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Best Cold Weather Balaclava (Face Mask, Neck Gaiter)

Pyua's Flash Balaclava

Pyua's Flash Balaclava

Preface

As always, we're looking at the Pyua Flash Balaclava from the point of view of long distance trekking over tough terrain.

The Flash Balaclava is available in two sizes: S/M (which would be suitable for most women) and L/XL (which is suitable for most men).

Test subject: Head circumference: 57.5cm (22.5") = Medium
Test item: Dolphin Blue (L/XL = Male Adult Size)
Kit Tests: Winter
Disclaimer: None required (item not provided by manufacturer)

Datasheet

Materials: Recycled Polyester (ECORRECT made in Europe) 100%
Weight (Size L/XL, Male Adult, measured) 71g
Product Sizing Reference: Male Adult = L/XL (One Size)
Manufacturer RRP £35.00
Scramble's Price on SYSTEM £21.00

Available on SYSTEM


 

Scramble Review

Introduction: Pyua?

Pyua are a high-end, environmentally conscious German outdoor brand specialising in technical ski and snowboarding apparel. All their clothing is made in Europe and many of their designs are well thought out, often interesting and always functional. Solid German design with a decent amount of flair.

It's no surprise that a winter sport clothing brand would make a good balaclava. Afterall, the major purpose of this item is to achieve that tricky balancing act familiar to anyone who exerts themselves at higher elevations in sub zero temperatures (mountaineers, skiers, snowboarders alike) between ameliorating the harsh effects of windchill without overheating the wearer and making them sweat like a champ.
 

More wind resistance than insulation

The major thermal benefit from any balaclava intended for strenuous activities must come from blocking the wind rather than providing insulation. Winter mountain trekking, unlike climbing (with its intermittent switching between static and fully active), requires a relatively constant energy expenditure over often very long durations. Thus we require something that does just enough but not too much. In our experience, for example, powerstretch balaclavas are simply too warm, though if one were standing around belaying - well that's a different matter.
 

Coverage

What many balaclavas often get wrong is not providing sufficient coverage, not at the front, but at the back. Quite often they provide a long front "bib" area, then skimp with a short section over the lower neck / upper back. The Flash is generous front and back and tucks in (and stays tucked in) to your baselayer. It has a "flip-top" (smash makes mash type) design allowing the hood section to be pulled back and down, leaving just the face mask. Pull down the face mask and you've got an effective neck gaiter.

Pyua's Flash Balaclava under Bergans' Varde BeanieThe Pyua Flash Balaclava under the equally impressive Bergans Varde Beanie

For the 7 days of the 2018 Winter Kit Test, I wore the Pyua Flash Balaclava constantly (I would happily have slept in it too, but I took a lighter weight balaclava from Icebreaker for that purpose, assuming the Flash would get soaked - it didn't). Getting dressed, the Flash would go on first, then the baselayer top over that. For much of the time it was worn in "neck gaiter mode", i.e. with hood and face mask down. On the peaks when the temperatures dropped the "hood" would go up, and when windchill and spindrift became an issue and things began to look more like mountaineering with ice axe, crampons and goggles in use, the face mask would be up. Pyua's Flash Balaclava handles the changes from one mode to another with aplomb - there's no major fiddling around or any need to over-stretch the fabric.
 

Testing conditions

The windchill on the coldest day dropped below -20°C, with near whiteout conditions across the peaks and it was heavy going through snowdrifts and over icy rock (it's no surprise that the kit test week was bookended by two deaths nearby, one from exposure, the other from a fall).

Wearing goggles on top of the Flash Balaclava (providing full coverage, with the inner foam layer clamping the balaclava in place) I did notice occasional fogging which would clear on each breath. Obviously, this will vary depending on the make of goggles and their anti-fog abilities (for reference, I was using Spektrum's G002 goggles). The breathe mesh certainly reduced the fogging, but didn't negate it entirely. This is a very common issue and to varying degrees effects almost all face masks when they are sited under goggles. When the goggles sat next to the skin, with the Flash Balaclava's face mask sitting just beneath, the fogging was nil.

Overall, I was impressed with how well the Flash Balaclava worked with goggles, but it's very hard to estimate with any precision how much work is done by the goggles and how much is the balaclava. However, most of the time the Flash Balaclava was used without goggles, pictured below are the three main modes of use:

Pyua's Flash Balaclava in Face Mask ModeFace Mask Mode (click to enlarge)
Pyua's Flash Balaclava in Neck Gaiter ModeNeck Gaiter Mode
Pyua's Flash Balaclava in Static ModeBalaclava Mode


Materials

Pyua use 100% recycled polyester in their Flash Balaclava, showing what a versatile material polyester is.

The outside features a smooth, tight weave. All seams are flatlock stitched (left image). In terms of quality, it reminds me of some of the most impressive Rab and Mountain Equipment pieces. The inner features a gridded micro fleece lining throughout (centre image), this provides a small degree of warmth but its main purpose is to move moisture away from the skin. The only other panel of note is the mesh breathe panel (right image) which helps prevent eyewear fogging.

Inside and outside the Pyua Flash Balaclava


Any Negatives?

With the mesh breathe panel, Pyua have kind of hedged their bets. Since the Flash is so versatile and can be worn in a number of ways, designers had to ask: "where is the user's mouth and nose?". As you can see in the first image of this review, the breathe panel is ideally set for the mouth. In face mask mode it's ideally set for the nose. Perhaps they could have made the panel longer but then this would have removed some protection. It's a tough one, and even though we don't have an answer we're going to dock a point for function. Aside from this half-arsed attempt at constructive criticism, we can't find anything else to complain about. It's the best balaclava we've come across (and we've tested many). Most are too warm or too skimpy, offer too little coverage or don't provide the kind of versatility offered by Pyua's Flash Balaclava.

 

Conclusion & Rating

The Pyua Flash Balaclava is a high quality, flexible piece of headwear. Extremely comfortable regardless of how it's worn and, similar to the Varde Beanie, it does just enough to keep the wearer comfortably cool, but not so much that one overheats, even when carrying heavy (17kg) loads up demanding slopes. Its thermal properties derive largely from its wind resistance, while the micro fleece inner keeps the wearer dry and thus warm. The Flash Balaclava paired with a lightweight beanie will see you well into the double digit sub-zero temperatures when active in the mountains. A superbly versatile piece of headwear and Scramble's top pick in the Cold Weather Balaclava category.

 

Product Images

 

Rating (out of 10)

Function
 
9.0
Durability
 
8.5
Weight
 
8.5
RRP Value *
 
6.5
OVERALL RATING
 
8.1


* The value score is derived from two factors:
1) Competitive Market Price (CMP). This represents our judgement of a competitive online price point if we were to stock the item. e.g. if we feel we would need to sell an item at 40% off (i.e. 60% of its full RRP) to be competitive, then our CMP score will be 6/10.
2) Customer Value Price (CVP). We then make an honest appraisal of the maximum price we would be willing to pay for the item (and we're mean). So if we'd pay 80% of its RRP our CVP score would be 8/10.
We then average the two scores to get our final value score, which in our example would be 7/10.

 

 

Last Updated: 25/02/18



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