Winter is a beautiful time of year. There are many wonderful activities to do, like cross country skiing, ice fishing, and snowmobiling. But a cold face can make those activities less enjoyable, or even lead to cold-related injuries.
It’s therefore important to know how to keep your face warm in winter.
I’ve lived, worked, and recreated in Alaska for nearly 20 years, so I’ve learned why it’s important to keep your face warm in winter and some of the hazards that can come without proper face coverings.
As a full-time wildlife biologist working in Alaska’s Arctic, I’ve discovered a range of options for how to keep your face warm in winter that I’ll share with you below.
How to Keep Your Face Warm in Winter
Choosing the right piece of clothing or gear to keep your face warm in winter will depend largely on the types of activities you’ll be doing, how cold the temperatures are, if it’s windy, and how long you’ll be outside.
I’m always surprised how little clothing it takes to keep my face warm in winter, even when I’m working outside in temperatures as low as -40oF!
In this photo, I’m doing some research above the Arctic Circle in December and only required a fleece balaclava to keep my face and neck warm.
I was only outside for a few hours, so that sufficed. But if I was going to be in those temperatures for an extended period, I probably would have chosen even more protection from the cold.
Thankfully, there are many different options for gear to keep your face warm in winter. Below I provide an overview of each type of facial covering.
Balaclavas are one of the most widely-used pieces of gear by outdoor enthusiasts to keep their faces warm in winter. This is because of their ability to provide different levels of warmth depending on how they’re worn.
That balaclavas can be worn under helmets also makes them preferable to other options for people who ski, snowboard, or bike in the winter.
A balaclava is a versatile and protective piece of winter clothing designed to keep your face warm in winter. It is a form of headgear that covers the head, neck, and often the lower part of the face, leaving only the eyes, nose, and sometimes the mouth exposed.
Balaclavas are a popular piece of clothing for keeping warm in winter given their versatility and multiple ways they can be worn. This allows you to customize how warm you want to be and what parts of your face you want to cover.
When I want ensure that my face stays warm while working or playing outside all day in an Alaskan winter, I always use a balaclava.
The model of balaclava I use is the Outdoor Research Gorilla Windstopper Balaclava. It has always been great, especially when there is any wind. It does not provide quite as much insulation as other models, but I find that it keeps my face plenty warm, especially when wearing other winter gear.
Different ways to wear a balaclava
- Full Coverage: Balaclavas typically provide full coverage for the head and neck, offering protection against the cold wind, snow, and low temperatures.
- Material: Balaclavas are commonly made from materials such as wool, fleece, or synthetic blends. These materials are chosen for their ability to retain heat and provide insulation.
- Versatility: Balaclavas are versatile and can be worn in different ways. You can pull it up to cover your entire face in extreme cold or fold it down to expose your face when the weather is milder.
- Design: Many balaclavas have a snug fit to ensure that they stay in place, and some come with additional features like adjustable openings for the eyes and/or mouth, allowing for customization based on individual preferences.
- Outdoor Activities: Balaclavas are popular among outdoor enthusiasts engaging in winter sports such as skiing, snowboarding, hiking, and snowmobiling. They provide essential protection against the biting cold during these activities.
- Moisture Wicking: Quality balaclavas often incorporate moisture-wicking properties to keep sweat away from the skin, helping to keep you dry and comfortable.
- Under Helmet Use: Balaclavas are also commonly used under helmets, providing an extra layer of warmth and protection for individuals involved in activities like cycling or motorcycling in cold weather.
If I’m cross country skiing, a buff is usually my go-to method for keeping my face warm. Often referred to as a neck gaiter, a buff is a versatile and practical accessory designed to keep your face warm in winter. It’s a tubular piece of fabric that can be worn in a variety of ways to provide protection against the cold weather.
Buffs probably aren’t a great choice when it’s really windy, or if it’s really cold out and you’ll be mostly inactive. But I love buffs for how easy they are to adapt to the level of coverage you want.
You can use a buff just around your neck, or you can move it up to keep your chin and cheeks warm. Or you can wear it similar to a balaclava. Buffs are typically made of a thin material, so they are great for wearing under helmets or winter hats.
Different ways to wear a buff.
- Tubular Design: Buffs are seamless, tubular pieces of fabric, usually made from stretchy and breathable materials such as polyester or a blend of polyester and spandex.
- Multifunctional: The versatility of buffs lies in their ability to be worn in multiple ways. Common configurations include wearing it as a neck warmer, headband, face mask, balaclava, beanie, or even as a wristband.
- Material: Buffs are often made from moisture-wicking and quick-drying materials, which helps regulate body temperature by keeping moisture away from the skin. Some may also have additional features like UV protection.
- Warmth and Insulation: Buffs provide a lightweight yet effective layer of insulation, making them suitable for a range of outdoor activities in cold weather. They are great for protecting the neck, face, and ears from chilly winds.
- Outdoor Activities: Buffs are popular among outdoor enthusiasts, including skiers, snowboarders, hikers, and runners. They offer a practical solution for maintaining warmth while allowing for easy adjustments based on changing weather conditions.
- Breathability: Many buffs are designed to be breathable, ensuring that the wearer remains comfortable without feeling overheated. This makes them suitable for use during both intense physical activities and casual winter strolls.
If I’m going to be working outside in really cold or windy weather, I prefer to wear a face mask which completely covers my nose, cheeks, and mouth. There are a wide variety of options available, but there are some important features to consider.
If you wear glasses, or are wearing sun glasses or ski goggles in the cold, many face masks will lead to fogging. That’s really annoying and hard to get rid of when outside. There are some models on the market that are specifically designed to prevent fogging. They might not be as fashionable, but it’s more important to keep your face warm in winter!
Another consideration for a face mask is a model that warms the air that you breath in. These can be helpful in really cold weather as well. I’ve never personally used one of these models, even when working in sub-zero temperatures, so I’m not sure how important they are to have. But if you detest the feel of really cold air in your lungs, these might be a good option.
Different types of face masks.
- Full Face Coverage: Winter face masks are designed to cover the entire face, including the nose, mouth, and cheeks. This full coverage helps to protect against cold air, snow, and wind.
- Insulating Materials: Face masks are typically made from insulating materials such as fleece, neoprene, or other thermal fabrics. These materials are chosen for their ability to retain heat and provide effective insulation against the cold.
- Breathability: While providing warmth, winter face masks are often designed to be breathable to prevent overheating and the buildup of moisture. Some masks may have mesh panels or ventilation features to facilitate airflow.
- Versatility: Winter face masks are versatile and can be used for various outdoor activities such as skiing, snowboarding, hiking, cycling, or simply walking in extremely cold weather.
- Wind Resistance: Winter face masks protect the face from the chilling effects of the wind. The materials used are often wind-resistant to prevent cold air from penetrating the mask.
- Moisture Management: Quality winter face masks may incorporate moisture-wicking properties to draw sweat away from the skin, keeping the face dry and preventing discomfort.
- Compatibility with Other Gear: Many winter face masks are designed to work seamlessly with other winter gear, such as goggles or hats, ensuring comprehensive protection for the face and head.
Hoods with Ruffs
A ruff is a loop of fur that is attached to the hood of a winter jacket. The primary purpose of a ruff is to provide warmth and protection to the face and neck from the cold winter weather.
The fur on the ruff traps air, which acts as an insulator and helps to keep the face and neck warm. The fur also helps to block the wind and snow from hitting the face directly, which can be uncomfortable.
Traditionally, ruffs were made from real fur, such as coyote or fox fur, providing excellent insulation against the cold. While you can still find many coats with real fur, many modern jackets feature faux fur ruffs made from synthetic materials that mimic the look and feel of real fur.
Ruffs on winter jackets have historical roots, especially in cold climates where indigenous communities and traditional winter clothing have incorporated fur trims for centuries. If people have been using them for centuries, it’s a good sign that they work well.
In Alaska, it’s very common to see people wearing jackets with ruffs on the hood in the coldest climates. I wear a jacket with one when I’m working in extremely cold and windy weather. They really do work surprisingly well to keep your face warm in winter.
Different types of jackets with ruffs on the hood
- Insulation: The main function of a ruff is to provide added insulation to the face and neck areas. The fur acts as a barrier against wind and snow, helping to trap heat and keep the wearer warmer in cold weather.
- Adjustability: Some ruffs are designed to be detachable or adjustable, allowing the wearer to customize their jacket’s appearance and adapt to changing weather conditions.
- Aesthetic Appeal: Beyond functionality, ruffs are often included for their aesthetic appeal. They add a touch of luxury and style to winter jackets, enhancing their overall design.
- Care and Maintenance: If the ruff is made from real fur, it may require special care to maintain its appearance and longevity. Faux fur ruffs are generally more resilient and easier to care for.
Why it’s Important to Keep Your Face Warm in Winter
In addition to being uncomfortable, not adequately protecting your face during cold winter weather can lead to permanent injuries. In some circumstances, even short-term exposure of your face to cold weather can lead to cold-related injuries.
Thus, it’s important that you’re always prepared for the conditions you’ll encounter outdoors in the winter.
Frostnip is a mild form of cold injury that occurs when skin is exposed to extreme cold for a sustained period of time. It is the stage before frostbite begins, and the skin is still pliable and there’s no permanent tissue damage unless it escalates into frostbite.
Frostnip occurs due to vasoconstriction, which can develop into frostbite if the tissues become frozen.
The symptoms of frostnip include skin irritation, stinging, pricking, and burning. The affected area may become red, or white but the skin will still be pliable and feel soft because the tissue has not started to freeze.
To avoid frostnip, it is important to limit exposure to cold temperatures, especially in windy conditions. It is also important to wear warm clothing that protects against wind and wet weather, and to change socks regularly to prevent sweaty feet.
If you experience symptoms of frostnip, it is important to warm the affected area gradually and avoid rubbing or massaging the skin, which can cause further damage. Follow established methods for treating frostnip.
Frostbite is a serious cold injury that occurs when skin and underlying tissues freeze due to prolonged exposure to cold temperatures. Frostbite can occur in less than 30 minutes in extreme cold weather.
The symptoms of frostbite include numbness, tingling, burning, and aching sensations in the affected area. The skin may appear white or grayish-yellow, and it may feel hard or waxy to the touch.
Frostbite occurs when the body’s tissues freeze due to prolonged exposure to cold temperatures. The freezing causes ice crystals to form in the tissues, which can damage cells and blood vessels. Frostbite is most common in areas of the body that are most exposed to the cold; fingers, toes, cheeks, and nose.
Frostbite can lead to serious complications such as gangrene, infection, and even amputation of the affected area. To avoid frostbite, it is important to limit exposure to cold temperatures, especially in windy conditions.
It is also important to wear warm clothing that protects against wind and wet weather, and to change socks regularly to prevent sweaty feet. If you suspect you have frostbite, you should seek medical attention to have a medical professional assess the injury.
Learning how to keep your face warm in winter is not only a matter of comfort but also important for your safety. Avoiding frostnip and frostbite will prevent future long-term injuries.
My son got frostnip on his cheek when he was a toddler and even 7 years later, when his cheek gets cold we can see evidence of the injury.
Finding the right face covering to keep your face warm in winter will depend on the type of activities you’re participating in, the temperatures, wind, and how long you’ll be outside. Make sure to choose a face covering that will keep your face warm in the conditions you’ll likely encounter.
If you’re dreaming of warmer weather and summer camping, be sure to check out some of our gear recommendations.