Updated August 2019
This post shares everything you need to know about how to choose the best cycling balaclava, and compares 7 of the very best balaclavas. A disproportionate amount of heat is lost from the head, so if you have a good windproof cycling balaclava, you will be much more comfortable when cycling in cold weather. But how can you decide which is the best balaclava for you? Well, I have a chart comparing 7 of the best cycling balaclavas. Then, I have more details on each of these 7 balaclavas. Finally, I have a lot of information about the most important factors to consider when you choose a balaclava. I originally did this research because Maggie (my wife, Mrs. Average Joe Cyclist) requested a cycling balaclava for Christmas. I did tons of research to try and find the very best for her, and this post is the result of that quest!
Chart Comparing 7 of the Best Cycling Balaclavas
(85% Nylon,15% Elastane,
Best Price on Amazon right now: $34.97
Best Price on Amazon right now: $29.99
Best Price on Amazon right now: $19.99
10% Windshield Windproof Fleece
Hinged construction allows for multi function features, wear as balaclava or neck tube
Best Price on Amazon right now: $6.69
Barrier panel over the forehead and ears insulates from windchill, and works in conjunction with P.R.O. Thermal to wick moisture and keep your head dry.
Check the latest price on Amazon here.
with reflective elements.
P.R.O. Transfer fabric provides optimal stretch, recovery, compression, and moisture transfer.
Click here to check the current price on Amazon.
11% Spandex Knit.
Thermodynamic fabric; durable nylon face and looped polyester interior. Smooth, stretchy polypropylene fabric offers light insulation and excellent moisture management.
Best Price on Amazon right now: $20.97
You can check the price on Amazon Canada here.
You can check the price on Amazon UK here.
7 of the Best Cycling Balaclavas
No. 1: Gore Bike Wear Balaclava mask
This one has been a favorite with many users for a long time. Like other more advanced products, it uses a combination of fabrics: 100% polyester with windstopper membrane for the forehead and ears, and a combination of nylon and elastane for the rest.
A meshed thermo-stretch panel over the mouth and nose is provided for breathing. This product is lightweight yet offers excellent cold protection, but some riders will find it a bit claustrophobic. However, it can be pulled down, so that should not be a problem. Some cyclists increase the breathability by the simple method of sticking the tip of a ballpoint pen through the holes! Buy it here from Amazon – its competitive price and great quality makes it my top pick.
This is a really great balaclava, due to its premium design and materials, plus the fact that it is so versatile. Basically it is a modular balaclava in two pieces, which you can use in various configurations. It can range from just a neck gaiter, all the way to full face coverage. The photo below shows me wearing this balaclava in various configurations. I use it for cycling and for cross-country hiking in snowy terrain.
The Weatherneck System Balaclava completely covers the back of your neck with its unique “mullet,” and the face mask completely covers your throat. It fits smoothly under a helmet, soft and comfortable. Invented and manufactured in the USA, this is a truly premium cycling balaclava; also ideal for all outdoor sports.
You can read a full review of the Weatherneck System Balaclava here. And below, the inventor of the Weatherneck System shows what it does:
No. 3: Trendy Swede Face Mask Sports Balaclava
This is an interesting option. It’s very cheap but is extremely highly rated by many reviewers. As you can see from the picture, it can be worn in a variety of configurations. As it is made of 100% polyester, I am sure some cyclists will not be comfortable breathing through it and will need to pull it down. However, several reviewers claim that it is breathable. On the plus side, the Trendy Swede Balaclava has an extra-long neck. It’s intended for fall and spring, rather than deepest darkest winter. For the price, you might want to get these as your fall and spring option, and have a thicker balaclava for winter.
No. 4: Chaos CTR Chinook Micro Fleece Balaclava with Windproof Face Mask
A great product for the price (buy it here from Amazon). It offers very good cold protection and ample neck coverage. There is a windproof face cover for complete protection, so only your eyes are exposed. In case you need more air, the mask is hinged so that you can easily pull it downwards. The microfleece makes it soft and toasty on your face. This balaclava also mists your glasses less than similar products. Definitely worth considering if you are cycling in very cold conditions.
This one is a very good product for a very good price. It is constructed from quality materials, as you would expect from Pearl Izumi. This is their balaclava for colder conditions. This balaclava has no fancy construction, but is easy to pull up and down over your nose and mouth. I really like this balaclava. They have combined textiles, using a barrier windproof panel of 100% polyester for the part that goes over your forehead and ears, and a thermal material made of nylon, poly and spandex for the rest.
No. 6: Pearl Izumi Transfer Balaclava
The Pearl Izumi Transfer Balaclava is meant for slightly less cold conditions, and has a focus on good wicking ability. I think it is an excellent option. However, it might not be enough for freezing conditions.
This is a relatively simple balaclava made out of a single piece of very stretchy thermodynamic fabric. It comes in various colors, which is refreshing, so you don’t necessarily have to go with the gangster look. It has a huge hole for the face, making it impossible to cover the nose and mouth, so I would not recommend it for below freezing conditions. However, it has made many cyclists happy for a relatively low price, so if you don’t mind the giant hole, it could be worth the relatively low investment.
Important Factors to Bear in Mind when Choosing the Best Cycling Balaclava
Mrs. Average Joe Cyclist wanted me to get her a good cycling balaclava, and I didn’t want to get her anything but the best, so I spent many, many hours researching how to choose the right cycling balaclava. I discovered that there are several key issues to take into account when choosing the best cycling balaclava. I have listed these below.
Will the Cycling Balaclava keep your neck warm?
The most common complaint about cycling balaclavas is that the balaclava was too short and did not fully cover the neck. For me, this is the most important aspect to consider. Your neck is full of very important, very big veins. If these get cold, YOU will get cold. Usually you can easily assess this aspect from the product pictures. If the cycling balaclava is not long enough to tuck into the neck of your winter jacket, then it’s not going to keep you warm. You’re going to have freezing air hitting your neck, which is NOT going to be fun. Or you will be forced to wear a scarf as well. However, the whole point of a cycling balaclava is to be an all-in-one solution to keep your head and neck warm. So look at the neck length first and foremost.
Alternative Option: A Snuggly Neck Gaiter
For those who don’t like wearing balaclavas, or for times of the year when it is not cold enough to need one, a neck gaiter is a great alternative. It functions like a scarf to keep your neck snuggly and warm, but does not have any dangerous dangly bits (you do NOT want to go the way of Isadora Duncan!).
The best neck gaiter I have tried is the Heat Holders neck gaiter. It is super warm, and also very soft against the skin, thanks to the fleece lining. Heat Holders also makes super-warm, super-soft socks, scarves, gloves, tights and toques.
Will you be able to breathe wearing a Cycling Balaclava?
The second-most common complaint in reviews of cycling balaclavas has to do with breathing. Many people complain that they cannot breathe well enough to cycle while wearing a balaclava. The main reason for this is that people wear balaclavas for different activities. The same balaclava that works very well for a motor cyclist might not work very well for a cyclist, because the cyclist needs to breathe much harder. So the second aspect to consider when picking your cycling balaclava is whether you will be able to breathe enough to ride your bike.
Different manufacturers approach the issue in different ways. A common method is simply to cut out a giant hole for the nose and mouth. While this is effective in enabling you to breathe, it may be less than effective for keeping your mouth and nose warm in super-cold conditions. Some kind of compromise between nothing and an impermeable cover seems to be required! Manufacturers use various sizes of holes for breathing and eyes, ranging from very large to extremely small. Choosing among these will come down to a balance between how cold your ride is, how well you want to be able to see, and how claustrophobic you get. Some balaclavas have a hinged nose and mouthpiece that you can pull down to enable you to breathe deeply from time to time. This sounds like quite a simplistic solution, but I must say that in my experience this simple solution works really well. Given that most balaclavas are made with a stretch fabric of some kind, you can do this with most balaclavas, pulling them down when you need more breathing room.
The Outdoor Research Option Balaclava is very stretchy and could be a great option if you want a mask you can easily pull down. Users pull it around to cover more or less of their faces, as needed. If you prefer a balaclava with a hinged mouth to make it easier to pull down, the Chaos-CTR Chinook Micro Fleece Balaclava with windproof face mask is a good one to try. Many balaclavas enable breathing with ingenious combinations of design and textiles. For example, the part that fits over your mouth and nose often has tiny vents for breathing, as with the Gore Bike Wear balaclava mask.
However, some reviewers complain that those vents are insufficient, and that they cannot breathe enough. If you don’t have a hinged option to pull the balaclava downwards, that could get really claustrophobic. Of course, you could also just make the holes a bit bigger, which some people do via the simple method of sticking a ballpoint pen through the holes!
Will you be able to wipe your nose while wearing a Cycling Balaclava?
Another problem that cyclists may experience while wearing balaclavas is that they cannot wipe their noses. This might not sound like much of a problem – until the extreme cold is causing your nose to run, and you have frozen snot stuck to your upper lip. Trust me, this is NOT fun. If this might be a problem for you, look for a hinged mask that enables you to access your nose, such as the Chaos-CTR Chinook Micro Fleece Balaclava. OR go with something super slim and stretchy (and cheap) such as the Trendy Swede Face Mask Sports Balaclava.
Will you be able to see while wearing a Cycling Balaclava?
Some balaclavas have relatively small holes for the eyes. This will keep you warmer, but it may mean that you have a limited range of vision. So think about this as well. Look at the size of the eye holes, and think about how much you move your eyes around while cycling. For example, if you ride a road bike your eyes you need more flexibility: you need to be able to look in different directions, depending if your hands are in the drops or on top of the handlebar. So that would mean you need bigger eye holes. On the other hand, if you ride a hybrid your eyes will not need to move around as much, as you will usually stay upright all the time. So you might be able to get away with smaller eye holes. However, for safety reasons, I have not included any of the balaclavas with tiny eye holes in my top picks.
Will you be able to wear glasses with your Cycling Balaclava?
A lot of cyclists complain that if they wear a balaclava, their glasses constantly fog up. This can be a real problem. The balaclava may funnel warm air straight upwards and cause serious fogging problems. Consider this aspect if you need to wear glasses while cycling. One solution (but not cheap) is to buy cycling glasses with air vents. Read my review of the excellent Adidas cycling glasses here – they work incredibly well with a balaclava.
Will a Cycling Balaclava keep you warm?
This is of course a key question. And this is where choosing the right balaclava can get really tricky. A wide variety of different textiles are used to make balaclavas, ranging from cheap polyester blends to state-of-the-art especially designed synthetics. This is where price often becomes a factor. There are thousands of cheap balaclavas available, and most of these are made from a simple polyester blend. They will keep you warm – but they may also be so non-breathable that they will keep you way TOO warm. They may also have no wicking ability at all, so that your head will soon be soaked in sweat. And you do NOT want to be stopping in freezing conditions to take your helmet and gloves off so that you can rip off your soggy balaclava. Many of the more expensive ranges, such as Pearl Izumi, offer a choice of balaclava for differing levels of cold. For example, their Pearl Izumi Barrier Balaclava is intended for colder conditions than their Pearl Izumi Transfer Balaclava.
But it may come down to a bit or trial-and-error, to find out what will work for you. And it is very likely that you will decide that you need more than one balaclava. Personally I have two beanies and two balaclavas that I use for different levels of cold. It’s easy to carry them in your pannier, as they weigh next to nothing.
What size Cycling Balaclava should you get?
Many manufacturers offer balaclavas in one-size-fits-all. This is usually OK, because all balaclavas are made from stretch fabrics. They will probably all fit the biggest head – although if you have tons of hair, you might be in trouble. I notice that some of my readers choose balaclavas that have space for ponytails!
This is definitely not a problem for me, though – turns out that there are some advantages to losing your hair! You might have a problem if your head is very small, in that there could be bunching of the material under your helmet. Note that some brands offer a range of sizes, so if your head is unusually big or small, go with one of those brands.
Do you need a reflective logo?
Many cycling balaclavas have reflective logos. It’s a nice little touch – but if you wear a helmet, it’s going to be invisible, so I don’t really see the point.
Here’s to Your Warm Head!
I trust that your found this information useful, and that one of these 7 cycling balaclavas will be perfect for you.
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