Before forking out for heated gear, it’s worth seeing just how warm you can get using tried and true “analogue” methods.
One of the cheapest, most efficient ways to seal in body heat and protect against windchill is a balaclava.
We’ve made a list covering a range of price points – but even the cheapest, most basic balaclava can make a world of difference to your winter riding.
Comfortable, Warm, Great Value
Oxford’s ChillOut Essential Balaclava boasts the features of all of its more expensive competition and comes in at a fraction of the price.
It is a clear winner in this category and is regularly available on sale. Check SportsBikeShop
Best Motorcycle Balaclava Reviews
Let’s take a look at our featured picks.
Oxford ChillOut Essential Balaclava
Oxford is well-known for producing quality, utilitarian kit on a budget. This balaclava is no different, with all the expected features, excellent build quality and a comfortable, unisex fit.
The Chillout is made from breathable, windproof material, includes perforated sections over the nose and mouth, wicks moisture quickly and features an anti-bacterial finish to eliminate odours.
This is cut to drop down over the chest and back and completely eliminate draught. Flat-stitched seams, soft fleece and well-placed stretch panels make this amongst the most comfortable hoods on our list.
- Amazing quality at this price
- Feature complete
- Genuinely can’t think of any
Knox Cold Killers Hot Hood
The Knox Hot Hood is perhaps the best compromise between performance and cost on our list.
It’s not the cheapest and is arguably out-performed by the Alpinestars Winter, but for its price point, it’s hard to beat.
A full face, velboa fleece-lined, windproof, water-resistant balaclava with ultra-breathable mesh panels at the top of the head, the Knox Cold Killer includes plenty of material to drop down onto the chest and back to create a draught-proof seal.
Flat stitched seams and a contoured fit mean this will remain comfortable even on long rides.
This comes in one size and seems to fit a variety of heads well.
- Super warm, windproof and water resistant
- Mesh panels over the top of the head keep you from overheating
- There are cheaper options available
Alpinestars Winter Balaclava
This is the most expensive one on our list and lives up to expectations.
It’s a full-face, breathable, stretchy balaclava with mesh panels over the ears and an open nose panel for easy breathing. The synthetic material feels premium, lightweight and wicks moisture away from the skin quickly.
Most of the gear on our list is pre-formed to some extent to support an ergonomic fit. On trying on the Alpinestars Winter balaclava for the first time, this is very apparent.
It sits comfortably over the nose, chin and back of the neck – all likely points for rubbing/chafing in badly-fitting gear. The fit is tight at first (though not uncomfortably so) and will stretch to the user’s face over time.
This balaclava rolls down to insulate the chest and back of the user, increasing warmth and ensuring no draughts can get in.
Available in one size, though its ultra-stretchy material seems to support a variety of head sizes. We haven’t heard any sizing complaints from the UK community.
- Covers chest and back as well as face and neck
- As warm as you can get without electronic help
- Comfortable right out of the box
Alpinestars Open Face Balaclava
This differs from Alpinestars Winter balaclava in that it doesn’t cover the nose or roll down onto the back and chest.
Like the other Alpinestars product on our list, this is ergonomically pre-formed with a strategically-placed chin panel helping everything stay in place.
Flat-stitched seams feel great, and though it doesn’t drop as low as the winter version, there’s plenty of material to go under your mid-layer and jacket.
The material feels thick relative to some others but is warm, moisture-wicking and retains its shape – even after many washes.
This is ultra stretchy, and there seem to be few complaints about sizing from both male and female riders.
- Comfortable and warm
- Fits a wide variety of people and unisex
- Tight at first – don’t be put off
Spada Chill Factor 2
For the level of insulation provided, this is a lightweight and flexible balaclava.
It’s fleece-lined with a windproof membrane, breathable (less so than the Alpinestars), and the flat-stitched seams feel comfortable against the face.
This covers the nose and mouth, but the opening is cut wide. This helps prevent material bunching up around the eyes and blocking your vision when turning your head.
The balaclava rolls down to cover the chest and back. While not cut as low as the Alpinestars, there is enough material here to go under your mid-layer and jacket.
Available in ‘one size fits most’, there are some rumblings out there that this fits those with a larger head best. Smaller-headed folk beware.
- Really warm and comfortable
- Sweet spot between price and performance
- Size comes up large
Oxford Silk Balaclava
This full-face balaclava has the performance characteristics you’d expect of silk.
It’s remarkably comfortable against the skin, warm, wicks well, but with the caveat that the middle seam running down the front of the helmet rubs against the nose and forehead for some riders.
I tried one on and couldn’t feel the issue, but several people have reported discomfort. Others have said turning it inside out eliminates the problem.
There’s enough material here to roll down and meet your base layer, but it doesn’t cover the chest and back.
Sizing has also been a problem for some riders. This might be best suited to those with smaller heads.
- Organic fibre feels good
- Inexpensive for a silk garment
- Front seam is uncomfortable for some riders
- Size comes up small
This is the cheapest and most basic balaclava on our list, but don’t let that put you off. For the price, this thermal cotton hood will still make a world of difference compared to riding without one.
Plenty of material is included to roll down under your mid-layer though the longer-necked among us might have to use an extra neck roll.
Though this is a fairly basic design, it works and is well worth buying as a backup or for your pillion passenger.
- Can’t beat that price
- Fairly basic
A correctly-fitting balaclava with neck/chest curtain pays off in several ways:
- Seals in body heat
- Prevents cold air from entering the empty space in your helmet
- Help keep you dry in a shower (material dependent)
Some riders will tell you that a decent balaclava will also help reduce wind noise by sealing up gaps and layering material over the ears.
For more about reducing helmet noise, see these posts:
High-end balaclavas are separated from more budget offerings by insulation per millimetre, wind/water-resistant properties and comfort.
Typically, synthetic materials will get you the most bang for your buck regarding insulation per millimetre. Fleece-lined examples can remain lightweight, thin and leave enough room to add a membrane to take care of wind and water.
Thermal cotton and silk often wick better and make for comfortable riding but will not perform as well relative to their thickness.
Premium balaclavas will have highly breathable mesh panels around the scalp to keep you comfortable. Some will include these panels over the ears to avoid interfering with the sound from your speakers.
Flat-stitched seams help you avoid the ‘red lines’ on the face that are a feature of most riders in winter.
Though, lots of veterans will tell you, ‘If your balaclava isn’t comfortable, try turning it inside out.”
I get the best results from a balaclava when I roll the neck/chest part down, so it’s over my base layer and under my mid-layer and textile jacket.
My preference is for full-face balaclavas. They’re warmer, and keeping your nose covered and deflecting your breath down makes a huge difference to visor fogging in cold conditions.
Your mileage may vary.
If you’ve been riding in winter without a balaclava, prepare for a big change.
If you’re on a budget, a balaclava is a piece of kit worth investing in before looking into more expensive heated clothing.