Road Tested: Winter Running Headgear

Hats and headbands reviewed for their performance on Colorado’s roads and trails.

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Hats and headbands reviewed for their performance on Colorado’s roads and trails.

One wouldn’t think that such a small item could make such a big difference to winter-weather comfort, but try running in freezing temperatures without some sort of head protection, and you’ll quickly understand the importance of cold-weather headgear. The ideal piece of winter running headwear in our estimation is thin, warm and breathable. Wind protection is another key major factor. Because a lot of heat is lost through the head, keeping your noggin protected might just be the key to staying warm—and keeping your workouts on track—through the cold of winter.

Brooks Balaclava ($25,

The Balaclava is a versatile winter head and neck covering. The combination of polyester and spandex allows the Balaclava to stretch and maneuver into different positions while running. When temperatures went south, the full head and neck covering position made all the difference. The lining is a brushed fleece, adding an element of comfort and insulation, while still breathing effectively and eliminating moisture. The eye and face opening is large enough to expose the entire face, but the elasticity of the fabric allowed us to pull it over the mouth and nose for maximum warmth. It stayed in place nicely. The neck of the piece is long enough that it extended down under our running top, making for an excellent seal and preventing any cold air from chilling the body. The one-size-fits-all nature of the Brooks Balaclava fit our tester well, but might be either too small or too large for some athletes. It also doubled as a really effective piece for bitterly cold days on the bike.

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Smartwool PhD HyFi Training Beanie ($32,

Wool is a favorite material for winter training garments for a number of reasons, and the PhD HyFi beanie takes full advantage of these. Wool exhibits excellent temperature-regulation characteristics, enabling it to keep you comfortable during the first steps out the door and after fully warming up. The PhD HyFi beanie felt consistently warm and comfortable and never caused the tester to overheat. An added bonus of wool is that it does not retain any odor, so you might even get an extra run or two in before you’ll need to put this piece of clothing in the wash. The liner is 100 percent merino wool, while the two outer shells are a mix of merino and synthetic materials to enhance the fit and feel of the beanie. One-size-fits-most worked well for our tester yet might not work for all athletes. The beanie is cut with a higher forehead and lower ear, which covers the ears nicely and while sitting high enough on the forehead to fit sunglasses.

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Pearl Izumi Transfer Hat ($20,

Simplicity makes the Pearl Izumi Transfer Hat such a compelling piece. Because it is constructed of a lightweight yet thermal material, it kept the tester’s head adequately comfortable in cold conditions while preventing overheating on mild days. Fit was just right, and flat-lock stitching added to the fit and even allowed the tester to wear the Transfer hat under a helmet on the bike. The wicking capability of the fabric kept our tester’s head dry by moving moisture away from his head, further increasing the utility of the piece. Because of the thin material, the Transfer hat is also very packable, meaning you’ll likely reach for it to put in a jersey pocket just in case. Its ability to handle a wide range of temperatures and a variety of activities makes the Transfer hat our do-it-all choice in this review.

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2XU Microclimate Headband ($25,

Perfect for those days when you’d like to keep the chill off of your ears but don’t want to overheat by wearing a full-on insulated hat, the Microclimate Headband provides just enough coverage for moderate weather. The one-size-fits-all headband was slightly snug on our tester’s head but stayed firmly in place even during intense exercise. The synthetic material effectively moved moisture away while small holes close to the ears added extra ventilation. The tester found this headband also worked well on the bike.

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Craft Active Headband ($25,

Count on a company from Sweden to make cold-weather clothing you can count on for the most demanding weather conditions. The Active Headband from Craft is made from synthetic material but had a texture and feel that reminded the tester of wool. It was very comfortable when worn for long periods of time. The ribbed design also seemed to trap warm air close to the skin, while still allowing it to breathe extremely well. Fit was no problem. The Active Headband is available in two sizes for a more exact fit than the other headbands tested in this review.

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