Behold, the humble neck gaiter. A simple tube of fabric that happens to be one of the most versatile pieces of gear you could own. But what makes for the best neck gaiter?
I’ve been using various models and brands for years as a multi-sport outdoor athlete, and I never leave home without one. In the guide, I included some of my old favorites, a few that I tested just for this guide, and one or two models I chose for inclusion based on internet research.
If you are searching for only the best to see you through whatever the great outdoors can throw at you, look no further than this guide. I’ve got a range of styles, materials, and price points gathered for you, and I think you’ll be able to find exactly what you are looking for!
- Warmest Natural Fiber Gaiter: Appalachian Gear Company All-Paca Fleece Neck Gaiter
- Best Warmth for Weight: Buff ThermoNet Neck Gaiter
- Best Choice: Buff Lightweight Merino Wool Neck Gaiter
- Best for Summer: Outdoor Research ActiveIce Ubertube Neck Gaiter
- Classic Choice: Buff Original Multifunctional Neck Gaiter
- Most Versatile: Smartwool Merino 150 Neck Gaiter
- Most Comfortable Synthetic Option: Turtlefur Fleece Neck Warmer
- Budget Choice: TICONN 2-Pack Neck Gaiter
- Most Antimicrobial: Copper Fit Guardwell Neck Gaiter
- Best Small Business Product: High Tail Designs Hiking Gaiter
The Best Neck Gaiter
Appalachian Gear Company hasn’t been around all that long, but they’ve already made quite a splash–so much so that their products are often out of stock. They use alpaca wool in their products–a fiber I’ve found to insulate well for the weight. It holds odor even less than merino wool in my anecdotal experience, but I found it slightly less comfortable (i.e., scratchier). So, if you are sensitive to that sort of thing, buyer beware.
Something else to note: in my testing of Appalachian Gear Company’s 100% alpaca products, I’ve found that they stretch out and lose their shape just slightly over time. This property actually makes their sweaters more comfortable, but it’s possible that this neck gaiter won’t stay on your face very well after long-term use.
This model has a slight bandana-like cut (a little triangular at the front) and is relatively thick compared to other gaiters in our guide. It’s wider at the bottom than the top and sports a double-layer knit construction. The design allows you to tuck it in under jackets and sweaters if you want to.
All of which is to say, I recommend Appalachian Gear Company All-Paca Fleece Neck Gaiter for cold weather use only. It’s a great gaiter for skiing, especially when you need something to pull up over your to fend off the chill while sitting on the lift. Read the in-depth review here.
100% alpaca wool construction
Weft-knit acts as ripstop to mitigate tearing
- BrandAppalachian Gear Company
When I want warmth without weight, I look no further than Buff’s ThermoNet collection. This family of neck gaiters uses PrimaLoft yarn to insulate without being bulky, making it ideal for layering without feeling like I’m drowning in cold-weather gear.
The fabric is silky and smooth in a way I can only find in synthetics, and as a bonus, it features 70% recycled material. It performed admirably wicking moisture away from my skin during winter running and snowshoeing expeditions. I’d recommend Buff ThermoNet Neck Gaiter for people with wool sensitivities that still want some winter warmth. But keep in mind synthetics are going to hold odor more than wool. Read the in-depth review here.
Smooth and comfortable fabric
PrimaLoft yarn insulates without the bulk
4-way stretch and wicking properties
This is the neck gaiter that took the category from “useful” to “essential” for me. Let me tell you why. The 100% merino wool construction is soft, comfortable, warm, and doesn’t hold odors. It dries quickly and insulates when wet. The cut is long for extra comfort when I want to pull it up over my ears, and the fabric weight is dialed-in perfectly for four-season use.
Lightweight Merino Wool Neck Gaiter has been my constant companion on adventures of all types all over the world, and it’s never let me down. In my extensive experience, this neck gaiter only has two downsides. The 100% merino construction tends to stretch out over time, meaning it is less likely to stay up over my face when I need it (this limits its utility as a mask). The second downside is that it comes in somewhat more muted colors than many other neck gaiters on the market.
For more top-quality products to keep you warm, check out our selection of the best scarves for men.
100% merino construction
Neck gaiters are about more than just insulating in the cold. They also perform admirably at keeping desert dust out of my nose and desert sun off my head and neck. When I’m headed for sunny and hot climates, I look for a lightweight gaiter with wicking properties, like the Outdoor Research ActiveIce Ubertube.
I haven’t personally tested this product, but I’ve heard good things from other gear testers, and Outdoor Research has a well-deserved reputation for useful, functional accessories. The ActiveIce Ubertube comes in light-reflective colors, boasts a UPF rating of 50+, weighs just 1.3 oz, and is made of 92% polyester and 8% spandex. I’d expect it to perform as advertised in terms of moisture-wicking and sun protection with those specs.
Our guide to the top balaclavas offers more excellent products for winter outdoor enthusiasts. Don’t miss them.
Lightweight wicking fabric
Great for summer expeditions
- BrandOutdoor Research
The OG neck gaiter. Buff changed the category by offering a lightweight, synthetic, virtually seamless neck gaiter that was long enough to use in a dozen ways. The outdoor world has never been the same – to the extent that people use the word “Buff” to refer to neck gaiters like people use the word “Kleenex” to refer to tissue paper.
The fabric is stretchy and made of 95% polyester and 5% elastane (and is 100% recycled). In my experience, it dries quickly and is actually pretty odor-free for a synthetic fabric. It’s light enough for summer use but insulates well enough for spring and fall adventures. And best of all, Buff Original Multifunctional Neck Gaiter comes in dozens of colors and patterns. I like this Appalachian Trail-inspired version!
Look cool and stay warm on the slopes with some of these amazing ski masks from our list.
100% recycled material
Comfortable and stretchy
I like Smartwool Merino 150 Neck Gaiter because it combines the positive properties of natural fabric (insulation, anti-microbial, low-odor retention) with the durability and stretch of nylon. The blend is 87% merino and 14% nylon and weighs 1.7 ounces. If you are keeping track, that puts it squarely between the summer-weight and winter-specific gaiters on this list, making it a great all-around choice for anyone wanting to keep his gear closet minimal.
I haven’t personally tested this product, but I’m attracted to the UPF 20+ rating, and I’ve had a great experience with other Smartwool offerings. If I wanted a little more warmth, I could always go up to their 250 model, which offers more weight and warmth. If you run even on cold days, be sure to make this product a part of your winter running gear.
Well-dialed, versatile fabric weight
This warm, classically styled neck gaiter caught my eye because of its 100% acrylic construction, double-layer design, and 3.2 oz weight. I’d imagine it is warm, soft, durable, and comfortable with those specs, though I haven’t personally tested it. This design from Turtlefur has been around since the ‘80s, so it must be successful!
I’d recommend Turtlefur Fleece Neck Warmer for winter-specific activities with low heat-output (i.e., downhill skiing, snowmobiling, etc.). Feel free to combine it with the most popular winter jackets that will keep you warm and cozy.
Winter-specific fabric weight and design
Sometimes you need a warm neck without the expense of performance fabrics or name-brand gear. If that’s you, consider this option from Amazon. It’s affordable and comes in a two-pack.
The 92% polyester, 8% Spandex blend is sure to be stretchy and comfortable and is machine-washable to boot. TICONN 2-Pack Neck Gaiter comes in a range of colors and boasts of its moisture-wicking properties, though I haven’t tested it to find out.
You may also be interested in some of the best-selling heated gloves from our list; take a moment to check them out.
100% synthetic construction
Available in a range of colors
Mask funk. It’s a real thing, as you (hopefully) realize by now. I haven’t tested this Copper Fit Guardwell Neck Gaiter, but the copper-infused polyester construction caught my attention. I don’t know if this material will shed odor and bacterial growth as well as wool will, but the anti-microbial properties of copper are well known, so maybe it works.
The good news is this neck gaiter is priced affordably enough that someone won’t lose out big time if they don’t like the product (and it comes in a two-pack to boot). On top of that, these neck gaiters come with ear loops and nose clips, so they are likely to slide off someone’s face less than neck gaiters without these features.
For more trusted products that will keep you warm and protected, check out our guide on the best-rated fleece jackets.
Comes in a 2-pack
Earloops and nose clip
- BrandCopper Fit
A neck gaiter that is inexpensive, made in the USA by a small business, and comes in cool designs? Sign me up.
I haven’t used this High Tail Designs Hiking Gaiter, but I’m told by other gear testers that the lightweight ring spun polyester knit is stretchy and feels less constrictive as a headband than competing neck gaiters. It’s probably an ideal summer-weight or shoulder-season gaiter. My first thought would be to go with the topo map design, but the bodacious space-themed prints are pretty cool. At this price, maybe I’d get more than one!
Lighter than competing products
Stretchy enough for easy use as a headband
Comes in cool patterns
- BrandHigh Tail Designs
Why Trust Us
I’m a multi-sport athlete with a passion for backpacking, skiing, trail running, paddling, and more–and I’ve used neck gaiters in all these activities. My extensive experience with most of the products in this guide as well as my deep knowledge of outdoor fabrics means I know what I’m talking about when it comes to neck gaiters!
Who This Is For
If you participate in outdoor sports, you probably want to check out a neck gaiter. They are versatile pieces of gear that not only insulate your neck but can also function as headbands, ear cozies, beanies, hair-ties, and more. They also make decent masks, though scientific opinion is mixed as to how effective they are in Covid-19-related contexts.
How We Picked
I picked a range of products from companies well-known for producing quality outdoor gear like Buff, Outdoor Research, Smartwool, and Turtlefur. I also included some up-and-coming companies like Appalachian Gear Company and High Tail Designs.
Finally, I included some Amazon-brands, just in case you aren’t too concerned about purchasing from high-quality brands.
Neck gaiters are, by default, somewhat inexpensive, but there’s still a range of prices represented here. You should be able to find a product that matches virtually any budget.
How We Tested
I tested the bulk of the neck gaiters in this guide on long-distance backpacking trips, while trail running and cross-country skiing, and on the slopes of groomed downhill ski-resorts.
There are a few neck gaiters here that I didn’t test. In those cases, I either researched them and included my findings or made recommendations based on my knowledge and experience.
Features to Look for in Neck Gaiters
Material - You can make a neck gaiter out of just about anything. The most common options are merino wool or synthetic fibers like polyester and nylon blended with stretchy material like Spandex. Synthetic fibers are more durable and stretchier, while wool is anti-microbial and insulates better when wet.
Comfort - Material use also comes into play where comfort is concerned. While merino wool can be quite comfortable, some people find it itchy, and many folks have allergies or sensitivities to wool. Companies can (and do) achieve silk-like qualities with synthetic fabrics.
Face Coverage - One of the great things about neck gaiters is how versatile they are. Widespread alternate use for neck gaiters is to pull them up over your face and nose to protect from the cold or for use as a mask.
The stretchier a neck gaiter is, the better it will stay on your face. Synthetic fabrics tend to hold their shape better in this regard.
Warmth - When buying a neck gaiter with warmth in mind, look for two things: fabric type and fabric weight. I prefer natural fibers like wool for maximum insulation, especially when wet.
The thicker (and thus heavier) a fabric is, the better it will insulate.
Fit - Most neck gaiters are one-size-fits-all, though you’ll find some variation in terms of the size of the head openings. Wool will relax more over time than synthetic fabrics, leading to a looser and more comfortable fit.
Style - Neck gaiter styles are often limited to one or two variations (single layer vs. double layer, normal vs. extra-long). After all, at its core, a neck gaiter is just a tube of fabric. Much of the innovation in the category comes from fabric type and variations in blends.
Color - Neck gaiters come in an incredible range of colors and patterns, though examples made of natural fibers tend to be more muted in color. So, go crazy–there’s a ton of options out there.
Moisture-Wicking Properties - When you are working hard in cold conditions, you don’t want your inner layers to become soaked with sweat because once you stop working, those soaked layers will chill your skin. Some of the neck gaiters in this guide are designed to wick moisture away from your skin to prevent that from happening.
Breathability - This is a performance metric most important for summer-weight neck gaiters that have the primary purpose of protecting your skin from the sun and your nose from dust. In those cases, you aren’t trying to insulate, so letting heat and moisture pass through the fabric is an important consideration.
Durability - Durability is a factor when considering any outdoor gear. Luckily, neck gaiters aren’t like shoes, pants, shirts, or virtually any other type of apparel — they are unlikely to come into contact with a lot of pointy or abrasive objects (and if you find that not to be the case, then you need to stop banging your neck into things!)
The most common type of wear on neck gaiters is stretching (which is more likely to occur with wool or wool-blend items) and holes/runs/tears (more likely to occur with thin, lightweight fabrics).
That said, I’ve used lightweight neck gaiters for years without any holes or noticeable stretching. I usually lose them before they wear out.
Neck Gaiter FAQ
Q: What is a neck gaiter?
A: A neck gaiter is a fabric tube, usually with a flat seam, designed to go around your neck. Neck gaiters are generally multi-use items and can act as a face mask, headband, beanie, hair-tie, balaclava, kerchief, and more.
Q: Why do you need a neck gaiter?
A: Maybe no piece of outdoor equipment is as versatile as a neck gaiter. They can insulate you, protect you from the sun, hold your hair back, keep sweat out of your eyes, and so much more. I’ve even used mine to get hot cookware off the stove while camping.
Q: What are the different ways to wear a neck gaiter?
A: We’ll turn to Buff, widely regarded as the chief innovator of this product, for an answer. They generally provide 12 ways to wear one: a neckerchief, a full-face mask, a half-face mask, a headband, a hairband, a foulard, a balaclava, a do-rag, a beanie, a saharine, a hood, and a pirate knot.
I’m sure you can find more ways than that, even.
Q: When do you wear neck gaiters?
A: You can wear a neck gaiter when you want some extra insulation, when you want to cover your face, ears, or the top of your head when you want to keep your hair or sweat out of your eyes, and on and on!
Q: How to wash neck gaiters?
A: Because neck gaiters can feature various fabrics, you should always consult the manufacturer's instructions before washing them. Instructions will vary.
Q: Are neck gaiters breathable?
A: The answer to this question depends on the thickness, fabric weight, and fabric type of your neck gaiter.
Q: Do neck gaiters come in different sizes?
A: Neck gaiters are usually one-size-fits-all.
That said, different manufacturers create neck gaiters in slightly different sizes. You can usually find head-diameter information on the manufacturer's website.
Some neck gaiters are stretchier than others, and some fabrics will relax and give you a looser fit over time.