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Wool. Is. Good. Remember it.

When the ridgeline above your favorite chute looks like a cresting wave in an offshore breeze, you’ll be happy you brought the Smartwool Balaclava as backup. Pull it out, and you’ll doubt that it has the nuts for the weather. Put it on underneath your beanie and doubt no longer—thin as it is, the Balaclava’s superfine Merino wool is an excellent insulator. It doesn’t stifle your head or block your hearing like its thicker fleece brethren, nor will it change the fit of your helmet. What it does is take the sharp edge off the wind, shield your chin and ears from frostbite, and maintain its temperature-regulating properties even if it gets wet. And when the sun comes out, it stuffs back in your pocket without looking like a dinosaur egg.

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SmartWool Balaclava

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Here's what others have to say...

5 5

Lightweight, soft, warm

Bought this to replace a heavier, bulkier fleece balaclava for section hiking the PCT. It was what I hoped -- warmth with less bulk and weight.

5 5

Warm and Wonderfully Light Weight

  • Familiarity: I've put it through the wringer
  • Fit: True to size

I ordered a pair of balaclava's for my son and I for an upcoming section hike of the Appalachian Trail in TN. We hit some driving sleet for an hour an a half on top of a high mountain pass and the SmartWoold balaclava's did their part in keeping us warm and protected. After the balaclava's were delivered I wondered if I made the wrong decision - how can this superlight weight wool keep us warm. I was almost embarrassed to show my son when they arrived. That all changed once we put them to use. They also came in handy as head and neck wear when bunking down for the night in sub 30 degree weather. My only gripe is the material stretches a bit - once you wear the opening under your chin it's hard to keep above your nose. Including a shot of my son wearing his balaclava. Two thumbs up!

Warm and Wonderfully Light Weight
5 5

Great general purpose balaclava

  • Gender: Female
  • Familiarity: I've put it through the wringer
  • Fit: True to size

Incredible warmth-to-weight ratio! Hard to believe something so 'thin' could be so warm. And so soft!
Not the best wind-breaking for cycling...wish one of these companies would combine the best of both worlds...warmth, windbreaking ability, and comfortable fit with good clearance for goggles/glasses specific to cycling, WITH the wonderful features of merino wool....
...this comes as close as you can get so far.
Perfect for all other applications/sports.


How is this for cycling in the 30's (F)?...

How is this for cycling in the 30's (F)? Would you still need something like Gore's Windstopper balaclava in addition...or would that be overkill (most likely)?

Thanks for your help!

Responded on

I would agree that layering both balaclavas would probably be overkill even in winter. If you are looking for warmth the SmartWool Balaclava will give you that and will also cut out some of the wind chill on your rides. However, a Windstopper balaclava will cut out wind entirely.

Responded on

Depends a bit on whether you are talking about mountain or road riding... but assuming you are talking about road riding, I think you will be better off with a thinner balaclava that stops the wind.

If you wear glasses, you may want to look for a balaclava that has a lower front so that your breath is not fogging up your glasses at stop lights.

If you are talking about mountain biking, I think this will be too warm for you in the 30s.

Responded on

Thanks guys! Actually, I do both mountain and road...I appreciate the suggestions, as does my nose, cheeks, and lungs, etc!

Thanks again!

Responded on

Happy to help. FWIW I ride both road and mountain in the winter and I find that I generate enough heat to remain warm in both cases ... so on the road it's really just about stopping the wind. On the trails it's about not freezing my butt off from condensation during slow sections and the inevitable social stops and mechanicals. (I never ride the trails alone in the winter.)

My best outfit is:
-- Bibs, Amfib tights over ski socks, 45nrth Wulvhammer boots (these are the absolute BOMB) on bottom. On top, I like a LS base layer, a short sleeve jersey, and then a NON-windstopping thermal jersey. For mountain biking, that's it... but for road riding I add a windstopping (non-insulating) shell.

I usually only wear a skullcap under my helmet (a Giro Xen). On much colder or windier days I'll upgrade to a balaclava, but for that it really needs to be around 10F or below (in which case I will sometimes switch out for a true thermal road jersey and then carry my spare shell as an extra layer if I need it...)

In all cases I wear a warm set of gloves (PI lobsters) out of the gate, then switch to lighter gloves (usually PI cyclones) as soon as my hands give even a hint of sweating. That gives me great comfort and provides the warmer gloves as a backup should I need them.

Responded on

'2' Thumbs Up! Fantastic...wish more folks were as thorough in their answers!
(will have to translate some of the gear into the ladies dept.) Normally I wear Giordana or Gore...

On a side bar: what do you do for the hydration dilemma in sub freezing rides?

Responded on

On my mountain bike, I carry a 100oz reservoir in an Ergon BC2 backpack. The reservoir has an insulated hose, which doesn't help at all. What DOES help (for a while) is blowing back into the tube after drinking (blow enough that you hear and feel the bubbles in your pack). That will work for a while, but eventually your valve will freeze up. Some folks will route the hose underneath their outermost layer, but I haven't been able to get that working myself; sometimes if the valve is frozen I'll just stick it down my shirt and that works... but only if you've cleared the main tube with blowback.

I'm a stickler for "water only" in my bladders, so I have not tried salts or other "antifreeze." That does work for bottles (and I have separate bottles for flavored/non-water drinks). Depending on the temps, you might have to add quite a lot of stuff to lower the freezing point of the liquid.

An insulated bottle (I use my Kleen Kanteen) with hot liquid in it is a nice backup and fits in the cages on my bike if necessary.

But honestly I think the best method is: drink a liter just before you hop on the bike. Sip from the bladder until it freezes. Push on through and then drink when you're back at the truck.

One last thing: I have been known to toss my jetboil stove in the truck... and it would easily fit in my hydration pack... so that remains an option if I was doing a really long haul ride in low temps.

Responded on

Great ideas...what a winter I picked to try to tackle all the way through! Your suggestions are perfectly appreciated!

And THANKS again!

Responded on

Yeah.. it's been a tough winter for riding. I haven't been out much at all. Aim to change that this week, actually!

5 5

Ninja Starter Kit

  • Familiarity: I've used it once or twice and have initial impressions
  • Fit: True to size

If anything, this thing can double as your next Halloween costume/ninja starter kit (you'll have to buy the nunchucks somewhere else ).

Anyway - this thing is thin yet warm. It will fit under your helmet without taking up much room at all.

5 5

By far the best out there!

Just wanted to add a huge advantage this balaclava has over the competition.
This balaclava is extremely soft! Its not at all itchy as some who are not familiar with this type of wool. This is a huge plus for men (or some ladies) if you have not shaved in quite a few days. It does not snag and pull on your whiskers. Throw it in the wash and it keeps its shape. Money well spent and would recommend to anyone who asked!

5 5


Feels great. Fits well. Very transportable. I carried it in the pocket of my pants when not in use. When needed, it is versatile--it can cover:
1. Just your neck
2. Neck ,top of head, sides of face
3. All of above and chin
4. All of above and mouth
5. All of above and nose
Making a quick transition between the areas of your face that are covered is essential when trekking in very cold temperatures, as your perceived temperature changes every minute depending on whether you are walking/climbing/resting and on whether the sun is blocked out by clouds, ridges/cliffs, etc. Transitions are fast with this balaclava. And the wool feels great. This is a thing balaclava, but I never felt that the warmth provided was not enough. Served me well on Mount Kilimanjaro, and likely will on many more trips.

5 5

It's Merino. Nuff said

  • Gender: Male
  • Familiarity: I've used it several times

If you haven't been acquainted with the magical material known as merino wool, you need to get your sh*t together. For those who aren't familiar, it has an incredible warmth to weight ratio, dries quickly, is naturally antimicrobial, and you can wear it for days, sweating like a sumo wrestler, and the stuff miraculously doesn't smell. All my base layers are pure merino wool, and I will never change materials. As far as this balaclava, it lives up to it's merino reputation. Thin enough that your head doesnt sweat, but still perfectly warm. And also thin enough that when the mask is in front of your mouth, you can breathe naturally through it without your breath being forced up into your goggles and fogging them up (my pet peeve for face masks). So if you're looking for a solid mask made of the best layering material on planet earth.... look no further.

5 5

Good merino balaclava

This balaclava is great. Fits my big head. Neck length is generous (most balaclava are too short in the neck for me). Well-designed and versatile -- I can wear it normally, or can cover everything but the eyes, or if I get too warm can pull it down and wear it like a neck gaiter. Comfortable and warm without bulk, as the merino is thin and dense. The only annoying thing is the big tag inside the neck part. For my hikes in the New Hampshire winter woods, it's warm down to maybe 15 F. For lower temps, I wear an additional hat and neck gaiter over the balaclava (same brand). I've had this almost a year, washed it a couple times, and it's held up fine. Fashion-wise, you will look like a scuba diver or a ninja. My husband laughs at me when I wear it :-)

4 5


  • Familiarity: I've used it several times

This weight of merino seems to work really well for 20 (+ -) degree days if you are moving around some. I don't like how moisture builds up if you cover your mouth with it however.

4 5

Warm and Comfy

  • Familiarity: I've used it several times

It does exactly what a balaclava should do. The smart wool is great; it keeps my face warm on those really cold days. I only give it four stars because its a little big for my head and will sometimes get off-centered.

5 5

quality balaclava

  • Gender: Male
  • Familiarity: I've used it once or twice and have initial impressions

soft, not itchy, and comfortable. thin enough to wear under a helmet, like another reviewer mentioned, and thick enough to keep your neck and face warm while getting those early morning fresh tracks.

4 5

Smartwool Balaclava

Does not itch. Thin but quite warm for frosty morning hikes. Best used to keep the neck and face warm. Doesn't function as well as a beanie but I still love it.

4 5

lightweight and still warm

SmartWool products always make me smile. This item is very light weight. Warm enough for how light it is. I can't give it four stars because the opening on the front of the mask just doesn't stretch much. I'd like it a bit tighter. I suppose that is the trade off for not buying a synthetic balaclava.

Responded on

I totally agree. It is impossible to make it stay up and cover the nose but apart from that I love it.

5 5

Makes you ready for the worst

Sufficiently thin that it fits nicely under a ski helmet. But warm enough that you can get through pretty much the worst cold out there. It has enough malleability that you move it up or down over your nose + mouth when it's really bad out, but it doesn't hang limply if you pull it down to your chin. Smartwool makes the best balaclavas & neck gaiters. A really great choice.

I have a big head and get concerned about...

I have a big head and get concerned about "One size fits all". Does this run big?

Best Answer Responded on

The material is very stretchy, you should be ok. I have a XL helmet size and this fits fine underneith. ,

One size fits all does NOT fit all. I'm...

One size fits all does NOT fit all. I'm an adult male but my bald head leaves a lot of extra room. Is there a way to do a "controlled shrink" on this product?

Responded on

I don't know about "controlled", but they will shrink a bit when washed in hot water and dried at full heat in you dryer.

5 5

Ridiculously warm

This this is so light and thin, but ridiculously warm. Even after 5 hours of skiing, when the outside is frozen over from breathing, it is STILL warm. I couldn't find it today and wore a synthetic fleece balaclava instead, it was awful. I'm buying more of these things when they come in.

5 5


I LOVE this balaclava! It's thin, but it's warm and more wind resistant than I thought it would be. I have been wearing this on the bike trail on below zero windchill days and it keeps my face warm. I wear a MH windstopper hat on top and my ears stay nice and toasty. Like other reviewers have mentioned, I love that I can pull it down and uncover my entire face or use it as a neck gaitor. I like to periodically uncover my face and some of the other brands are thicker and too tight to be comfortable when I pull it down under my chin. I do get some fogging on my sunglasses, but not as much as with the synthetic balaclavas. I would buy more of these if they were in stock. Highly recommend.