Handwear

Like hats, hardware seem to be one of the more “personal” pieces of gear. Unlike “hats”, fit and function rather than style seems to drive most people’s decision making.  The fit of handwear is much more important  than say, a jacket.  Less than 1 cm of extra length in the fingers can be the difference between a glove that is highly functional and a glove that gets in the way and makes it difficult to to make the grabs necessary.

There is often a trade-off between “feel” and “protection”. Typically the more protective handwear is, the less “feel” they provide. My experience is the same as Andy Kirkpatrick’s:  there is no perfect glove.

My Choices

I typical don’t wear gloves until it’s below freezing. My hands tend to run hot and they are prone to sweating.  I found that changing how I holding my hands effects my hand comfort:  in the cold my hands are in loosely held fists while in the warmest conditions I keep my fingers spread open. Furthermore pulling my hands inside my sleeves or putting them in my pockets can allow them to warm up if feeling chilled. Of course there are activities like cycling, climbing and skiing where this isn’t an option.

Mountain Hardware Grub Gloves (original version) are the gloves I use 95% of the time. They are medium weight PowerStretch gloves which provides excellent dexterity with a quilted mitten cover that can be deployed for extra warmth. The mitt cover can fold away into the back of the glove making it comfortable to wear in a wide variety of conditions. I use them when bicycling when the temperature is below 45F. These mitts are not waterproof, but keep my hands acceptably warm in the rain, and dry out reasonably quickly. In colder conditions I typically use a pair of OR Meteor Mitts

Factors to Consider

Feel / DexterityThe best “feel” are fingerless gloves which can keep the core of your hand warm while giving full dexterity to fingers. There are fingerless gloves with a mitten flap that can be overlaid when you don’t need to be using your fingers, traditional gloves, lobster claw gloves, and mittens.
GripThe  materials used on the palm and the fingers will effect what sort of grip you can have and how durable the handwear will be. The most grippy materials tend to be specially designed synthetic materials. Leather is reasonably grippy and long lasting.  Plain fabric is often slippery and not very durable.
WaterHardware can range from “sponge like”, to water resistant, to pull on waterproof. Related to this is how quickly the handwear will dry. Handwear which doesn’t have absorbent padding will dry more quickly. Handwear which separates insulation from the protective outer shell also has an advantage when it comes to drying out your hands.
InsulationPrimaloft and down are commonly used in warmest handwear because it is warm for it’s weight, while still providing good feel because the insulation will compress when pressed. The compressibility gives good feel, but it means that the compressed area isn’t as protected from the cold. So if you are going to be holding onto things for an extended period of time (say climbing with ice tools),  then you want the insulation to be something that won’t compress like fleece or thermolite. Some handwear uses hybrid insulation… fleece on the palm and fingers, and primaloft across the back of the hand.

Handwear Options

There is a large number of companies that make high quality mittens and gloves. In the past I have found that I like hardwear made by Outdoor Research, Mountain Hardware, and Black Diamond. Your experiences might be differ. Since models change quite often and I am not regularly trying new gloves I am generally going to skip listing specific gloves or mitts. The exception to this are items which are somewhat uncommon,

Base/Liner

Base/liner gloves made from a wicking material like PowerDry,  wool or my favorite PowerStretch.  These are very thin gloves which can boast the insulation of other gloves, or be worn stand-alone in moderate weather. They provide little or not protection from wind or water.  I have found in all but the most extreme conditions that liners can keep my hands warm enough down to around 20F. I have found that I can wear them up to around 50F. 

Unlined Shells

Year ago Outdoor Research (OR) introduced an ultralight rain mitten which worked well stand alone in warmer weather and could be combined with a base or unshelled insulated glove or mitt when the temperature dropped. OR stopped making it, but there is lighter and more breathable MLD eVENT rain mittens and the ZPacks Vertice rain mitts. I have found that the MLD mitt is fine for light use, but I wouldn’t want to use them for rough activities or in abrasive conditions.  I ultimately stopped using my MLD mitts. I found in warmer conditions my hands were more comfortable in PowerStretch gloves, and in colder conditions I typically needed mitts or gloves which were more durable.

OR does make heavier duty unlined waterproof shell mitts such as the revel shell mitt. and shuksan mitts. I haven’t been really happy with most of the other mitts in this catagory. Many are too stiff for my taste (typically because of the tape used to seal their seams). Also, they tend to be smooth on the inside so an liner inside them slips around providing a less than ideal interface. There are a small number of modular gloves/mitts which come with an unlined shell, though most have a lined shell combined with an inner insulated glove.

Lined Shells, Softshells, Work Gloves

Lined shell gloves which have a water resistant shell and a light liner. These gloves often use what is waterproof breathable materials in the shell, but don’t seal the seams. As a result they are moderately protective in wet conditions, but after some time, moisture will start seeping in. These gloves tend to be very good feel and dexterity. The MH Plasmic and the REI Minimalist are examples of this type of glove. I really like these gloves for done in a day activities when the temperature is above 10F and where my hands aren’t buried in snow (e.g. skiing, snow shoes, etc) when NOT building snow caves

A number of companies are making light gloves made from soft shell materials like PowerShield.  These are fairly protective from the elements, durable with abrasive conditions, while still providing very good feel.

For me, work gloves are either unlined or lightly lined with an emphasis of dexterity and durability.

Insulated with Shell

The most common “ski” gloves are typically made with a waterproof breathable shell and use either fleece or primaloft for insulation.  Alas, most aren’t fully sealed, so after a full day in the snow they will be wet on the inside and are hard to dry out. Typically modular systems are a better option, though most modular systems don’t have as much dexterity as a glove that is fully integrated. Neoprene gloves such as those made by glacier glove provide very effective protection when dealing with very wet and cold conditions.

Modular Gloves/Mitts

Modular Gloves / Mittens are problems which typically combine a durable, waterproof mitten with an inner insulating glove. OR is the best known maker of modular handwear. Typically these will have extra long gauntlets for maximum protection & good sealing, extra durable shells made from waterproof breathable materials which are fully sealed, very grippy palms, and removable insulation. 

If I am doing “snow work”, I bring a modular mitt, with a durable shell and a removable inner glove or mitt which is either 100% fleece, or has a fleece palm, with primaloft insulation on the back of the hand. While far from perfect, I most often bring a pair of OR Meteor Mitts. 

Vapor Barrier Mittens

In theory, vapor barrier mitts allows the construction of mitts which have a very high warmth / weight for use in cold conditions. rbh designs makes a variety of nice mitts. I have found that the rbh mitt weight half as much as a conventional mitts providing equal warmth.

Other Options

Komperdell seamless gloves seem like they might be quite an innovation, but I haven’t tried them. 

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