How to choose ski or snowboard gloves and mittens
Snow gloves or mittens are a hugely important part of your ski or snowboard gear. They’re there to protect your hands from the cold, wet, wind, snow and ice – keeping you warm and dry and preventing you from suffering harmful conditions like frostbite.
Of course, you’re not always skiing or snowboarding in extreme conditions – often you’re riding in relatively warm, dry conditions, or doing high intensity activities like touring. You might only want a glove that protects you against light winds and damage from falling over, but otherwise lets your hands breathe, remaining pleasantly warm and dry.
So, which glove do you choose? Which mitt might be right for you? There are a massive variety on offer – different styles and materials – it can be difficult to choose the best snow glove to buy. But don’t worry – we’ve got you covered! This ski and snowboard glove and mitten buyer’s guide will help you to explore the range and know what to look out for, so you can make the right choice.
Here’s what we’ll look at…
Glove and Mitten Tech Guide
- Synthetic Loft
• Cuff Length
Types of Glove and Mitten Shell
• Synthetic Waterproof Fabric
• Synthetic Waterproof Membrane
• Wind-resistant Synthetic Fabric
Styles of Glove and Mitten Available
• Park/Pipe Glove
• Insulated Glove
• Under Glove/Mitten
• Gauntlet Glove/Mitten
Snow Glove and Mitten Sizing
Snow Glove and Mitten Features
Okay, now you that know how it all breaks down, let’s get started.
Glove and Mitten Tech Guide
There’s a fair amount of technology that goes into making a pair of gloves or mittens these days. All of it will have an impact into how the glove performs in the different snow conditions you find yourself in out on the mountain. In this section we’ll look at the five main characteristics that we describe when we talk about gloves, and the technology associated with each, so you know how they will affect performance in real life.
In cold or extreme conditions, one of the main things you want your gloves to do is to keep your hands dry. Wet hands will lose heat quickly in cold and/or windy conditions, so if you can stop water from the environment – snow, ice and rain – from penetrating your gloves you’ll feel far warmer, drier and more comfortable.
Waterproofing is usually taken care of by the fabric or membrane that the outer shell of your gloves is made of. It’ll be measured in millimetres – the height that a column of water would need to be in order to penetrate the fabric. The larger the rating, in mm, the more waterproof the fabric or membrane.
Leather is commonly used as an outer shell for gloves too. It’s warm and naturally water resistant, but not fully waterproof unless treated with a resin, wax or some sort of grease.
For most weather and snow conditions, you should be looking for your gloves to be as waterproof as possible. When thinking about waterproofness though, you should also consider breathability, as different types of waterproof fabric will have different levels of breathability. More technical and expensive membrane fabrics like Gore-Tex tend to be more breathable than cheaper coated fabrics.
Your hands are one of the sweatiest parts of your body so they naturally release a lot of water vapour, particularly when you exercise. There’s no point in keeping all that water from getting in to your gloves from outside, if you’re not going to let the sweaty water vapour out from inside your gloves or mittens. This is where breathability comes in – it’s the ability of your glove material to let water vapour pass out.
Breathability is usually measured in grams – the number of grams or water vapour that can pass through a square metre of fabric in 24hrs, to be precise. The higher the number, the more breathable the fabric will be.
Waterproof fabrics and membranes have to have pores small enough to stop liquid water, so they’re always going to be less breathable than non-waterproof fabrics. So, if you’re going to be doing high intensity, sweaty exercise, and the weather is mainly warm or dry, you might want to consider a super-breathable glove over a waterproof one.
Leather isn’t breathable as such, but combined with microporous membranes and special liners, it can do an effective job of venting moisture in most conditions.
The other main job your glove has to do is to keep your hand warm. As well as by keeping your hand dry, your glove should also keep it warm by insulating it – trapping pockets of warm air next to your skin and keeping the natural heat of your hand from escaping.
You can add a snug fitting base layer – or additional liner – under your glove to help trap warmth, but in most gloves there are layers of insulation between the liner of your glove and the outer shell. That insulation can take a few different forms, and each has its pros and cons. Here are the main kinds.
Natural down comes from birds, like ducks – it’s like a refined version of what you’ll find in feather pillows and duvets. Mother nature has really nailed the design of down, because it can’t be touched by man-made fabrics in terms of the amount of warmth it can provide by weight and bulk.
However, while it is an excellent natural insulator, it has its drawbacks. Mainly that it loses all its insulating properties when it’s wet – so keeping down dry is essential. Given how your hands are generally picking things up, pushing into the wet snow when you fall and sweating – down isn’t always the best insulation for gloves unless conditions are extremely cold and dry.
Synthetic insulation works in a similar way to down, by using man-made fibres contained between two layers of fabric to trap warm air in pockets. Sometimes these fibres might be made to mimic down, in feather-like structures, or manufacturers can use the fibre in lots of flat layers instead.
However it’s constructed, synthetic insulation is usually cheaper and more cost-effective than down. It also doesn’t mind getting wet, so can be much better suited to use in things like gloves, where contact with water is likely. On the downside, it needs to be heavier and bulkier to provide the same level of warmth as down.
For times when you need less insulation, fleece can provide a lighter, more streamlined option. Often used in glove liners, technical fleeces like Polartec Powerstretch are woven in a certain way to trap warm air next to the skin. They’re very breathable and can also wick moisture away from the skin like a base layer – keeping your hands dry.
A good pair of fleece liners, can often be worn on their own in warmer or drier conditions, or for periods of intense exercise like touring. When combined with a waterproof and windproof outer shell, they can be a useful layer to have.
The lining of the glove is there for your warmth and comfort. It should feel pleasant and comfortable to the skin – separating your hand from the outer shell and insulation. It should also be relatively snug fitting, to wick sweaty water away from your skin, where it can evaporate and escape.
Like the extra separate glove liners that you can buy separately, your fitted glove lining will commonly be made of a lightweight, warm and wicking fabric like a synthetic base layer, silk, merino or fleece.
The length of the cuff is one of the main differences in shape that you need to consider when choosing a snow glove or mitten. It’s largely down to personal preference which one you choose, but you should consider the jacket you’ll be wearing and how the two will fit together.
Shorter cuffs are designed to sit under the jacket cuff, with the jacket cuff providing most of the protection from wind and snow getting up your sleeve. Longer cuffs are designed to cover the jacket cuff, providing extra protection from snow and wind moving up the sleeve.
Think about the style of cuff on both jacket and glove – you’ll want to make sure that one or both can be adjusted, drawn or cinched, to stop cold air and snow getting in there, especially when you fall.
Types of Outer Shell
Leather has been used in glove and mitten manufacture for centuries. It’s very warm, can be softer and more supple than synthetics, and it’s incredibly hard wearing when cared for properly. It’s not waterproof on its own, but when treated with a wax, resin or similar, it can perform very well. If regularly waxed or re-treated, a set of leather gloves can last a lifetime.
While leather isn’t a breathable fabric, good technical leather gloves and mitts are often combined with waterproof membranes, wicking thermal liners and venting to perform well in all but the most high-intensity activities.
Synthetic Waterproof Material
Synthetic waterproof materials take a basic synthetic fabric like nylon and add a coating of expanded polytetrafluoroethylene, or polyurethane, to form a waterproof porous layer that keeps liquid water out while allowing sweaty water vapour to escape.
They’re cheaper to produce than more expensive membranes, but not as hard wearing or breathable.
Synthetic Waterproof Membrane
Synthetic membranes are very thin, microporous plastic membranes that are extremely effective at breathing out sweat as water vapour while stopping liquid water from penetrating. They’re usually applied to the back of a synthetic fabric, which protects the membrane from abrasion. An extra layer of fabric is sometimes applied to the inner wall of the membrane for added durability.
Membranes, like Gore-Tex, tend to be more pricey than coated fabrics, but they’re more breathable and harder wearing. This added breathability and resistance to abrasion can be a massive bonus in gloves – given that your hands are constantly touching, holding, and rubbing against things, while sweating the whole time.
Wind-Resistant Synthetic Fabric
If conditions are very cold and dry, and/or you’re doing a lot of high intensity exercise, then you may favour a more breathable, snow-proof and wind-resistant synthetic shell. Without having to worry about being waterproof, wind-resistant fabrics can be much more breathable.
Neoprene is a textile-backed synthetic rubber that’s commonly used to make wetsuits. Used in gloves, it’s generally lightly weather-resistant, breathable, and can provide a level of insulation.
It’s favoured for its comfort and stretch, but it’s not very effective at keeping you warm or keeping the weather out, so it’s generally only used in park/pipe gloves – intended for warm and pleasant conditions.
Styles of Glove and Mitten
Park or Pipe Gloves, were designed for those warm spring days of high-intensity exercise – hiking up the side of the half pipe. As you might expect then, they’re only designed to provide the bare minimum of protection from the elements, so they won’t perform well on cold winter days or in extreme conditions.
Instead, they’ll excel in warm conditions where you want a low-profile glove to give your hand some protection if you fall, with plenty of grip to carry your skis or grab your board when you’re messing around in the park.
Insulated gloves are designed to keep your hands warm and dry while giving you the freedom and control to move and use all of your fingers. They’re usually constructed of a weather-proof outer shell, an insulated central layer and a comfortable, moisture-wicking inner liner.
When conditions are cold, wet, icy, windy and extreme, a set of insulated gloves are what you need. The level of insulation, waterproofing and breathability that you need will depend on the conditions and intensity of activity that you’re doing. Colder conditions – more insulation. High activity – more breathability. Wetter snow – more waterproofing.
Remember that you can always add extra warmth with a set of glove liners, so most of the time, a glove with a moderate level of insulation will be fine.
Mittens work pretty much the same as the insulated gloves described above. They’re there to keep the elements out and the warmth in. The added benefit of mittens is that by keeping your fingers together in one central chamber they can keep you even warmer.
A lot of people swear by them, particularly if you’re someone who feels the cold easily, but you should remember that you won’t have the same flexibility and dexterity that you would have with a set of gloves – where your fingers are all free to move independently. This means that you might have to take them off to fasten your binding or do up your zipper.
An under glove or under mitten is a lower-profile design with a shorter cuff that’s designed to sit inside the cuff of your jacket. It’s often down to personal preference whether you choose this or a gauntlet design, but you should consider how the cuff of your jacket will fit with the glove to make sure that you stop cold air and snow from making its way up your sleeve or into your glove.
A gauntlet-style snow mitten or glove has a longer, wider cuff that’s designed to enclose the cuff of your jacket and do the main job of stopping snow and cold air from getting into your sleeve. Again, you’re free to decide if a gauntlet works best for you, but the cuff deign of your jacket should have an influence of your decision.
Liner gloves aren’t usually intended to be used on their own – they’re there mainly to provide an additional tight-fitting insulating layer underneath your main glove or mitten. They trap warm air next to your skin, wick moisture away, and generally add to your warmth and comfort.
Sometimes you can use them on your own, if you’re not going to get them wet, and you only need a light layer of insulation. Perhaps if you need to do something fiddly, you take your main gloves off and your liners will slow the rate at which your fingers get cold. Quite often they’ll come with added grips to help with just these situations.
Liners are often made from the same stuff as insulating base layers that you’d wear on your torso or legs…
Synthetic liners are very warm, wicking, breathable, and hug closely to the form of your fingers. They’re also relatively cheap to produce and buy, which makes them great value. Fleece liners will add even more insulation.
Merino is warmer than many synthetic fabrics, but it’s not quite as good at wicking away moisture, so better for when conditions are really cold and you’re doing less strenuous exercise.
Merino is more expensive than synthetics, but does have the added benefit of being resistant to smells developing when bacteria start to act on the sweat from your hands. This means that your gloves will stay fresher for longer.
Silk isn’t as commonly used in other thermal layers due to the cost, but it is a very lightweight and effective natural wicking insulator, so it’s great for making glove or mitten liners.
Choosing the right size of gloves or mittens
Each manufacturer will size their gloves slightly differently, so make sure you check the individual size chart for that brand or product. Usually, they’ll measure the circumference of your hand around its widest part, just behind your knuckles. Each size of glove will cater for a given range of hand circumferences.
Making sure they fit
Wearing gloves that are the right size is really important to your warmth and comfort over the course of a day. You need gloves that are large enough to allow your blood to flow freely in your hands without being so big that they make it difficult to pick up and hold things, and use your hands in general.
Start by inserting your hands into the gloves – your palm should be fully inside the glove with the cuff around your wrist. Flex your wrist around, back and forth, side to side – the cuff of the glove should stay nicely in place around your wrist.
Your gloves shouldn’t pinch and your fingers should not be pressed up hard against the end of the glove. You need to have a comfortable level of slack so that you don’t restrict the blood flow and cool your hands down. If you think you may want to use extra liners, make sure you’ve got space to accommodate them too.
Ultimately, you should still be able to hold, grab, pinch and move things around while wearing your gloves. If they’re too big, they’ll get frustrating over time and you’ll end up taking them off in order to do things – leading to cold, unhappy fingers.
Snow Glove and Mitten Features
Usually taken care of with a draw string or straps, Adjustable cuffs help you to clamp down onto your wrist or jacket, stopping snow and cold air from being able to get into either your glove or your sleeve.
Straight fingers in gloves can be difficult to bend. To combat this, manufacturers will engineer the joint area of fingers to make the glove more ergonomic and easier to grasp and hold things.
A flat piece of rubber like a squeegee that you’ d use to clean your car window. Ideal for cleaning water, snow or ice that’s got stuck to your goggle lens.
Cold-weather gloves and mittens sometimes come with a fleece lining for added warmth.
Some gloves have a soft bit of fabric, somewhere around the back of your thumb, that’s ideal for wiping your nose on when it’s cold and running.
Whether you’re a ski racer, clattering through slalom poles, or a backcountry snowboarder picking your way through a tree line, there’s a good chance your hands will take a battering – so a bit of protective padding in and around your knuckles can sometimes be a godsend.
Particularly if they’re not made of a very breathable fabric, you might find gloves that offer venting. Quite often you can open or close it with a zipper or similar, or it’ll be covered by mesh to protect the opening.
Wrist Loops or Leashes
We’ve all been there – you take off your glove to send a message on the chairlift and all of a sudden it’s slipped off your lap, never to be seen again. Wrist loops or leashes attach the gloves to your wrists so you should never accidentally drop them again.
If you find that your hands get cold easily, you get a lot of pain with it, and you notice the tips of your fingers turning obviously white or blue – you might be a sufferer of Raynaud’s Disease.
Raynaud’s is a really common condition that affects the blood vessels in your body’s extremities – your hands and feet. When they experience cold, the small blood vessels quickly go into spasm, cutting off the blood flow, causing pain, numbness, tingling and throbbing.
It can be really unpleasant and puts a lot of people off going out in cold conditions. It’s certainly something we get asked about quite often by customers looking for the best gloves that they can find.
While there are some medicinal treatments available for severe cases, most of the time you can minimize the chances of getting an attack, or stop it getting in the way of your fun, by following some simple steps.
Layer up your whole body
If you keep your core warm, it’ll have a big positive effect on your extremities. Wear good quality thermals on your torso and legs, mid layers, good outer layers and a warm hat. Just because Raynaud’s affects your hands, doesn’t mean you should focus on gloves and forget about your core.
Layer up your hands too
The layering doesn’t need to stop with your body – buy a good set of insulating liners to wear inside your gloves. You’ll even find glove systems that feature a liner, insulated mid-layer glove and outer shell mitten, to trap as much warm air as possible.
Choose a main pair of gloves that has a good quality insulating layer. Consider spending a bit more on natural down for an unbeatable warmth to bulk ratio. Just remember not to get it wet.
Insert a little extra help
There are loads of disposable and reusable hand-warmers on the market. Some will slip nicely inside a set of gloves or mittens to give you a bit of additional heat. There are actually heated gloves out there on the market if you want to go super-tech too.
Eat well, stay calm and don’t smoke
Having a good diet, avoiding stress and kicking the fags will help you to avoid an attack of Raynaud’s in the first place.
For more info about the condition, check out Scleroderma and Raynaud’s UK.
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