Winter is a time to enjoy the snow and outdoors, but your time may be cut short without the proper gear. When the temperatures drop, no two pieces of equipment are more valuable than Merino wool gaiters and balaclavas. With dozens of ways to wear, they are must-have cold-weather accessories.
And when the temperature begins to freeze, Merino wool truly shines. Its natural properties make Merino one of the most sought-after materials for skiers, snowboarders, ice climbers, snowmobilers, or anyone who wants to enjoy the beauty of winter in comfort and warmth.
Although finding the right gaiter or balaclava that fits your specific needs can be challenging. That’s where we come in. At Merino Wool Gear, we are dedicated to helping you find your perfect Merino wool clothing.
Today, we’ll help you find your best Merino wool balaclava and gaiter. Let’s get started!
- Editor’s Choice: Merino Wool Buff
- Best Balaclava: Icebreaker Apex
- Best For Skiing: Meriwool Full Mask
- Best For Running: Smartwool 250 Gaiter
- Best For Extreme Cold: Minus33 Expedition
- Best For Commuters: Wool & Prince Gaiter
- Best For Hunting: Kuiu Ultra Merino 145
- Best Budget: Acushla Gaiter
- Final Note About Merino Wool Gaiters & Balaclavas
How To Choose The Best Merino Wool Balaclava For You
Before we get into the best balaclavas & gaiters, let’s look at some of the factors you should consider if you’re interested in getting one. We’ll look closer at functionality, fabric weight, style, and price.
That way, you can find your perfect piece of Merino wool gear!
First, consider how you will use a balaclava or gaiter. You’ll want something warm and windproof if you need it for the ski slopes. However, if you need a gaiter for hiking, biking, or running, you’ll need something breathable, moisture-wicking, and more lightweight.
I usually opt for a neck gaiter since it’s lightweight, easy to pack, and you can wear it a dozen different ways. And to me, this versatility goes hand-in-hand with functionality. Check out some of the ways you can wear Merino wool gaiter below.
To sum up, only buy a balaclava or gaiter with an understanding of how you will use it. I don’t want you to waste money on something you’ll never use!
Merino wool balaclavas come in various thicknesses, so understanding the different fabric weights (grams per square meter or gsm) is essential to finding the right gear for you. Heavyweight balaclavas (300+ gsm) will keep you much warmer than lightweight balaclavas (<160 gsm) but won’t breathe as well. To better understand which fabric weights work at which temperatures, check out the graphic from Minus33 below.
I prefer a lighter or midweight option for a balaclava since it usually works with an already-warm beanie. However, if you’re using your balaclava in Arctic conditions, the higher the gsm, the better.
We’ll cover three main styles of balaclava today: neck gaiters, full-face balaclavas (standard ‘face hole’), and hinged balaclavas. Each has unique features and properties, so choosing which style works best for you is up to you.
Merino wool gear, in general, is expensive. It’s one of the few downsides of Merino! If you are looking for a Merino wool gaiter or balaclava, you should understand the various price points because a higher price doesn’t necessarily mean higher quality.
That’s why we do what we do! You don’t have to sift through all the junk; we did that for you. The Merino wool gaiters and balaclavas you’ll see today, no matter the price, are worth every penny.
Editor’s Choice: Best Merino Wool Gaiter
Pros: Most versatile accessory (ever?) | Featherlight fabric weight | Over a dozen ways to wear
Cons: Prone to snags & tears | Fabric may weaken over time with improper care
I’m a Buff buff through and through. It’s what got me started on my Merino wool journey! Nearly six years ago, I stumbled upon an REI sale, and more than half a decade later, Merino Wool Gear is where people like you come to find the best that Merino wool offers.
Anyway, this isn’t about me; it’s about this Buff! Seriously, I can’t stress enough how much I love mine. At 125 gsm, it’s featherlight but still packs a punch in the warmth department; I get full 4-season use out of mine. And, since it’s 100% Merino wool, it feels super soft. Like “my neck is wrapped in a cloud” soft.
But you don’t just have to wear it around your neck. You can twist it into a beanie, fashion a full-face balaclava, or, my favorite, the airplane sleep mask. It’s the most versatile piece of Merino wool gear that I own.
However, you must properly care for it to get the most use out of it. After six years, my Merino wool buff has about as many battle scars. A stitch here, a minor tear there, that sort of thing. It doesn’t stop me from wearing it daily, but it’s worth noting.
Finally, I can’t say enough good things about this lightweight Merino wool Buff. It’s what started it all! Why would we not give it the top spot on our list?
Best Merino Wool Balaclava
Pros: Warmth-to-weight ratio | Fantastic durability | Ventilation flap
Cons: Expensive | May not fit all head shapes
If you need more coverage than a gaiter can provide, a Merino wool balaclava is your next best choice. And my favorite one is the Icebreaker Apex Balaclava. With a relaxed, comfortable fit, this accessory is perfect for layering under hats or helmets.
Although, by itself, it’s not the warmest. At 200 gsm, the midweight fabric adds warmth to an already-existing setup. It’s just that extra layer of protection that you need to get a few more runs before the last call on the chairlift.
Unlike some of the 100% Merino wool balaclavas, Icebreaker uses a wool-synthetic blend for extra strength and stretch. And in combination with the ventilation flap, the material manages your moisture levels.
The Icebreaker Apex Balaclava is a must-have for winter sports enthusiasts and cold-weather runners. Yes, it’s expensive. But, as with all Icebreaker gear – it’s worth every penny. Head to Icebreaker below and see if the Apex balaclava suits you.
Best Merino Wool Balaclava For Skiing
Pros: Extended neck length | Ventilation flap | Relatively affordable
Cons: Minimal versatility | Initial itchiness may occur
When you’re out on the mountain, active warmth is a must. Your gear should regulate your temperature and manage your moisture levels. One unique piece of equipment that does that is the Meriwool full ski mask balaclava.
What makes this piece unique is the extra long length. Meriwool designed the material to drape over your shoulders and tuck underneath your ski jacket. That way, you seal off any drafts or cold spots before they even form! And the hinged design allows you to adjust the ‘face hole‘ under your ski helmet and goggles. It may seem minor but it creates a more comfortable fit in the long run.
Finally, this Meriwool balaclava is super affordable for what you’re getting. It’s half a Merino wool hoodie for less than a quarter of the price. So, if you need extra protection next time you hit the slopes, grab this Meriwool 100% Merino wool balaclava.
Best Merino Wool Neck Gaiter For Running
Pros: Double-layered construction | Supersoft | Surprisingly breathable
Cons: May be too short for some | Sizing discrepancies
A classic piece from a trusted Merino wool brand, the Smartwool Merino 250 gaiter is a must-have for four-season runners. The midweight fabric is warm yet breathable. Plus, you can wear it in whichever way you can imagine. It’s just another one of those versatile pieces of Merino wool gear.
What sets this gaiter apart from the others is the shorter length. Smartwool uses a reduced size, which creates a lighter gaiter overall (only 0.71 oz). However, this means there is less coverage than longer gaiters. Luckily, if you’re looking for something longer, Smartwool offers other gaiter styles.
In addition to the shorter length, some users report that the fit is too snug around the neck. I haven’t experienced this issue, but that’s because mine has stretched over time.
Still, if you’re a runner looking for extra protection on those brisk winter jogs, the Smartwool 250 gaiter should be your top choice. And if you’re looking for more badass Merino wool running gear, Smartwool has an entire collection! Check out their industry-leading Merino wool performance apparel below!
Best Balaclava For Extreme Cold
Pros: Perfect for subzero conditions | Warm, high-quality material | Ideal for winter sports
Cons: Expensive for a balaclava | Style may not work for everyone
Snow, sleet, and wind, this balaclava will keep your head toasty no matter the conditions. Minus33 uses their popular expedition weight material (400 gsm), making it one of the warmest balaclavas on our list. Still, if you think the heavyweight option will be too hot, opt for the more breathable midweight option.
Outside of the insane temperature regulation properties, this Merino wool balaclava is super comfy. The material is an ultrasoft, 17.5-micron Merino wool fiber construction. There are even flatlock seams to prevent rubbing and chafing. In other words, your head will be toasty and cozy, no matter the conditions.
The Minus33 expedition balaclava is just one warm, comfy balaclava perfect for snowmobiling, skiing, snowboarding, or anything that requires you to be in subzero conditions for an extended period. Head to Minus33 below to learn more and see if it works for you!
Best Merino Wool Gaiter For Commuters
Pros: Clean, professional style | Durable fabric | Versatile design
Cons: Shorter length | Limited color options
If you’re battling the elements daily, you’ve got to have the gear to protect you. Although, you don’t want to look like you’re going on a hike every morning. This Wool & Prince gaiter has a slightly more professional look, making it the best option for commuters.
One of the reasons this gaiter looks so clean and professional is the high-quality material. Wool & Prince uses a nearly 50-50 wool-synthetic blend for added strength for daily use. There’s even a touch of spandex for increased stretch and recovery.
Although, when you see Merino wool of this quality, it typically comes at a price. That’s the case with this Wool & Prince neck gaiter. It’s nearly double the price of some of the other Merino wool neck gaiters on our list. However, the high price tag is worth the quality and style, primarily if you use it daily.
Finally, this gaiter is just as versatile as any other. You can wear it as a scarf, beanie, headband, sleep mask, hood, etc. Just keep it in your work bag and bust it out whenever needed!
Best Merino Wool Balaclava For Hunting
Pros: Comfortable clamshell construction | Ventilation design | Camouflage patterns
Cons: Super expensive | Not the warmest balaclava on the list
If you’re planning on punching a tag this year, you’ll need gear that gives you an advantage. For example, this Kuiu Ultra Merino 145 balaclava – which comes in three unique camouflage patterns – will keep you warm and dry up in the tree stand for an hour or two. And, as all hunters know, waiting just a little longer can make all the difference.
Kuiu uses a specialized material called Nuyarn Merino. It’s 90% Merino wool & 10% nylon, adding strength and durability without hindering wool’s beneficial breathability, odor-resistance, and temperature regulation properties.
Although, at 145 gsm, this fabric is ultralight. That’s not to say it’s not warm, as wearing it will add about 15-20 degrees of warmth to any setup. However, I’d opt for a heavier fabric weight if you are hunting in subzero conditions.
So, before you head out hunting this season, check out this balaclava and the other incredible Merino wool hunting apparel that Kuiu offers. It may just be the edge you need in the backcountry!
Best Budget Merino Wool Gaiter
Pros: Price-to-quality ratio | Extra long for added warmth & versatility | Multiple colors available
Cons: Initial itchiness may occur | May sag over time
Another Merino wool gaiter: how much more different could this one be? Other than the fact it’s extra long, not much! It’s the same Merino wool gaiter as some other brands but at a lower price!
The 100% Merino wool material may not feel as soft as other brands, but this Acushla gaiter is still comfortable. I like the extra-long length, as it creates a unique layered construction. However, the extended design may cause the fabric to sag or look lackluster over time.
Overall, this gaiter does what all the other Merino wool gaiters do, but at a cheaper price. Yes, there are better products out there. But at this price-to-quality ratio, and with eight color options to choose from, how could you resist such a great deal?
Final Note About Merino Wool Gaiters & Balaclavas
From extended face masks to versatile buffs, we’ve covered the best of the best in the world of Merino wool balaclavas. If you’re still on the fence, remember the four buying criteria we discussed: functionality, fabric thickness, style, & price.
Our mission is to help you find the perfect Merino wool gear for your needs, so if you didn’t see a balaclava or gaiter today that tickled your fancy, reach out to us. We are always happy to guide you in the right direction.
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