We have a saying around here: “Neoprene is awesome in a beer koozie, not so much on your face.” That’s because so many other outdoor brands use neoprene (yep the same stuff that keeps your brew cool) in their balaclavas. And while neoprene has some great insulating properties, it’s one horrible fabric to put right up against your mouth in the cold.
You see, neoprene doesn’t really breathe. So when you exhale, all that moisture from your breath gets stuck on the surface and freezes up against your skin. Not only does it cancel out the warmth of the balaclava, it makes a disgusting mess.
That's why Outdoor Research builds balaclavas with W.L. Gore’s WINDSTOPPER® fabric. Light-yet-protective WINDSTOPPER® breathes and takes that moisture out and away from your face. In fact, you get double protection, because WINDSTOPPER® also keeps driving snow and other precipitation off of your skin.
Wait, why should I care about balaclava material you ask? According to skiing legend Mike Hattrup, the balaclava is the one piece of gear you will be most thankful to have in your pack when it gets frigid out in the wild. “It’s multifunctional,” he says. “It fits under a helmet or even a hat and provides full protection for your skin. Once wind chills drop to brutal levels, it can save you from frostbite. And it’s an easy layer to keep nearby for when you need it, and it can be worn in a practical variety of ways.”
Outdoor Research offers balaclavas in a wide range of styles corresponding to a range of alpine activities. Built with WINDSTOPPER® and comfy Radiant Fleece™, the Outdoor Research Helmetclava™ is ideal for those days when biting winds pummel the lift or when you are immobile and exposed on an alpine belay. The Hybrid Face Mask™ is a neck gaiter on steroids, covering the mouth and neck but not the head and giving you that all-important WINDSTOPPER® to move moisture away from your face. And though it’s not a balaclava, the Outdoor Research Ear Band also uses WINDSTOPPER® to wick sweat away from your head in the midst of cold-weather aerobic activities like Nordic skiing or winter trail running. Some Outdoor Research shells, such as the Axcess Jacket™ and the baffled down-insulated StormBound Jacket™, also include a zip-out Thermodynamic™ balaclava.
Oh and neoprene? By all means have it handy for when you are enjoying that PBR post alpine adventure in a steamy hot tub.