Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Cold Commuting With The Cold Avenger

Cold Avenger Expedition Balaclava
With Triple D coming up, I figured I'd best be prepared for any eventuality in terms of weather. In many ways, I've been "lucky" the last two years in that it hasn't been "stupid cold" or really windy. I almost wished I had pogies last year, but it warmed up enough during the mid-day that I made it through without them. But you just never know in mid-January what weather you'll get.

I was hearing about this special balaclava and I have looked into it before, but took the chance that I wouldn't need it and passed on it. However; this year I took the plunge and ordered the Cold Avenger Expedition Balaclava.

I've had this sitting on the shelf for about ten days now, but I couldn't use it since the air temperatures were so balmy of late. However; as many of you may have noticed, the Mercury has headed South and in its wake we are experiencing truly bitter cold air temperatures. In tandem with the wind out of the Northwest yesterday, it felt like -22°F. Perfect! I got the Cold Avenger balaclava out and "suited up" to do battle with the frigid air and 6 inches of fresh snow on By-Tor the Titanium Mukluk. A simple, (normally it would be simple), commute turns into quite the adventure at these temperatures and with these conditions.

Like something from your worst nightmare!
The fit of the Cold Avenger is worth commenting on, because it is unusual, and by past reviews on this item, I do not seem to be alone in my views of it. The Cold Avenger Expedition Balaclava is a two piece design. There is a "traditional" balaclava hood made from some fleece that is claimed to be four times more wind resistant than "traditional fleece" product and that due to it being "tightly woven". On either side of the "hood" there are copious amounts of hook material. This mates with the loop material on the second, "mask" portion of the Cold Avenger Expedition Balaclava. The "mask" portion is held onto the "hood" portion by the means of this hook and loop set up, and allows you to remove the mask when you need to eat, drink, or clear your nose without removing the hood part, or any other head gear you may be wearing as well. The "mask" part is the heart of the system which allows for the breathing of the wearer to be more comfortable and "normal".

The thing is, the dang hood part is cut silly. The "cap" part on top of your head is not "deep" enough, so the opening's top runs way up high on your forehead and the lower part runs right under yer eyeballs. Seems like if one could magically "shift" the opening downward a bit on the hood it would be a better fit for a lot of people. This isn't unfixable, but at $80.00 retail, this is a bit of a disappointing discovery with this product. I am able to work around it as it is, but it is a tad frustrating.

Now the "mask" part? That is brilliant. I really was pleased with this part of the product. The mask has an internal wire across the bridge of the nose which is formable so you can customize the fit and feel of the Expedition Balaclava. But besides that neat little feature, your breathing in the mask is really free and it works as advertised. If you've ever worked yourself hard in sub-zero temperatures, you know what I mean when I talk about "lung burn"- that awful feeling you get when you are sucking down really cold air into your breathing passages. The mask eliminates this altogether and you can suck air as hard as you need to without restriction. Sweet!

Don't let that Sun fool ya- It was super cold!
So, I set myself up with this balaclava on first, then my thick, Polar fleece hat, and tried my Oakley Jawbones with this set up and along with the rest of my gear, headed out into the -22°F windchill, straight into the wind, for my 5 mile ride to work. I didn't get very far before I realized two important things: One- you really need to concentrate on breathing with your mouth with this system. It seems to keep the fogging to a minimum with regards to eyewear. Secondly: Eyewear will likely fog over anyway, leaving you blind.

I ditched the Oakleys on top of my hat where they stayed for most of the ride. Then the next thing that cropped up was that aforementioned bad opening on the balaclava proper. I fussed with this off and on during both trips on my commute. It was a bit frustrating, but I could eventually get it to sit where I wanted. I will say that it was a warm set up and no wind whatsoever touched my skin where it was covered. In that regard, the balaclava works great.

Coming home the ambient air temperature was slightly above zero, and going with the wind proved to me that the Cold Avenger Expedition Balaclava was on the verge of being too warm for me. So, I think I know when I will be using it in the future, and that will be if the air temperatures, or windchill combined with the air temp gets to be zero degrees or colder.  Above this temperature I think I will end up becoming too hot and perspiration management will be more difficult.

Conclusions: For the asking price, I feel that the balaclava is a let down. Theoretically the idea for this product is awesome, but the execution of the important balaclava component is a fail. It just fits really badly. Yes- I could work with it as it is, but for $80.00 I am not at all pleased with that part. That said, Cold Avenger offers a "half mask", which gets you the awesome "respirator" part, for $59.99. In my case, I will likely fit the mask portion to another, better fitting balaclava, or try to get the Cold Avenger one modified a bit to fit better.

I would not recommend this product until Cold Avenger addresses the ill fit of the balaclava. If they do, I feel it would make this worth the benefit. As it stands I feel I have a nearly worthless balaclava due to poor cut and fit of that part of this product. And as I stated, from reading other reviews of this product, I am not at all alone in this.

Note: I paid the full retail price for this product and was not asked by Cold Avenger to review or test this item. I was not paid, nor bribed for this review and I strive to give my honest thoughts and opinions throughout.


john said...

Is there an issue with the "size" of the product and the size of the head?

Ἀντισθένης said...

Only thing I've found to beat fogging is ski-goggles. I wear them and a ski helmet for much more comfortable sub-zero Celsius riding in Toronto. I have a pair with shading, and a pair clear for night, both let me wear glasses beneath (not a contacts wearer). I also rigged my own balaclava that lets me breathe. The short explanation is that it's windproof with a wide mouth opening, the opening I blocked with breathable fleece left open at the sides (somewhat like gills) for airflow. I got more fussy and made an opening for my glasses arms so that no wind gets through there. Not perfect, but works for most temperatures.

Guitar Ted said...

@john: With the number of comments I've seen similar to mine, my guess is no. For the record, it "fits" my head fine. It's the way they cut the "hole" in it that is goofy. Hard to explain, but trust me- it's not right. Not exactly.