Cold weather hunting presents an entirely new set of challenges, especially once the temperatures start to plummet well below zero. Nothing can ruin a hunt more quickly thaN becoming too cold because you weren't wearing the right clothing, and even worse, it could potentially be fatal should you suddenly find yourself stuck out in the wilderness as a huge storm rages all around.
While there are numerous pieces of clothing that are essential to cold weather hunting trips, one item that is often overlooked by many hunters is a high-quality neck gaiter or balaclava. The best balaclava is a must-have item on those extremely cold days, as this type of hunting facemask can ensure your neck, face and head stay fully covered and protected against the cold and snow.
On the other hand, if you'd prefer your face to stay uncovered, you can always choose a neck gaiter. These products are designed to slip over your head in order to keep your neck warm and protected. Most good neck gaiters are fairly long, allowing them to not only be tucked into your shirt and coat to prevent wind or snow from blowing down your neck, but also to be pulled up to protect your mouth, nose and ears from both sun and cold.
The 5 Best Balaclavas & Neck Gaiters
Overall best balaclava and neck gaiter combo
Best for extreme cold conditions
Quality neck gaiter (may run small)
Best low costing fleece neck gaiter
Overall best neck gaiter hands down
Tips for Finding the Best Balaclava/ Best Neck Gaiter
When shopping for a hunting balaclava or neck gaiter, the first thing to consider is what sort of temperatures you'll generally be wearing it in. This will play a major role in both the type of garment you should look for and what materials you'll want it to be made out of. Both natural and synthetic materials each provide their own benefits. So it will be up to you to decide which of the two you prefer.
Many of the most popular balaclavas and neck gaiters are made from newer, more high-tech materials that provide both scent control and moisture wicking properties. As well, you can also find more traditional wool products that also provide many of the same benefits. For this reason, the most important factor really isn't what the product is made from, but rather how well it's made and how warm it is.
Since the entire point of either a balaclava or a neck gaiter is to keep you warm and your skin protected from the elements, it's obviously important that you choose something that's been proven capable of handling colder temperatures if you plan on using it in more extreme conditions. On the other hand, if you're simply looking for something to keep the wind, snow or rain from going down your neck on those fall hunting trips, you can definitely get away with something that's more lightweight and breathable.
Comfort is another important thing to think of, especially if you're considering a full military balaclava that encases all but your eyes. Some people find this type of headgear quite claustrophobic, so you need to think about whether or not you'll actually feel comfortable wearing it out in the field for long hours at a time. As well, you may also want to consider an airhole balaclava if you're worried about feeling confined, as this will make it a bit easier for you to breathe comfortably.
Size is also important when buying either a neck gaiter or a balaclava. Although most products are listed as one-size-fits-all, this isn't always the case in real life. Some brands and models tend to be a bit larger, while others tend to run on the smaller side. Still, the best ones are generally stretchy enough to ensure a comfortable fit on the majority of men and women.
Ranking the Best Neck Gaiters and Balaclavas
If you're looking for the best hunting balaclava, few others even come close to competing with this excellent Under Armour model. For starters, it features Under Armour's special UA Scent Control technology to help keep your scent from giving you away. As well, it's available in your choice of either Mossy Oak Open Count or Realtree AP-Xtra camo patterns to ensure your head stays fully hidden.
Under Armour's ColdGear Infrared technology also ensures you stay completely warm, as this special inner coating is soft and thermo conductive—helping to trap in your body heat to protect you from even the coldest temperatures. The balaclava features a special four-way stretch construction that provides a comfortable fit and ensures it always maintains its shape. In addition, the hood part of the balaclava can be pulled down—transforming it into a neck gaiter for those times you don't need full facial protection. For all of these reasons, this is definitely one piece of gear every serious hunter needs to consider.
Made by Mountain Hardwear, one of the leaders in extreme weather gear, the Alpine is easily the best balaclava for extreme cold. It's made from special Polartec Power Stretch fabric that easily stretches for a tight, comfortable fit. The fabric also keeps you nice and toasty and wicks any moisture away from your skin to keep you warm and dry throughout the day.
This balaclava is designed primarily for extreme weather skiing and mountain climbing, and as such it features a unique 'Glassket' that allows goggles to fit seamlessly into the hood to keep snow out of your eyes. While this might not be much use while you're hunting, it will definitely come in handy if you plan on riding a snowmobile or ATV.
Another useful feature is the pliable brim, which helps shield your eyes from the sun and falling snow. The unique 'flat-lock' construction ensures it hugs your head and neck snugly and allows it to easily fit underneath a hat, hood or helmet. While it may cost a bit more than your average balaclava, the Mountain Hardwear Alpine will be worth every penny on those bitterly cold days.
This Under Armour camo neck gaiter is quite similar to the Under Armour balaclava listed above, as it also features UA Scent Control technology. However, it's not quite as warm as the balaclava, as it's from the company's ColdGear line, which isn't quite as advanced as the ColdGear Infrared technology found on the balaclava. Nonetheless, if you're looking for a high-quality hunting neck gaiter, this is definitely a decent choice.
The gaiter is available in three different camo patterns—Realtree AP-Xtra, Realtree Max 5 and Mossy Oak Open Count. It's a great choice for those who like to be camouflaged from head to toe. While there's no doubt it makes a fantastic neck warmer, this particular product does seem to run a bit small. For this reason, it might not be the best choice for anyone whose head or neck is above average size.
This fleece camo neck gaiter from Carhartt ticks all the boxes. It's made from a 92-percent polyester/ 8-percent spandex fleece blend to provide the utmost in warmth and comfort. This unique Carhartt Force fabric also features FastDry technology to wick moisture away from the skin and keep you dry.
Like the Under Armour products, it's available in your choice of Mossy Oak or Realtree Xtra camo. As well, it also features an anti-microbial finish that helps prevent it from soaking up odors that might give you away. All of these features ensure that this Carhartt Force camo neck gaiter is one of the best out there. Still, it’s the price that really makes it stand out, as it generally costs about half of the comparable Under Armour neck warmers.
While both the Under Armour and Carhartt neck gaiters are great products, this one might just be the warmest and best neck gaiter of all of them. Unlike the other two, which are made of synthetic fabrics, the First Lite Neck Gaiter is made from 100-percent superfine Merino wool. This 230-gram midweight wool provides all of the warmth and moisture wicking potential you need to keep you dry and cool, while still being lightweight enough to ensure you won't start sweating.
Another benefit of Merino wool is that it's naturally odor resistant, meaning this neck gaiter provides the same scent control capabilities as the Under Armour product. However, since Merino wool provides natural odor control instead of the chemically treated scent control technology available on many other products, you can rest assured that this benefit will continue throughout the life of the product.
While the First Lite Neck Gaiter may be a bit more expensive than many others, this is mostly to do with the quality of the materials and construction. As most experienced hunters know, wool provides many benefits that most other fabrics cannot, which is why this neck warmer stands head and shoulders above most of the competition.
Whether you're looking for the best balaclava or neck gaiter, any of the above products definitely fit the bill. So do yourself a favor and pick one of them up. You'll definitely thank yourself come this fall or winter when the temperatures start to drop.