Balaclava (clothing)

Balaclava (clothing)

Different ways of wearing a balaclava
A rib-knit three-hole balaclava

A balaclava, also known as a balaclava helmet or ski mask, is a form of cloth headgear designed to expose only part of the face. Depending on style and how it is worn, only the eyes, mouth and nose, or just the front of the face are unprotected. Versions with a full face opening may be rolled into a hat to cover the crown of the head or folded down as a collar around the neck.

The name comes from their use at the Battle of Balaclava during the Crimean War, referring to a town near Sevastopol in Crimea.[1]


  • History 1
  • Uses 2
    • Warmth and safety 2.1
    • Military and police 2.2
    • Concealment 2.3
  • See also 3
  • References 4
  • External links 5


Traditional balaclavas were knitted from wool. Modern versions are also made from silk, cotton, polypropylene, neoprene, acrylic or polar fleece.

This type of headgear was known in the 19th century as an Uhlan cap or a Templar cap.[2]

During the Crimean War in 1854 handmade balaclavas were sent over to the British troops to help protect them from the bitter cold weather. British troops required this aid, as their own supplies (warm clothing, weatherproof quarters, and food) never arrived in time.[3] According to Richard Rutt in his History of Handknitting, the name "balaclava helmet" was not used during the war but appears much later, in 1881.[2] Today the military version is known simply as a "helmet liner".[4]


Warmth and safety

Colin Skinner during a snowstorm in North Dakota in 2009

Modern balaclavas are used in outdoor winter sports such as skiing, snowboarding, and snowmobiling to protect the face from wind and maintain warmth. They're also popular among motorcyclists.

Firefighters wear a fire-resistant version made of Nomex with a face opening that is covered by their self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA).

Electrical workers often wear an arc-flash rated version in conjunction with a face shield and other PPE while working on energized equipment.

Race drivers In Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile sanctioned events must wear balaclavas made of fire-retardant material underneath their crash helmets. In racing events, hill-climbs, special stages of rallies and selective sections of cross-country events entered on the International Sporting Calendar, all drivers and co-drivers must wear overalls as well as gloves (optional for co-drivers), long underwear, a balaclava, socks and shoes homologated to the FIA 8856-2000 standard.[5] Drag racing drivers usually wear balaclavas with just eye holes because of the increased fire risk.

Military and police

In the Indian subcontinent, balaclavas are commonly referred to as monkey caps because of their typical earth tone colours, and the fact that they blot out most human facial features. Monkey caps sometimes have a small, decorative, woollen pom-pom on top. They are commonly worn by troops on Himalayan duty for protection from the cold.[6]


  • Media related to at Wikimedia Commons

External links

  1. ^ Games, Alex (2007). Balderdash & piffle : one sandwich short of a dog's dinner. London: BBC.  
  2. ^ a b Richard Rutt, A History of Handknitting, London 1987, pages 134–5. (Note that there is a misprint in the date of the Battle of Balaclava, which took place 1854, in the original edition cited here)
  3. ^ Shepherd, John (1991). The Crimean Doctors: A History of the British Medical Services in the Crimean War 1. Liverpool University Press. pp. 296–306. 
  4. ^ "Helmet Liner Knitting Pattern - How to Make a Helmet Liner". 2014-03-03. Retrieved 2014-05-01. 
  5. ^$FILE/Annexe%20L_2009_15.05.09.pdf
  6. ^ Ghosh, Subir (2005) "Thanda lege jabey" Article in 19 Nov Hindusthan Times
  7. ^ [3] Archived October 29, 2012 at the Wayback Machine
  8. ^ [4] Archived September 16, 2012 at the Wayback Machine
  9. ^ Kramer, Andrew E. (2011-08-31). "Memo to Exxon: Business With Russia May Involve Guns and Balaclavas". The New York Times. 
  10. ^ "Latest news from Cambridge & Cambridgeshire. Cambridge sports, Cambridge jobs & Cambridge business – War On Terror board game seized by police". Archived from the original on 2012-08-06. Retrieved 2009-07-15. 
  11. ^ "Pro-Pussy Riot demonstrators arrested in Marseille". Retrieved 2012-08-28. 


See also

Members of the Australian band TISM wore balaclavas to conceal their identities during all public appearances.

Some balaclava-wearing sympathisers of Pussy Riot were arrested in Marseille, France in August 2012 for being in breach of the French ban on face covering.[11]

British Police in Kent confiscated the War on Terror board game partly because of the inclusion of a balaclava. Police said it "could be used to conceal someone's identity or could be used in the course of a criminal act".[10]

A balaclava may be used for concealment in the course of illegal activities and occupationally by Provisional Irish Republican Army is known for its members wearing balaclavas in every situation.

Pussy Riot


The balaclava became a part of standard [9]