The Helmetclava by Outdoor Research

Outdoor Research Helmetclava
Photo: Outdoor Research

Back in November, a commenter named Pat told us about the Helmetclava, by Outdoor Research:

The BEST balaclava is the Outdoor Research Helmetclava. The front/face portion is both vented and made from windstopper. The rear is slightly thinner and fleece. The top is much thinner, but still keeps my bald head warm in 15F temperatures with a regular helmet.

One of the best winter commuting purchases I've made.

I had to check out Pat’s hype.

At $35 MSRP, it’s more expensive than other balaclavas you can find. It is indeed a fine piece of winter commuting gear, but it takes a little getting used to.

The three materials are best appreciated when it is turned inside out. To quote the packaging, it has:

  • WINDSTOPPER ® Soft Shell fabric is windproof and weather resistant
  • Motion Fleeceâ„¢ neck fabric for warmth and moisture transport
  • Thermodynamicâ„¢ fabric crown and ear panels provide stretch and breathability

Helmetclava ModesWait. “Thermodynamic” is trademarked by someone? Is “gravitation” trademarked too? What about “momentum?” Is Outdoor Research part of some powerful cabal that has trademarked the laws of nature? Does this ultra-secret group control the weather–in order to sell outdoor clothing? The Illuminati is nothing compared to this. Calling Dan Brown

Where was I?

Yes. The Helmetclava is quite comfortable and warm. The cap section is attached to the back, and can flip down almost like a hood, which allows for several modes, shown as icons on the packaging.

The “venting” mode “looks like a do-rag,” according to one of my coworkers, which he said while laughing at me.

Suffocation Warning
The Missing Icon

Missing from the icons on the packaging was any warning that, unlike other balaclavas I’ve used, you can’t breath easily through this one unless the “laser die-cut breathing port” is positioned right on your nose and mouth.

I like keeping my face warm. I don’t like suffocation.

Helmetclava breathing port
The laser die-cut breathing port

At rest, breathing is easy even if those little holes aren’t well positioned. However, during the first couple of rides wearing the Helmetclava, when I reached the top of the biggest hill on my commute, I found myself pulling the front of it down from my nose and mouth and panting to catch my breath. (I should add that the top of this hill is at an elevation of 7000 feet, so respiration can be difficult under the best of conditions.)

I discovered that when I positioned the breathing port perfectly over my nose and mouth, the chin strap on my helmet would pull the front down by about an inch–which was enough to make breathing difficult. (Hey, helmet haters, there’s some free fodder for you. You’re welcome.)

It’s not easy to adjust the front of the Helmetclava when the chin strap is in place. I did some experiments, and discovered that if I pulled the front up to the top of my eyelids before fastening the chin strap, after it would pull down to the right position. Yay, I can breathe!

1A: Perfect position before strapping...

1B: Too low after strapping.

2A: Across my eyeballs before strapping...

2B: Perfect position after strapping! That's why I'm smiling.

I compared the Helmetclava to the Pace Sportswear Balaclava, which has fewer features, and doesn’t insulate nearly as well. But it doesn’t need breathing ports; I could suck air through any part of it, or wear it backwards if I wanted.

I think I’ll stick with the Helmetclava, now that I’ve mastered breathing while wearing the thing. But I wouldn’t recommend this for kids.

P.S. Thanks for not asking about the little plastic green flower on my helmet.

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