10 Best Balaclava for Hiking in Sub-Zero Temperatures 2023

Last Updated on 27/08/2023

Best Balaclava for Hiking

What is the Best Balaclava for Hiking? Of the Top 10 best hiking balaclavas, there are three standout options that we would choose for different levels of weather harshness. In this guide, we explain why we think these are the best and what to look for when buying a hiking balaclava.

Balaclavas are designed to keep your neck, head, face, nose, ears, chin, and cheeks warm all in one go. They are perfect for sub-zero temperatures, where any part of your skin that is exposed will feel the sting of the cold wind. You can wear them underneath a beanie hat or climbing helmet, and they help to complete your winter outfit. Hiking balaclavas are also one of the best ways to keep your head warm when camping in cold weather.

They can be made from merino wool or blends of polyester and elasticated fibers to ensure they fit most people and don’t feel too loose or too tight. If the neck section is long enough, you can tuck the bottom of your balaclava into your jacket or shirt to ensure all parts of your neck are covered and not losing body heat.

Here is our list of the best balaclavas for hiking in cold weather and winter conditions, including wind, rain, snow, and even sun. Be sure to match the warmth of your balaclava to the temperature of the country you are hiking in. These are the best hiking balaclavas available today:

10 Best Balaclava for Hiking

BUFF UVX Balaclava

grey hiking balaclava

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  • MATERIALS: 85% Polyester, 14% Elastane Ultra-Light UVX Fabric

The BUFF UVX Balaclava is the best balaclava for intensive hiking up and down mountains because it is lightweight and breathable enough to leave on while going uphill.

It has laser-cut breath holes to help with heavy breathing and features UPF 50+ protection which means you can use this in extreme heat without having to use suncream on your face. Made from a two-way stretch fabric with a wide opening to tuck inside your jacket, this hiking balaclava feels comfortable and keeps your face warm when it’s below freezing.


Fjallraven Keb Fleece Balaclava

olive green balaclava

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  • MATERIALS: 73% Polyester, 20% Wool, 7% Elastane

The Fjallraven Keb Fleece Balaclava is the best balaclava for camping and bushcraft as well as hiking in winter conditions around the world. It is warm and comfortable against the skin and much thicker than the Buff Balaclava above.

This means that it can get rather hot on aggressive inclines unless it is sub-zero degrees, in which case the extra warmth is appreciated. The design, fit, and comfort are all above average, and we don’t have anything bad to say about it other than the women’s label – a great choice for very cold weather.


Icebreaker Merino Oasis Wool Winter Balaclava

merino wool balaclava

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  • MATERIALS: 100% Merino Wool

The Icebreaker Merino Oasis Wool Winter Balaclava is made from the world’s best 200gm merino jersey fabric which is both thin and breathable, as well as warm and comfortable.

Merino wool is thermoregulation, which means that it keeps you warm when it’s cold and doesn’t overheat you as you exert yourself. This is a super warm but lightweight balaclava for hiking we would recommend to anyone who wants full coverage. The only change I would make to this is a longer neck to tuck into my shirt; otherwise, an excellent hiking balaclava all around.


Outdoor Research Sonic Gore-TEX Infinium Balaclava

Windproof balaclava for hiking

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  • MATERIALS: 84% Polyester, 16% LYCRA Windstopper Technical Fleece

The Outdoor Research Sonic Gore-TEX Infinium Balaclava is designed for sub-zero temperatures and will keep you warm in the most brutal snowstorms. The best thing about this hiking balaclava is that it keeps your ears warm, and so negates the need to wear a hat on top.

The WindPro ear panels allow sound to pass through so you can easily hear your team easily. There is a mesh panel to breathe through and prevent condensation build-up on the inside and even an opening on the nose to do the same thing. We really like this innovative design and use of technical material that is ideal for hiking in extremely cold weather.


Marmot Super Hero Balaclava

polartec hiking balaclava

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  • MATERIALS: 60% Nylon, 35% Polyester, 5% Elastane Lining, 84% Polyester, 16% Elastane Shell

The Marmot Super Hero Balaclava uses the incredibly wind-resistant Polartec Power Stretch fabric and insulative Polartec Wind Pro fleece lining. This makes it super soft against your skin with excellent warmth retention.

Polartec is also renowned for not absorbing moisture and, in fact, wicking it away from you to make sure you stay warm without feeling wet. Something you may or may not like with this hiking balaclava is that it is very well-fitted around the eyes, which makes it secure but hard to pull down over your mouth to talk or take a breath.


BURTON Burke Soft Dryride Ultrawick Fleece Riding Hood

fleece hood balaclava

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  • MATERIALS: 94% Polyester, 6% Spandex

The BURTON Burke Soft Dryride Ultrawick Fleece Riding Hood is about as cool of a balaclava you can get for hiking. This simple hooded design is perfect for pulling up over your nose to protect you from harsh winds and will keep you warm in freezing temperatures. It uses a highly effective wicking fleece that means you never get cold and wet even if it snows or rains. This balaclava is perfect for hiking in the snow and can be worn out and about to the shops without looking too threatening.


Mountain Hardwear Alpine Balaclava

mountaineering balaclava

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  • MATERIALS: 84% Polyester, 16% Elastane Polartec Power Stretch Fleece

The Mountain Hardwear Alpine Balaclava is one of the best hiking balaclavas for winter and dealing with snow. The Polartec Power Stretch fleece is incredibly insulative and breathable, but the best part is that it barely absorbs any water at all, and even if it does, it will still keep you warm.

The advantage of this balaclava over others in this guide is the small peaked visor which is ideal for blocking snow and rain from blowing into your eyes. We highly recommend this to hikers in cold countries as well as cyclists and other outdoor recreation.


BURTON Down Insulated Riding Hood

down insulated balaclava

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  • MATERIALS: Taffeta Lining Synthetic Down Insulation, DRYRIDE Mist-Defy 20 Denier Nylon Micro Ripstop Fabric, DRYRIDE Ultrawick Fleece Liner

The BURTON Synthetic Down Insulated Riding Hood is perfect for keeping your head and ears warm on a cold winter hike. You can use it in combination with your jacket hood or as a standalone hooded balaclava for hiking.

Burton is a snowboarding brand, but because this balaclava isn’t too tight-fitting, it is ideal for hiking and camping as well. It has a stretch face coving for comfort and breathability, which gives you lots of freedom of movement. This is a balaclava you don’t feel like a bank robber in if you are just heading to the shops.


Smartwool Merino 250 Balaclava

Merino balaclava for hiking

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  • MATERIALS: 100% Merino Wool

The Smartwool Merino 250 Balaclava is very similar to the Icebreaker Oasis above but not quite as good on fit and design. We love the warmth and comfort of this hiking balaclava, and because it is so lightweight, it is perfect for long-distance hikes without overheating around your neck. The thing that ever so slightly lets this balaclava down is that it sags over your nose and forehead, which can get annoying throughout the day. Other than that, we would still take this hiking quite happily.


Original Turtle Fur Fleece Shellaclava Balaclava

black balaclava for hiking

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  • MATERIALS: 2% Polyester, 8% Spandex

The Original Turtle Fur Fleece Shellaclava Balaclava is one of the comfiest and coziest balaclavas for hiking we have tested. It uses fairly thick fleece with just enough stretch to feel snug and warm on freezing cold days; however, it does get quite hot on strenuous hikes, even if it is cold.

The head material is slightly more lightweight than the neck buff, which is great for wearing under helmets or another hat to give you full protection. The TurtleFur company was founded in 1982 and is known for this turtleneck-style balaclava.


hiking balaclava in the snow

What to look for in a Balaclava for Hiking?

When looking for the best balaclava for hiking in there are a few different factors you should consider before making your decision.


Warmth is arguably the most important feature of any trekking balaclava, but it has to match both the environment and the activity. If you are hiking slowly in minus 20-degree snowstorms, then you would want a thicker, more protective balaclava. But if your balaclava is for hiking up steep mountains in fairly mild winter conditions, then you would look for a more lightweight material and design.


Wool balaclavas for hiking are made from merino wool which holds some amazing qualities. For instance, merino wool will keep you warm when it’s cold and cool when it’s hot. It doesn’t hold an odor and is naturally hypoallergenic with antimicrobial properties which are perfect for backpackers and hikers who get dirty and don’t have access to a washing machine in the middle of nature.

Synthetic hiking balaclavas are often stretchier and better at wicking moisture, and some might argue comfier against the skin. You can indeed get a synthetic wool blend balaclava, but there aren’t many to choose from. We quite like the qualities of Polartec fabric and other wicking fleece materials because they continue to work in the rain and don’t hold moisture which is a big deal when hiking.


If your balaclava was for staying warm when stationary, the breathability and ventilation wouldn’t be much of an issue. Still, because we are looking at the best balaclava for hiking, we should take this into account. The reason we selected the Buff balaclava as the best for hiking is that it is so lightweight and breathable. This allows you to keep it on all day long without feeling overheated or cold.

Wind protection

All balaclavas will offer a certain amount of wind protection when hiking, but some are built to block all of the wind. Goretex Windstopper is used in a number of our recommendations and is very effective at blocking icy cold wind in winter. Fleece and synthetic material will typically do a better job of blocking wind than merino wool due to the tighter weave of the fabric. Be sure to tuck the bottoms into your shirt for total wind protection around your neck.

Moisture Wicking

Both synthetic materials and merino wool have excellent moisture-wicking properties, which help to move any perspiration and moisture away from your skin. Reducing chaffing is one benefit of this as well as ensuring the insulation keeps doing its job. From what we understand, moisture is carried to the outer of the material using your body heat which is why you can see a build-up of frost in the title image at the very top. The water droplets that are wicked away settle on the outside, where they quickly turn to frost.


The shape, design, and fit of your hiking balaclava should not be taken for granted, especially with some of the less stretchy materials. A slim profile is most comfortable for a hiking balaclava that hugs your head and has an excess of material at the bottom. Looser-fitting balaclavas work well with an insulated hood design but not with the traditional balaclava profile.

Icebreaker Merino Winter Balaclava

Benefits of Balaclavas for Hiking

  • The biggest benefit of a balaclava for hiking is that it keeps your entire head, face, and neck warm all in one. They ensure that very little bare skin is exposed to the frigid cold and provide an insulation layer for your face.
  • You don’t need to carry a scarf and a hat. All you need is a single balaclava that can often be adapted to work as a stand-alone scarf or hat anyway.
  • Wearing a balaclava to hike in also protects you from the wind as well as the cold. As you climb a mountain and gain altitude, what often happens is the temperature drops and the wind increases due to exposure without trees etc…
  • Most balaclavas will weigh less and take up less space in your backpack than carrying a scarf and beanie, which makes them great for thru-hikers trying to save money and pack weight.

Balaclavas Vs Buffs and Scarfs Vs Hats

People often ask why not just use a hat and a scarf or buff instead of an all-in-one hiking balaclava. There are some situations where a hat and scarf may be better suited, but balaclavas are just more convenient and offer the best warmth and wind protection.

Balaclavas Vs Buffs

Buffs are like stretchy neck gaiters that are basically thin tubes of material that slot over your head and sit around your neck. They work just like a scarf but without the long flailing ends that become annoying after a couple of hours of hiking. Buffs can be used in multiple ways, unlike balaclava, and do offer protection for your chin, cheeks, and nose when needed. They can also be used as a headband to cover your ears and keep hair out of your face.

Balaclavas Vs Scarfs

Scarfs are great at keeping your neck and chin warm but often require constant adjustments to keep it wrapped uptight. Hiking and climbing mountains require a lot of physical movement, which inevitably works your scarf loose. This is why balaclavas are better suited to hiking than scarves. Scarfs do, however, provide better warmth because you can wrap them around your neck 2 or 3 times. This is great if you are stationary, but once you get moving, scarves quickly become too hot.

Balaclavas Vs Hats

Hats are great for hiking in and are easy to put on and take off as and when needed. The problem with hats, though, is that they only keep the top of your head warm and leave your face and neck exposed to the cold. You can use a hat with a scarf or buff, but why just switch to a trekking balaclava? Once the temperature becomes so cold that you feel it on your face, it is time to switch from a hat to a balaclava.

Best hiking balaclavas breathable and windproof

FAQs About the Best Balaclavas for Hiking

Are Balaclavas Good for Hiking?

Balaclavas are excellent for hiking in freezing cold temperatures where the wind bites at your face, and you need extra protection. Balaclavas will keep everything above your shoulders warm and cozy so that you don’t need to mess around with hats, scarves, and neck gaiters. One word of warning though is that because balaclavas are so warm, it is possible to overheat while hiking. This can cause you to sweat, which is very dangerous in extreme conditions.

Should a Balaclava be Tight or Loose Fitting?

Hiking balaclavas should not fit too tight or too loose to avoid overheating, discomfort, and potentially letting wind enter. Thinner, stretchier material works best for close-fitting balaclavas, whereas the hood-style balaclava can be slightly baggier. This decision depends on whether you have a preference for a close-fitting but stretchy fabric or a warmer but less restrictive design.

Is a Balaclava Necessary for Hiking?

Using a balaclava to go walking isn’t necessary unless the weather warrants it. That is if the temperature drops below zero degrees and there is a biting wind on your face and neck. Then it might be time to whip out your balaclava. In most cases, though, a warm winter jacket and warm hat will suffice.

Who Uses Balaclavas?

Balaclavas are used globally for different reasons, but the main reason is to increase warmth and face protection. Military personnel often use balaclavas to conceal their identity as well as keep warm. Skiiers and snowboards widely adopt balaclavas as the sport requires them to explore exposed mountain locations.


We hope you enjoyed our guide to the Best Balaclava for Hiking, and we helped make your decision a little easier when choosing a balaclava for yourself.

Gear Assistant
Gear Assistant

This article has been written and/or edited by Andrew N. 20+ years of hiking, mountaineering, and camping experience, with access to all the latest outdoor gear.

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