Don’t let the heat coursing through your neck and head escape into the cold clutches of winter. Keep it close instead with the help of an ultralight, ultra-compact, and inexpensive clothing accessory that should be in every cold-weather adventurer’s wardrobe: A liner balaclava.
Your carotid arteries and jugular veins lie close to the surface on either side of your neck. Through them flows a substantial amount of blood and heat to and from your head and brain. If your neck is directly exposed to the cold, some of that heat is lost to the environment. To prevent that from occurring, you need a way to insulate your neck.
A neck gaiter is a good option for protecting your neck, but it misses out on some important features that a liner balaclava can provide.
First, a liner balaclava functions like long underwear for your head, providing an additional layer of insulation and warmth underneath your winter hat. And because liner balaclavas are thin and form-fitting, it’s easy to add one without affecting the fit of your hat (or helmet, if you’re skiing or biking). A liner balaclava also fully covers your ears, especially the lower sections that often protrude out from below your hat.
For cold-weather camping, I’m a huge fan of wearing a liner balaclava at night in my sleeping bag for a warmer night’s rest. Unlike a hat, which can often shift around or fall off during a night’s tossing and turning, a liner balaclava will stay securely in place all night long.
Lastly, liner balaclavas also tend to be very lightweight, with many styles hovering at a scant two ounces; compact, fitting easily into your jacket pocket when not in use; and inexpensive, with most ranging in price from roughly $15 to $30.
If at all possible, try on a few liner balaclavas before you buy. Look for the following features:
My personal favorite and go-to these days is the Pearl Izumi Barrier Balaclava, a slightly more expensive option ($35) that features a delightful windproof swath of fabric over the forehead and ears—a much appreciated feature in breezy conditions.