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A neck gaiter is a tubular piece of clothing that is worn around the neck. It is slipped on over the head and then pulled up over the mouth and nose to keep out wind, dust, sand, insects, cold and direct sunlight.
There are many different names for a neck gaiter that include:
Neck gaiters are versatile sporting accessories. Depending on the material used and the length and circumference used, neck gaiters can vary in their elasticity and function.
Fleece, Knit, Merino Wool are often used in cold climates, to provide warmth and protection from extreme cold. While synthetic wicking, polyester spandex microfiber, and cotton are used in the warmer seasons, for sweat-wicking and breathability.
A typical neck gaiter is often 50cm in circumference and 50cm length. With these dimensions, it can become a multi-functional accessory. It can be used as a face buff and neck buff, but also be used as a headband, wrist band, and even as a makeshift balaclava. For warmer climates and activities that build up moisture, often a shorter length of ~40cm is recommended, for better air-flow and fewer folds around the neck that can often trap heat.
Neck gaiters are often used by cyclists, skiers, and motorcyclists as they conveniently fit under a helmet and are used to keep insects and other elements from a rider's neck or face.
For runners and joggers, a neck gaiter is highly functional because of its extreme portability. When you are not wearing the neck gaiter you can easily wrap it around your wrist or use it as a sweatband.
For runners, being able to breathe through a face buff is the most important feature of all. Ideally, a runner should be able to breathe freely even at peak heart rates. Whilst wool and fleece offer the best protection from extreme cold, these materials are less breathable and trap heat during peak activity. Such fabrics are best used in conditions of: -10 to 5 degrees Celsius.
Synthetics and polyester spandex compositions do a better job of moderating temperature, whilst maintaining breathability. These fabrics are best used in 5 to 20 degrees Celsius.
It's important that a neck gaiter stays up and over the mouth and nose of a runner, to serve its intended purpose. The majority of neck gaiters are sold as one size fits all. But not everyone's face and head dimensions are the same. Some neck gaiters employ silicon linings to increase friction between the neck gaiter and a user's skin or hair. Other models use elastic sewn into the ends of the bandana that hold firm against a user's head and face. However, the best neck gaiters allow for adjustable lacing that increases the range of sizing and keeps the neck gaiter secure, even during the most rigorous of activities.
Some element of spandex allows the best properties of elasticity in a neck gaiter. Elasticity allows the neck gaiter to be multifunctional e.g. serving as an effective headband or wrist band. But elasticity also allows for a firmer hold on a runner's face. Too much elasticity can also sacrifice comfort as the mix of synthetic materials can compromise the sweat-wicking, fast-drying properties of a neck gaiter. So there needs to be a balance.
At some point, all runners sweat. The ability of a neck gaiter to dry fast and wick-sweat away is crucial to its effectiveness as a running accessory. Many neck gaiters made of cheaper polyester microfiber feel cool and stretchy, but when moisture builds up, it can feel like breathing through a wet blanket.
The most breathable fabrics have been found to 'moderate' your temperature, versus dramatically warming or cooling you.
There are polyester and synthetic fabrics used in neck gaiters to allow them a cooling effect. With the addition of water and a flicking method, placed on the face and neck, these neck gaiters can provide lower surface temperatures, particularly in the summer heat. These neck gaiters are good for less strenuous activities, but as heart rate increases, this wetting action to activate cooling can compromise breathability. Runners should weigh this carefully. In testing various fabrics, we found that the higher the cooling properties, the lower the breathability. A balance is best for runners, that demand both.
Here is where the composition between polyester % and spandex % is crucial. Special fabrics like our Gaiterrilla Aero Silk, employ laser-cut nano-mesh perforations in the fabric, to maximize breathability while still being able to focus on cooling properties.
Many neck gaiters are unfinished meaning they are not sewn or stitched at either end. These are often also referred to as "seamless" bandanas. Some brands tout this as a desirable feature, however its often just a cheaper manufacturing technique, intended to lower the cost of a product, so beware.
The ends without stitching can curl or unravel as you move and compromise your running. The most secure fitting neck gaiters are seamed and stitched at each end. The stitching method is also important. Modern "catch stitching" methods, using elastic threading is best for running neck gaiters. It adds to elasticity and helps keep neck gaiters nicely formed during activity.
So there you have it, some reasons why a neck gaiter is something many athletes and outdoor enthusiasts should own. Hopefully, this information helps you make the right choice when it comes to which type of neck gaiter is best for you. Happy trails, happy running!