Every runner, professional or amateur, knows that feeling. You dress up warmly, you stretch, and you head outdoors. You set a good pace and start your run. But then the cold starts to burn as you breathe and you may start coughing or wheezing – which puts a quick end to your session. We’re here to be sure that that doesn’t happen. Everyone who wants to enjoy the thrill of a winter run should be able to – whether it’s training for a marathon or a run for fun. That’s why we put together this handy guide on the best neck gaiters and balaclavas that will help you breathe easily and stay warm during winter sessions.
Frequently Asked Questions About Winter Running
Why do people wear neck gaiters while running in the cold? And, why do my throat and lungs burn when I breathe in cold air?
Our lungs are made to process warm and humid air. In the cold of wintertime, the air is anything but warm and humid! When we breathe cold air, it can cause bronchial irritation that leads to wheezing, coughing, or a burning feeling. Runners have been covering up their noses and mouths to prevent this as long as people have been running with pieces of clothing like scarves and neck gaiters. This works so well because it allows the air to become warm and humidified before you inhale, avoiding that bronchial irritation. For this reason, neck gaiters and similar accessories are essential winter running gear.
Another reason is people with asthma or cold-induced asthma can suffer when cold air hits their lungs. Covering up is the best way to prevent cold air from causing symptoms in your respiratory system.
Is it safe to wear a neck gaiter or balaclava while running in the winter?
This is a multi-faceted question as running in the cold has several pieces that we as runners need to consider. Before we even start running, we need to set paces and course distances that are appropriate for cold weather running – basically, a little slower, and a little shorter. We can still get a great workout even if we’re not pounding the pavement as hard as we would in the mild weather of spring. Another important consideration is to make sure we’re hydrated because it helps us to regulate body temperature and avoid dehydration. This body temperature regulation points towards the key consideration of winter running – staying warm. Dress warmly and comfortably to maintain body temperature, which includes a neck gaiter. I say all of this to mention that it is safe to wear a neck gaiter during the winter along with all of the other considerations. A sports neck gaiter is made for breathability, for humidifying and warming the air, and research has shown that covering up airways with a mask or neck gaiter is not significantly detrimental to oxygen intake.
Should I avoid running in the cold winter?
As mentioned in the question before, there are a lot of considerations to keep in mind when running in the winter. This includes whether or not even to venture outside. If you are dressed properly and hydrated well, many runners have trained in temperatures as low as -4ºF or -20ºC. Anything lower and we should consider indoor training on a track or on a treadmill. Running in the winter can be exhilarating as long as we are properly cautious.
Should I race in the winter?
As we mentioned in the other questions, if you are prepared and have a plan to protect your body, you can definitely participate in some colder-weather races! For calories, wear gels and other nutrition sources close to your body so they don’t freeze. For water, be sure you have a hydration plan as our bodies don’t always give us thirst cues that we can rely on in the cold. Adjustable accessories are also a great idea for a cold-weather race. For example, a neck gaiter is a great accessory for winter as it will keep your neck, head, and face warm during the race, but it can also be adjusted as you warm up by pulling it up or down.
Our Suggestions for the Best 7 Easy-Breathing Winter Masks, Neck Gaiters and Balaclavas for Cold Weather Runners
Is there a lightweight cold weather running neck gaiter or balaclava that can still keep me warm?
Running in the winter is always a balancing act. At the start of a run, we’re cold. In the middle, we get hot. Once we’re done, we start to get cold again. How do we deal with that? There are two great options: a heat exchange mask like a lightweight neck gaiter or a lightweight balaclava.
If you are into neck gaiters, two options are the Reversible, Windproof X5 and the Reversible, Filtering F5. Both of these neck gaiters come with ear loops to help it stay up – or you can pull the cloth up as needed to cover your ears. Both are medium thickness so that you get plenty of wind protection and warmth without either being too heavy. So what makes them different? The X5 is lighter and great for countryside runs. The F5 is actually a thicker, filtering mask designed for city runners who deal with pollution and smog. You choose depending on your needs.
If you turn to balaclavas rather than neck gaiters, like the half-face X5H made of this honeycomb-like fabric that has a great stretch for comfort and fit, it can be a great way to keep your entire head warm. It is quick-dry and thermoregulating, which is just a fancy way of saying that it will evaporate moisture quickly so that you don’t get too cold. The X5H is also made breathable and comfortable so that you get the oxygen and comfort you need as you’re taking on a winter run.
I wear goggles when I run. Is there a winter mask that won’t fog up the lenses?
Isn’t this the age-old question for any wearer of glasses and goggles? We’ve heard this question so many times that it has actually become a key piece of our technology in the wintertime. Basically, to prevent fogging, you have to be sure none of the heat and humidity from your breath hits the lenses. This means a seal needs to be made by any mask or gaiter or balaclava to prevent the hot air from traveling up.
We are happy to say we have solved this problem. Two of our balaclavas the Half-Balaclava Z5H and the Thermal Z9H are specifically designed to deal with foggy goggles and glasses during the colder times of the year.
Both are designed with innovative NAROO technology, the EX-BONE. This is a flexible exoskeleton-like structure that sits over your nose and mouth, creating space between your face and the fabric of the mask – which is great for so many reasons. It prevents moisture buildup against your face. It allows for the air you breathe to be heated and humidified. And it also doesn’t feel as stuffy as the cloth does not touch your nose or mouth. Air escapes forwards through the breathing holes rather than up into your goggles. The Z5H is great for milder weather while the Z9H is the guy you turn to for those colder days as it is made with thicker fabric and stitching meant to keep you warm.
I run during the coldest days of the year. Which mask will keep me warm throughout my run?
There are three really great options for the adventurous folk who run in the deep cold. One we have already mentioned, the Z9H. It is a thicker fabric and stitching pattern that keeps you warm but also your goggles fog-free. Continuing balaclava options, you can also neck out the Thermal Half-Balaclava N9H. It, like the others, is quick-dry to keep the moisture from freezing against your skin. It also has special tension distribution bands under the eyes so you can see clearly as you run (important!) Runners also like it because it’s easy to slip underneath hats as it is a warm, snug fit.
The thickest neck gaiter in our lineup is another option for those freezing days, the 2-in-1 Reversible X9. This model is warm, windproof, and thermoregulating. A powerhouse in winter neck gaiters, the X9 protects you from cold, dry air, but it’s also reversible. One side has holes for breathability, and the other side is closed for more protection – you can choose what suits you best during different times of your run. Plus, when you don’t need it to cover your face, it sits easily around your neck.
Tips and Tricks of Running with a Balaclava
Tip #1- Keep Those Glasses and Goggles Fog-Free
Grabbing a mask like the Z5H that is especially geared for fog-free runs is the easiest way to stay fog free. Or grab an accessory that makes a tight seal around the face with a bendable nose wire and fitted material on the face.
Tip #2- Warm, Humid Air for Your Lungs
It’s important to note that neck gaiters can help warm and humidify air for breathing comfort, so you can pull it up over your face for easier breathing, and pull the part covering your head down to release some heat.
Tip #3- Avoid High-Intensity Workouts
In the winter, it’s all about slowly building up the miles and maintaining your training. High intensity can cause faster breathing, which can then irritate your lungs even faster. So keep it slow and steady to protect your body and your lungs.
Tip #4- Keep Your Head Warm to Regulate Your Temperature
Accessories like a neck gaiter are perfect for winter runs because you can move them wherever you want them depending on how cold you are. At the start of a run, you can pull it up over your nose, mouth, and ears to stay warm. Then, as you heat up, you can uncover parts as needed to be sure you don’t overheat.
Tip #5- Cold-Induced Asthma Prevention
For those of us who suffer from cold-induced asthma, wearing a good sports neck gaiter or balaclava can prevent the cold air from irritating our lungs and causing those asthma symptoms. “Exercise-induced asthma is the most common medical problem among winter Olympic athletes … Nearly 50% of these athletes suffer from the condition.” This holds true for Olympic athletes or casual runners. Cover up those airways for a more comfortable running experience.
Staying warm and keeping the air in your lungs just as warm (and eve more humid) is the way to run safely in the cold of winter. Wearing a neck gaiter or balaclava can keep your head, face, and neck warm and help to regulate your temperature. Follow our tips to make the best of your winter running. And, if you have any of your own, please feel free to share!
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P.P.S Please let us know which is your favorite, or if we missed any other usage for a neck gaiter or balaclava. We will reply to your comments and emails and make another post about it.
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