There are few items of gear as simple, inexpensive, and effective at increasing your warmth and comfort in the cold. What's more, it weighs only a few ounces and fits easily in most jacket pockets. What is this magic piece of cold-weather gear? A neck gaiter.
Chimney effect eliminated. Photo: Turtle Fur
A neck gaiter is essentially just a short tube of fabric that you pull over your head and position around your neck. Once in place, a neck gaiter performs three crucial functions that can markedly increase the amount of body heat you retain in the cold.
First, of course, a neck gaiter insulates your neck, where major blood- and heat-pumping pipes—the carotid arteries and jugular vein—sit close to the surface. If your neck isn't protected, you can lose a substantial amount of heat from these sources.
Second, a neck gaiter can prevent what is known as the "chimney effect." Warm air rises, which means that the precious body heat inside your jacket will escape upward and out through an open jacket collar. A neck gaiter, however, can effectively seal this gap and keep your body heat around your torso where you want it.
Lastly, the top of most neck gaiters can be pulled up to cover your chin, mouth, and nose for extra protection and warmth for your face—a nice feature in very cold and/or windy conditions.
Neck gaiters come in a surprising variety of fabrics and shapes, which makes it a worthwhile exercise to try on a variety of styles. Your neck and face can be some of your most sensitive areas, so choose a gaiter that's comfortable against the skin, and snug but not uncomfortably restrictive. You can get a sense of the options from the Turtle Fur product line, which features several dozen varieties ($10 to $30, depending on style).
Having tried a variety of neck gaiters over the years, my preference (and recommendation) is to keep it soft and simple. Look for plush fleece that feels good against your neck and face, with enough material so that you can pull the top up to your nose without exposing your lower neck in the process. Avoid wind-proof fabrics, which may seem like a good idea but tend to be stiff and much less pleasant to wear. Also stay away from neck gaiters with drawstrings or zippers, which are far more annoying than beneficial; and styles that feature an integrated face mask or balaclava, which get bunchy and uncomfortable around your neck when not in use (as they often are).