Gloves or Mittens

Gloves or MittensI have two tubs of gloves and mittens. Two. Remove the lid and peruse a variety of colors and sizes and thicknesses. Knit gloves. Fleece gloves. Down gloves. Wool gloves. Silk gloves. The same applies for mittens. And, we haven’t even touched upon the expedition mountaineering gloves of which there is also an array of choices.

Depending on the day … the activity … the perceived temperature, will determine which hand covering is pulled out of one of the two tubs. And yes, I have a preference for mittens but they are not always as practical as I prefer which requires a trade off and on as needed for the task at hand.

Rule Number 1 – Learn how to do everything you need to do while wearing your gloves or mittens. In the winter this is essential, even vital to maintaining the dexterity and functionality of your fingers and hands when temperatures and conditions are less than amicable. Doing everything includes setting up tents, opening water bottles, tearing the wrapper off a snack, zipping your jacket and tying your boots. Practice makes perfect with this skill set.

Rule Number 2 – Don’t skimp on the gloves. My winter rule in the backcountry is to carry no less than two pairs of gloves. The set you are wearing and the set you will wear if you lose the set you are wearing (I also have this same rule for hats). You may wonder why you would or could possibly lose a glove in the backcountry but that is akin to losing a sock in the laundry – they vanish.

Gloves and mittens both function to warm, and maintain the warmth, of hands. But each operates differently. For instance, gloves provide a better conveyance of movement with each finger receiving a separate space. This enhances mobility and functionality of task but the drawback is that there is no exchange of natural body heat to keep each finger warm and insulated. Mittens, on the other hand, benefit by permitting fingers to remain closer together allowing for an exchange of natural body created heat. Often though, during exercise, the hands will begin to sweat causing a buildup of moisture which dampens the mittens and reduces their insulating properties.

Rule Number 3 – Make your own glove decision. Every outdoor recreationalist determines which hand warming method is their preference – that penchant may change depending on the activity. When recreating, carrying and using a variety of gloves or mittens will help in determining what is most effective in preserving warmth for your recreational task.

What I use – on any winter backpacking trip I will have three pairs of gloves. The first, a lightweight set of silk liners. These are used both on their own and beneath a heavier pair of gloves or mittens as needed. Most often, these are the gloves I use during the day when active. The second, a mid-weight set of gloves with a fleece lining. These are generally used as the temperatures are cooling, when setting up or taking down my tent. The third, wool mittens. These are my happy hand warmers. Often, my silk liner gloves are used beneath when temperatures are quite cold so that in the event my dexterity is not as good as needed I can quickly remove the outer layer, complete a task and return the outer layer. Wool tends to stay warm when wet making the mittens invaluable when moisture is evident.

Making a decision on which hand warmer is best requires patience and practice. There exists no right answer for everyone, only a right fit for your needs. This fit can only be found by trying on and wearing gloves and mittens.

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2 thoughts on “Gloves or Mittens”

  1. I’ve recently become a devotee of the half-finger convertible mitten/glove, which gives me the option of having fingers free when the mitten part isn’t needed to keep them warm. I keep a light fleece pair in the day pack for fall hikes and use my heavier ones in winter. (That means, for me, when the air temp drops to zero or below!) Silk full-finger liners would work fine with either, and I still have the fine motor dexterity with those. A lot depends on how wet the snow is, too. I find it’s easier to keep my hands warm when the ambient temp is colder and I’m not having to deal with a wet wind or slushy snow.

    • Thanks for sharing Holly. We both like the silk full-finger liners which are just thick enough while also being just thin enough for multi uses. It takes time and patience to find a combination that works. Like clothing, layers seem to work better than just one pair.


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