This post came about in response to a comment left on this post where Hendrik asked me what glove system I used after I revealed that I'd spent an entire afternoon trudging through deep snow dreaming about 'my dream glove system'. I started to reply to his comment but an hour later I was still typing so I decided this subject deserved it's own post and then maybe someone would provide me with some answers to questions I still had. I did find this excellent article by Andy Kirkpatrik who, as always, cuts through a lot of the marketing hype and misinformation surrounding technical clothing. It should be noted, however, that Andy's article is based on the needs of a climber whereas my glove system detailed below is for hiking, backpacking, cross-country ski touring and possibly snow-shoeing during the winter in Norway. As always I try to make it simple and light but comfortable and safe as well.
I like using liner gloves, it gives you the ability to rotate a couple of pairs, one pair on your hands and another drying and warm in a pocket close to your body. They need to be thin enough so you can do anything you need to (including tricky things like taking photos) without taking them off. Thin gloves dry quicker too. As for materials, I like merino wool and Polartec's Powerstretch fleece. They're both pretty good but as I'm often using poles (ski or hiking) in winter I lean towards the Powerstretch, I find the material is tougher than merino. I've actually worn holes in a pair of Arc'Teryx merino liners during a long weekend of skiing last year. Rab Powerstretch Grips (43g a pair in Medium) are my current favourites. Powerstretch dries quick, is light, super soft, stretchy and keeps you warm when active. It is also great for wiping your nose or the frost from your beard! Rab also do a slightly more wind resistant liner glove called the Phantom in Polartec's Wind Pro fleece that would be a good choice in more mountainous areas, exposed to more bone-chilling wind. I'm quite happy with the liner gloves currently available, there is something for everyone out there. The only variant of Powerstretch liners I would personally like is a pair with a lobster-cut, where the thumb and forefinger are separate but the other three fingers are in a mitt form. That would be pretty cool!
In winter, up in the mountains, most people like to have a BDM - a Big Dumb Mitt that they can pull on and off as the conditions dictate. Standing atop a wind ravaged ridge, sliding down a fast ski trail or simply for warming up after camp or a break a BDM can be slipped on until you're warmed up or left on in cold conditions. Nothing beats a mitt for warmth in my opinion. The problem I have here is that every company's range of BDMs seem to come with waterproof/breathable inserts. I find my hands get sweaty in these highly insulated 'waterproof' gloves and they take FOREVER to dry out when they do get wet. And they WILL get wet. Sweat and the big hole in the waterproof membrane where your hand goes in means so-called 'waterproof' gloves rarely stay dry inside. Not good if you're backpacking in winter although except for the odd occasion where I face plant into some powder on a steep downhill section of a trail I rarely put my hands in the snow.
I wish I could find a lighter soft-shell mitt. I have a pair of Buffalo mitts who's proven, retro-tech 'Pertex and pile' construction is a good balance of protection and breathability. They are great as my back-up mitts but I feel they need a better palm covering (something like the excellent Pittards Armortan on my Rab Baltoro gloves) and a few other design modifications before I could use them all day. They're also slightly too warm when active. Mardale produce a similar 'Pertex & pile' mitt. The problem with many modern softshell fabrics is that they use a laminate to provide the windproofing and I find that compromises breathability significantly.
So what would my dream Not-So-Dumb Mitts feature?
- Wind resistant but highly breathable stretch woven shell (good DWR to shed snow) with a light 'pile' inner face for wicking and warmth (maybe Vapour-rise, shelled DriClime or Buffalo Lightweight?)
- Long cuff with one-hand operable cord & toggle, no wrist strap
- Tough, grippy palm
- Nose wipe thumb patch!
- Removable security wrist loops
- Sewn-in loop near fingers so they can be clipped to my backpack's shoulder strap the right way up so they don't fill with snow
Let me know if you know of anything even close to this! If not does anyone know a good custom glove maker?! It would be a good MYOG project and mitts are far easier to cut and sew than gloves!
Thinking outside the box BPL do the FeatherLite Vapor Mitt (116g a pair in L) which works on vapour barrier technology. Some people swear by this for keeping warm in seriously cold temperatures but others find it 'sweaty'. It would however be a very light system as it would not require an extra shell mitt.
I do also carry a pair of waterproof shell mitts. Carrying the waterproof shell separately from the main mitts means that I'm only subjected to the compromised breathability of such shells for short periods of time and only when necessary. I currently carry a pair of Gore Tex Paclite mitts, the Extremities Tuff Bags, which are great for pulling over the rest of your glove system when things get really dire (driving wet snow, freezing rain) or when doing 'wet work' like digging snow shelters, even if that's just a ditch to get you out of the wind for your lunch stop! They do however get sweaty after a while, something I'm not sure even the superior breathability of eVENT could deal with so they get whipped off again sharpish and stuffed back into my pack. I customised my Tuff Bags by removing the wrist strap which got in the way of hiking/ski pole wrist straps and I felt it was surplus as the cuff cord & toggle was ample for semi sealing and venting. Without the wrist strap they weigh in at 64g a pair in a very generous Large. They also have a tough, grippy palm material which is great for holding onto freezing shovel handles. Other shell mitt options include Haglofs Gram Shell Mitts (50g a pair in Medium) and the MLD eVENT Rain Mitts (just 34g a pair in Large!) as an even lighter but less rugged option.
Spare and camp hand-wear:
I like to carry a pair of Buffalo mitts as spare/back-ups. It's good to know that if you lose a glove or get every other glove wet that there is always a dry spare set waiting in your pack. Nothing else I've used so far is as good at warming and drying cold, wet hands as the Buffalos. They're light (84g a pair in L) and cheap too. The only additional gloves possibly worth thinking about would be a pair of simple, highly compressible down mitts, such as the super warm PHD Mera Down Mitts (96g a pair), for camp/sleeping duties but I think these would only be needed in extreme conditions like high mountains or -30C forests in arctic central Scandinavia.
So there you have it, my ramblings after spending way too much time thinking about this subject and possibly being too fussy just to buy a pair of expensive, over-insulated, GoreTex-lined Big Dumb Mitts like everyone else. My ideal gloves probably don't exist and I'll be forced to compromise or buy a sewing machine, learn to sew and try to source some materials.
Let me know how you get around keeping your hands warm.