This year I have been completely committed to riding and training throughout the whole of winter, but to do so effectively I needed to make sure that I had all the right clothing as I know that when it gets really cold, the devil is in the detail.
So whilst there is the obvious and more exciting clothing to consider like jackets, tights, overshoes and gloves (see my Castelli CW.3.0 Gloves Review) you also need to make sure that almost every inch of your body, especially the more delicate parts are also protected.
This most certainly includes as much of your neck, face and head as possible. The area around your eyes is easy enough to protect from the wind using glasses, but for the rest there are a couple of options, both have their own up and downsides:
The first option I considered was to get a full balaclava which some of the guys I ride with on training rides do sometimes use. However whilst they will effectively cover and protect all of your head, face and neck, I personally find that they are also an all or nothing garment, a little restrictive and inflexible.
What I mean by this is whilst you can on some of them pull up/down the front part to either cover or expose your nose, if it gets a little warmer later on in your ride, you have to take off your helmet to remove it and then you have absolutely nothing to protect the top of your head or around your neck.
Thus for me a balaclava is a good option in extreme cold, or on a short ride where you know you are going to need the maximum amount of protection for the whole duration of the exercise.
Neck Gaiter (Buff)
For more general use winter riding I much prefer to combine a Neck Gaiter (or Buff) with either a skull cap or headband depending on how cold it is. In this way you can start your ride almost completely covered and then if it starts to warm up, or when on more difficult sections where you’re screaming for air, you can very easily partly pull down the gaiter to reveal your nose or completely and just use it like a scarf.
It can then just as easily be replaced once you get over the top of the hill and make your way down the freezing descent on the other side.
However not all Buffs or Neck Gaiters are created the same and over the years I have found some to be far better than others for a number of reasons that I will go through below:
Ronhill Neck Gaiter Review
Even though it is designed with runners in mind, after a lot of searching and research on the web I thought that the rather inexpensive Ronhill gaiter also looked to be the ideal solution for cycling and so purchased it (see cost & where to buy below) at the onset of winter. So now after using it on almost a daily basis for almost 3 months this is my full Ronhill Neck Gaiter review:
Main Highlights & Features:
- Thermal fabric
- Lightweight and breathable Regulite fabric
- Premium quality wicking treatment
- Ergonomically shaped to cover neck and collar bones
- Flat-locked seams
- Fabric with added stretch and recovery
- Quick drying
- Fibre content: 84% Polyester Hollow Yarn, 16% Elastane
- Weight: 35g
Thickness, Breathability & Warmth
I have purchased and used a number of scarfs, buffs or neck gaiters over the years and what I have found is that it is always tempting to get a really thick one because of the thought that this will provide you with more protection and warmth.
This may be true, but in my experience, a thick material also makes it harder to breathe through, feels very restrictive and I find that on hard rides, I start to sweat too much under them, especially at the back of my neck.
So as I already had a thick neck buff as a backup, I decided to that my next one would be a little more lightweight. Ronhill describe their gaiter as being made from a material that is both lightweight and breathable and that was one of the main reasons I opted for this one over a host of others on my shortlist.
Even so, on arrival I was immediately struck by just how lightweight and thin the material was, which I thought may be ok for autumn and spring rides, but was really concerned that it may not provide me with enough protection or warmth as the temperatures drop towards freezing.
Ronhill describe one of the main features of the material used in their gaiter it’s as being thermal, which implies that it has been designed to retain heat.
What I have discovered after using this gaiter in temperatures down to almost freezing on easy spins and long hard training rides is that to keep your lips, cheeks and nose comfortable, you really don’t need a thick, completely windproof material.
In my experience the Ronhill neck gaiter may not be super warm, but it does just enough to take the edge off so that those delicate parts do not burn from the cold.
I have also realized by comparing them to when I use my thick buff, having a really warm face whilst riding hard is one of the reasons that I felt so uncomfortable and restricted.
I also found that the thin material on the Ronhill gaiter also makes it really easy to breath through and even though I do still sometimes get some fogging up of my glasses, it happens far less often than with thicker versions.
A one sized garment, I found that the gaiter fits me very well. I can’t say that this will be the same for everyone, but rather than just being a simple cylindrical shape like many buffs out there, it has a shape that ensures your neck and collar is protected even if you open the zip on your jacket.
I also like the way in which it can be worn in a number of ways. For example when it is very cold, the shape and stretchy material make it possible for the back part of the gaiter to be pulled up over the rear of your head under your helmet. The sides then cover your ears and can then be positioned to either just protect your mouth or your nose as well. Or you can have it just covering your mouth and neck, or just have it around your neck as a kind of scarf.
Ronhill say that it has been made from their Thermalite fabric, which I have been unable to discover what exactly that means but the material itself is really soft and comfortable to the touch and never caused me any sort of irritation or scratching.
The garment is also advertised as having flat-locked seams, which stick out far less than a more traditional coverstitch and thus is more comfortable against your skin. The seam that runs down the gaiter on the back is not as flat as the ones along the top, but during all of my testing, I have not been aware of a seam causing me any sort of discomfort at all.
Whilst not elasticated, it is quite noticeable that the fabric is that it is quite stretchy, which means that for me it is small enough to fit snugly around my neck and stay up over my chin, but yet is still easy to pull up over my head when putting it on or removing.
This may seem like a small thing, but I far prefer it to my thicker fleece buff that does not have a stretch fabric, but rather has a drawstring arrangement, which you have to release to get it over your head and then tighten to ensure that it does not keep falling down past your chin.
The Ronhill Neck Gaiter is described as having a "premium quality wicking treatment" – now I don’t know if it is just the thinness of the material or indeed if it actively draws moisture away from your body through the fabric to the outer surface where it can quickly evaporate, but I notice that I feel a lot less sweat and the material remains far dryer than my other gaiters and buffs. This is especially noticeable under my chin and around the back of my neck.
Sizes & Colours
Whilst I chose black, the Ronhill neck gaiter is also available in a purple colour that they call "wildberry" as well as a fluorescent yellow that is ideal for visibility should you often find your self riding in the dark or very low light.
I think if you are looking for an extreme weather solution (below freezing), you may be better off using a balaclava, but for the temperatures that I am used to riding in during winter (under 10°C / 50°F to around 0°C / 32°F) I have no hesitation in highly recommending the Ronhill Neck Gaiter for protection of your neck, mouth, cheeks and nose whilst cycling and far prefer it to any other buff, gaiter or balaclava that I have used in the past.
Cost & Where to Buy
I purchased my Ronhill Neck Gaiter from Amazon where it is available for around £12 in the UK or $20 in the USA:
For more options of places to buy please see the links below: