If adding long underwear and gloves to the daily bike commute has been nice, but your face is still frozen, it’s time to try a balaclava — that crazy-looking, super-warm hat/mask that covers everything besides your eyes. To scope the scene, we reached out to year-round bikers (one who’s just 5 years old!) and long-time bike-shop owners, who guided us toward the best and warmest balaclavas on the market.
“I do a lot of winter riding, and in addition to other warm gear, a good balaclava is an absolute must. I have tried quite a few, including those from well-recognized bicycling-clothing name brands. I have found the best balaclava to be the mid-weight, 100 percent merino-wool balaclava made by a company called Minus33. The cold-weather advantages of merino wool include keeping you warm when sweaty or soaking wet, and it’s a soft wool, not coarse like some may think. It feels like cashmere. I have found all of Minus33’s products to be high-quality. I also use their merino-wool neck gaiter and socks for riding.” —Bob Molety, New York City–based electrical engineer and member of the Five Borough Bicycle Club
“Prior to our winter getaway to Iceland, I tried three types of balaclavas and I have one favorite. It’s lightweight and protects your nose and mouth well. You can fit (sun)glasses in while wearing. It keeps you warm, and can be worn several different ways. It might take some getting used to, if you’re not accustomed to wearing a scarf, for example, over your nose and mouth in the winter. Sometimes it feels like the edge is too close to the edge of your eyes, but it never really moves into or over or onto your eye area. Last but not least, it won’t break the bank!” —Ronit Malekan, CFO/partner at a New York City real-estate office and an ice hiker
“We have a couple products that we really love and use. After trying a variety of different solutions, the classic Buff is a must-have. The simplicity and flexibility is awesome. Particularly for our riders and friends who don’t see themselves as big outdoors people, and would otherwise rely on a scarf or hoodie, the Buff is super flexible and light. It also holds a good deal of heat in an ultralight package. You can roll it up onto your head, or down as the balaclava style, to provide some human-powered thermal warmth.” —Connor Swegle, co-founder, Priority Bicycles
“Secondarily, I have been using this more sport-oriented balaclava. It comes from the run team, but I have found that it gives great breathability and warmth. If it is really cold or windy, I will put on a windbreaker layer to pair with it. I find that I can get down to single digits with that combination. I also love the flexibility of it. Typically, your body can stay warmer than you think, so once you get going, this one is simple to strip back to your desired warmth.” —Connor Swegle
“I have this one, which I think works well. It’s totally windproof. I’ll also often just use a thermal hat that covers the ears, plus a jacket with a high collar.” —Stephen Markacs, software developer and frequent biker
“We have two that our customers love the most. The first is from Maxit, the first head-gaiter company that hit the bike shops, and the second one is made by Specialized, which is one of the biggest bicycle companies in the U.S.” —Justine Valle, manager, Bicycle Habitat
“My 5-year-old bikes to school on Houston street in New York City wearing a balaclava every morning. Jake says he loves his Turtle Fur because it keeps him warm and looking like a ninja.” —David Weiner, co-owner, Priority Bicycles and his son Jake, who bikes to school every morning
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