Tuesday, 22 December 2009

The Glove Post - In search of my one true glove...


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.

Liner gloves:

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.


PhilT said...

Yeah, it's all about the layering. I seem to almost always have warm hands, much to the annoyance of my less circulatorally-blessed other half, so I use the following system throughout a Scottish winter:

Thin merino liner
Thick merino liner
Dachsteins if it's REALLY cold
Extremities Tuff Bag

The Goretex mitts will stay on all the time really, they work as a kind of vapour barrier and the merino gloves remain warm whilst sweat-soaked.

I think several thin layers are infinitely preferable to one big mitt - thin layers dry quicker and can be replaced with dry gloves easily. Have a look at Colin Ibbotson's recent article - he's pretty skinny and copes with a fairly minimal system revolving around drying layers under his hat.

Nielsen Brown said...

Your post got me thinking about all the gloves ad mitts I have and those that I actually use.

For liners I have both silk body (very nice) and merino from IBEX (USA) often I use the merino liners as stand alone and they are ideal for wind protection and some warmth.

Insulation it is the Possum Fur Merino Gloves from BPL or NZ suppliers, they are ideal for my requirements.

The outer layer is a pair of MLD eVent mitts, hardly ever been used but seem to me to be ideal for wet conditions.

The alternative is my BPL FeatherLite Vapor Mitts, never been used but may appear on a trip after christmas given the current conditions.

Bottom line is I always take liner gloves and an outer mitt the rest is dependent on temperature expectations

Martin Rye said...

That is a lot of gloves. Options are good.

I use Extremities sticky windy combined with the MLD E-vent over mitts most times. I also have a pair of Mountain Hardware winter mitts and cant recall the name. They are warm and only good in the winter. Flexible layering is the way to go. Got me thinking that write up. I need to review my gloves.

Unknown said...

Nice thinking and article. I have only one glove at the moment, a Halti DriShell out, Pittard leather hand and fleece inner. They work OK. I am getting the MLD eVent mitts, and will go the Colin Ibbotson way of two Merino liner gloves.

extremtextil.de and shelby.fi are good sources for fabrics, I just order some stuff from the former for some MYOG projects. GF has a sewing machine, but those you can already get used for some 30€ or so, no huge investment. Give it a try, sourcing materials is not difficult.

Joe Newton said...

Phil - I agree that having several pairs of thinner gloves is preferable because it's far easier to dry them in a pocket or even under your hat! I had read Colin's article last week so his thoughts were in my mind during my recent skiing adventures.

Roger - the merino liners I have used in the past just don't stand up to the wear and tear that hiking and more evidently skiing poles seem to exert on them. I have however found a couple of pairs of merino liners that promise to be a lot tougher. I'll order a pair and give them a try.

Although I'll probably stick with the liner/insulation/shell traditional layering system I am still curious about the FeatherLite mitts. I think they offer the lightest & simplest system.

Martin - options are good but my head has been spinning over this issue! I'm starting to think that my desire for a Vapour-rise style mitt may be too much if I'm always going to be wearing liners. I've been told that Vapour-rise works best next to the skin anyway.

Hendrik - I do still use full-on technical gloves for single day ski trips but they do get damp, from snow and sweat and your hands can start to chill. Thankfully I have a hut/hotel/apartment to go back to to get warm and dry the gloves out. On trips when you're camping out then I agree, the layering system is king. I've found an easy to follow mitt pattern and will look into maybe sourcing some fabrics. My brother is a whizz with an industrial sewing machine if I fail completely!

Thanks for everyone's input. Mulling it all over I think I'll give some merino liners another try, now that I've found some highly recommended, slightly tougher versions that also have silicon palm prints.

I'm still looking for my perfect mid layer glove but I'm staring to be less fussy. The Outdoor Research PL400 mitts would probably do a fine job. I prefer mitts to a second set of liners, they're much easier to slip on and off, they're warmer (worth bearing in mind living over here) and they don't bulk your fingers up as much. I guess this mid layer is the one where it pays to have quite a few options and try to match what you take to the conditions. One trip you might not need any, the next you might be packing the Dachsteins.

For the shells, I'm happy with my Tuff Bags. I know the MLDs are lighter but the Tuff Bags come with a really nice grippy palm that will handle (?) ski poles much better and they come ready seam-sealed too :-)

Anonymous said...

I can't believe you can write so much on gloves!! (only joking!) so thought I would pitch in with my 2penneth (Old money!) I think it goes without saying 'Layering' is the only sensible way to go, how you do that is a personal choice, me? as a slightly older member of the human race I am leaning more back towards natural fibres, a couple of thin wool layers and when it gets to freezing or below (a rare point here in the deep south of Dorset!)as PhilT said its out with the old Dachsteins! If they get wet they still keep you warm and you can dry them out around a fire without the whole lot melting! As my blood get thinner and the years tick by at an ever increasing pace I tend to look in 2 places for good reliable kit, not always the lighest or most fashionable but always tested to destruction, What are the military using and what do the first Nations do to beat the weather? Just my ramblings, Keep it steady guys and have a happy and safe new year!
The Old Man

Anonymous said...

Don't know if these guys fulfil all of your mitt wishes, but they do cover a lot of them, and I know from personal experience they make very good stuff.
Look under "Outdoor" to find the mitts:
/ Karl

Joe Newton said...

Karl - thank you! The Wind Mitt looks very interesting. Thanks for brining the brand to my attention.