My husband recently lost a pair of ear warmers he got at North Face 15 years ago. North Face no longer sells them, so I'm looking for a high-quality replacement. I'm confused by the types of materials used in construction, what they mean, and how they should factor into my purchasing decision.

He had 180's®, and that's what he wants again. I'm not sure if 180's® is a brand, or just a registered style name, but since the question's about materials used, it isn't meant to be a brand request.

After much online research, I've narrowed it down to three pairs that are comparably priced, and look similar to what he had. Each has these same important features:

  • Patented behind-the-head design
  • Fits comfortably over the ears
  • Can be worn with other headwear, glasses and head protection
  • Adjustable click-to-fit frames guarantee an easy, comfortable fit
  • Collapsible for easy storage

I've included some descriptions in my choices, but have left out the above features, as I didn't see a need to repeat them.

Each potential choice has pictures on the linked pages. They are:

Urban Ear Warmer:

Durable and warm, the 180's® Urban Ear Warmers are guaranteed to keep you dry and comfortable all season long. Soft shell body and fleece lining provide warmth and wind and water resistance.

Fabric: 97% polyester, 3% spandex

Tec Fleece Ear Warmers:

Cold winter days call for the warm and cozy Tec Fleece Ear Warmers from 180's®. A soft fleece outer shell provides warmth and durability, while an inner liner helps to keep you insulated on even the most bitter days on the mountain or in the city. Gear up for cold weather in the 180's® Tec Fleece Ear Warmers.


100% polyester insulation and lining

Polyester/nylon/spandex shell

Chesterfield Ear Warmers:

This stylish ear warmer provides three layers of protection to keep you warm, dry and comfortable on the coldest of winter days. Woven wool outer shell provides style and warmth. Features 100% Primaloft Insulation.


Lining – 100% Polyester

Binding – 90% Nylon, 10% Spandex

Shell – 50% Wool, 50% Viscose

Insulation – 100% Polyester

Interestingly, none of them state a temperature range, which is one of the most important considerations.

We live in the Northeast United States, and he needs them for temperatures down to -10°F during the coldest winter months, usually January and February, and up to about 45°F on either side of those coldest months. He uses them for outdoor activities like backyard bird-feeding, snow shoveling, sledding, skiing, snow-shoeing, hiking in the woods, walking to the parking lot and driving home from work at 2:30 am, among other things. He doesn't climb mountains or do extreme winter sports which keep him outside for long periods of time.

It might be a good idea to try on each and see how they feel, but I'm going to order them online so that's not an option. I imagine they're all comfortable enough, but even if they feel great, there's no way to tell if they'd be what he needs to get through the season. Even returnable pairs can't be worn for months first!

If my criteria include such things as: appropriate level of warmth; comfort; ease of cleaning; durability; shape and size retention; and expected length of life; can the materials used help me make an informed purchasing decision? If so, which fabrics should I choose?

  • 2
    Ok so I got a pair of ear muffs (the fluffier traditional version of your examples) as a gift and they're 100% Acrylic (they're fashionable ones from Jack WIlls) - they work brilliantly when it's too hot for a hat but there is a biting wind. If you look at the breakdown pretty much all three of your choices bottle down to polyester as the insulation, the rest is just covering, for comfort I'd try them on :) I mean, everyone likes feel of fabrics differently, as that seems to be the only difference.
    – Aravona
    Jan 29, 2017 at 7:42

1 Answer 1


As a kid carrying papers in Idaho I had the over the head ear muffs that were acrylic synthetic fur inside and out. They were certainly good to 0F, probably to -10 F.

Features I looked for:

  • Cupped to go over the ear. This allowed the fuzz on the inside to fill the space, and not get squashed flat. It also meant no edge of ear was exposed to the air. This had the additional advantage of blocking out a lot of the wind noise.
  • Reasonably dense fuzz.
  • Plastic, not metal spring between the ear chunks. The metal ones always caught my hair when I adjusted the length.
  • Adjustable length. Especially important if you have either small or large skull.
  • Bright colour. Harder to lose.

Other things for keeping ears toasty:

ear bands Same material as toques, but usually with a tighter weave and more stretch material. These generally do not resize to different shaped skulls. As a fathead, I found most of these were painfully tight. Verify that ear bands cover the entire ear. When stretched, they narrow. I have frequently seen tops and lobes of ears get frostbitten.

toques Knit hats, watchman's cap, mitten-hat. If you have a large head then check the length that it will cover all your ears. I prefer a toque that is long enough that I can fold it double over my ears.

balaclava Ski-mask. These are long enough to reach below your chin, and have either 1 large opening for eyes and nose, or 3 openings for eyes and nose.

hoods Hoods don't do much directly for your ears, unless they have a drawstring around the face. But they will funnel warm air from your torso forcing it to pass by your ears on the way out. And they will reduce the wind chill on your ears. Hoods do funny things with sounds. (I almost had a group hit by a train because we didn't hear the train until it was only about 200 yards behind use (about 5 seconds) It was a seldom used line, which is a nice excuse that holds no water)

In cold weather (-30 C) I like a balaclava,which I then roll up so I have 2-4 layers over my ears. In really cold weather (-45 C) I wear a balaclava AND a toque.

Toques and balaclavas both are often available at the dollar store. I get them there 3 at a time, since I'm always losing them.

Fabrics and material: Only the earbands really require spandex. With earmuffs, the spring between the two parts does that job. With the other two, the nature of being knit, and the large overlap on the ear were sufficient.

The most common materials are acrylic (derived from cellulose) polyester (derived from petrochemicals) and wool. Acrylic is usually knit, polyester is usually in the form of fleece. Wool can be knit or felted. The latter is uncommon, and has little stretch, so must be fitted less casually.

Acrylic is usually cheaper, which, if you tend to put down your ear coverings when you get hot, can much less painful to your long term wallet health.

Polyester is tougher, tends to last longer.

I find that fleeces are too permeable to air. You need something in addition to keep that insulating air next to your ears. With knit fabrics, the finer knits are less permeable.

Spandex is a material used to add stretchyness. Not needed in a knit fabric, but often used as a component in woven fabrics.

Since earbands tend to be tighter on the head they may be lined with a nylon or synthetic tricot (smooth finish) fabric to make them slide on and off more easily, as well as to avoid leaving knit-prints on your ears.

I have occasionally had cotton toques. They work, but are subject to all the ailments of cotton: Not as warm as either synthetic or wool; absorb water, and are hard to dry. Ok for a bus ride or errand day in town. Not recommended for back country.

I prefer acrylic. Doesn't itch as much, is much lighter weight dries in a flash, doesn't shrink if you wash it in hot water. Colorfast.

Headwear tends to get frost from your breath. Acrylic gear can be removed, whipped against a tree trunk a few times (Try to avoid the pitch...) and put on again. You will leave about 80% of the frost behind.

If you are in wet weather a lot, there is something to be said for wool, but my dislike of wool (for ears) is far stronger than wool's small advantage. Acrylic tends to be a lot cheaper.


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