Thursday, March 26, 2015

Gloves, Mittens, and Frostbite

I have a lot of gloves. Ten full pairs and three pairs of mittens. Welcome to the struggle against finger frostbite. Each pair fulfills a slightly different purpose, usually based on activity and temperature range.

Four of pairs of my gloves have some sort of leather on the palm and fingers for dexterous yet durable winter activities like mountaineering, or even shoveling snow. Each one has a different thickness for a different temperature range. It's hard to find a glove with more than a 20-30 degree Fahrenheit range. 

In order from thinnest on bottom to warmest on top is mountaineering/skiing on the left and running/camping/miscellaneous on the right.
My Gloves and Mittens
Naming them off first the mountaineering gloves. Black Diamond Scree, a great glove at warmer temperatures, breathable and tough. This has become my go to work glove for skiing or mountaineering when the temperature is above 20°F. REI One, maybe One Element glove, they don't make it anymore but another great glove. I wore this pair to 23,000 feet on Broad Peak in Pakistan and my mom even shortened the index fingers so they fit great. A nice durable soft shell with a thin leather palm and fingers. Outdoor Research Nuance, a woman's glove I bought used, that is also no longer made. It's a nice mildly beefy glove but below zero it usually lets my fingers freeze because the finger insulation is not great. I wore this glove to 21,000 feet on top of Mera Peak last spring after Everest. Valandre Oural down mittens I bought on sale way back in college maybe 2006. Warm, but tight around the wrist, they saw a lot of use in New Hampshire in the winter. Marmot Ultimate Ski glove I think? I bought it used at the Wilderness Exchange last winter specifically for Everest. Wow it's a warm glove. I have not had a chance to wear it and get cold fingers, not that I really want to. Two layers of thick leather and lots of insulation. Had Everest gone really well I could have seen myself wearing these on the summit, who knows I still could. Finally Outdoor Research Alti Mitt, the warmest mass produced mitten money can buy. I rarely wear these, even in subzero temperatures because they make my hands sweat, and I tend to have cold hands. This is a -20°F and below mitten. This is the 8000 meter summit mitten, most people use it. I assume I'll take them to the poles with me too someday. 

On the running side, thin Asics I rarely wear, thin Mizunos I wear all the time between like 30-45°F. Above 40°F running I usually don't wear a glove, but this Mizunos would be it. A pair of Black Diamonds with nice Polartec, but a terrible leather Palm that has distorted the whole glove and made it too tight, so I don't wear it often. Next up are the Saucony Nomads I wear all the time, it's a double layer thin fleece on the inside and a polyester spandex blend on the outside. I wear these things five months a year maybe five days a week when the temperatures are between 0°F and 35°F. Next is a pair of Manzellas, all fleece but a little too tight around the fingers so my fingers often get cold in these. Finally a pair of Peak Technology Gravity Mitt that my mom probably bought at Wal-Mart when I was in high school. Despite its lowly stature in a bin of name brand finger wear, it's a great mitten. I wear these things running when it's below 10°F, I also wear them shoveling and skiing. They have a fleece inner removable mitt then the outer mitt is a nylon/pvc vinyl canvas like material with Thermolite Plus fleece inside. It's a humble workhorse. I've had it for over a decade and it doesn't have a rip, and probably cost $15 when my mom bought it.

As a disclaimer, many of the gloves mentioned and linked to have changed since I bought them, so I do not guarantee that the glove you may buy actually matches the glove I have, and more importantly the performance of the glove I have. You could lose your fingers to frostbite.

Your experience may vary, gloves are a tricky part of the equipment for winter sports. I was asked recently to recommend a glove for a particular situation (0°F and below, in the mountaineering context), and I couldn't recommend one because I would probably bring 3-4 pairs of gloves/mittens for anything expecting 0°F and below.

If you want one pair of gloves/mittens for general purpose 15 to -15°F, which is a very common temperature range, go for a pair of insulated glove, with leather on the palm and fingers. If the temperature dips a little farther, your jacket probably has pockets to warm your fingers up between tasks. If it gets warmer, well, just carry a pair of thin gloves, they don't weight much but thin gloves when it's 25°F are much better than no gloves. You can't have it all with gloves and mittens.


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