Gear Review: Pearl Izumi Barrier Balaclava

I purchased the Barrier Balaclava at the beginning of winter and have since worn it extensively on my cold-weather cycling commute. It has performed admirably. So what's different about this balaclava that earns it a place in my go-to gear pantheon? Quite a few things, actually.

First, the fit is excellent. It fits comfortably and snugly around my entire head without bunching or any loose-fitting areas, thanks in part to the large amount (15 percent) of stretchy spandex built into most of it. And, unlike many other balaclavas I've tried, the face opening does not pinch or constrict across my forehead, cheeks, or chin. The coverage over the front of the neck is sufficient to fully protect all exposed skin and does not bunch up or interfere with my jacket collar when I fully zip up.

Second, the facial coverage is very good. It's designed to cover your mouth and chin, leaving only your eyes and nose exposed to the cold, and stays in position nicely. The seam that runs across the sensitive upper lip is flat and non-irritating as well. (It's a bit tight if you pull the material down under your chin, but not to the point of discomfort.) Like most of the balaclava, the nylon-polyester blend that covers the mouth offers some wind-resistance, but does not inhibit breathing when I'm panting hard from exertion. It's also stretchy enough to briefly pull downwards to allow for cold-weather expectoration (a.k.a. hocking loogies).

Third, it features a completely windproof band of fabric that runs across the forehead and over the ears, providing extra protection from the wind in the areas you need it most. Unlike other wind-proof fabrics I've tried over my ears, it does not noticeably inhibit sound or feel unpleasant, thanks to a fleecy lining.

I tend to wear this in riding temperatures down to about 20 degrees, and usually add a thin fleece hat over the top in temps below freezing. (If it's colder than that, I switch to a neoprene face mask to protect my nose from the chill.) Though it's designed with cold-weather cycling in mind, it also performs admirably in any type of windy, cold-weather excursion, whether it's winter hiking, skiing, or other outdoor pursuit. It costs $35, more than most liner-type balaclavas, but well worth the extra money.

Learn more about winter cycling:
Ride On! How to Bike Through Winter (2009)
Winter Cycling: How to Keep Your Head and Ears Warm (2012)
The Warmest Winter Cycling Shoes? The Wölvhammer Boot from 45North (2012)
Studded Bike Tires for Winter, Part 1 (2011)
Studded Bike Tires for Winter, Part II (2011)
Winter Cycling: My Clothing System (2010)
Winter Biking: Keeping Your Hands Warm--Are Bike Pogies the Answer? (2009)  

Equipped” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Matt Heid.

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