lenses you are wearing

    2.) Any moisture from you mouth or nose remains trapped inside the balaclava. I won't go into details, but anyone who has ever ridden in the cold understands that your nose runs a little bit. Not having access to your nose with the soft wiping fabric on the back of your glove? Bad idea. Enough said about this.

    3.) Lastly, if you are exerting yourself and breathing hard the fabric of the balaclava gets pulled up against your mouth and nose - actually making it hard to breath. (This one has a slot/flap under the nose for air, and perforated fabric by the mouth, but neither are terribly effective.)

    The Gore one fits nicely under a helmet, is well-made, and the Windstopper fabric works as advertised, but gosh I wish it didn't have these drawbacks. But I don't fault the Gore product per se. It's a good execution of a bad idea.

    This winter I might take a pair of scissors to it - cutting out the fabric in front of the nose and the mouth.

    Barring that, anyone have recommendations for a balaclava that would overcome the issues cited above?
    "It ain't a teacup that the Queen gave you - it's a bike. Ride it!"

  2. #2
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    Yes, simple: Use one that doesn't cover your nose and mouth and isn't cut so closely around the eyes.

    e.g. Amazon.com: Outdoor Research Option Balaclava: Clothing

  3. #3
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  4. #4
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    Nice...
    Quote Originally Posted by spade2you View Post
    I have two of these neck gators by Carhart and then I wear a skull cap under my helmet. The skull caps I have are from REI and an unbranded one, but Bontrager and other companies make them.

    There are a couple balaclavas in the drawer of winter riding gear but they go unused. I don't like they way it fits around the eyes and mouth. I get better warmth and protection with a gator and a skull cap. I'm riding in Wisconsin where it's below freezing in the winter and spring. Today's a nice 50 for whatever reason.

  5. #5
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    I don't think you're using it right. I have three or four, in different weights for different temperature ranges (light silk to heavy fleece), and I use them all winter without the problems you discuss.

    Biggest point: You don't have to leave it covering your nose and mouth all the time. At least with mine, I can easily stretch it down below my chin, and I periodically do that during the ride.

    The moisture-trapping effect is a feature, not a bug, IMHO. Inhaling through the damp fabric warms and humidifies the air you take in - a good thing in cold conditions.

    I always wear glasses (I'm nearsighted). No fogging problem, IME.

    Maybe the Gore design is actually an over-engineered bad execution of a sound idea. All mine are simply constructed of stretchy fabrics, and work fine. I bought them pretty cheap from Sierra Trading Post. Campmor has a good selection, too.

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by RJP Diver View Post
    Turns out that - for me anyway - a balaclava seems to be a great idea in theory, that just doesn't work in practice.

    Bought a Gore balaclava last year. Very well-made and keeps you nice and warm. Typical high-quality Gore product.



    Unfortunately, until you try to use one you'd never really understand that a balaclava has three huge drawbacks:

    1.) You cannot wear glasses/sunglasses -- they WILL fog immediately and completely, and stay that way. The fabric covering your mouth and nose ensures that much of your breath escapes through the main opening for your eyes, where it is directed right at the inside of any lenses you are wearing

    2.) Any moisture from you mouth or nose remains trapped inside the balaclava. I won't go into details, but anyone who has ever ridden in the cold understands that your nose runs a little bit. Not having access to your nose with the soft wiping fabric on the back of your glove? Bad idea. Enough said about this.

    3.) Lastly, if you are exerting yourself and breathing hard the fabric of the balaclava gets pulled up against your mouth and nose - actually making it hard to breath. (This one has a slot/flap under the nose for air, and perforated fabric by the mouth, but neither are terribly effective.)

    The Gore one fits nicely under a helmet, is well-made, and the Windstopper fabric works as advertised, but gosh I wish it didn't have these drawbacks. But I don't fault the Gore product per se. It's a good execution of a bad idea.

    This winter I might take a pair of scissors to it - cutting out the fabric in front of the nose and the mouth.

    Barring that, anyone have recommendations for a balaclava that would overcome the issues cited above?
    I actually use the same Gore balaclava you're using. I use them with glasses and have no fogging issues, though they are Oakley sun glasses I use them with, which have vents.

    The only issue I have is the nose part lowering and if I sniff really hard to suck the stuff when I have a runny nose (sorry to be graphic), that part covers my nose and prevents me from sniffing hard. I remedy it by pulling the nose part back up. Other than that, I like it. I am considering looking into those neoprene type balaclavas.
    - Ed

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  7. #7
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    Easy ... Wear whatever the ninjas wear.


  8. #8
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    I have to agree with some others about balaclavas. Besides the fact that I can never spell it correctly and still have no idea how to pronounce it, I prefer avoiding them. I do actually have a PI one that works okay, but my gripes are as follows:

    1) Stitching. I'm a shaven head bald guy. After an hour of helmet pressure against various seams in the balaclava it can take hours for my head to recover. I feel like a fool all day at work. You have to seek out the brands flat stitching or where the seams are actually in intelligent locations (instead of smack in the center of the forehead).

    2) Steamy lenses. As mentioned above, I would never even attempt that gore branded model because it doesn't look like you can easily pull it down and away from your nose/mouth area. That's an absolute requirement unless you wear snow goggles. Even WHEN I have it pulled down it can still be an issue at stoplights depending on whatever the heck it depends on.

    3) Temperature regulation. It's hard to find a good balance. If you get the fleece lined stuff then foggy lenses is more difficult but you're warmer. And if you go the other direction (like my PI's) it doesn't offer enough head protection but the face is fine. With the PI's I have to wear an additional skullcap to keep my head warm.

    I think the better solution is a good coverage skull cap and a neck warmer of some sort. You can find plenty of neck warmers that are like tubes which pull up over your face when you need it. This combo provides similar coverage to balaclavas.

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by JCavilia View Post

    Biggest point: You don't have to leave it covering your nose and mouth all the time. At least with mine, I can easily stretch it down below my chin, and I periodically do that during the ride.
    With the one I have there's no way to pull it down below your chin. Eye slot is fairly small, and the WindStopper fabric doesn't stretch.
    "It ain't a teacup that the Queen gave you - it's a bike. Ride it!"

  10. #10
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    I have a Bontrager skull cap like TWB8s posted above. Really like it, it's warm and just right for days when it's cool but a balaclava isn't needed.

    I also have 2 Pearl Izumi balaclavas that have a full face cutout, so none of the problems the OP discussed above. I wear them when it's under 40 degrees F and windy.

  11. #11
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    Merino or Smartwool are the best I've used. Non-constricting, multiposition, warm even when wet.

    All the synthetics I've tried can't be worn in different ways and aren't as comfortable. I don't think any bicycle company uses wool, so you'll have to shop are REI or something.
    Get a better saddle: www.kontactbike.com

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by JCavilia View Post
    "
    Biggest point: You don't have to leave it covering your nose and mouth all the time. At least with mine, I can easily stretch it down below my chin, and I periodically do that during the ride.

    The moisture-trapping effect is a feature, not a bug, IMHO. Inhaling through the damp fabric warms and humidifies the air you take in - a good thing in cold conditions.

    I always wear glasses (I'm nearsighted). No fogging problem, IME..
    +1 on the above.

    I'm pretty sure mine is Craft and works well. By the time I get out of the neighborhood and get warmed up, I do pull it down under my chin.

    I tend to use it more on windy days where wind chill is an issue.

  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by RJP Diver View Post
    With the one I have there's no way to pull it down below your chin. Eye slot is fairly small, and the WindStopper fabric doesn't stretch.
    Maybe the Gore design is actually an over-engineered bad execution of a sound idea. All mine are simply constructed of stretchy fabrics, and work fine.
    .........

  14. #14
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    I used to have a really bad one that was tight around the eyes and mouth, and would fog my glasses and was uncomfortable. Then this year I bought the under armour one, and it is much more open around eyes and under chin, and there is an adjustable flap you can pull up over your chin or mouth when you go fast. It's perfect!

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    Quote Originally Posted by JCavilia View Post
    I don't think you're using it right. I have three or four, in different weights for different temperature ranges (light silk to heavy fleece), and I use them all winter without the problems you discuss.

    Biggest point: You don't have to leave it covering your nose and mouth all the time. At least with mine, I can easily stretch it down below my chin, and I periodically do that during the ride.

    The moisture-trapping effect is a feature, not a bug, IMHO. Inhaling through the damp fabric warms and humidifies the air you take in - a good thing in cold conditions.

    I always wear glasses (I'm nearsighted). No fogging problem, IME.

    Maybe the Gore design is actually an over-engineered bad execution of a sound idea. All mine are simply constructed of stretchy fabrics, and work fine. I bought them pretty cheap from Sierra Trading Post. Campmor has a good selection, too.
    Exactly this! I won't cover my mouth unless it's very cold. The only time I have trouble with glasses steaming up is when I'm stopped at a light. When I start out again they clear immediately. I have at least 3 in light, med, & heave weight. One thing I would definitely recommend...do not by a Neoprene balaclava. The ONLY way I would reconsider is if I was transversing Antarctica. Even with temps in the mid teens, they're just waaaayyyyy too hot.
    Before you criticize someone walk a mile in their shoes. That way when you criticize them you'll be a mile away & you'll have their shoes.

  16. #16
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    I have a Gore balaclava, but I have not had any of the problems mentioned. I ride a two mile loop in my neighborhood (usually at night) and with the balaclava I'm afraid I might scare some of the walkers.

  17. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by Hundminen View Post
    I used to have a really bad one that was tight around the eyes and mouth, and would fog my glasses and was uncomfortable. Then this year I bought the under armour one, and it is much more open around eyes and under chin, and there is an adjustable flap you can pull up over your chin or mouth when you go fast. It's perfect!
    Does it do anything to protect against wind upfront. The thing I do like about the Gore one (and my PI headcover) is the wind-barrier fabric up front. The UA you mention sounds like what I'm looking for, but I don't want one that the wind will just cut through.

    Thanks!
    "It ain't a teacup that the Queen gave you - it's a bike. Ride it!"

  18. #18
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    This may be more complicated than you want, but I use a skull cap, a headband that covers the ears and then add a Seirus Neofleece Combo Scarf which I got at REI:

    Seirus Scarf

    I like the flexibility of this set up because I can easily pull down the scarf (or a more accurate description in my opinion is mask) if I get too warm or need to blow my nose. I use it when it's under about 40 degrees or so. My glasses fog up at stoplights, but defog quickly once I start moving again. Even without the mask my glasses will often fog up at stops, but it is more common and heavier with the mask over my nose.

    Edit: I just realized my photo is of me wearing the above described set up.
    Last edited by Rogus; 11-26-2011 at 04:15 AM.

  19. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by RJP Diver View Post
    Does it do anything to protect against wind upfront. The thing I do like about the Gore one (and my PI headcover) is the wind-barrier fabric up front. The UA you mention sounds like what I'm looking for, but I don't want one that the wind will just cut through.

    Thanks!
    Personally i wouldn't want one that blocked the wind completely. That's why I said I wouldn't buy one made of Neoprene. They're too hot unless you're riding in below 0 temps. Most of the heat loss from your body comes from your head. Windproof works both ways. It won't let any air in, but it won't let any out either. That means all the heat escaping from your head will be trapped inside & I can guarantee you'll be miserable. You want protection from the cold, but maybe not as much as you think. The balaclava I wear the most is a thin one made from some miracle fabric. I find if the temp gets to 50 it's too hot. I also have one made from Cool Max that's so thin you can literally see through it. That's really good enough to keep my ears & head warm down to about 40F. My suggestion is not to go overkill on this. Get a light, non windproof one, go for a ride for a few miles & see if it works for you. If it doesn't, get a heavier one. They only cost a few bucks on Ebay, Amazon, etc. If you get one at Performance they'll let you return it no questions asked even if you've used & washed it.
    Before you criticize someone walk a mile in their shoes. That way when you criticize them you'll be a mile away & you'll have their shoes.

  20. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mr. Versatile View Post
    Personally i wouldn't want one that blocked the wind completely. That's why I said I wouldn't buy one made of Neoprene. They're too hot unless you're riding in below 0 temps. Most of the heat loss from your body comes from your head. Windproof works both ways. It won't let any air in, but it won't let any out either. That means all the heat escaping from your head will be trapped inside & I can guarantee you'll be miserable.
    The Gore (and others) only have the windproof fabric on the front panels.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mr. Versatile View Post
    ...... Most of the heat loss from your body comes from your head......
    Not really "most".

    Just another myth.

  22. #22
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    Quote Originally Posted by MerlinAma View Post
    Not really "most".

    Just another myth.
    Yeah, I always love that chestnut.

    A hugely disproportionate amount of heat loss comes from your head. But not most.
    "It ain't a teacup that the Queen gave you - it's a bike. Ride it!"

  23. #23
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    I am another fan of versatility: I use a skull cap or winter cycling cap that covers the ears and then put on a neck gaiter to cover my face/neck/mouth/nose as much as I need it to. When adjusted just right, I don't get fogged glasses. If I get too hot or moist I can open it up a bit.

  24. #24
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    my favorite

    I have worn a variety of balaclavas over the years for a variety of activities, and the one I always use for winter cycling is ab REI brand model - seach REI site for "REI Performance Headliner" (seems that RBR will not let me post links yet )

    it has a sort of hinge construction, so you can adjust the lower the portion below your jaw, or cover your nose - depending on situation and weather. I liked it so much last year, I just bought another yesterday at their winter sale.

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    Quote Originally Posted by RJP Diver View Post
    Does it do anything to protect against wind upfront. The thing I do like about the Gore one (and my PI headcover) is the wind-barrier fabric up front. The UA you mention sounds like what I'm looking for, but I don't want one that the wind will just cut through.

    Thanks!
    I have used the UA brand balaclava down to about 40F only so far, and it has been great. I imagine it will be fine down to about freezing, but not too sure I want to be out there much less than that anyway.

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