A balaclava can be an overlooked piece of equipment. One size fits most. While most will invest countless hours searching for the perfect board or outerwear, the balaclava is rarely something we put much thought into purchasing. Pick a color and you’re good, right?
But the right (or wrong) balaclava can make (or break) a day on the hill. Case in point: this month, I went to Sun Peaks, BC, during an arctic flow. Temps peaked around -20 degrees Fahrenheit. Even the Pacific Northwest was feeling negative temps at that moment. Enter the Blackstrap Expedition Hood Balaclava.
Without the right balaclava I would have been frostbitten, unable to ride. Yet the Expedition Hood Balaclava fit snug under my helmet and over my nose without shifting out of place, keeping me layered from the biting cold. The enduring fit is testament to the fact that Blackstrap does balaclavas right—the Bend, OR-based company has long focused their talents on facemasks and balaclavas, although they now make base layers with a similar fit and feel. They think about balaclavas a lot, and it shows. Their stretchy, soft textile choice means the thing stays in place all day without chafing, even when wet. Dual layer mesh keeps it breathable and dry, as does freeze-resistant, wind-rated fabric and a host of other technological bells and whistles.
To the fabric: how many balaclavas have you had that stretch out and won’t stay in place? I used to be a big merino guy, but the problem with merino, and many other fabrics, is that they start to sag and stop holding their shape. Four-way stretch means that hasn’t been an issue with the Blackstrap balaclava. Now 20 days into riding in it, it hasn’t shown any signs of losing its shape, stretch or hold. I’m confident it’s going to stay put when I need it most. A hinged design makes it easy to adjust with gloves on, too. Coupled with their mid-weight option, I now bring two balaclavas on every trip to the hill, ready for whatever the day may hold. They’re both still fresh, making me feel like they’ll last seasons without breaking down.
In fact, I just came home from Japan. Those were the two pieces I had with me, and they performed flawlessly under daily use. I’ll surely use the Expedition while snowmobiling and on snow camping missions with the standard Hood Balaclava favored for PNW resort riding and splitboarding. From inch-an-hour storm days at Baker to touring in the AK high country, I’ve now got a balaclava that has me covered. In fact, I don’t really have to give it much further thought, beyond which color I might want to run next—the Expedition has about 40 options from low key to high vis, and the Hood Balaclava around 100. That’ll keep it fresh, year after year.