Feel free to skip the adulation and bitching, and head straight to fixing the fogging.
I’ve been using the Talus ColdAvenger for about two years now, and it’s been a bittersweet relationship. You know those write-ups after trips where people go through gear that worked, and gear that didn’t work? The ColdAvenger is Schrödinger’s cat for those lists, it both works and doesn’t work. In Winter it’s something I consistently use and rely on, and yet it regularly annoys the shit out of me.
You can see both parts of the USA made ‘Expedition balaclava’ above, the ridiculously large balaclava (90 g), and attached to it by velcro wings, the face mask with polyurethane ventilator (50 g).
It doesn’t have so many decent competitors, although the insane helmet/goggles/face mask/Stormtrooper getup from Ruroc stands out. The ColdAvenger has its kinky surgical rubber, air warming and moistening niche pretty much to itself.
The good points about the mask are that it does everything it claims to. When sitting on your face, moist and tight like a facehugger from ‘Aliens’, it doesn’t matter if the temperature is -10 °C, or -30 °C, you get to breath comfortably and easily as your exhalations warm and moisten the incoming air. There is an adjustable ventilator in the facemask that can be rotated to change the amount of outside air that comes in, although it’s something I’ve never played with. Even when boot packing up steep snow-covered hills, with burning lungs gasping for air, the mask feels open and easy to breath through. It gets wet and drippy, but mostly on the rubber part itself, so it’s not as disgustingly soggy as you might think.
The softshell balaclava keeps your head warm, and is windproof enough that you rarely feel a draught. It has a long flowing neck that can sit snugly under your jacket. Velcro is something I try to avoid (short lifespan, easily clogged with hair and dirt, annoyingly catch on other gear and rip it up, etc), the velcro attachments to fix the mask to the balaclava work pretty well though. Together with the usual winter gear (base layers and insulated jacket/mittens), the ColdAvenger with some goggles forms a perfect cocoon around you. It feels a little like being in a biohazard suit, safe and armored against the outer environment. It’s nice to be able to just lounge around in killer weather without a care in the world, and without getting horrible dry skin that really cold air always brings.
There are two major flaws, the fogging and the fit. Fogging is caused by the mask part of the ColdAvenger allowing a little moist air to blow up from where the top of the mask meets your nose, this moist air condenses/freezes onto the goggles/glasses/eyelashes. This is infinitely frustrating, constantly having to stop and try to fine-tune your goggles with freezing digits, invariably with little success. Once the fogging starts, it never fucking ends, and the bastard ColdAvenger loves nothing more than fogging up your goggles.
It comes with a little piece of foam that if fixed on the inside of the mask will reduce the air leaking out, but it didn’t work and got lost fast.
The fit of the balaclava is also so woeful that it’s almost comic. I have a large head, 61 cm, and the top of the balaclava sits relatively well. It then billows out to the long, droopy sides, and the part under the chin was obviously designed for bloodhounds. The neck part would probably double as a sleeping bag for the ultra-obese, and the fit around the eyes was apparently cut for rabbits, or some kind of animal with eyes on opposite sides of its skull. When putting it all together the mask-part can pull the balaclava tightly around my face, but what inevitably happens is that folds of the balaclava material get mushed around my eyes/mouth, or else causes a long gap between the bottom of the mask and the beginning of the chin of the balaclava. The fit is shit.
That all sounds a little negative, but I meant what I said about how well it works. The fit doesn’t matter so much, my winter clothes are often hooded over the ColdAvenger, keeping that misshapen abortion under wraps. The fogging is a pain in the ass, but has now been cured.
I work around the shortcomings, and despite these niggles the ColdAvenger is just indispensable. I remember thinking it was expensive when I bought it, but if I look back at how often I use and appreciate it, and how during Winter trips it gets put on as I leave the car park and stays on until I arrive home, the cost seems absolutely negligible.
I use it when cross-country skiing, downhill skiing, long skating, or just for wandering walks in Winter when the wind is blowing, and even sleep with it on during skiigloo trips (it works perfectly with a quilt). So great value for money despite the flaws.
Fixing the fogging
Ignoring the fit is relatively easy, however the fogging is a pain in the ass. And unlike the fit of the balaclava, you can’t adjust during a trip to stop fogging. Once the goggles get fogged, it’s a nightmare to get them totally clear again. So I decided to try and mod the facemask a little to prevent this problem.
I spend a lot of time in a lab wearing face masks. There’s no fogging in the lab, but I get really annoyed by the feeling of vented air blowing up into my eyes, so I’ve become very good at bending the little wire piece in the mask to make an airtight seal. To fix the ColdAvenger, I took out one of those little metal pieces and threaded it into the mask.
The stitches on the mark were simple to pop out, it was a very heavy thread and only around three loops needed to be pulled out.
Then a metal piece from a face mask was cut out and slid into the ColdAvenger. I think it’s basically the same metal piece that you get in freezer bag ties (two malleable metal wires on either side of a stiff white plastic piece), so that could be used instead. I just used one from this mask because it was a nice width.
This was done before the Easter ski touring, and over that trip the ColdAvenger was as indispensable as ever. For the first time ever though, there was no fogging at all. I bent the mask into a decent fit on day one, and that was it. As underwhelmingly easy as the modding itself. I am just back from another ski trip to Norrland, and on that trip I noticed the little metal strip was sliding along the seam, so the final edit involved putting little ‘stop’ sewing pieces on the seam on either side of the strip to keep it in place.
On this second ski tour the weather was abysmal, and I’ve never been so happy with the ColdAvenger. While other people shielded their faces from the screaming wind cutting across the mountaintop, I felt comfortable without ever having the slightest hint of fogging. Beautiful.
The next job is to work on sewing the balaclava to have a little more form. Or I might just start a deep fat fried lard and mayo diet to get the necessary jowls to fill it out a little. If I was buying a ColdAvenger today I might just grab the mask part (which is sold separately) and use it with one of those much better fitting Röjk ‘Coolclavas‘ instead.
The ColdAvenger facemask is highly recommended to any dear readers who dig winter camping, and hopefully there will soon be a version 2.0 of the balaclava that isn’t modelled to fit Easter island statues.