Anatomy of Ski Gloves and Mittens
A ski glove is like an onion, with multiple layers designed to keep your hands warm and dry. Starting from the outside in, we break down the different materials and design types you will typically find throughout the anatomy of a glove or mitten.
When looking at different models, you will notice there are multiple material types that are used on the exterior or shell. Most include some type of waterproof material with a palm that has another type of reinforced material. The most traditional ski mitten or glove exteriors you will see are:
Nylon resists water and allows the glove to stretch and flex more easily than a full leather model, though it will often be less durable and feel more slippery. Nylon, however, is not waterproof, just water-resistant. Water typically absorbs into the material after long periods of time, saturating the material. The material is typically a little more breathable, making hands sweat less. In this review, we did not have any gloves with a full nylon construction. However, gloves and mitts like the Hestra Heli-Mitt - Women's (Our Winter Mittens Editors' Choice) and the Hestra 3-Finger Glove - Women's feature a type of high-quality nylon called Polyamide on the outside of the hand. It's highly durable and less porous than most nylon materials. It is also softer and more flexible, making it a great textile for winter gloves and mitts. It is not as quick to wick as Gore-Tex, but it's softer and more lightweight than most leathers.
Two- or Three-Layer GORE-TEX
If you're looking for a fabric that wicks away moisture and sweat, this is a great option. We liked products that featured both a Gore-Tex outer with a leather palm as it adds durability and breathability. By design, GORE-TEX wicks moisture and sweat away, not allowing it to penetrate through the shell because the pores on the GORE-TEX membrane are smaller than the water molecules. Water vapor, on the other hand, has a small molecular size so when you sweat it transfers out of the interior to the surface. This type of shell is stiffer than nylon and does not provide as much grip unless it has a different type of material on the palm. However, it is far more durable. All the gloves in our tests that featured Gore-Tex were completely waterproof in our tests (unlike the Hestras that features Polyamide textiles). Examples of Gore-Tex options include the; Arc'teryx Fission Glove - Women's (Our Editor's Choice for Gloves), Gordini Gore-Tex Down II - Women's (our Best Buy award), the Outdoor Research Arete - Women's (Top Pick for Backcountry Adventures), and the Burton Gore-Tex - Women's.
Sometimes a ski mitten or glove will not only use leather on the palm, but will use it throughout the entire shell. There are different types of leather that you will come across when shopping, but what you really want is goatskin leather. It is far more durable, harder, waterproof, and less likely to crack or rip than other types used. We didn't review any gloves or mitts that were completely goatskin, but the Hestra models feature this on the palm of the glove. Pigskin, like that used in the Kinco Pigskin Leather is also a great option, but requires a little more treatment.
Leather in general is very waterproof but requires special care. It is very important to make sure you treat your leather gloves one to three times per season (dependent on use) to ensure it stays supple to retain its waterproofing properties. If you don't treat your gloves, they will not be waterproof and will saturate very easily, making them useless.
The palm material is important because it provides friction with ski poles, ice axes, anchors, snacks, or whatever else you might need on snowy adventures. Without a grippy material, you may be forced to take your ski mittens or gloves off, exposing your fingers to the cold (which is never ideal). The two material types you traditionally find on the palms are:
A leather palm is incredibly durable though thicker and sometimes not as dexterous as the synthetic alternative. Usually, leather requires a break-in period before it feels flexible and comfortable. Once it is broken in, it can be the most comfortable and most grippy palm material. Leather often benefits from additional waterproof treatment to keep the glove intact and water resistant. For example, the Gordini Gore-Tex Down II uses goatskin on the palms, while the rest of the shell is made up of Gore-Tex.
Many models use an imitation leather or synthetic material for the palm. These materials are less durable than real leather but can be more dexterous at first use. Each manufacturer uses a different material and blend, so the best way to check for dexterity is to try on a glove in the store and attempt to grab your keys off of the floor. Again, remember that if you buy a model with a synthetic palm, it will almost certainly not be as waterproof as a leather palm. For example, the Burton Gore-Tex - Women's uses a synthetic leather that is compatible with a touch screen iPhone (bonus!).
Insulation and Liners
After peeling back the exterior of the glove or ski mitten, you may be faced with a fluffy insulation, or a completely separate removable liner. Gloves and mittens that don't have a removable liner have single construction while those with a removable liner are considered double construction. Read on to learn about the differences and which is best for you.
Some models will have a liner that is removable from the shell. This is different from a single glove that has the liner sewn into the shell. Like our Top Pick for Backcountry Adventures, the Outdoor Research Arete - Women's features removable liner that can be used on its own or together with the outer shell. This makes it more versatile and quicker to dry. Liners come in a host of different material selections. Some come with a waterproof shell on the liner, making it a great ski glove for skinning uphill or cross-country. Others are simple soft liners that are perfect for ventilation when it's warm outside - but not a great option to wear if it's snowy or wet.
In single construction glove, the liner is built in and can't be removed. There is a variety of different insulation materials that can make or break the construction of the glove or mitten. We discuss a few insulation options below.
Types of Insulation
PrimaLoft and Polartec
PrimaLoft and Polartec are common brands of synthetic insulation, with PrimaLoft being a puffy style of insulation (think women's insulated jacket) and Polartec being a thick fleece. Both add loft and warmth to an item. As with most other synthetic items, the fibers can be crushed over time, thus losing loft. This can result in gloves that don't keep your hands as warm after a period of time. Gloves like the Arc'teryx Fission uses PrimaLoft insulation in varying quantities around the construct of the glove to provide better dexterity and warmth. Look for glove or mitten like the Fission that features thin insulation along the palm (for dexterity) and thicker insulation at the back of the palm (where insulation is needed the most).
Wool vs. Polyester
Some models still use the time-tested standard of wool, but thanks to new technology, most manufacturers treat it to give it a smoother, more comfortable feel. Wool is not waterproof, but it does insulate your hands and continues to keep them warm if they wet. So, if you typically get snow in your glove, or live in a wet climate, this may be a great option to look for. The Kinco Pigskin glove is a contender that uses polyester as the liner for this glove.
Some gloves feature down feathers as a form of insulation. In our testing, we learned that it is super warm, lofty, and provides more heat than synthetic insulations. The Gordini Gore-Tex Down II - Women's is an incredibly warm glove that features both great dexterity and warmth. Reach for down if you are looking for the ultimate in warmth.
Identifying the Right Ski Glove or Mitten For You
When mulling over what type of glove or mitten you may need, there are a few questions you should stop and ask yourself. By taking these questions into consideration, you can quickly narrow down your options to find a glove that fits your needs.
Do your Fingers and Hands get Cold Easily?
If so, you need to prioritize warmth in your ski mittens or gloves. If you are just riding the resort and don't need dexterity, a mitten is a better option for cold hands. You can keep your fingers together which generates more warmth, and ultimately more comfort. Consider the super warm Hestra Heli Mitt - Women's or the Dakine Tundra Mitt - Women's if this is your top priority. However, if you prefer a glove, look for one that features down insulation like the Gordini Gore-Tex II.
What will you Primarily be Doing when Wearing Your Ski Gloves?
Think about where you'll be playing in the snow. Will you be riding mountains in the backcountry, or riding lifts at the resort? Both situations require different performance from your gloves. Consider what you'll be using your gloves for before you buy.
Riding Ski Lifts at the Resort
If you only ride ski lifts, prioritize a glove with superior warmth, especially if you're planning to ski less advanced terrain. The warmest options are typically ski mittens with a superior liner like the Hestra Heli Mitt or Dakine Tundra Mitt. However, if you prefer a warm glove, check out the Gordini Gore-Tex Down II instead. If you find yourself sweating, take a look at less insulated gloves like the Outdoor Research Arete or the Arc'teryx Fission Glove. Both are breathable and a great option if your hands sweat a lot.
If you're spending your off days in search of perfect powder in the backcountry, be ready to sweat. The perfect backcountry glove or mitt is extremely breathable, waterproof, with good dexterity (to take off skins and switch to different settings). The OR Arete is a double-layered glove that exemplified these traits. As an added bonus, it has great water resistance as well! If you prefer single glove construction, check out the Arc'teryx Fission Glove. It balances warmth and breathability.
Depending on where you decide to strap on a pair of skis and ride for the day, you should consider a different type of ski glove or mitt for different climates. For example, if you frequently ski in both wet and dry climates then you should consider a glove with a waterproof or Gore-Tex outer like the Burton Gore-Tex or Dakine Tundra Mitt. If you like in cold dry places, make sure to opt for uber insulation like the Gordini Gore-Tex Down II. If you like in a place with mild conditions, mostly any glove will do — just make sure it's not too bogged down with insulation.
Do you Need Dexterity on the Mountain?
The ability to use your hands easily is pivotal to your success throughout the day. If you need to take your glove off to zip up your jacket, you expose your hands to the cold you are trying to protect it from. While trying on different gloves, try dropping your car keys or a pen on the ground and see how easy it is to pick up. If you struggle, or the item continues to slip out of your fingers, this is a warning sign that you should consider a glove with either a better fit, less insulation, or a gloved-construct.
Do you Like your Gloves or Mitts Fully Loaded?
As with the dexterity of a glove, added features help you enjoy your day out in the snow while adding function to your hands. When looking at what your next glove may be, really think about what you are missing from your current glove.
SkiGee: On wet days when you're on the chair lift, do you find yourself reaching for a SkiGee or trying to wipe wet snow from your goggle lens unsuccessfully? Thankfully, some glove designers include a little rubber slide on the index finger of your glove that allows it to act as a windshield wiper. Unfortunately, none of the gloves in this review had this feature.
Nose Wipe: Do you find yourself constantly reaching for a tissue at the convenient Kleenex kiosk at the chair lift? If so, then think about getting a glove that has a nose wipe on it like the Gordini Gore-Tex Down II.
Touchscreen Compatibility: We know that one of the most annoying things at the ski resort is trying to coordinate a meet up with friends. You take out your phone on the ski lift, send out a text, and put your phone away. Nine times of out ten the gloves one wears is not compatible with touchscreen technology, forcing you to take off your glove. Some great features that some gloves like the Burton Gore-Tex glove has integrated is touch-screen compatibility. This is a great feature to keep fingers warm when it's cold outside.
Wrist Leash: If you're just learning how to ski, or take your gloves off a lot, a wrist leash is a great feature to prevent the loss of gloves on both the lifts and at the warming hut. Many models in this review feature a wrist leash that are removable choose to wear them, or choose to take them off!
Glove Cuffs: Do you prefer if your glove or mitt fits under or over your jacket? If you prefer to wear your glove tucked beneath, opt for a gauntlet glove or mitt like the Kinco Pigskin Leather. If you like a long cuff that you can cinch down over your jacket, check out models such as the Hestra Three-Finger Glove or the Arc'teryx Fission Glove.
Finally, Are you Going to Thrash Your Gloves?
If you happen to be someone that wears gloves or mittens over 50 days a winter season and need a new pair each year, then it is time to consider investing in an incredibly durable glove. Granted, the sticker shock might be more than what you previously have been paying, but then you are not recycling gloves at the end of June each year. If your glove falls apart after only 10 days out in the snow, then your hands were probably wet and cold after only day two. The durability of the materials is ultimately what leads to a water-resistant, warm, dexterous and functional glove and a happy woman playing in the snow. Look for gloves loaded with goatskin leather or three-layer GORE-TEX type waterproof materials for great durability options. For example, even though the Arc'teryx Fission may have a high price tag, it is the best-crafted glove tested. You can opt for a super inexpensive pair of gloves like the Kinco Pigskin, care for them well, and get a few years out of them.
On that note, it is important to care for any glove that is made up of any type of leather. Without proper care of these leather products, your gloves will lose their waterproofing in just a few days of use. Make sure to seal your leather when you buy them and after you buy them at least one to three times a season.
How to Water Seal Your Leather Gloves or Mitts
If you invest in a pair of fancy leather gloves/mitts, it is very important that you take care of them to ensure they maintain waterproofing and durability. Leather is made from animal skin and when it dries out, it cracks, losing its waterproofing properties. Most buyers don't know that if the glove features leather, like the Hestra Heli Mitt or Kinco PigSkin, it needs to be sealed before and throughout the use of the glove. Otherwise, it won't perform like it's supposed to. You can buy leather sealer at any local hardware or gear store. Look for a product like Nixwax. If you're not sure how to seal a pair of gloves, take a look at the steps below.
- The first thing to do is test if your gloves are still waterproof. Put them underwater or grab a handful of snow. If the gloves absorb the moisture, it's time for to treat them.
- Take a damp rag with wipe off any excess dirt. Dirt particles can get into the leather and clog its porous surface, causing cracking and poor performance.
- Take a glob of sealing wax, and massage it into the leather. With a heavy layer, coat the glove with snow sealant wherever the leather is found. Avoid massaging it into any material that isn't leather, as this can damage that textile.
- Let the gloves dry by laying them outside or near a fan. This should take about eight hours as the wax needs time to absorb in the leather. Softer leathers like Nubuck will take less time than a harder leather like goatskin.
- After you have allowed at least eight hours the pair to dry, wipe off the excess wax with a rag. Your gloves will be a little sticky at first, but they will become less sticky with use, as the wax takes time to absorb.
- Finally, enjoy your newly waterproofed gloves.