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The leaves are turning and the crisp hint of fall lingers in the air. You’re gearing up. Winter jackets, hats, and gloves call to you. They are the armor you’ll wear as you shred pillowy powdered tree glades on ski days and snowshoe in the backcountry. One gear item you may be tempted to overlook is the humble balaclava.

The balaclava, used by the most hardcore outdoorsmen and women, is a necessity for skiers, winter hikers and snowshoers, and hunters alike. Never heard of it? Don’t worry, we’ll give you a crash course and explain why this is a must-have piece of winter apparel.

The History of the Balaclava

The history of the Balaclava is an interesting one. During the Crimean War (1853-1856), British soldiers donned knitted headgear that covered the top and lower portion of their face, exposing only their eyes, to keep warm during The Battle of Balaclava. The town of Balaclava was nearby and, over time, the name came to be associated with the unique face masks worn by the troops. Traditionally, Balaclavas were made of wool but now they are comprised of a variety of fabrics including silk, fleece, and bamboo. Balaclavas are also worn for protective purposes by firefighters, police, race car drivers, electrical workers, SWAT, and special forces personnel.

Sports in which Balaclavas are Utilized

For winter sports lovers the balaclava is a trusted best friend. Skiers and snowboarders utilize this handy item to protect them from chapped skin and, in extreme conditions, frostbite. Winter mountaineers wear balaclavas for added warmth and protection. Snowmobilers, motorcyclists, and bicyclists also benefit from balaclavas which keep the wind from wreaking havoc on their skin.

Purpose and Function

The most obvious purpose of the balaclava is to keep the wearer warm and dry. Because balaclavas cover the head and lower part of the face, heat from the top of your head doesn’t escape, but the breathable material of balaclavas prevents fogging on goggles. Helmets can be worn over balaclavas making them ideal for skiing, snowboarding, and snowmobiling.

Balaclavas that Perform

When choosing a balaclava, researching the materials are key. You don’t want a heavyweight balaclava in late fall and early winter because you’ll sweat your face off — and you certainly want to make sure that you have headgear that will perform in the dead of winter when you’re hunting for powder stashes. Luckily, Turtle Fur has a balaclava for every season, every sport, and every situation.

The Ultralightweight Advanced Moisture Control Balaclava

An excellent choice for the shoulder season (early October-early December) in the mountains, this breathable balaclava will protect from the fall and early-winter alpine chill while ensuring that you don’t sweat your face off. Perfect for hiking, camping, and early season skiing, this impressive piece of gear is made of silver-tex polygiene performance fabric and can be worn comfortably under helmets and hats. An added bonus, the antimicrobial fabric guarantees that there are no funky smells if you’re sweating through your winter workout.

Classic Midweight Shellaclava

The Chelonia 150 Fleece balaclava is a neck warmer and hood all in one — it keeps the wind off of your face and wicks moisture away from your body. Long enough to be tucked into your jacket, it will keep sleet and snow out while making sure heat stays in. Perfect for days when it’s dumping snow on the ski hill or you’re blasting through pines on a snowmobile, this must-have gear item comes in a variety of fun colors including “Turquoise”, “Hottie Pink”, and “Sunflower”.

Women’s Ninja Balaclava

Specifically for ladies who slay, the Ninja Balaclava is made of Comfort shell™ UV Performance Fabric that will keep you warm and wind-burn free while on your ice fishing, snowmobiling, and snowboarding adventures. Lightweight and breathable, this balaclava is an essential accessory and will keep your hair dry while blocking harsh winter sun rays which can be a big issue at high altitudes.

Frostklava Balaclava

This breathable and quick-drying option is excellent for skiing, snowboarding, biking, hiking, and pretty much any other sport that takes you into the windy wilderness. Turtle Fur’s description really says it all: “Featuring a flat seam construction and a low bulk neck, the soft, brushed interior only adds to the Frostclava’s allure, keeping you warm and dry whether worn under a helmet or hat.” Complete with Comfort shell™ UV Performance Fabric, this balaclava will protect you from sunburns while still allowing you to breath easy.

The Heavy Weight Mascot Windbloc Balaclava

Boasting Original turtle fur® fleece this is the granddaddy of all balaclavas. If you want full face, head, and neck coverage that’s excellent for backcountry or inbounds skiing and snowboarding, this is the balaclava for you. This balaclava can also be worn for winter mountaineering expeditions to protect you from frostbite.

So, Why Do You Need a Balaclava Anyway?

As an avid skier, snowshoer, and hunter, I don’t step into the wilderness without my balaclava. The added protection from elements such as sun and wind is invaluable particularly in the high alpine terrain of Colorado where I play. My Turtle Fur balaclava is compatible with my ski helmet and fits comfortably under my favorite trucker hat. When the urge to winter camp strikes, I can throw on my balaclava and cozy up in the backcountry around a roaring fire. I even choose to sleep in my balaclava so that no heat escapes overnight. Turtle Fur Balaclavas make my winter exploits more comfortable and more safe; in a survival situation, my balaclava will protect me from nose and cheek frostbite. This essential piece of winter gear is bang for your buck in more ways than one.