Not only does a face mask keep you warm (protection from cold), but it also offers protection from sun and wind. Skiers and snowboarders are among the most experienced mask-wearers on the planet. That’s because a good face covering will block wind, protect you from the sun, keep your face warm, and even provide a little protection from flying objects.
Mask, gaiter, buff, tube — whatever you call it, however you wear it, it’s an essential piece of gear if you’ll be hitting the snow this season.
There are tons of options on the market, but we have some favorites. Keep in mind, most of the products listed below come in men’s, women’s, and kids’ styles and many colors and patterns.
It’s also hard to know exactly how eco-friendly a gaiter is for humans and the planet. You may think — it’s a simple piece of gear and probably sustainably made — but that’s not always the case.
Next to each face covering, you’ll notice a score called CSS, or Comprehensive Sustainability Score. This is our objective grade of the product’s sustainability based on quantitative metrics compiled by our team. To learn more about the sustainability of masks, gaiters, and balaclavas, check out the explanation of the CSS score at the bottom of this article.
If you want a mask that does it all — protects from sun, wind, cold, and COVID-19 — check out the second half of this list for our masks recommended for wearing in lift areas and indoors. Stay safe, and happy skiing!
The Best Face Coverings for Skiing & Snowboarding
Best Overall: BUFF Multifunctional Headwear
The OG BUFF is hard to beat — wear this one in the summer hiking or mountain biking, give it a wash, and then wear it in the winter too. The original BUFF ($20-24) is made with a soft and breathable microfiber fabric. In recent years, BUFF actually updated it to be made from REPREVE (post-consumer recycled plastic) spun into polyester microfiber.
The BUFF has a 50 UPF rating, four-way stretch, and seamless construction. What we loved most in testing is its versatility and durability. (As a skier, I’m pretty sure I own at least 10 of these, most of which I’ve owned for 4+ years.)
This BUFF is 100% synthetic material — if you’re looking for a wool face covering, check out the lightweight wool BUFF below.
Best Budget: BlackStrap Dual Layer Tube
This neck gaiter was instantly one of our top choices among staff and also happens to be a great budget piece. The Dual Layer Tube from BlackStrap (from $25) uses technical fabric for a highly functional, breathable, and moisture-wicking face covering.
It has UPF 50+ UV protection and is treated with an antimicrobial coating to keep the stink away. The four-way stretch fabric also gives you great mobility. It also comes in your choice of patterns or solid colors, and a kid-specific version.
Best Lightweight: Lightweight Merino Wool BUFF
BUFF is the original face-covering brand — so much so that most people refer to tube-shaped neck gaiters simply as “buffs.” And while you can still get the original in synthetic fabric for skiing, it’s hard to beat merino wool. The Lightweight Merino BUFF ($29) has the advantage of being naturally antimicrobial, so it doesn’t get smelly.
It will keep your face warm when wet and is easy to breathe through. This one is pretty light, though, so it’s best for moderate temperatures and those who don’t mind feeling the wind on their skin. (And it doesn’t really do the job in areas where proper CDC masks are required, so pair it with a mask from our extended list below.)
Best Midweight: Smartwool Neck Gaiter
A little warmer than most of the neck gaiters here, the Smartwool Neck Gaiter ($32) uses a midweight merino 250 wool. The merino wicks away moisture and breathes enough to keep you cozy when the winds howl. But it’s still light enough to tolerate on a bluebird day. This one pulls a 4.75-star rating with more than 100 reviews online.
Plus, you can pair it with Smartwool’s merino 250 base layers and merino blend ski socks for a head-to-toe cozy wool look.
Warmest: Columbia Titanium II Balaclava
This polyester and elastane blend balaclava ($45) is made with Columbia’s titanium moisture-wicking fabric with Omni-Shield technology, which works to repel moisture, snow, and more. It’s absolutely one of our top choices if you’re looking for something with extra warmth. If you don’t like the balaclava style (or don’t need maximum warmth), it comes in a lighter neck gaiter style too.Check Price at Columbia
Best Balaclava: Phunkshun Convertible Ballerclava
Made in Denver, Colo., the Phunkshun Convertible Ballerclava ($30) gives skiers and riders versatile functionality through its hinged design. Move the bottom half of the mask over or off your face to instantly adjust to temperature changes or drink a beverage. Slide it back over your face to help comply with resort face-covering measures.
We love the designs and the feel of the fabric. Made with recycled polyester, this is a good value from a small brand.Check Price at Phunkshun
Skida makes a bunch of great face-covering accessories for cold weather. Among our female tester’s favorites is the Cloudberry Alpine Neckwarmer ($30), which uses a Polartec microfleece for soft warmth against the skin.
The exterior fabric of poly-spandex with moisture management technology (92% polyester, 8% spandex) is durable and has a tight weave to help block the wind. And it’s on the thicker side. Simply put, it’ll keep your neck warm. Pull it up over your nose for compliance with resort rules in the lift line.
We’ve been testing this new mask from Anon Optics (founded by Burton Snowboards) for over a season, and it’s definitely a unique one to check out.
The MFI Face Masks ($40-70) have the brand’s MFI (magnetic face mask integration) technology to seal the mask panel to any magnetic ski goggles and provide a seamless and comfortable fit on your face.
No fiddling with ear straps, buttons, or loops — this mask is as seamless going on and off and is as comfortable as it gets.
This U.S.-made hood balaclava is similar to the Phunkshun one above. But the BlackStrap Hood ($35) uses a slightly heavier tri-blend synthetic fabric that works well in colder weather. The four-way stretch fabric also boasts SPF 50 sun protection. It is helmet-compatible.Check Price at evo
Among the lighter-weight balaclavas, the Oyuki Proclava ($30) has legions of fans. It offers enough head and face covering to block the stinging wind. But it’s light enough to not turn your head into a swampy mess on a warm day on the slopes.
Plus, it easily fits under a helmet and transitions from a balaclava to a face mask to a neck gaiter in seconds. The 85% polyester and 15% spandex garment has racked up a perfect 5-star rating at EVO.Check Price at evo
Another warmer option for heavy winter days is this fleece-insulated double balaclava from Phunkshun. Similar to its main Ballerclava style, the Mistral Double Ballerclava ($38) has a breathable neck gaiter on the lower half of the covering but swaps out the thinner wicking gaiter material for a cozy and insulating fleece for the fabric around the head.
This balaclava is something we tried on and immediately loved. It’s the perfect balance of keeping you warm up top but staying breathable and versatile on the bottom.Check Price at Phunkshun
Best CDC-Compliant Masks for Skiing, Travel, and More
If you need a CDC-approved mask for trips to towns, resorts, and areas on the slopes where you can’t distance, these are all comfortable and great options. (Or check out our full mask roundup.)
Masks are no longer a requirement everywhere, although some resorts are still requiring face coverings on gondolas, in restaurants, retail shops, and more. And, it’s always a good idea to travel with one, especially if you’re traveling to a rental property, resort, or somewhere in big crowds.
We’ve found the best options for skiing and riding are the ear-loop masks. They’re the easiest to remove with gloves (no dealing with ties, slides, or beads for adjusting fit).
Editor’s note: We updated this article first in December 2020 after receiving new information from ski resorts. At that time, representatives from Vail Resorts, Winter Park, and more noted that their resorts accept any cloth mask that fully covers the nose and mouth. We’ve updated it again to reflect the most common resort protocols for the 2021-2022 season.
You’ll notice we didn’t include CSS scores here, as CDC guidelines will affect the materials and manufacturing of these types of masks.
We tested the Outdoor Research Protective Essential Bandana Kit ($40) when it first came out in January 2021, and once we did, we were in love. This is hands-down one of the best options for skiing or snowboarding. This bandana — unlike most others — is CDC-compliant, with two layers of antimicrobial, sun-protective fabric, and even a pocket for filters.
The pros: The bandana style is less tight or restrictive against your face and also provides protection against snow and wind on your neck. A great full-coverage option. The cons: It’s a bit warmer than other masks we’ve used, although still breathable. And it didn’t get soggy or fog up our goggles.
The Velcro closure strap around the back of your head gives a nice adjustable fit. And as a female, I didn’t have any issues with my hair or braids getting tangled up or caught. The elastic ear loops are comfortable, too.
The Protective Bandana is a full-coverage mask with a nose wire that loops over both ears — so it’s not easy to take on and off. But that being said, you don’t want to be fiddling with a mask when you’re out on the slopes — you want to be skiing. So pop this mask on, and you’ll be all set for the lift lines on the way up and the fun on the way down.
Outdoor Research designed this Balaclava Kit ($23-45) for the post-COVID era. The midweight garment covers the head, neck, and face. And the kit includes three breathing filters that remove more than “95% of virus, bacteria, and particles in accordance with ASTM test standards” when worn with the mask, according to the brand.
With a customizable fit, UPF 50+, and an antimicrobial finish, this one should be a strong choice for the chairlift this season.
How We Chose the Best Face Coverings for Skiing
There are a ton of ski masks, balaclavas, and neck tubes on the market. So if you walk into a store to buy one, you’re going to be faced with an incredible number of choices. Here’s how we narrowed them down.
It might seem a little shallow, but after decades of combined skiing experience, our team has come to love certain brands when it comes to face coverings.
After using some (like BUFF) for literally thousands of outings, we’ve come to rely on them and can count on them for consistency and quality. So, we take this into account when making our selections.
Choose a face covering made with synthetic fabrics such as polyester and spandex. Other good options use merino wool as the primary material. We love merino for its antimicrobial properties that fight off stink!
We look for comfort and fit first, versatility second, and looks third. We also consider things like sustainable and recycled materials.
Testing and Reviews
Our staff has tested myriad face coverings, in all conditions. But we also consider what other consumers say in reviews.
Buyers Guide: What to Look for in a Ski or Snowboard Face Covering
When buying a ski or snowboard mask, consider if you want a full head covering or simply a neck gaiter or face cover. Remember, you’ll almost certainly be wearing a helmet and goggles while skiing or snowboarding. We recommend trying on your face covering while wearing your other accessories.
Other important factors include fit and versatility, such as the ability to be worn over the whole head or only the face or neck with a transformation.
Finally, you’ll want to consider the fabric, thickness, and breathability. This depends both on the type of weather and conditions you’ll be skiing and riding in as well as personal preference.
Comprehensive Sustainability Score (CSS)
The Comprehensive Sustainability Score (CSS) is a scoring system developed by AllGear Digital Media that strives to give consumers a clear picture of the way their purchase impacts the environment. Companies like Patagonia and prAna have pioneered eco-friendly manufacturing methods for decades, but outdoor gear review sites need to match those efforts with providing quantitative measures of given products.
The CSS score uses quantitative metrics that are tailored to each product category, based on in-depth research and data. A product can earn up to 100 points for meeting various sustainable practices from the percentage of recycled material to the clean energy used in production and packaging waste created in the shipping process.
A higher score means more sustainable components or practices went into that product. If a score is NA, the company did not respond to our examination outreach and follow-up.
Prior to the CSS launch, we have produced hundreds of gear guides on our sites, so you will find these scores rolling out slowly over the coming months and years.
Why You Should Trust Us
Our entire staff has used the majority of the face coverings and gaiters tested here for multiple seasons in a row now. For our initial testing, we spent around 2 months (in a few places across the country) wearing these gaiters, buffs, and balaclavas skiing, snowshoeing, and commuting in the winter.
We tested a variety of our favorites in temperatures from -10 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit and in wind, snow, sleet, and cold. In testing, we not only looked at the overall performance of each, but also at fit, style, breathability, and durability.
Frequently Asked Questions
How tight should a ski mask fit?
A ski mask should fit loosely around the face with plenty of fabric to move up and over the ears. For balaclavas, you want a snug fit around your head, but a looser fit around the face so it doesn’t constrict your movement. Neck gaiters should pull securely around your chin and nose if lifted but bunch comfortably around the neck when worn as a gaiter.
What is the best material for a ski mask?
Get a mask that’s either a synthetic blend of polyester and spandex fabrics or merino wool. Avoid cotton, as it will retain moisture and be cold against the skin (unless you’re looking for a mask to wear around indoor mountain areas and not while physically skiing).
For extra cold, windy, or snowy days, consider investing in a midweight or fleece neck gaiter, like the Smartwool Neck Gaiter, along with a standard BUFF for bluebird weather.
Do ski resorts require face coverings due to COVID?
As of the 2021-2022 season, many ski resorts no longer still require face coverings outside or on lifts. Remember to check with your specific resort and destination for any mask protocols still in place.