Some people love shoes, some people collect stamps, but we climbers and mountaineers hoard gloves. Gloves are vital because cold hands quickly become useless, and if you can’t use zips, get to food, or operate a lighter then you could soon find yourself in difficulty.
This buying guide aims to highlight the key aspects of glove design, what pair might be best for your needs, and some specific features of Mountain Equipment gloves.
Depending on whether you are climbing, mountaineering or skiing, your gloves need different attributes. Dexterity is really important to a climber; for a mountaineer it’s about adaptability; and for a skier durability and breathability are key. Consider also the type of wrist closure – do you want the glove to go under or over your jacket cuff, and do you want a low profile closure or a protective gauntlet design?
Another question is whether you prefer gloves or mitts? Gloves are more dextrous but less warm, and mitts can be put on and removed more easily. Small features can be important when buying gloves or mitts too, for example climbers might look for carry loops to attach their gloves to karabiners.
Warmer isn't always better
Where are you going, and therefore how warm do you need the gloves to be? Thicker gloves are almost always warmer than thin ones, and mitts are usually warmer still. Lightweight gloves are usually sufficient when working hard even when it’s cold, but you may prefer something warmer if moving slowly, if you have poor circulation, or if it’s way below freezing. Remember that you are trying to keep your hands comfortable, not just hot, as overheating and sweating hands can lead to damp gloves which don’t insulate well. This is why having both a thin pair and a thick pair of gloves with you is a good combination.
Waterproof or not?
Waterproof gloves aren’t necessarily better than non-waterproof ones. Even if a glove itself is waterproof, water or snow can get in through the cuff or might get in through putting the glove on with wet hands.
Gloves that feature a GORE-TEX® or Drilite® membrane are waterproof and in wet and cold conditions this can be a big benefit, but it can make the gloves less breathable and slower to dry out.
Gloves without a waterproof membrane will get damp in wet conditions but tend to dry quickly and some people like their simplicity. In cold and dry weather they can have advantages over waterproof gloves.
Depending on whether you are climbing, mountaineering or skiing, your gloves might need different features.
Shell fabrics must keep out the elements and withstand the abuse that gloves inevitably receive. We use a wide range of different shell fabrics in our gloves, from relatively lightweight Drilite® Loft fabrics to stretchy Exolite soft shell and durable nylon options.
Linings and Insulation
We select each lining fabric with the intended use in mind. Fibre pile is fast drying, and easy to get on even when wet, microfleece offers better grip, high loft fleece gives low bulk warmth, and brushed tricot gives improved dexterity. Our warmest gloves and mitts use synthetic insulation such as our own Polarloft® insulation or PrimaLoft® and, in our Redline Mitts, 800 fill power goose down.
Leather offers exceptional toughness, grip, softness, weather resistance and dexterity. We use several types of leather in our gloves, and each is selected with a specific end use in mind. Pittards® Armortan® goatskin for ultimate dexterity with excellent durability, Pittards® Oiltac® for the upmost grip; and water resistant goatskin for all round performance. Goatskin leather is thinner than some other leathers leading to great dexterity but is amongst the very toughest leathers for its thickness.
Some of our gloves have low-bulk cuffs while others feature gauntlet style closures. Gauntlet style cuffs are easier to take on and off, and give you the option of wearing them over your jacket’s cuffs, which can keep snow out when your arms are raised up when climbing. However, they are bulkier and heavier than gloves with smaller cuffs.
There are a lot of different materials used for nose wipes on gloves, and most of them don’t last very long. We use reversed suede leather for our nose wipes. It is extremely soft and comfortable without sacrificing durability.
Karabiner carry loops
Some of our gloves and mitts can be hung from karabiner carry loops: the small red loops on the finger or hand. By hanging a glove without inverting it, it won’t fill with snow or rain. Some climbers prefer just to shove gloves in their jacket or into pockets, but the karabiner option is a favourite of others.
In difficult conditions no one pair of gloves can cope all day long. Consider your use throughout a typical day. Hard work on an approach demands thin gloves, and as the temperature drops you reach for your thicker gloves.
Depending on conditions, these gloves may then get wet, so you replace them with another thick pair
A pitch of very hard climbing makes a more dextrous pair necessary, and then at the top of the route less dexterity is required but maximum warmth, where a pair of mitts is best.
Over the day you have then used five pairs of gloves and mitts. In short, you can never have too many gloves.
Having a good glove system can be key to a successful day out. Some people wear liner gloves underneath thicker gloves or mitts; others will change into over-mitts when belaying; and others will stick with one pair of gloves until they are forced to switch to another pair. It’s often a case of trial-and-error to establish what works best for you. We don’t have a particular recommended glove system, except that it is better to change gloves before your hands get cold, and better to have too many gloves with you than too few.
Dave MacLeod's Winter Glove Guide
Dave Macleod takes us through his gloves system, and his three favourite gloves for Scottish Winter Climbing in harsh conditions.
Which glove works best for...
For trekking, one thin pair of gloves is usually all you need unless at quite high altitudes or you really feel the cold. Unless you are doing lots of scrambling, leather palms are not usually necessary.
Thin windproof soft shell gloves are perfect for ski touring, however, if the weather is foul then a pair of thicker gloves are the ideal foil. Even if the thicker pair of gloves lives in your pack most of the time, the reassurance of a backup option is usually worth carrying. If it’s really cold then mitts are the best option.
Most thin gloves such as those made from Powerstretch® or lightweight soft shell are suitable for the walk-in, but if post-holing through thick snow then consider slightly warmer options. Dextrous but warm gloves are the perfect option for technical leads, but some climbers will happily lead technical pitches in thick gloves. A spare pair of gloves is essential in case they get lost/dropped/soaked, and a pair of big mitts as backup or for us at belays is often a very welcome addition.
It is difficult to give glove recommendations for every type of expedition, but the bigger the mountain the bigger the gloves or mitts you need. However, few trips are cold throughout, and so a range of glove thicknesses is best, from very lightweight gloves to our very thickest mitts. Make sure you have tested your gloves before the trip to ensure that they fit you, that you like using them, and that they offer enough warmth without being cumbersome.
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