The ‘Merino Lightweight Balaclava’ from Buff is a 100 percent Merino wool balaclava with integrated ventilation holes and even a pony tail port. A quick review
The Merino Lightweight Balaclava is simple in design. It is made almost entirely from sheep merino wool. It has an elongated design to provide ample neck coverage, and has laminated synthetic reinforcement layers around the integrated breathing holes and pony tail port, which requires a small hand cut for use. It is extremely thin and lightweight making it extremely breathable. It packs down to about the size of a tennis ball and retails for $36.
The Lightweight balaclava is designed to provide a light level of warmth, performing well in conditions down to about 30 degrees F (-1 C) while still providing some protection down to about 15 F (-9.5 C). The surprisingly thin fabric provides excellent breathability, allowing sweat and hot air to dry and vent extremely quickly. The same breezy construction did make it a poor wind block layer, however, with even light breezes pushing through the fabric with little resistance. This was especially noticeable in conditions under 35 F. The result is a balaclava that’s better suited for high exertion activities such as hiking or skiing, and lesser suited for windy peaks and situations where survival from the elements is vital.
The ventilation holes do an O.K. job of letting respiration in and out, improving breathing and reducing resistance without allowing too much exposure to the outside climate. I found that the laminated material around the vents to be somewhat noticeable against the nose and face, but hasn’t so far been bothersome.
My only real issue with the balaclava was the tallness of the headpiece, or lack thereof. I have a fairly tall head, and the garment provides little room in the top for larger skulls. This resulted in the eye opening being aligned a little too high up for my comfort, requiring me to constantly fight it to keep it down in position. I found it often working its way up with the bottom rim of the opening itself interacting my lower eyelashes, which I found bothersome. A slightly square opening would also solve this issue. Smaller heads, foreheads in particular, shouldn’t have any issue here thankfully.
I quite liked the extended neck, as I could tuck it into my shirt for a better seal, or bunch it up around my neck for a little extra warmth. It provided excellent freedom of movement too, so I could look around without it bunching up or restricting me in any way.
The fabrics are relatively soft and smooth, although certainly a little more itchy than a polyester unit. The wool construction is naturally resistant to bacterial growth, which helps keep it clean and fresh on longer trips.
Durability is O.K. The 100 percent wool fabric will require some special care, such as hand washing, but should last several seasons of use.
The Merino Lightweight Balaclava is a solid if slightly flawed option for those who want light, breezy protection from cold temperatures. It provides gentle, well ventilated protection from snow and moderately cold temperatures, without being heavy or stiff. I do wish the forehead was a bit taller or the eye opening had a slightly more square cut, but otherwise the fit was solid and should be great for those with medium to smaller heads. For active users who need ventilation and breathability over all else, this is a good option.
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