What is a Balaclava? Types, Definition & Photos

Skier wearing balaclava

The balaclava is a garment that covers the top of the head and neck, leaving only part of the face exposed (eyes and mouth). Originally designed for military use in 1842 by Nicolae Balaclav, it was made famous during World War I when were worn by British troops on cold winters to protect their necks from frostbite. Nowadays, these garments are still popular among winter sports enthusiasts because it not only provides warmth but may offer protection against snow blindness if it has an eye-covering feature.

What is a balaclava?

A balaclava is a type of hat and face covering that covers the entire head, face and neck. It may be worn to protect the wearer’s head, as in cold temperatures and wicked wind chill. Balaclavas are also used in the military as protective gear since they can insulate from extreme temperatures.

Why is a balaclava called a balaclava?

The name is derived from the Crimean Tatar word “bałaq” meaning “to protect.”

How do you pronounce balaclava?

Balaclava is pronounced [buh-luh-kuh-vuh]

When was the balaclava invented?

The balaclava was worn by the Crimean Tatars in the mid-nineteenth century.

What is a balaclava used for?

A balaclava can be worn as a garment to shield the neck, face, ears and head from cold temperatures and/or for protection during combat.

How much does a balaclava cost?

A basic balaclava can be purchased for less than $10 while a deluxe model can cost $30 to $50.

What is the difference between a balaclava and a ski mask?

A ski mask covers parts of the face but the ears, mouth, and sides of the head are exposed.

How does a balaclava work?

A balaclava is designed to protect the wearer from the cold. A regular ski mask only insulates.

Why do race drivers wear a balaclava?

The face shield on a balaclava doesn’t fog up like goggles, so racers can see clearly.

Why do police and soldiers wear balaclavas or cover their faces in other ways?

Police use face masks to avoid being recognized and make it harder to blow their cover.

How do you put on a balaclava?

Instead of tying the balaclava around the head, the wearer folds it over and puts it on like a hat.

Where can you buy a balaclava?

At a sporting goods store, or online at Amazon and thousands of other websites.

What language is balaclava?

Balaclava is not a language. It comes from the Crimean Tatar language.

What sports use balaclavas?

In addition to winter sports (anything outside in the cold) cyclists, hockey players, motorcycle and auto racers wear balaclavas.

What temperature is a balaclava recommended?

The balaclava is recommended for use at temperatures below zero degrees Celsius (32 degrees Fahrenheit). This should take into consideration wind chill which is when balaclavas can really help… wicked wind chill can freeze your face quickly.

A third consideration is wind chill created by the speed you’ll be going when skiing, cycling, etc.  It may be a calm day but if it’s below zero and you’re ripping down the hill at 40 mph, that’s going to be cold.

What are balaclava materials?

The most common material for making balaclavas is fleece, but other fabrics are used as well as wool (including merino wool), cotton, acrylic yarns, neoprene, and cashmere wool blends.

Can you buy a balaclava in the US?

Yes, you can buy a balaclava in the US.  Amazon and most outdoor apparel stores as well as ski/snowboard shops will sell them.

If I wear a balaclava, will my ears get cold?

The balaclava doesn’t 100% shield skin from the cold. It’s made of fabric so some wind will get through but it’s much better than not having one.  This includes the ears so if it’s ridiculously cold with high winds, your ears may still get cold in time.  Helmets that cover ears can help keep ears warm.

Can I wear a balaclava under a helmet?

Yes.  Most sports involving any speed will involve a helmet.  Most balaclavas are a thin material and fit just fine under a helmet.

Can I wear a balaclava over my mouth?

A balaclava is not a substitute for a scarf or bandana because it doesn’t cover the face. It’s typically used to protect the neck, upper arms and lower legs.

Balaclava vs. Neck Gaiter – what’s the difference?

A balaclava is a headcover with a front opening and neck flaps.

A neck gaiter is a one-piece garment that covers the neck and head. It has no openings for the face.

How should a balaclava fit?

A balaclava should fit snugly around the head. It should not be so baggy that it falls out of place, and it should not be so tight as to limit your vision.

What is the best balaclava?

There is no best balaclava. The best one for you is the one that fits you comfortably, protects you from cold or keeps you warm, and matches your wardrobe.

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