Even though the winter in Southern Finland is late, it seems to be arriving as there has been snow on the ground for couple of days now. Keeping your fingers protected and working in winter is very important, and also very challenging at times so I thought it would be a good time for a post about gloves and glove systems for winter use.
Part of my collection. How many gloves does one need anyway?
In this post I go through the different gloves and mitts that I use (mostly) in winter. The perspective is that of a longer (multiday) trips but the same kit of course works also for shorter endeavours. And for daytrips you have the advantage of checking the weather before walking out from the door and picking just the perfect handwear for the need.
Midweight fleece gloves
BlackDiamond Midweight gloves and Halti Peel gloves.
Midweight fleece gloves are very useful! I’ve used several different models and at the moment I’m using Black Diamond Midweight gloves. The thickness of Polartec Power Stretch used is good for me and the leather palm makes them a lot more durable than fleece gloves without one. These are usually enough for me down to -5C in windless conditions and if it’s cold enough I use them as liners under thick mittens. They are thin and close-fitting enough to be quite agile. They also dry relatively fast and are surprisingly warm even when soaking wet. (I had a little accident while skiing on slushy lake ice.) Almost all fleece gloves work just as well as any other but the leather palm is very good for skiing as the straps on poles cause extra wear on gloves and simple fleece gloves develop holes already in one season. The down side is that the leather is slow to dry. To make the Midweights even better I wouldn’t mind some grippy stuff on finger tips and a different cuff construction. The best cuff thus far has been on Halti Peel gloves: a double layer of thin microfleece and no elastics. They keep the wrist warm, are easy to put on and take off and easy to stuff under jacket sleeves. For a long trip I might take another pair of simple fleece gloves as backup. (For example I had two pairs with me in Svalbard.)
The new Berghaus Extreme Hardshell Gloves and the old Icefall Extrem XCR gloves.
Since the winter 2009-2010 the Berghaus Icefall Extrem XCR gloves have seen a lot of use. I bought them in a pinch for a ice climbing course as I didn’t have proper gloves and I made a good decision! The g loves have durable very leather palm, they are wind and water proof and surprisingly warm thanks to Primaloft insulation. If exercising these gloves are warm enough down to -25C or so. They are also surprisingly soft and agile (compared to some other hardshell gloves) and for example using a DSLR with them is quite possible. First I didn’t like the idea of handwear with thick insulation fixed inside some membrane but they stay quite dry in use and even if the outer gets really wet (for example from digging a snow cave) the glove still stays warm. These are worth a bit longer love story (i.e. review) with some specifications but there’s nothing I’d change in these gloves. Well, a detachable nose-wipe would be nice.
The exact model is not available anymore but I was told be Berghaus that the follow-up model called Extreme Hardshell Gloves is similar. Well, I have a pair of those too and there are minor differences but overall they seem to be the same with some stylishing and wrist lanyards as stock feature. I can’t tell about the durability of the new model yet but I expect it to be good.
I’d also like to test some Arcteryx Alpha SV gloves as I’d like to find out if gloves worth over 200 euros could actually do all the skiing and climbing for you…
Bundeswehr surplus mitts, Outdoor Designs Summit mitts, Vaude Himalaya mitts and traditional leather work mitts
Mittens are the solution for the colder days of the winter. My primary mitts at the moment are Bundeswehr surplus mitts from Varusteleka. They have durable leather palm and thumb, polyester fabric on the back, pile lining and apparently some sort of membrane or VBR (vapor barrier) that keeps hands dry and warm. And they are also cheap. In Finnish army the similar mitts are called “noukkarit” which is derived from words “no can do”, and you can’t do much with these but they are warm. The mitts themselves are not warm enough for really cold but mine are well oversized (size 10) and I can fit a thick wool mitten or fleece gloves under them and I’ve used them happily in temps below -30C. If really soaked these mittens don’t dry too fast so keeping them dry is important but it’s relatively easy in times these are needed.
Sometimes I wear a pair of traditional wool mittens on their own but usually I wear them in colder temperatures under the surplus mittens. Wool mittens feel nice and stay warm even if wet. Homemade would of course be nice but for maximum warmth I use a thick felted Vaude Himalaya Mittens. Not agile but warm. And because they are boiled they are a bit wind and water resistant. These could have a bit roomier cuff but luckily you can stretch them. Size 10 fits under the surplus mitts and can even fit a very thin liner glove under them. In my experience nice loose fit adds warmth.
I also have a pair of unlined hardshell mitts. Mine are few yer old Outdoor Designs Summit Mitts. They are quite beefy with bunch of features but they haven’t seen much use. I’ve carried them with me on some summer hikes (too heavy for that) and winter trips (didn’t fit the system) but haven’t really used them much. But there is one thing that they are very good for: building snow shelters. While digging a snow cave or carving a quenzee your gloves will get wet and if I plan to build snow shelters, I usually take the shell mitts with me and wear them over the fleece gloves to keep my handwear dry.
Occasionally I use a pair of typical Finnish leather work mitts. They are relatively warm (pile lined), very durable and cheap (6 euro per pair or so). I use them on trips were I play a lot with fire or if I’m working but usually I don’t take them for long trips. I have also a pair of nice waterproof down mitts from Nahanny but with my limited experience I don’t like them. They feel a bit fragile and don’t feel especially warm if gripping cold metal things (say an iceaxe). They would benefit from some pile lining and maybe a leather palm. Of course the warmth/weight ratio of down mitts is a lot better than with the surplus mittens + wool mittens combo. I just happen to like the latter more.
In very cold conditions many arctic travellers use special over mittens often called “tuherot” in Finnish. These are big bags that cover the hand and the end of a skiing pole (similar than ones used by bikers in winter or kayakers in cold environments). So no thumb or anything but a bigger hole for hand and a smaller hole for the skiing pole. (Click to see Poppis Suomela’s polar bear “tuherot” in use.) The idea is to provide a warm and protected environment for the hand without the need to wear bulky mittens, a thin liner glove should be enough. I made a pile-lined pair from Goretex but never found them fitting my style. But for someone doing a skiing trip in very cold environment, they are worth checking out. Maybe I’ll do another iteration with the design and give them another try…
I’d be also very interested in testing the RBH Designs handwear but those are sickeningly expensive so I have to pass the wish. And I might also buy a pair of heavy duty long-cuffed pile-lined leather mittens (or maybe something really insane like these?) for the upcoming internship period as I’ll be doing quite a lot of manual labour, be working with dogs and the temps can plummet below -40C.
Keeping the handwear dry
Keeping gloves dry is very important and can be very hard on the long run. If it’s really cold the moisture comes only from perspiration and is quite manageable but if you are for example building a snow shelter you might get the gloves soaked from the outside. For a shorter trips you might decide to bring several pairs of gloves and just change into dry pair and not bother with drying at all but this doesn’t work for long trips.
Pic not related to keeping handwear dry, but shoving wear on Halti Peel gloves after one season's use.
Thin gloves can be quite easily dried with body heat inside a shell jacket (or pants) and I’ve even managed to get soaked Berghaus Goretex gloves relatively dry under a shell but that was quite miserable thing to do. Small hot water bottles (0,5 liter Nalgenes) might help – at least they do wonders with boots. You can also dry gloves with body heat in a sleeping bag but that risks the sleeping bag as moisture will freeze in the insulation. It might be okay on shorter trips or if you can dry the sleeping bag occasionally (good weather in spring time or warm huts). Fire is of course a good way to dry wet things but with synthetic gloves and mittens you have to be carefull. I saw some smoking handwear on the guide schools safety management outing and burning your warm handwear in winter is a bad idea! So with fire, practise patience. A good way to dry gloves and similar small things is on the clothes line of tent heated up with stoves. This is the way I do my longer winter trips and even though it’s heavy, in my opinion it’s the way to go if you want to do really long winter trips without making fires. (There are places where trees don’t grow…)
The system for longer winter trips
As a summary the system I use for longer winter trips with temps varying from 0C down to -40C consists of:
- a pair (or two) of midweight fleece gloves,
- a pair of warm hardshell gloves and
- a pair of pile-lined surplus mitts lined with additional pair of wool mittens (left home if temps are expected to be warm).
- Occasionally unlined shell mitts for building snow shelters.
This setup covers all typical winter conditions that I’ve met in Finland and also gives some slack in case some of the handwear would accidentally get wet or lost. The biggest problem would be loosing the warm mitten combo in very cold weather but then I would probably use shell gloves topped with my extra woollen socks and some stuff sacks. And to prevent loosing handwear I’ve equipped all but the fleece gloves with lanyards so I can dummycord the handwear to my wrists.
And as mentioned above, keeping the handwear dry is important. For example I store my fleece gloves under shell next to body if not using them to keep them dry and warm and during the night I keep them in my sleeping bag (if it’s below -30C using gloves to open the zipper of the sleeping bag is good idea anyway). The Goretex gloves and mitts I dry in the tent after days use but they can also be dried with body heat if necessary.
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If you really liked the post, have something to add, have differing views or just want to, please leave a comment and share your winter handwear system with others!