Hats, beanies, and balaclavas can all keep your above-the-neck area warm, but there is only one cold-weather accessory specifically designed for bundling up just your ears (without giving you hat hair) — well, two, technically, if you consider earmuffs, which have a rigid band connecting two pom-poms, and ear warmers, which work like a soft headband. The former typically functions as more of a fashion accessory — Aemilia Madden, a brand consultant and former senior fashion editor at the Zoe Report, says they’re an “of-the-moment trend to try” — while the latter can be better suited for outdoor exercise like Nordic skiing or winter running.
Neither, however, is a “shy accessory,” as U.K.-based fashion editor Naomi May puts it, which is why we’re providing some professional guidance on what to look for. To find the best ones, we asked 11 cool people — including ski instructors, Zamboni drivers, style experts, and our own writers and editors — about their favorites, then scoured our archives for any standouts. Below, you’ll find 15 earmuffs and ear warmers at every price point.
Best under-$20 ear warmers
Maryland-based Zamboni driver Andrea Burke likes this cable-knit ear warmer because it has a soft, cushy lining that still lets lots of sound permeate so she’s aware of her surroundings. She keeps this one handy at the rink and wears it so often that she compares it to “your favorite pair of jeans.” Christie Sausa, a figure skater and co-owner of Lake Placid Skate Shop, says she is similarly impressed by the Sherpa interior that makes this headband the softest ear warmer she has tried and the variety of colors and patterns available.
Sausa recommends this faux-fur ear warmer as a statement piece. She says she was surprised by the luxe quality (especially for the $14 price tag) of the headband, which she wears for outdoor skating shows because it can pass as part of her costume. The elastic stretchy panel in the back, which makes it easy to adjust, also secures it from sliding off during other rigorous activities like speed skating.
Sausa is a self-proclaimed “Turtle Fur devotee” — she usually keeps a few in her workout bag at all times — and has been figure skating in the brand’s ear warmers since the late ’90s. Thanks to its thick, double-layered material, this headband can be worn for several hours, and Sausa says it’s never uncomfortable or headache-inducing. “They are stretchy but not too stretchy, stay put through jumps and spins, and keep my hair out of my face and my ears warm,” she says.
Best under-$40 ear warmers
The Vermont-based brand Skida is a favorite of PSIA-AASI national-team member Emily Lovett, who is also a cross-country ski instructor at Lake Catamount Touring Center. Lovett says this is ideal for high-intensity or “sweaty” activities because the fabric is breathable and moisture-wicking, and the wide band is more compressive than other workout-minded ear warmers she has tried.
Robin Barnes, a professional alpine ski instructor and PSIA-AASI national-team member, owns eight “tubes,” as the brand calls them, and says she appreciates their versatility: They can be worn as a scarf, face covering, or headband, the last of which is how she keeps warm under a ski helmet. Even if you’re not on the slopes, Barnes says it’s a piece you can “always keep in either your ski or snowboard pocket and a backpack if you’re hiking or riding bikes.”
As a Minnesota native and a former collegiate runner, I’ve experimented with tons of winter headgear, and my top choice for ear coverage is this one from Lululemon. It’s sturdy yet thin enough that it isn’t prone to slipping, and I can pay attention to my surroundings as I pass busy intersections or weave through pedestrians on the sidewalk. And during winter, I usually run at subzero temperatures, and this has been more than sufficient at keeping my ears toasty. I also appreciate the reflective detailing for my after-dark runs.
Cindy Whitehead, a celebrity sports stylist who has worked with athletes such as Tiger Woods, Candace Parker, and Michelle Kwan, says this ear warmer is a standout for nighttime visibility because “it almost looks like the reflective bits are Swarovski crystals.” She prefers it to other fitness-focused options because it’s available in two sizes, as opposed to “‘one size fits all,’ which is never true,” she says.
Best under-$50 ear warmers
Valerie Levine, a professional dancer and skater for the Ice Theatre of New York, prefers ear warmers to hats because they don’t fly off as easily when she’s spinning or jumping in the air. Levine likes this brand — which is owned by a friend she met while performing for the New York Islanders’ Ice Girls squad — because it offers an array of fancier looks that pair with her skating costumes, she says. She has this black rhinestone-and-pearl headband that she wears while performing and to postshow outings in the city.
Barnes says she regularly leaves this 100-percent-merino-wool headband in her jacket pocket for après-ski. The thick, layered material also makes this a solid option for frigid activities that last longer than an hour because “it stays snug, but it doesn’t feel like it’s squeezing your brain,” says Barnes, who adds that, unlike a full hat, it doesn’t cause her to overheat. At around $50 when it’s not on sale, it’s pricier than other options on this list, but Barnes says the quality is top of the line.
Best under-$20 earmuffs
These Brook + Bay earmuffs have a nostalgic shape that Burke says reminds her of the ones she wore as a kid while skating on frozen ponds in Wisconsin. They’re also “soft like a faux-fur blanket,” she says, and “the band is usually a nice fit for people with smaller heads.”
If earmuffs seem bulky or fussy, try this foldable option recommended by Raquea Hemingway, the director of student and family services at Figure Skating in Harlem. She stands by the practicality of these earmuffs, which were gifted to her daughter for figure skating, saying that they have withstood constant trips to school and the rink for the past two years. They easily fit in a coat pocket or book bag, and Hemingway says they can be cleaned with a simple wipe-down, two factors that make these especially suitable for kids.
Best under-$200 earmuffs
Channel “Mariah [Carey] in Aspen” with these Lele Sadoughi earmuffs that feature a hand-beaded strand of faux pearls and oversize covers, says fashion and e-commerce editor Megan McCarty, who describes them as “equally of the moment and timeless.”
Strategist senior editor Chelsea Peng was drawn to these seashell-shaped earmuffs from the Kyiv-based brand Bevza because of their low-slung shape that’s very old Balenciaga — “spring-summer 2013, to be exact,” she says. Made from soft recycled leather, these are lightweight and will keep you warm enough for everyday wear, Peng says, plus they “stay put even when I’m power-bopping around.”
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