A balaclava, also known as a balaclava helmet or ski mask, is a form of cloth headgear designed to expose only part of the face. Depending on style and how it is worn, only the eyes, mouth and nose, or just the front of the face are unprotected. Versions with a full face opening may be rolled into a hat to cover the crown of the head or folded down as a collar around the neck.
During the Crimean War in 1854 handmade balaclavas were sent over to the British troops to help protect them from the bitter cold weather. British troops required this aid, as their own supplies (warm clothing, weatherproof quarters, and food) never arrived in time. According to Richard Rutt in his History of Handknitting, the name "balaclava helmet" was not used during the war but appears much later, in 1881.
Warmth and safety
Electrical workers often wear an arc-flash rated version in conjunction with a face shield and other PPE while working on energized equipment.
Race drivers In Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile sanctioned events must wear balaclavas made of fire-retardant material underneath their crash helmets. In racing events, hill-climbs, special stages of rallies and selective sections of cross-country events entered on the International Sporting Calendar, all drivers and co-drivers must wear overalls as well as gloves (optional for co-drivers), long underwear, a balaclava, socks and shoes homologated to the FIA 8856-2000 standard. Drag racing drivers usually wear balaclavas with just eye holes because of the increased fire risk.
Military and police
In the Indian subcontinent, balaclavas are commonly referred to as monkey caps because of their typical earth tone colours, and the fact that they blot out most human facial features. Monkey caps sometimes have a small, decorative, woollen pom-pom on top. They are commonly worn by troops on Himalayan duty for protection from the cold.
The balaclava became a part of standard OMON (special police task force) uniform as early as the Perestroyka years of the late 1980s. The original intent was to protect the identity of the officers to avoid intimidation from organized crime. Because of increased problems with organized crime of the 90s, TV shots of armed men in black balaclavas became common. As organized crime decreased, however, balaclavas became as much an instrument of intimidation as identity protection, as they conceal facial expressions of the wearer and make positive identification difficult. Armed Russian police commonly conduct raids and searches of white-collar premises (typically in Moscow) while wearing balaclavas. Such raids have therefore come to be known in Russia as "maski shows", an allusion to popular comic TV show of the 1990s.
A balaclava may be used for concealment in the course of illegal activities and occupationally by SWAT and special forces personnel. It may also be used by irregular military forces or paramilitary organizations to conceal their identities and have been used as an identifying feature in fictional representations of such groups. The Provisional Irish Republican Army is known for its members wearing balaclavas in every situation.
British Police in Kent confiscated the War on Terror board game partly because of the inclusion of a balaclava. Police said it "could be used to conceal someone's identity or could be used in the course of a criminal act".
Members of the Australian band TISM wore balaclavas to conceal their identities during all public appearances.
- Games, Alex (2007). Balderdash & piffle : one sandwich short of a dog's dinner. London: BBC. ISBN 978-1-84607-235-2.
- Richard Rutt, A History of Handknitting, London 1987, pages 134–5. (Note that there is a misprint in the date of the Battle of Balaclava, which took place 1854, in the original edition cited here)
- Shepherd, John (1991). The Crimean Doctors: A History of the British Medical Services in the Crimean War 1. Liverpool University Press. pp. 296–306.
- Ghosh, Subir (2005) "Thanda lege jabey" Article in 19 Nov Hindusthan Times
-  Archived October 29, 2012 at the Wayback Machine
-  Archived September 16, 2012 at the Wayback Machine
- Kramer, Andrew E. (2011-08-31). "Memo to Exxon: Business With Russia May Involve Guns and Balaclavas". The New York Times.
- "Latest news from Cambridge & Cambridgeshire. Cambridge sports, Cambridge jobs & Cambridge business – War On Terror board game seized by police". Cambridge-news.co.uk. Archived from the original on 2012-08-06. Retrieved 2009-07-15.
- "Pro-Pussy Riot demonstrators arrested in Marseille". English.rfi.fr. Retrieved 2012-08-28.
- Media related to Balaclavas at Wikimedia Commons