Jonathan MPO

A soldier wearing a balaclava.

A balaclava is a full head mask usually composed of warming materials like cotton or heavy cloth. It typically covers the entire head down to the base of the neck, often with two openings in the front for the wearer's eyes.


Balaclavas are named after the town that created them, specifically Balaklava in Ukraine. They were originally made in large numbers during the Crimean War to protect British soldiers from the nation's bitter cold. The garb quickly grew popular among the British soldiers and eventually gained worldwide appeal, especially in colder nations like Russia. Many military forces who specialized in winter combat made use of them and continue to do so to this day. Besides protecting people from the cold, they were also adopted as a means to hide identities in various special forces and mercenary groups.

Use by Soviet forces

GRU soldiers

GRU soldiers wearing balaclava masks.

Spetsnaz troops occupying Tselinoyarsk wore balaclavas as part of their uniform, presumably to mitigate the tear gas-like effects from their smoke grenades. Standard units wore black masks with a single vision opening, while soldiers of the Ocelot Unit wore modified variants made of a thinner, leather-like material, with a hole for each eye. One GRU soldier in particular, Johnny wore a personalized balaclava with the letter "J" emblazoned on the forehead.

The Pain, a member of the Cobra Unit, also wore a balaclava to disguise his deformed face, removing it only to start firing bullet bees from his mouth.

Warning: The following information is from outside Hideo Kojima's core "Metal Gear Saga." It has some level of canonicity within the continuity, but reader discretion is advised.[?]

Soviet army soldiers stationed on the San Hieronymo Peninsula in 1970 wore gray two-eyed balaclavas, similar to those previously worn by the Spetsnaz in Tselinoyarsk. The masks proved a valuable asset to Naked Snake's rebellion on the peninsula, allowing soldiers coerced to his side to infiltrate many key locations with little chance of detection, save by the more observant eyes of soldiers and personnel not dressed in the same uniform.

Non-"Metal Gear Saga" information ends here.

Soviet forces at the United States Naval Base in Nicaragua also wore a two-eyehole piece, similar in design to the MSF's balaclavas.

The Soviet 40th Army generally did not use balaclavas when operating in northern Kabul, Afghanistan, although they did utilize scarves which served a similar purpose at times, such as during a sandstorm. However, some very skilled soldiers in the army did wear black balaclavas while operating.

Use by Big Boss's forces


Big Boss and an MSF soldier wearing the MSF balaclava.

Big Boss's private military company, Militaires Sans Frontières (MSF), made use of a wide range of garb and armor, sometimes for matters of camouflage, sometimes for matters of protection, and even occasional matters of formality. But one article of clothing that remained constant throughout all these battle dresses was the standard issue MSF balaclava. Composed of seven high density textile sections and lined with well ventilating foam insulation, the MSF head mask was one of the most advanced articles of war clothing during its time, granting the wearer superb protection from even the thickest debris kicked up in heavy battle. The only exception regarding their use among MSF members was with non-official uniforms such as tuxedos and swimwear.

While the material did not provide any real defense against bullets, it did greatly cushion the more sensitive parts of the skull (the back of the head, the bridge of the nose, and center of the jaw, and the temple regions) from serious injury during close quarters combat, allowing a trained soldier to take a pummelling and still retain consciousness. The masks also came equipped with two codec earpieces and a miniaturized microphone embedded in the mouth section, granting two way communication with MSF Mother Base to coordinate mission objectives. The MSF balaclava was even worn during training exercises, and was considered a standard part of the MSF uniform. Only Big Boss himself was permitted not to wear one during missions, which he did out of personal preference. The subcommander Kazuhira Miller sometimes wore a balaclava with his uniform during operations.[1]

10 surviving members of the MSF also retained their balaclavas due to their original membership to MSF.

Big Boss's military within Zanzibar Land utilized balaclavas during field operations.[2] In addition, the assassination squad Four Horsemen wore blue-colored balaclavas.

Use by Peace Sentinel

Hot Coldman's forces also wore balaclavas. Helmets were often worn in combination with the masks. The American faction of Peace Sentinel wore visor-type balaclavas, whereas the Soviet faction of Peace Sentinel wore two-eyed balaclavas similar to the MSF. However, they forewent the balaclavas while indoors, such as at the Mine Base.

Use by XOF

The XOF utilized balaclavas during their operations in order to ensure their members remained anonymous.

Although technically not a balaclava, Volgin, as the Man on Fire's head was covered with a red substance and had his mouth fused shut giving a slightly similar appearance to a balaclava. It is implied this feature was either the result of his being caught on fire during Operation Snake Eater or his subsequently being experimented on.

Use by 1980s Private Forces

The former MSF member Mosquito had members of his private force, Mosquito Stinger Force wear two-eyehole balaclavas of the same make as MSF during their raid of Diamond Dogs's Mother Base due to his deliberately modeling his PF on MSF as part of his revenge plans against Big Boss (as he had been led to believe his former commander had sold out MSF to save his own skin due to Big Boss being forced to leave Mother Base to rescue Chico and Paz Ortega Andrade at the time Mother Base was attacked by XOF).

The Security Team and various footsoldiers of Diamond Dogs often wore the two-eyed variety of balaclava during missions and/or guarding the various Forward Operating Bases that had been formed in large part because of Mosquito's earlier raid. As such, their balaclavas worn by Diamond Dogs generally varied depending on the uniform beyond being two-eyed: Those wearing regular BDUs wore the standard variation of balaclava that, in large part because of their non-flammable material, protected the face from burns and shrapnel during combat; those wearing battle dresses and sneaking suits wore a reinforced version of the balaclava, called SP-Headgear, that was made of urethane and wrapped in an aramid weave that ensured minimal injuries to the head from blows conducted in combat; and those wearing relatively high-level battle dresses and/or sneaking suits wore an even more reinforced version of the balaclava, called HP-Headgear, that came equipped with a specialized light alloy around the head for improved survivability up to and including headshots from enemy snipers. Only the leader of Diamond Dogs, Venom Snake, forsaked wearing a balaclava of any sort, instead sticking with a bandana at most.

The Contract Forces of Africa generally had their heads bare or at the very least wearing a cap, but they have on occassion worn balaclavas. This is most evident with two CFA officials at Kiziba Camp, who were en-route to execute an injured and captive Intel Team member for Diamond Dogs for reasons relating to an outbreak among their forces. In addition, some members of Contract Forces of Africa as well as the African PFs Zero Risk Security and Rogue Coyote, in particular those who were extremely skilled at their trade, wore balaclavas during duty.

Use by Next-Generation Special Forces

Genome Soldiers

The various uniforms of the Genome Army.

During Liquid Snake's takeover of the Shadow Moses nuclear disposal facility, the genetically enhanced Genome Army, was forced to endure the extremely inhospitable conditions Shadow Moses offered. While each Genome Soldier was heavily modified to be stronger and more durable the standard human being, not even they could endure the sub-zero temperatures of the frozen arctic without proper attire. Thus, in addition to thick jackets, pants, and other warming paraphernalia, each Genome was provided a winter balaclava to keep their heads warm and functional. Like the rest of their winter garb, the balaclavas were made of white material to let each soldier blend in with the surrounding snow, though this was of little consequence inside the actual facility.

Some soldiers were granted uniforms and balaclava's of different hues for this reason. Because of the chilly atmospheres ability to penetrate into the various buildings through the ventilation ducts, the Genome Soldiers were made to wear the masks even when not patrolling the outer perimeters, which proved very handy for the daring Meryl Silverburgh, who donned a full Genome uniform in order to infiltrate the complex undetected after having escaped imprisonment. The only exceptions for the group were the NBC units and the Genome Combat Veterans, who instead wore a gas mask either because the environment necessitated their use, such as the nuclear warhead storage building's main floor as well as the western labs (in the case of the NBC units), or for reasons never explained (in the case of the Genome Combat Veterans).

Use by Gurlukovich Mercenaries

Big Shell Gurlukovich Mercenaries

Gurlukovich Mercenaries used their balaclavas to conceal their identities.

The Gurlukovich Mercenaries, a Russian army-for-hire, had long used balaclava masks as part of their standard attire even before joining forces with Solidus Snake's group, the Sons of Liberty. The reasons for wearing these masks had less to do with a matter of protection or insulation, but instead served as a way to conceal identity. With the Gurlukovich forces seeing combat all across the globe, the need to hide their persons proved necessary to make themselves as difficult to trace as humanly possible; thus, they made use of balaclavas even in places where they wouldn't normally be worn, such as the inner workings of a tanker or, in the case of the Big Shell Incident, the sea swept scaffolds of the Big Shell.

The sole exceptions in the Gurlukovich Mercenaries to wearing the balaclava as a standard part of their uniform are the top leaders of the organization, including Sergei Gurlukovich, his daughter Olga, Revolver Ocelot, and an unnamed officer accompanying Sergei during the Tanker Incident.

The Gurlukovich balaclava was made of black, skin tight fabric, making it easier for the wearer to don additional headgear, such as helmets or night vision goggles. Being that it's primary purpose was to hide identity, the masks provided little warmth to the wearers head, though in the case of the sun drenched Big Shell, that wasn't necessarily a bad thing.

During his infiltration of the Big Shell, the "FOXHOUND" agent Raiden temporarily donned a full Gurlukovich uniform, balaclava included, in order to make his way to the hostages held in Shell 1. It was the removal of this balaclava at the hands of Revolver Ocelot that put Raiden in high peril of being killed or captured, the intervention of Mr. X being the only thing that saved him.

Johnny Akiba

Rat Patrol member Johnny Sasaki.

Use by U.S. forces

The members of SEAL Team 10 utilized balaclavas, presumably to conceal their identities when conducting missions. Similarly, Solid Snake, while disguised as a SEAL Team 10 operative, donned a balaclava.

Johnny Sasaki also wore a balaclava of sorts that connected with the rest of his battlesuit. He often wore eyeprotection, effectively enclosing all his body, save for a stray tuft of hair, from the outside world, belying his somewhat paranoid personality. He ultimately discarded it after the events in Eastern Europe, after being forced to remove the balaclava in order to perform CPR on his commander, Meryl. Meryl also briefly wore a balaclava before meeting Snake in the Middle East, implying that balaclavas were standard issue in Rat Patrol Team 01.

Use by Outer Heaven PMCs


Balaclava's still saw use in 2014 by various PMCs.

In 2014, Liquid Ocelot's Outer Heaven PMC was one of the most powerful in the world, with its soldiers possessing some of the best gear and equipment money could buy. Among their standard issue equipment, namely with the PMC unit Praying Mantis, were desert adapted balaclavas, woven out of micropore covered material that allowed sweat and oil to escape outward but prevented sand and dust from going inward.

While being quite simple in comparison to the rest of the Outer Haven soldiers' gear, the masks were worn by all the standard infantry units under Liquid Ocelots control as a means to protect his soldiers from the harsh elements of the desert battlefield. Like those worn by the Gurlukovich army, the masks were often worn in combination with helmets, eyepieces, and other such devices. In regards to the PMC unit Raven Sword, they wore an armored variation of balaclava, presumably for security purposes.

Use by guerrilla forces

Although not balaclavas, several of the Middle Eastern militia members wore similar cloths over the head, known as shemagh scarves, that served a similar purpose.

The South American rebel soldiers sometimes wore balaclavas. Snake's South American rebel disguise also came with a balaclava.

Behind the scenes

Balaclavas have made many appearances in the Metal Gear series, usually worn by enemy soldiers, though there are exceptions to the rule. A more common name for the balaclava is ski mask.

Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops, and Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker are the only Metal Gear Solid games in which the playable characters that wear balaclavas.

Some of the Genome Army soldiers, clad in blue uniforms with blue balaclavas and blue helmets, greatly resemble the footsoldiers of Cobra, the terrorist organization that serves as the antagonist of the G.I. Joe franchise.

A character named Adam was intended to appear in Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, who was intended to be a Russian commando who wore a balaclava, while underneath he was to have a very handsome appearance. However, he was cut early in development, with character artist Yoji Shinkawa noted as being unfortunate and wasteful due to him, alongside Snake-Man, another character design cut from the game, possessing a certain amount of charm.

There are also a variety of balaclavas that show the mouth in addition to having two eyeholes. However, the only instance they have appeared were in Metal Gear Online.

In reality, balaclavas are only worn by soldiers during covert ops in enemy territory and missions that require the identies of the operatives to be kept secret, as well as to protect them from the elements. During routine patrols in already occupied buildings, and in their controlled territory, they are hardly necessary. Peace Walker does, however, have the soldiers without balaclavas while indoors, specifically at the Mine Base. Similarly, Snake Eater depicts the GRU soldiers wearing balaclavas outside, while inside, they wear Soviet officer uniforms.

Although the Spike Video Game Awards 2011 trailer for Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance showed the enemy group that would later become Desperado Enforcement LLC. wearing balaclavas, they don't wear them in the final version.

Balaclavas are a gear item in Metal Gear Survive, and are created by mixing 8 units of nylon fiber, 1 unit of plastic, and 1 unit of rubber, plus 100 units of KUB. They have a defense of 36, a durability of 122, and a weight of 0.1 KG, and are classified as uncommon.

Notes and references

  1. ^ Although not depicted in-game, Miller wearing a balaclava with his uniform was implied in his Peace Walker Play Arts KAI figure, as the head could be swapped out with a balaclava.
  2. ^ Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, Kojima Productions (2008).
    During EVA's history lesson to Solid Snake about the creation and infighting of the Patriots, a flashback is shown of Big Boss with several soldiers under his command, as well as Metal Gear D being seen among them, thus implying that the soldiers were from Zanzibar Land. Likewise, the soldiers were wearing balaclavas in that image, although Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake did not imply even once that they wore balaclavas.
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