Why A Neck Gaiter Is The Winter Travel Item You Didn’t Know You Needed (& The Best One For Cold Weather)

January 24, 2022
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They say there’s no bad weather, only bad clothing choices.  As a notorious cold weather hater, I’ll tell you the first part of that statement is bunk, but the second part is actually pretty accurate.  And so, BEHOLD, the neck gaiter as a cold weather travel savior!

It may seem strange that someone who hates the cold so much as gravitated toward some colder destinations (including Norway in winter…twice) over the past few years.  But that also means that in order to survive, I’ve found the right cold weather clothing items, fabrics, brands, and gear to stay as cozy as possible.

Why a Neck Gaiter is the Travel Item You Didn't Know You Need | I hadn't heard of neck warmers or gaiters before, but after taking one to the Arctic in winter, I'm a convert! They're great not only for active & extreme cold, but also chilly hiking, wandering around a city like Chicago, & more! The best neck gaiter for winter travel, best fabrics, brand, & FAQ.

I’ve written a really detailed post on packing for Arctic winter travel, which gives you the whole list of items, how to layer, which fabrics you want to choose, where to splurge and where you can save, the best brands, which gear is a must (extra camera batteries!), and much more.  I also have slightly different lists tailored to a still-cold but slightly less Arctic winter trip, as well as somewhere like Iceland in spring/summer/fall.

And through all of these trips, the items I’ve consistently loved the most and found incredibly helpful were:

  1. Fleece-lined leggings (detailed post here)
  2. My merino wool neck gaiter
  3. My touchscreen merino wool gloves

(These have become my daily cold weather running staples at home too.)

But there are so many types of neck gaiters out there—each serving different purposes—that it can be confusing figuring out which one is best for winter travel.  And first…I’m guessing that for like 78% of you, your first question is “what the heck is a neck gaiter?”  For that matter, how is it pronounced?

What is a neck gaiter?

A neck gaiter (pronounced like alligator), or neck warmer, is a tube of fabric that you can pull over your head and sits loosely (and kind of scrunched up) on your neck. It can be worn around the neck to protect the neck and upper chest area (like a looser top of a turtleneck), or can be pulled up over the mouth and/or nose for extra protection from the cold (a bit like a ski mask).

Gaiters are used for lots of different purposes, from keeping you cool in summer, to protecting your mouth and nose from things like dust or pollen, to keeping you warm.  So it’s important to know what type of gaiter you’re looking for and choose the right one.  We’re specifically talking about neck gaiters for winter today.

Why a Neck Gaiter is the Travel Item You Didn't Know You Need | neck gaiters for men & neck gaiters for women

You might also like:  11 of My Best Tips for ANY Trip

What’s the best neck gaiter for cold weather?

Hands down, I think the best neck gaiter for cold weather is this Minus33 100% merino wool neck gaiter.  It’s completely made from merino wool, which is lightweight, breathes well (doesn’t trap moisture), DOES trap heat, and is soft and comfortable.

This particular one is midweight, which means it’s not bulky but really does a great job on warmth.  It comes in a lot of color options, though I’m partial to this lovely gray which goes with everything.  And it’s machine washable, so it’s easy to care for (though I don’t wash mine too often).  I’ve had mine for years and use it all the time, and it still looks brand-new.

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What’s the best fabric for neck gaiters (for cold weather)?

While many people assume fleece neck gaiters will be good, I believe merino wool is the best fabric for neck gaiters for cold weather for a number of reasons. It contains lanolin, a natural water repellent, so is good for inclement weather. It wicks moisture and dries quickly (like fleece), but is less bulky and doesn’t pill. It also is resistant to odors and very warm (even when wet). And a good 100% merino wool isn’t itchy.

You want to look for 100% merino wool to get the benefits, and in a neck gaiter it’s more affordable than you might think.  Minus33 is a brand I’ve come to love over the past 5 years, and I’ve used a number of their products.  Other brands I’d consider are Meriwool, Smartwool, Icebreaker, and Arcteryx.

A neck gaiter is a versatile winter travel item that keeps you warm without adding bulk

You might also like:  10 Places I’m Dying to Visit in 2022

Why should you use a neck gaiter in winter?

It’s the perfect adaptable piece of clothing if you’re planning a cold weather trip (or honestly, if you’re just dealing with cold weather at home).  It can be easily slipped on and off as you navigate outdoors to indoors and back, and layers really easily so you have more control over your temperature.

If you just need it over your neck, that’s great, and it provides a layer of protection against wind hitting you.  But if you hit bitter temperatures or stronger wind and need to protect your nose and mouth, all you have to do is pull it up (rather than having a separate item like a balaclava or ski mask).

I first discovered neck gaiters for a trip to the Arctic Circle in the middle of winter, where I’d be not only out and about, but also doing activities like dog sledding and spending hours outside in the middle of the night looking for the Northern Lights.

I was shocked how well it kept me warm.  If I wanted to take a cute picture with a smile, I just pulled it down with no fuss.  And when I went inside to a restaurant I could just strip it off entirely so my neck didn’t sweat.

Best neck gaiters for women and neck gaiters for men - merino wool neck warmer for winter travel

What I’ve discovered since those trips is that it’s the perfect partner for my daily walks and runs back home during winter.  Where I live I’m sometimes running in below-freezing temperatures, and this merino wool neck gaiter plus a merino wool thermal, layered under a giant hoodie sweatshirt, keeps me plenty warm.

I use this merino wool neck gaiter for winter runs and walks at home too

You might also like:  My Favorite Bra for Travel

Are there different neck gaiters for men & neck gaiters for women?

Generally speaking, this type of neck warmer is considered unisex and one-size-fits-all.  Obviously you can find a color that works for you, but there’s no special neck gaiter designed by gender.

best neck gaiters for travel, the best fabrics for neck gaiters

Hopefully this provides a good overview of why neck gaiters are a must for cold weather travel!  Hit me up in the comments if there are other questions about them that I didn’t answer here.

Where to wear your neck gaiter next:

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Why a Neck Gaiter is the Travel Item You Didn't Know You Need | I hadn't heard of neck warmers or gaiters before, but after taking one to the Arctic in winter, I'm a convert! They're great not only for active & extreme cold, but also chilly hiking, wandering around a city like Chicago, & more! The best neck gaiter for winter travel, best fabrics, brand, & FAQ. #arctic #winter #travelgear #neckgaiter

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