The ski mask is also known as a balaclava (though slightly different) or a Bally in the UK. It is simply a kind of cloth headwear designed to cover and protect the head and a large part of the face, typically leaving only the eyes and mouth exposed. Exactly what it covers and doesn’t cover depends on the style of the ski mask and how it’s worn.
And that should be a good hint at the many styles and uses. You can, for example, roll one up to cover only the crown of your head or roll it down to protect only your neck – and everything in between.
The ski mask has an interesting history, too.
The alternative name of balaclava comes from the 1854 Battle of Balaclava in the Crimean War. British troops wore this ski mask-like headgear to keep warm during the harsh winter weather. Their handmade head coverings (which became known as balaclavas) were sent to the troops because official supplies didn’t get to them on time.
So, although it may be called a ski mask, that name barely scratches the surface of what it can be and do.
Ski Mask Uses
Ski masks, as you may have guessed, have many varied uses. They are used for everything from helping you stay warm to face protection and cold weather protection to sporting uses to providing an aesthetic appeal.
So consider these uses . . .
Skiing, Snowboarding, Ice Skating
Ski masks are, obviously, an essential part of the attire – both for protection and style-wise – for cold-weather outdoor sports such as skiing, snowboarding, and ice skating. A ski face mask is really the perfect protective headgear for winter sports enthusiasts, providing both warmth and protection from cold, face-chapping wind.
But don’t forget sunburn protection. With that bright winter sun above and the snow reflecting it up, facial sunburn should always be a concern for those engaging in winter sports. Ski masks provide the needed protection while also providing the needed breathability so that your goggles and glasses don’t fog up.
Hunting and Fishing
Hunters and fishermen are also big fans of this kind of face and head protection and for good reason. A ski face mask provides these hardy individuals the warmth and protection needed not only for comfort but, on occasion, for survival.
This breathable, tight-fitting, cold-weather face protection allows them to stay out in the woods or on the lake longer and with greater comfort. Many of the mask options for hunting and fishing feature moisture-wicking material to keep you warm when you sweat on the walk to your stand or honey hole. And, too, there are camo patterns to keep you concealed from that trophy buck.
Die-hard runners are a unique breed (as you well know if you are one), and a little weather will never stop them. Still, sub-freezing temps and wind can present some definite dangers for your lungs and face.
But if you wear balaclavas while running, the air you breathe won’t be as cold and the risk of frostbite on your face is dramatically decreased. Really, your cold-weather running gear is incomplete without a ski mask.
Ski masks have been a favored accessory for bike riders (both kinds) for a long time. Face protection is essential for cold-weather riding, but so is breathability. A quality ski mask will keep your goggles or face shield from fogging so that visibility remains optimal. And for the hardcore motorcycle rider, masks made from flame-resistant materials are available.
Many more people who wear balaclavas and ski masks aren’t wearing them for comfort while having outdoor fun but as part of their on-the-job PPE. Think firefighters who wear flame-resistant balaclavas to protect their faces and lungs. And there are those electrical workers and linemen who must wear arc-rated masks under face shields for added protection.
Ski masks/balaclavas are an essential piece of equipment for various security forces as well. They are issued to troops who have to function in extreme climates (typically very cold) and at high altitudes.
Types of Ski Masks
Just as there are many and varied ski-mask uses, there are also a bunch of different types – both inextricably bound up with the benefits. The main benefits shared by all the various types include:
Protection from harsh weather conditions such as low temps, wind, rain/snow, and sun
Warmth to allow you to keep going while you enjoy your favorite outdoor activity or do your job, particularly in extreme cold
Face protection and safety for those engaging in extreme sports or hazardous jobs
A variety of sizing options to meet your needs, from breathability first to tight-fitting
Here, then, is a quick rundown of the various types and versions that all offer all these benefits:
Designer Ski Masks
But don’t be fooled into thinking that ski masks are purely utilitarian – there’s a lot more to them than mere function. In fact, believe it or not, you can purchase designer ski masks. With one (or several) of these, you can make a fashion statement and feel confident in your style while staying warm and cozy, and protected.
Several designer options include the following:
Where to Buy Ski Masks
Now we come to the part you’ve likely been waiting for . . . The best place(s) to buy your ski masks. But, first, we need to consider what you should look for when making a purchase.
The five areas of concern for purchasing are type, design, materials, fit, and price. We’ve already touched on types and design, so now we’ll look at materials, fit, and price.
The fabric/material your ski mask is made from will play a big role in how well it does what you want it to. Typical materials are cotton, neoprene, nylon, wool, acrylic, and various blends. Choosing the right materials means first determining what you want out of the mask. For example, wool is warm, but heavy and itchy. Nylon and acrylic, on the other hand, aren’t as warm but are much lighter and often better fitting. Really, it all boils down to your needs and preferences.
When it comes to fit, most manufacturers and vendors claim that their products are one-size-fits-all (or most). Sometimes they are; sometimes they aren’t. While most ski masks and balaclavas will stretch enough to accommodate any size face and head, you still need to be mindful of adjustability and proper fit. If, for example, you’re looking for a full or half mask, you might consider one with Velcro fasteners on the back. This will allow for the needed adjustments to achieve the best fit.
Prices can be all over the place, from very cheap to prohibitively expensive. And, again, as with fabric and materials, the price you pay will be determined in large part by what the ski mask is for and what you want out of it.
The price you pay can range from $5 for cheap, poorly made masks all the way to more than $50 for designer ones. There is, though, a source for quality, well-made ski masks, and balaclavas at wholesale prices even single items and small quantities, which we’ll get to shortly.