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Different ways of wearing a balaclava.

A balaclava (pronounced /ˌbæləˈklɑːvə/), also known as a balaclava helmet or ski mask, is a form of headgear covering the whole head, exposing only the face or upper part of it, and sometimes only the eyes. The name "balaclava" comes from the town of Balaklava, near Sevastopol in Crimea, Ukraine.[1] During the Crimean War, knitted balaclavas were sent over to the British troops to help protect them from the bitter cold weather. They are traditionally knitted from wool, and can be rolled up into a hat to cover just the crown of the head.

Modern balaclavas can be made from a number of materials, such as silk, cotton, polypropylene, neoprene, wool, acrylic or fleece. Modern balaclavas are also used in outdoor winter sports activities such as skiing, snowboarding, snowmobiling, running or winter bicycling to help protect the face from the cold wind and maintain warmth. Motorcyclists also wear one under their safety helmets for similar reasons; balaclavas also help to keep the inner lining of the helmet clean.

Some exercise specialists believe that balaclavas help athletes with exercise-induced asthma by recirculating exhaled moisture (in concordance with the theory that dryness of air, not temperature, triggers some types of asthma).[2]

Racing drivers must[3] wear balaclavas made of fire-retardant material underneath their crash helmets in order to improve protection in case of a fire following an accident, and commonly cover the nose and mouth to reduce inhalation of smoke and fumes. Dragster-racing drivers usually wear balaclavas which have just two separate eye holes because of the increased fire risk.[citation needed]

In the Indian subcontinent, balaclavas are commonly referred to as monkey caps, due to 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-pon on top. They are commonly worn by troops on Himalayan duty.[4]

The United States Marine Corps has recently begun issuing balaclavas with hinged face guards as part of the Flame Resistant Organizational Gear program.[5][6]

British Police in Kent confiscated the War on Terror board game partly due to 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".[7]

A balaclava may also be used for concealment purposes, in the course of illegal activities by criminals, and occupationally by SWAT and Special Forces personnel. It may also be used by Irregular military forces or paramilitary organisations to conceal their identities.

An exampe of an IRA active service unit wearing balaclavas at a Hunger Strike rally in Galbally, Tyrone 2009.

See also


  1. ^ Games, Alex (2007), Balderdash & piffle : one sandwich short of a dog's dinner, London: BBC, ISBN 9781846072352 
  2. ^ NY Times article Jan 17, 2008 by Gina Kolata [1]
  3. ^ Flame-resistant clothing In circuit 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.-$FILE/Annexe%20L_2009_15.05.09.pdf
  4. ^ Ghosh, Subir (2005) "Thanda lege jabey" Article in 19 Nov Hindusthan Times
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^ "Latest news from Cambridge & Cambridgeshire. Cambridge sports, Cambridge jobs & Cambridge business - War On Terror board game seized by police". Retrieved 2009-07-15. 


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