The long and the short of it, mitts or glove, sticky or leather, suede or fleece - we take a look at what you need to know about keeping your hands warm and funtional.
When the going gets savage, it's your extremeties that get
extremely cold first and they don't come much more extreme than your
delicate pinkes. At best that means discomfort at worst if can spell
frostbite and, if you're a climber who needs to use his of her hands,
Gloves are there to stop that happening, keep your hands and
fingers snug, dry and safe from wind chill, while still allowing you
to use your hands for carrying, gripping and manipulating.
So what should you be looking for in a pair of gloves? Here are
some handy - ahem - pointers to help you protect your pinkies from
The trouble with fingers is that they're like thin pipes, hard to
insulate efficiently. Stcik 'em in a mitt and they're more like a
plate with less surface area to radiate heat. The bottom line is that
mitts tend to be warmer, but against that, you have to weigh an
increase in clumsiness.
That means big, warm mitts are great for, say, trudging
across the moors - until you need to fold a map of course - but not
so clever if you're trying to tie a knot or place an ice screw while
your legs are vibrating with fear.
One compromise is to wear overmitts, which you can slip off either
to briefly reveal bare hands or an underglove with a grippy finger
and palm grip. Once you've done the fiddly bit, slip 'em back on
can treat gloves like clothing systems and use layers or you can opt
for a single, insulated layer that's either on or off.
One plus of a layering system is that you can use the same
shell mitt or glove with a number of liners to give different
properties. Maybe a thin baselayer glove on mild days, a sticky
midweight fleece glove for ice-climbing or mountaineering or a thick
insulated fleece glove for really cold days.
If you're going to do that, at least for climbing, it makes sense
to tether your gloves to your jacket or wrists. A loop of shock cord
around the wrist works well and allows your gloves to hang safely
while you mess around with knots or climbing hardware.
A single insulated glove, like a ski glove, can also work
well and, with practce, you can do most fiddly things wearing them
and keep your hands warmer at the same time. One disadavantage with
many of these gloves, is that they take ages to dry out. We prefer to
use a removable fleece liner for this reason, it's simply hard for
moisture to evaporate through the shell of the glove.
Long or Short
up to your really, but you want enough cough with a secure enough
closure to keep your wrists protected - look for one that's easy to
use even with the other hand gloved.
Some prefer to wear jacket cuffs over their gloves, others prefer
it the other way round. Bear in mind, as with overtrousers, if you
wear your sleeves tucked into your gloves, any rain will run into
them. Not good.
For that reason, we prefer a to wear a glove that sits under the
jacket cuff, though that's impractical if you plan to remove your
gloves for fiddly tasks, particularly if you're climbing. For UK use,
where rain is guaranteed, we suggest you look for a glove that will
fit comfortably under your shell jacket cuffs however.
and mid-weight fleece and similar gloves work a bit like other parts
of a layering system, wicking moisture away from the hands and adding
Some can be used alone in milder conditions, however, if you're
going to use them for more technical stuff, or with trekking poles
and / or ice axes, it's worth using one with some sort of grippy
The old-style sticky black dots were never particularly grippy,
though far better than bare fabric, but the latest silicone sticky
grip stuff is much better and ideal for technical work. We're less
convinced by leather palms in UK conditions. They tend to soak out
eventually and are slippery even when dry, though they work well for
rope-handling in cold, dry environments like the Alps.
Windproof or wind-resistant fabrics will make them more versatile.
winter gloves these days come with a waterproof / breathable liner.
In really wet conditions they always seem to leak and eventually your
hands will get damp from either perspiration or simply wetness, but
they will keep the worst of it out for a while.
The pay-off seems to be increased drying times as moisture
struggles to escape from the sodden glove. Bear in mind too that
waterproof liners can't be sewn into the inside of the finger, so you
need to hold the ends of the fingers as you remove your gloves or the
entire inner can just invert and be almost impossible to replace.
primary choices for insulation would be either removable fleece,
which is simple and easy to dry, or Primaloft, which is the best of
the synthetics in damp conditions in our experience. Remember that a
removable liner will always dry faster, which is a major
consideration in cold, wet UK conditions.
The other option, for the traditionally minded, is matted,
shrunken wool, particularly Dachstein mitts. These are incredibly
warm, sticky comfortingly to snow when climbing and, once covered
with a crust if ice, no kidding, are virtually windproof too.
Finally, Buffalo and other pile / Pertex mitts dry fast and are
windproof though not great for dexterity. They make ideal spares and
work well as something to throw on a the top of a winter route.
Bits and Bobs
are plenty of other things to look out for. Fit is important,
some gloves have short fingers, some long, you want ones that are
right for your hands.
On winter gloves, we like to have some sort of snot-wipe
area at the base of the thumb for those moments of nose-running
As fas as construction goes, our favourites from the likes of
outdoordesigns have contoured, box-cut fingers, which are pre-curved
for easy grip on axes and the like, and less insulation in the palm
area for the same reason. When you're buying, try gripping an ice axe
or a trekking pole and make sure you can hold it comfortably,
insulation may pack down a little, but don't rely on it.
If you're planning on tethering your gloves with shock cord or a
straight loop, then make sure there are fixing points on the
Finally, if you're in the market for something different,
flip-topped gloves, as pictured, are available from at least two
manufacturers. They work brilliantly in alpine summer conditions and
allow you to combine finger-tip dexterity with insulation when
needed. They look silly, but work great in the right situation.
Help and Advice
This article should have given you some basic pointers. The good
news is that there's a load more advice on OUTDOORSmagic:
- Ask on the gear
forum about general issues or specific items.
- Check the member
reviews section for user experiences of kit.
- See OM editorial reviews on the front of the site for our
Richard Gear if you have a specific question you need
Discuss this story
Good to read an article on gloves - my hands always seem to get very cold in winter, very quickly.
I have tried loads of different pairs of gloves. Perhaps I need some mittens for a change.
What do people find successful for them?
Posted: 30/11/2005 at 17:19
layers. thin powerdry liner/powerfleece liner/shell glove (small amount of insulation).
you can then take your pick what you wear all year round.
the liner means you don't immediately get cold hands when you take the shell off.
the liners dry very quickly, unlike shell gloves - once they're wet with sweat they stay wet for a long time.
each may be worn as a glove in its own right - the powerdry liners aren't much but they can make just enough difference between cold hurting hands and just cold hands. powerfleece are surprisingly wind resistant and remain warm even when wet (excluding the delights of windchill of course)
Posted: 30/11/2005 at 17:40
See more comments...
No gloves kept my hands warm last weekend in the bitter wind chill and damp weather.
I've now bought some insulated mitts which I'll use over normal gloves, and just take them off for any fiddly stuff like ropework.
I can still handle axes OK with the mitts, so with any luck I won't get frozen paws again!
Posted: 30/11/2005 at 17:41