PSolar BX Balaclava: Darth Vader on a Snow Machine

Posted on: June 16, 2008

MSRP: $42

I've never been a huge fan of balaclavas. In the alpine I've found them difficult—perhaps great for belaying, but then too warm when leading. Plus, I wear glasses, and full face cover tends to fog them regularly. I was intrigued, however, to try the PSolar BX Balaclava, which I hoped might minimize some of my longstanding gripes.

PSolar has cornered a unique niche in the balaclava market with a built-in, patented QXtec module. This protruding mouthbox is made of desiccant-coated plastic fins that are supposed to create a warming area for incoming air.

Although I found that the PSolar BX made breathing super-cold Alaskan air more comfortable, I have always been skeptical of any techy do-dads like flux capacitors and time machines.

I still am. The QXtec module is bulky, and I really can't imagine wearing the module while ice climbing, skiing or doing anything technical. The one place I could see wearing it is screaming at 60 mph on my new RMK snogo when it is 30 below in the deep river valleys of Alaska. But I usually ride my snow machine like Grandma in those conditions, afraid that the machine is about to shatter into a million pieces if I hit a bump too hard.


Anyone who wears glasses in the outdoors knows the frustration of vapor steaming up your lenses. I was hoping that the BX "vapor shield," made of Polartech powerstretch and aqua shell that fit over the nose and mouth, would seal my nose and cheeks to eliminate this problem. No luck.

I will say that the materials used for the mask and mesh mouthpiece are nice. I also like the freedom of not having to push my breath through a thick piece of pile. The Polartech is thick around the head and neck and is quite warm (though, as I mentioned, not necessarily ideal for the alpine). If you're looking for a thinner model, you can get the HX Helmet Balaclava from the same company.

The balaclava's ergonomic fit is well designed, but the product comes in only one size. It was slightly too large for my (likely slightly too small) head.

As I mentioned, the gimmicky QXtec module works to some degree, but when I looked up the product on the PSolar website to learn more I just became confused. "The desiccant grabs the moisture from the air, forcing a phase change from vapor to liquid," it said. "This phase change releases heat that is added to the natural heat of exhalation, warming the plastic. This warmth is transferred to the air as it is inhaled—creating a warm 'breath of sunshine.'" They also claim that the exchanger is "80 percent efficient," but I'm not so sure I know what that means.

Unless I'm looking to get crazy on my snow machine, next time I'll stick with my standard beanie, which is 100 percent effective.

Pros: Excellent ergonomic fit; thick and warm; mesh area allows for easy breathing; wearing it makes you feel like Darth Vader.

Cons: QXtec module is bulky for alpinism; vapor shield does not keep glasses from getting fogged; comes in only one size.


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I've used one of these on a couple of Denali climbs, and they work pretty well if you're not pushing yourself into an anaerobic state, at which point I was forced to pull the gizmo down from my face in a hypoxic panic.

I had a client at the 17,200' camp wracked with a dry cough to the point that she couldn't do anything but sit, hack and wheeze. I put my balaclava (camo, of course) on her and within 10 minutes she was able to help us cut snow blocks for our tent walls. She wore it to the summit and felt that it was largely responsible for her ability to stand on top.

This unit could shine at long, cold ice climbing belays, but I agree with Jed that for the most part, I'll stick to my beanie and neoprene facemask when going out in the frigid cold.

2008-07-11 11:53:21
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