The Seirus Combo Clava is a fleece balaclava with an integrated face mask to protect your nose and face from frostbite. I use the Combo Clava for above-treeline winter hiking in the mountains, where frostbite is a real concern on windy days. As a hiker, it’s important to completely cover your eyes, nose, and cheeks using a full-face balaclava and ski goggles, so no scrap of skin is exposed. While it’s inconvenient and even a bit awkward to wear face protection, the last thing you want to experience is frostbite or frostnip on your face or hands.
The Combo Clava is a soft fleece balaclava with holes cut out over the mouth to let air pass through the fleece. The area over the mouth and nose is made with wind-proof, fleece-covered Neoprene, called Neofleece, while the rest of the balaclava is made with 200 weight Polartec fleece. The best way to think of the Combo Clava is as a hood, face mask, and neck warmer in one because it provides 360-degree insulation and protection.
The Combo Clava is designed for use with a ski mask with high cut cheekbones and a flap of fabric to cover the top of your nose. If the wind is really howling these holes still let air reach your face, but they deflect head-on blasts sufficiently to prevent frostbite.
If you wear glasses, they will fog up if you wear the Combo Clava because the moisture in your breath passes through the mouth holes and back up into your face. The only way I’ve found to prevent this is to wear the Combo Clava with ski goggles. Even they will fog up eventually unless you use a pair like the Smith Knowledge Turbo Fan Goggles, which vent the moisture in your goggles with a tiny battery-powered fan. They work great.
Before I settled on the Combo Clava, I tried many balaclavas to find a pair that worked well with glasses and ski goggles. For example, the Outdoor Research Gorilla has a removable mouth and nose mask but is easily lost when detached. The Outdoor Research Sonic Balaclava has thinner fabric over the ears to counter the muffling effect that a balaclava can have on sound, but the mouth didn’t vent enough moisture to prevent my glasses from fogging. The Outdoor Research Option Balaclava is perfect for sleeping in a winter sleeping bag but doesn’t provide enough face protection. The Seirus NeoFleece Combo Scarf had a habit of slipping down over my face, while the Talus Cold Avenger Face Mask would fill up with snot from my nose whenever I used it. Net-net: be prepared to try a few different products until you find one that works for your needs.
One of the things that’s surprised me about the Combo Clava is that it’s not entirely windproof. While the front mask is windproof, I’ve never felt that the rest of the hood lacked in protection in high wind or above treeline in winter. Then again, I always wear the Combo Clava with a hooded hardshell jacket and could just flip up my hood if extra windproofing were needed.
I’ve been using the Seirus Combo Clava for several years now and it’s a must-have garment whenever I venture above treeline in winter. It works well for me and I recommend trying it out if you’re looking for a simple and affordable solution to the “face protection” problem. Highly recommended.
Of course, you don’t have to be above treeline to need a balaclava and it’s common to see them worn by skiers, snowmobilers, and other winter sports enthusiasts. How do you know if you need a balaclava and full-face protection? If you’re a hiker, reading an NOAA point weather forecast is your best bet since it will give you a surprisingly accurate idea of what the wind speeds are for your location. It’s very difficult to feel when frostbite or frostnip is affecting you until after the damage has been done, so it pays to be a bit cautious.
If you’ve never seen this well-known chart from the National Weather Service, it’s worth a quick study. It shows how quickly you can expect to get frostbite given different air temperatures and wind speeds. For example, if it’s zero degrees outside and the wind is blowing at 20 miles per hour, it will feel as if the temperature is -22 degrees (called windchill) and you can expect to get frost-bitten in 30 minutes if you’re hands, face, or other patches of skin are not covered up.
Sobering stuff, I know. I’ve experienced frostnip myself above treeline in winter and it’s an experience that’s best avoided. Invest in a good balaclava solution that you feel comfortable using whenever it’s needed.
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