Extremely cold days call for the best in protection! The soft and snuggly SmartWool balaclava uses pure merino wool to keep you warm while also managing moisture.
I have three different thin balaclavas, and this is probably my favorite. I typically wear them for winter bike commuting, but they all pull double duty on the trail. One is a stretchy standard polyester Mountain Hardware Power Stretch and the second is an Outdoor Research Sonic with mesh over the mouth and a nose hood. The Smartwool is easily the most comfortable of the three; it's stretchy enough to fit, but doesn't smoosh my nose like the MH. It also breaths a lot better than the MH, which is most noticeable when your glasses or goggles are fogging up. The OR keeps eyewear from fogging up the best, but at the expense of cold lips and being somewhat uncomfortable because of it's design. The Smartwool is also flexible enough to be worn with my face completely uncovered. The MH being less breathable and polyester also starts to smell after just a couple uses around the face, the Smartwool does not. I think it's so breathable and comfortable because it is the thinnest, but it doesn't sacrifice any warmth, because surprisingly it's easily as warm as the other two, even with the wind of riding. For scale, I typically wore this (and the other two) between 35F and 5F actual temp, swapping to something much thicker below 0F.
The one negative is that the Smartwool, by virtue of the fabric, doesn't rebound from being stretched as well as a synthetic fabric. After a couple uses the face area below the "hem" around the opening can get slightly stretched out, especially if I'm pulling it down over my face a lot. A wash restores the shape.
If you haven't been acquainted with the magical material known as merino wool, you need to get your sh*t together. For those who aren't familiar, it has an incredible warmth to weight ratio, dries quickly, is naturally antimicrobial, and you can wear it for days, sweating like a sumo wrestler, and the stuff miraculously doesn't smell. All my base layers are pure merino wool, and I will never change materials. As far as this balaclava, it lives up to it's merino reputation. Thin enough that your head doesnt sweat, but still perfectly warm. And also thin enough that when the mask is in front of your mouth, you can breathe naturally through it without your breath being forced up into your goggles and fogging them up (my pet peeve for face masks). So if you're looking for a solid mask made of the best layering material on planet earth.... look no further.
This balaclava is great. Fits my big head. Neck length is generous (most balaclava are too short in the neck for me). Well-designed and versatile -- I can wear it normally, or can cover everything but the eyes, or if I get too warm can pull it down and wear it like a neck gaiter. Comfortable and warm without bulk, as the merino is thin and dense. The only annoying thing is the big tag inside the neck part. For my hikes in the New Hampshire winter woods, it's warm down to maybe 15 F. For lower temps, I wear an additional hat and neck gaiter over the balaclava (same brand). I've had this almost a year, washed it a couple times, and it's held up fine. Fashion-wise, you will look like a scuba diver or a ninja. My husband laughs at me when I wear it :-)
I LOVE this balaclava! It's thin, but it's warm and more wind resistant than I thought it would be. I have been wearing this on the bike trail on below zero windchill days and it keeps my face warm. I wear a MH windstopper hat on top and my ears stay nice and toasty. Like other reviewers have mentioned, I love that I can pull it down and uncover my entire face or use it as a neck gaitor. I like to periodically uncover my face and some of the other brands are thicker and too tight to be comfortable when I pull it down under my chin. I do get some fogging on my sunglasses, but not as much as with the synthetic balaclavas. I would buy more of these if they were in stock. Highly recommend.
Feels great. Fits well. Very transportable. I carried it in the pocket of my pants when not in use. When needed, it is versatile--it can cover:
1. Just your neck
2. Neck ,top of head, sides of face
3. All of above and chin
4. All of above and mouth
5. All of above and nose
Making a quick transition between the areas of your face that are covered is essential when trekking in very cold temperatures, as your perceived temperature changes every minute depending on whether you are walking/climbing/resting and on whether the sun is blocked out by clouds, ridges/cliffs, etc. Transitions are fast with this balaclava. And the wool feels great. This is a thing balaclava, but I never felt that the warmth provided was not enough. Served me well on Mount Kilimanjaro, and likely will on many more trips.