Our hands need protection when we venture out into the elements. To keep them from freezing, we rely on gloves and mittens. But we also rely on our hands to do certain tasks when we are venturing about. It's important that they stay dry and comfortable throughout an entire day, too. Here we discuss what to look for when on the market for a new pair and to help you choose.
The Age-Old Debate: Gloves or Mittens
When you reach for something to put on your hands, do you chose the dexterity and comfort of gloves? Or the warmth and protection of mittens? While those two generalizations are often true, our comparisons aren't always strictly black and white. The warmest gloves in our review, the Black Diamond Guide are just as warm as the lightest mittens we tested, The North Face Montana Mitt, and warmer than many mittens we've tried in the past.
On the flip side, the Montana Mitt offers almost the same dexterity as the super warm BD Guide gloves; we found that this was a result of their thick, yet high-quality insulation. Keep in mind, if you constantly have to remove your mittens to perform tasks that gloves would easily handle, your fingers will tell you that they aren't very warm.
These are unusual exceptions, though. As a general rule, you can expect mitts to be warmer than gloves. On the other hand, gloves tend to be much more dexterous than mittens.
Temperatures and Body Types
To best pick the glove that suits you, you have to be honest, what temperatures do I likely see myself skiing in? And then also be honest with yourself, do I normally get cold hands or am I always sweating out my gloves? Are you the type of person who is cold when everyone is hot or, conversely, hot when everyone is cold? Or do you run pretty average?
A little less than half of the models we tested have a temperature rating. This can be useful, but any temperature rating should be looked at as a guideline at best. This rating is helpful when comparing different gloves from one manufacturer, but because there is no universal standard for glove temperature ratings, once you start comparing models from different manufacturers against each other, all bets are off. It's one thing if there was a 30F temperature rating between gloves and you can confidently assume that one is warmer than another. However, once that number gets closer to a 10F difference, there is no way to tell for sure by using just the rating. At that point, it's best to look at the amount and type and of insulation that a given glove has and use that to help best compare for warmth (see below for more information on insulation types). The insulation types will vary greatly from super high-end PrimaLoft one to just regular old fleece or boiled wool. All of these materials have certain applications within the glove world. For instance, a fleece palm increases dexterity and is known to be durable, whereas on the back of your hand PrimaLoft one is ideal, since it will not be beat on and offers much more warmth/weight than fleece alone.
Find the right fit and save hours of frustration added up throughout several years of skiing or snowboarding. Contrary to popular belief, even different models from the same manufacturer won't necessarily be sized the same, have the same fit or even the same shape.Things to Look for When Fitting Your Glove
- Your fingertips should be pretty close or just barely touching the ends of the glove. Like shoes, many people buy too big to get more width for their palm. Make sure the gloves fit well enough in the fingertips so that you can buckle your ski boots or snowboard bindings without having to remove them. A common theme is to have the fingers fit but maybe not the palm or vice versa. If this is the case, don't force the fit; it might be time to look elsewhere. Every manufacturer offers up their own flavor of palm to finger length ratio, so do your best to look at the measured lengths and try them on in a store.
- You should be able to push down between your thumb and your index finger without too much inward pressure on the aforementioned appendages. If they are strongly pressured inward, this generally means it's too small. This is a great test when comparing two seemingly good fitting gloves.
- You should be able to perform a similar test between your index finger and your middle finger, although the result isn't quite as obvious as between the thumb and the index finger. If there is a significant amount of material bunching up here, the glove is too large, if the glove hinders movement, it is too small.
- Most all-leather or mostly-leather gloves have some break-in time; it's okay that they feel stiffer at first than you might like. Most goatskin leather options should feel pretty good once they stretch a noticeable amount and soften up significantly in 2-4 days, depending on the glove. It is important to give your gloves a chance in this period, the Black Diamond Guide glove is universally scoffed at when first put on due to its stiffness, yet breaks in very nicely.
Construction and Materials
All the models we tested used some form of insulation to help keep your hands warm. Ski and snowboard gloves typically either use a synthetic fill insulation, a more traditional fleece or wool insulation or some combination of any of these. While some of these insulations are warmer for their weight and more efficient than others, it's mainly about the volume of insulation. We found PrimaLoft to be better performing than other various materials, but you would still find a glove warmer that has 150g of something proprietary over 100g of PrimaLoft.
PrimaLoft is the best performing insulation by weight on the synthetic market today. It comes in a variety of flavors, but we are focusing on PrimaLoft one in this test. Our second favorite was EnduroLoft, which is Outdoor Research's proprietary insulation — comparable to Primaloft but not quite as warm nor as quick-drying, yet much more durable over the long run and thus resits packing out. There are several other independent or proprietary synthetic materials that fared well, such as Quallo Fill, Thermal.Q and Micro Temp. Remember, many producers label how much insulation, which is more important than insulation type when it comes to the level of warmth.
In the fleece insulation department, our top pick is the Hi-loft Polartec Wind Pro fleece. The Hi-Loft Wind Pro Fleece is denser than most other fleece on the market; it proved longer lasting and warmer. We think it dried quickly but maybe not quite as fast as some other traditional fleece. A real advantage to this is the windproofness, which ordinary fleece severely lacks. Some use traditional fleece as stand-alone insulation or sometimes in conjunction with synthetic insulation like PrimaLoft. Fleece feels "cozier" than most synthetics and warms up quickly. Fleece isn't quite as warm, gram for gram, but isn't far off. As with synthetic fabrics, most manufacturers label the weight of fleece they put in their gloves (100g, 150g, 200g, etc.).
Double Gloves vs. Single Gloves
Double gloves, or double-layer gloves, notes an outer shell and a separate and removable inner insulated liner. The advantage of double models is they are often warmer. In our review, almost all the double gloves are warmer than almost all the singles. If you ski or snowboard in the Northeast, Upper Mountain West or anywhere it's really cold (or your hands just get cold easily), get double layer gloves. Another advantage of a double layer: because the liner and the shell can be separated, they dry quicker. This can be a huge deal if you see yourself doing any multi-day trips, where wet gloves at the end of the day can mean wet glove in the morning if they do not dry out in your sleeping bag.
Single glove construction puts the insulation and the shell of the glove in one piece. Single gloves often have better dexterity and are easier to take on and off. These gloves typically dry slower since the insulation is trapped inside a Goretex or proprietary membrane.
Gauntlet vs. Under the Cuff
Gauntlet gloves have enough fabric to extend on the outside beyond the cuff of your jacket. This style is easier and quicker to put on and take off because you don't have to try to tuck your glove into your sleeve. While not a big deal in sunnier or colder, drier snow climates, in really wet storms snow and water can run down your jacket and into your glove — a big bummer. This is where under the cuff style comes in. Under the cuff style gloves go under the cuff/sleeve of your jacket. They take a little more work to get on, but during wetter conditions, they help your hands stay drier because water doesn't run down your sleeve and into your glove. Gauntlet style gloves tend to be warmer because they can have more insulation, especially further down in the glove because there isn't a restriction on how low the volume the wrist area of the glove must be so you can pull the jacket over it.
Gauntlet vs. Cuff Length
Gauntlet Style: These models feature a much longer cuff that extends past the wearer's wrist to their lower forearm. Gauntlet style gloves are typically easier and quicker to put on because they do not require tucking your glove in or pulling your jacket sleeve over the cuff. Gauntlet gloves are generally warmer and offer decent protection from the elements; however, if you're skiing in wet snow or rain, water can end up running down your sleeves and into your gloves. In drier snow, this is almost never a problem, as nearly all gauntlet gloves feature a cinch-system that is effective enough to keep snow out.
Cuff Length: Cuff length models are exactly that, gloves whose length extends to around the wearer's wrist (or cuff). During stormier conditions, it's important to tuck your jacket over the tops of the wrist of your gloves; this takes a little extra effort but ensures that water won't run down your sleeves and into your gloves. Cuff length gloves are typically more dexterous and often not quite as warm (though this is not always the case).
Leather is almost always more durable and handles better than synthetic materials. Goatskin leather is our palm material of choice. Though a little more expensive, it has proved durable and supple. Leather needs to be retreated on a regular basis, depending on use. But this is worth the trouble, especially for heavy users or folks who are hard on their gloves. While there are several good water-proofing products on the market, our favorite is the Nikwax Waterproofing Wax for Leather. A new contender in the test this year, the Alti glove, has a remarkably durable and waterproof palm that allows a maintenance-free, leather-like durability palm. This glove was a bit less dexterous than leather options though.
A Few Notes on Our Criteria for Evaluation
When it comes to performance, these are the metrics we find to be most important to compare gloves and consider which are the best.
Dexterity, along with warmth, is most people's biggest factor when considering gloves. A glove that lacks dexterity requires the user to remove them often, making your hands colder by being exposed to the elements. There is often a certain amount of tradeoff for most gloves, as you gain warmth by adding more insulation there is often some loss of dexterity. Some of the higher-priced gloves achieve and excellent dexterity to warmth ratio, and this is what the extra money you will spend gets you. We rated all of our gloves both in real-world testing and by performing a series of every day, side-by-side tasks, including buckling ski boots, unlocking a car door with average-sized car keys, tying running shoes, attaching a lift ticket to a jacket, taking a photo with a point-and-shoot camera and writing our name. To help as a tiebreaker, those gloves with which we could write more legibly scored higher. In real-world use we compared the gloves side by side, wearing different gloves on each hand and doing the same tasks throughout our ski days.
This is really what protects our hands from the elements — wind, snow, and if you are unlucky, rain. This is our gloves' first line of defense at keeping our hands warm. Even the fanciest insulation doesn't work as well when it's soaking wet and then re-frozen.
A Note on Warmth
We rated all gloves we tested in warmth and gave approximate temperatures that most people would find comfortable while riding chair lifts for a day. That said, some people run warmer or colder than normal. Also, a "warm" day on the chair when its 30F and snowing hard might feel colder. On the flip side, a 20F sunny day where most gloves in our review should be fine could feel cold if you are on a slow, exposed chairlift with high winds. Other factors like how wet your gloves are, whether from sweat or outside precipitation, even how hydrated or well-fed you are, can make a huge difference and could even be more of a factor than a 10F dip in the temperature. There is also an element of how well the rest of your body is insulated. If you fail to properly insulate the core of your body, it won't matter how warm your gloves are (unless they are heated) your fingers will become cold due to vascular constriction.
Durability and longevity are always hard to test. We measured this not only during our own use, punishing these products over hundreds of days during the past two seasons but also from valuable input from dozens of other users and OutdoorGearLab friends. Durability isn't just how long until your gloves get a hole in them, but also how long the waterproofing lasts and how the stitching holds up. Gloves with goatskin leather palms held up much better than gloves with synthetic palms.
Features and Ease of Use
Due to a variety of use cases ranging from shoveling snow in the driveway to climbing the tallest peak on the continent, each person looks for different features in a glove. As a whole, most gloves had similar features that worked at achieving the same goals, such as how they kept snow out and how easy they were to tighten and loosen, wrist leashes (a.k.a. idiot/keeper leashes) and a nose/goggle wipe on the thumb. Keeper cords are probably the feature that most people love or hate. To some, they seem like a useless piece of cord that will get in the way, and to others, they wouldn't buy a glove without the ability to take it off without holding it. (From having worked at a ski resort, I can bet you would be amazed at how many gloves are found every spring under chairlifts.) We also compared features like nose wipes and how easy they were to take on and off. Some features like enlarged pull tabs and exaggerated cinch buckles made operating the gloves easier but add to the bulk and weight when you go to pack them away. As with all things, there is always a trade-off.
A feature that most people desire nowadays is touchscreen capability. This allows you to use your phone while the wind is blowing and the temps are low, without exposing your bare hand to the elements. Each glove that offers touchscreen capability has a varying level of effectiveness and is covered in the reviews.