The Weatherneck Sysyem breakaway balaclava is, as the name suggests, a convertible balaclava, neck gaiter and hat combo. Very competent in all modes, it packs down very unobtrusively should the temperature suddenly spike. Brilliant for road or trail riding, it's lent itself well to spring motorcycling and is likely to find favour among runners and skiers too.
The system is made in the USA from high quality breathable polyester, which keeps the price competitive, moisture management sensible and the garments easy to care for. Better still, they can be purchased separately and being black, colour clashes are a moot point.
Early spring can be a very unpredictable time, freezing cold one minute, strong sunshine and 18 degrees the next. Most convertible kit employs Velcro or poppers, which ensures a secure connection but eventually warps and can prove tricky to adjust mid-ride.
The Weatherneck uses slim button-type magnets, which connect hat and gaiter components. The only downsides are they're not supposed to be machine washed and have the potential to interfere with pacemakers. Ours was kidnapped by the household wash but emerged seemingly unscathed.
First up, we have the amusingly but aptly named, Mullet Cap, which is crudely, a skull cap with an integral neck gaiter to protect the nape area from wind, rain, snow, harsh sun and of course, icy blasts than can sneak inside jerseys and jackets.
Long enough to slip beneath a jacket or jersey collar, there's no danger of it flapping about in the wind. Acres of perforated mesh are designed to promote airflow here and around the skull-cap's temple region, overcoming the sense of overheating as temperature and rider effort increase.
As one fits all designs go, ours graced me perfectly. Thoughtfully, there's a dedicated flap for ponytails, which also seems to align nicely with helmets.
The magnets embedded in the cap and the balaclava component can be doubled up to suit smaller heads, or, for bigger faces, relaxed completely. Simply fold or relax the balaclava component before connecting the magnets. They've also incorporated a pocket within the hat; useful for stowing a fiver for cafe stops/contingencies, or emergency contact details.
Generally speaking, unless the air temperature falls to around zero, I tend to find hats leave me feeling that bit too toasty. Thanks to the relatively thin fabric and perforated mesh, I have remained comfortable when the mercury has climbed over the course of a ride to around 10 degrees.
At the other extreme, on those late night rides when starry skies have dragged temperatures to zero or thereabouts, it's offered excellent defence against chill and wicks a lot faster than traditional thin pile skull caps. The flat profile also ensures it's unobtrusive beneath helmets and for several hours.
This is also sensibly generous, offering excellent protection to the nose, face and neck. Though I can usually shake a heavy cold in a matter of days, I'm prone to chest infections and that phlegmy 'chain smokers' rattle often lingers for weeks.
On bitterly cold 1 in 4 descents, I've tended to tuck it into my jersey for maximum protection but either way it doesn't flutter annoyingly, impair conversation, or lead to soggy face syndrome when you're combining chat and decent tempo. Those magnets mean, with a bit of practice, it's an absolute cinch to remove and reinstate.
The system also lends itself to motorcycling. I dislike full face helmets, so found the gaiter provided welcome protection from early spring wind blast. Stopping at the lights, donned in full leathers and goggles, it adds to the Mad Max dystopian road warrior look and much to my amusement, drew some uneasy glances from drivers in the other lanes.
Tube type systems can turn very soggy when the heavens open. The Weatherneck will obviously become wet but this doesn't linger, let alone give rise to the sensation of being water-boarded. It takes about 15 minutes before the polyester feels properly wet but to date we're not talking the point of saturation. Even plodding along at 15mph with a gentle breeze should dry it in around 15 minutes.
Given the design brief, there's little to dislike and it's a wonder why someone hadn't come up with this sooner. Compared with a traditional balaclava, or Buff-type sleeves, it's relatively pricey but performs better than the former in every respect. That's not to say Buffs and their imitators aren't extremely versatile and have some obvious benefit in milder conditions, mind.
Superbly well designed tunable headwear for riding and general outdoor use
road.cc test report
Make and model: The Weatherneck System breakaway balaclava
Size tested: One size
Tell us what the product is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?
Weatherneck say: " A Breathable, Breakaway Balaclava
Our unique magnetic design gives you the choice. The "System" includes the Mullet Hat + Facemask. They work together (hat has metal, facemask has magnets) to create The Weatherneck System!
Too hot? Just rip off the face mask without stopping.
Too cold? Simply tighten up the mask for a snug feel.
Layering is rule #1 for cold weather comfort and The Weatherneck System is the only balaclava that lets you adjust to your environment while breathing easy.
It's a hat, a facemask and a balaclava all in 1, but there is more to it".
My feelings "A superbly designed and practical balaclava system for riding and other outdoor sports".
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
The "System" includes the Mullet Hat + Facemask. They work together (hat has metal, facemask has magnets) to create The Weatherneck System! Polyester/Lycra mix
90 % Polyester.10% Lycra
Unique design that works extremely well as a system and converts very readily to suit conditions.
So long as machine washing is minimised, there's no reason it shouldn't lead a very long and productive life.
Easily and quickly adjusted to suit different wearers.
Surprisingly well tailored and easily tuneable.
Magnets add a bit of additional weight but fabrics and construction are reassuringly good.
Merino wool might have an edge but otherwise, superior to conventional balaclavas between 0 and +10 degrees.
Not cheap in the commonly accepted sense but well executed, so chances are you'll get a lot of use from it.
How easy is the product to care for? How did it respond to being washed?
Best hand-washed, which admittedly is less convenient than machine washing but hardly taxing. Ours survived machine wash cycles too and everything looks and performs perfectly.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
Overall, the weatherneck system performs extremely well. Designed with exertion in mind, the perforated fabrics do an excellent job of trafficking rider generated out, while retaining an ambient temperature. No risk of wet, clammy faces. Mullet cap also offers excellent protection against precipitation, preventing rain and similar creeping inside garments. Neck gaiter also extends long enough to shut out icy blasts and is effortlessly whipped on/off should conditions change.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
Well engineered design using decent quality fabrics-pretty much everything,
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
Nothing given the design brief.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? Definitely
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes
Use this box to explain your score
Extremely well conceived and executed headwear system.
About the tester
I usually ride: Rough Stuff Tourer Based around 4130 Univega mtb Frameset My best bike is: 1955 Holdsworth Road Path and several others including cross & traditional road
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Most days I would class myself as: Experienced
I regularly do the following types of riding: cyclo cross, commuting, touring, fixed/singlespeed, mtb,
Shaun Audane is a freelance writer/product tester with over twenty-eight years riding experience, the last twelve (120,000 miles) spent putting bikes and kit through their paces for a variety of publications. Previous generations of his family worked at manufacturing's sharp end, thus Shaun can weld, has a sound understanding of frame building practice and a preference for steel or titanium framesets.
Citing Richard Ballantine and an Au pair as his earliest cycling influences, he is presently writing a cycling book with particular focus upon women, families and disabled audiences (Having been a registered care manager and coached children at Herne Hill Velodrome in earlier careers)