The Alpinist Mountain Standards reviews apply Alpinist's tradition of excellence and authenticity to gear reviews by providing unbiased, candid feedback and anecdotal commentary to equipment tested (hard) in the field. Our panel is comprised of climbers who use the gear every day as part of their work and play. Only the gear they would actually buy themselves, at retail price, qualifies for the Alpinist Mountain Standards award. The five-star rating system is as follows:
One Star = Piece of junk.
Two Stars = Has one or more significant flaws, with some redeeming qualities.
Three Stars = Average. This solid piece of gear is middle-of-the-road on the current market.
Four Stars = Better than most comparable gear on the market. It has one or two drawbacks, but still 90% positive.
Five Stars = Is there such thing as perfection? An Alpinist Mountain Standards award-winner.
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PSolar BX Balaclava: Darth Vader on a Snow Machine
Posted on: June 16, 2008
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.