Originally Posted on: Jul 27, 2017 | | Categories: Driver
“Balaclava exist for three reasons: keeping your helmet in pristine condition, protecting against heat in a fire, and keeping sweat from streaming into your eyes. So truth is, no matter the comfort level of that new M.8, the balaclava you choose will ultimately determine the life of your helmet and your degree of comfort and visibility. It does a lot of nasty work for you by catching your filth and protecting your head and shiny helmet. Balaclavas deserve a little more than a ‘just give me whatever’s cheapest’ attitude.”
Now that we’ve established the importance of a good balaclava, let’s do some research to find the best one on the market for your racing and tracking needs!
With all the fun products in the spotlight here at DiscoveryParts, sometimes the smaller accessories are overshadowed. When you’re hyped about your new ROUX R1 and Alpinestars Tech 1-Z Nomex race shoes, a head sock is understandably the last thing on your mind. And by the time you get down to the balaclava on your checklist and you’re glancing back and forth between your budget and shopping cart, you’re ready to just grab whatever is easiest and go.
In this DiscoveryParts face-off – no pun intended – we are comparing our three most popular balaclavas: Alpinestars ZX Evo, OMP Nomex ONE, and Traqgear One Layer One Eye Black. We sell a vast variety of brands, but the most popular is determined by demand for that product.
But how does a consumer such as yourself judge which of the three balaclavas is best? and how exactly do they differ? After investigating the three myself – physically touching, inspecting, trying them on, and reading consumer reviews – I came to the conclusion that each head sock varies by a few factors. The list is as follows:
– Seam style
– Tag comfort
Because Alpinestars is made in Italy, the ZX Evo is FIA standard 8856-2000 and SFI certified. If you’re just doing the occasional track day, you have no need for both certifications, but some people like to have both anyway due to differing track requirements.
Despite the occasional complaint that the Alpinestars balaclava runs smaller than the other two brands, there is a lot of give in the material. Made from 26% aramidic fibers, the fabric is stretchy, soft, and thick, giving it a pillowed feeling that trumps the cushion of its competition. This balaclava is also known to be the warmest of the three – which is a plus in the winter when you’re on track with the windows down – but during the summer, this might be problematic. The issue with it being a warmer balaclava is that Alpinestars makes a “winter” balaclava as well that is supposed to be warm.
Just like with clothes, thickness contributes to absorbency, which is a plus, keeping that river of filthy sweat that accumulates under your helmet from flowing down into your eyes. And that leads us into visibility. The one eye design is open beyond anyone’s natural eye placement – seriously, ET could wear this thing. This gives you lots of visibility. And because of its stretchy seam, the opening can be pulled to rest below the chin if you don’t wish for it to cover your mouth.
But just because it’s the warmest doesn’t mean it lacks breathability. Cooling and breathability are different factors. The contouring shape this balaclava holds gives it a certain degree of cooling but less ventilation than the other two brands. In all fairness, the other two brands are the thinnest and lightest on the market.
But overall, when it comes to the seam-style of this balaclava, it’s in need of good ratings. In fact, in consumer reviews, I could only find three negative comments about the Alpinestars balaclava. Firstly, it runs smaller in size than other brands. A handful of customers claimed that they loved this balaclava but sadly had to trade the original size they ordered for one size larger. Secondly, in addition to the smaller fitment, it’s shorter in length than the price competitive OMP and Traqgear ones, making it more difficult to tuck into a suit collar. Lastly, the seam that runs up the center of the neck all the way around to the front of the forehead is thick and more noticeable than competing brands – which is a point for durability, because these seams are never coming apart, even after 1,000 washes – but isn’t comfortable in a world of seamless balaclavas.
When I tried this balaclava on, the seams weren’t the first uncomfortable thing that I noticed. My attention was drawn to the tags. I’m not sure why they put five tags on this thing instead of condensing them down and screen printing them onto the material like the other competing brands have mastered. The FIA and SFI ratings are on two separate tags – one located under the chin and one directly below the left ear – the washing label is under the base of the neck along with the warning label, and another FIA tag and the brand tag are on the front under the chin. Though the tags are on the outside of the balaclava never coming into contact with your skin, they are not flush with the material and feel as though they are cut out of a harsh, waterproof material that reminds me of laminating tape.
The tags were honestly the worst thing I could find about this particular balaclava. I interviewed some customers about this issue and the average customer said that they didn’t really think too much about the tags when they were on track but would prefer them not be there, especially the SFI tag below the ear and the additional three-dimensional reflective tag that is placed unnecessarily where your Adom’s apple is.
Despite the annoying amount of tags and middle seam of the balaclava, it still remains one of my favorites and I highly recommend it, especially for track days in the late fall or dead of winter. It works well for petit people like myself and for women and youth with smaller features. After some research, I found that some consumers report that all but one of the tags soften a bit after a few washes, making them less noticeable.
Because of certified ratings, elasticity, thickness, absorbency, breathability, visibility, and durability, this is a good choice for the price. The Alpinestars balaclava can be purchased for $79.95 (before tax) at DiscoveryParts.com.
The OMP Nomex One is also FIA 8856-2000 and SFI approved. It’s advertised as having the most technologically advanced knitted fabric with max breathability in balaclavas. After I tried this head sock on, I was completely convinced that the advertisements were spot on. Compared to some of the other balaclavas I tried, this experience was like wearing a cool cloud on my face.
When you hear “knit”, you typically think of your grandmother’s favorite Christmas sweater, you know the one, with the chunky, fluffy green fabric and the bells that jingle when she hugs you and the sparkly, scratchy sequins that form a star over a manger or something. But the combination of materials in this dry knit fabric that OMP has conjured is uncommonly light and stretchy yet surprisingly supportive at the same time. Obviously, I’m not going to run around in a display balaclava and try to get sweaty so I can include the level of dryness and absorbency in my review, but if I’m going to judge based on cooling, it’s like wearing nothing but a light breeze on your head.
The eye opening is noticeably larger than other two brands and once again, because of the extreme give, can easily be pulled down below the chin – if that is the way you like to wear it – without losing its shape. Visibility is max. Where you were thinking ET before, now think about that owl from the old Tootsie Pop commercials.
My favorite part about this balaclava is the contouring shape. There isn’t a place on the inside of it that isn’t hugging your skin. But it’s not smothering at all. In fact, I would guess that after wearing it for a minute, you’d forget you had a balaclava on at all. It’s literally a second skin.
It’s thin. It’s strong and is known for keeping its shape. It’s unrestrictive. But the BEST part about this balaclava by OMP is the seams.
They’re wide, flat, and durable – three for three. Instead of running up the middle of the head and arching around to the forehead, they split below the base of the neck and come around the sides of the crown of your head, adding balance to the style and ultimate comfort. It pretends to be seamless. They’re ultra-wide and visible to shout “hey, we’re going to last forever,” but you’ll never feel them. I trust that this thing can be washed for a lifetime while staying as comfy as a linen pillow case.
The OMP balaclava extends longer so you can tuck it into your fire suit. It’s actually really long, which gives me the impression that it might bunch up where it extends the neck line for some people with shorter body features. It does split, however, where it’s supposed to meet the shoulders.
Since the company wanted to zero-in on that seamless feel, they screen printed their tags on the head sock itself – no bumps or bevels, just smoothness. The only sewn in tag is made out of a soft, matte rubber material that bends with the fabric.
I couldn’t find any bad reviews on this balaclava. It had a five-star rating from customer feedback on every site I managed to find. The only issue I could even imagine is that it might be too long for some people, but have no solid evidence to even declare that a real issue.
I highly recommend OMP’s balaclava and give it a 12/12 rating because it encompasses all the features I mentioned in the list above. It can be purchased at DiscoveryParts for $74.00 (before tax).
I’m a fairly observant person and sometimes little details catch my eye before I see the big picture. With Traqgear One Eye Black, I could tell right away that the material was going to be thin and cooling. I noticed that there were no forehead seams, which impressed me quite a bit. The overall appearance of the balaclava is cool – aesthetically cool – as in you might look a little bit like Deadpool if you decide to wear it while serving justice to the public. Maybe.
But looks matter not when it comes to this kind of underwear, so I went in for a closer inspection.
Surprise! This is the only balaclava out of the three that is made in America, which I could have guessed going back to the aesthetic factor and the brightness of the red stitching.
Remember in our Racecom vs. Chatterbox article where the Traccom had intensely rich red accents – where red can stand for some pretty crazy totalitarianism from a foreign perspective, it tends to represent “Made in America!!!” with our racing safety products. That being said, the Traqgear One is only SFI spec 3.3 certified, where the other two brands we looked at were both SFI and FIA approved.
I would compare the contoured fit of this balaclava with the OMP one. It fits great. It’s stretchy and very thin – almost too thin. There’s a point where thickness and durability go hand in hand and where the OMP Nomex One and the Alpinestars ZX balaclavas were very durable, the Traqgear material gets much thinner with stretch and just feels cheaper overall when compared to the other two. I emphasize the competitors because if you compare this balaclava to some of the less expensive, non-contouring balaclavas, it’s an excellent choice for the price. But it’s definitely not the highest quality out of the three we are looking at.
On Traqgear’s webpage, they really stress the give of the fabric of this single layer head sock but they completely leave out any facts about absorbency. As I mentioned before, I have no way to test absorbency on all three balaclavas and because I would have to purchase them all to perform this scientific experiment, I’m coming to a conclusion based upon customer feedback. But just based upon my research (and the lack of information about the absorbency of the Traqgear single layer balaclava in their marketing) and the thinness and texture of the fabric, I’m going to put money on it not being as absorbent as its main competitors.
The length is excellent and in line next to the seam style, I would say the length is the best feature of this balaclava. It’s as long as the OMP Nomex One but thinner so even if your neck is short and the balaclava wrinkles, it makes little to no difference under your suit collar. Think of it as bunching up a sheer scarf compared to bunching up a cotton t-shirt. The scarf is so thin and soft, it’s just going add some cushion.
There are only two tags on the whole head sock, both of them inconveniently sewn-on. I don’t like the material of the tags at all. They’re basically the type of tag you cut out of your new t-shirts so it doesn’t make the base of your neck itch. They are sewn onto the outside, but under a helmet, they might cause a little discomfort for people like me who are sensitive to tags.
With the protection, thinness, flexibility, seamlessness, and length in mind, this is a decent balaclava for the price. If these are the features you are looking for, you can get this single-layer Traqgear balaclava for $54.95 before tax.
In hindsight, we’ve learned that while the Alpinestars ZX Evo balaclava is the most expensive, it’s thicker and shorter in length. It runs small and works well for people with smaller features. It feels well-insulated for winter motorsports and is known for the highest absorbency of all three balaclavas. While the material is soft like a down pillow, it has more tags on it than the clearance isle at Walmart. The seams are harder but it’s also the most durable of the three.
The OMP Nomex One is the most unique high-tech material with extreme give that contours like a second skin. The breathability and visibility is excellent, exceeding expectation, and it has zero annoying tags. It’s durable and long and has no bad reviews online and seems to be a favorite of the average DiscoveryParts customer.
The Traqgear One Layer One Eye Black balaclava is the least expensive, sitting at about $20 less than the other two. It is comparable to the OMP with its shape and seamless feel, but is thinner and less durable. It’s American made and only SFI approved.
Each balaclava performs differently, so be sure to stop in and try them all on under your helmet to decide which fits you best.
Feel free to ask Ron, Seanie, Jesse, or me any questions about fitment or product information. If you have any ideas for the blog or any specific products you would like me to write a review on, leave your suggestions in the comments section below. I look forward to hearing from you!