Well-made winter gloves protect not only against the cold but also against wind and moisture that cause heat loss and lead to discomfort and eventually frostbite.
We spoke with Arctic Explorer Eric Larsen to get his opinion about glove design and found out that this article of clothing is tough even for the experts.
“I’ve spent my life searching for the perfect glove,” Larsen said. “A lot of glove characteristics preclude other ones.”
In super cold conditions, moisture management becomes increasingly important as even slight dampness can lead to dangerous loss of heat. In mild conditions, repelling moisture from the outside while allowing sweat to leave the body is also difficult, leading to compromises in glove design that allow for quick evaporation and minimal water repellency.
Materials: If you deconstruct a basic glove from the inside out, you’ll find: inner lining, insulating layer, and shell. Some gloves have fewer components (think a solid wool mitten) while others are more techy.
Larsen says he prefers synthetic insulation in a glove, which is generally the fastest drying and best wicking material available that will move sweat away from the skin. If the glove will be used in snow or rain, a waterproof and breathable outer shell layer is critical. Many great shell materials will provide this protection and are coupled with durable palm materials like leather.
Cuff: The cuff of a glove will prevent snow from entering from the wrist. Some insulation in the cuff will also enhance the warmth of the garment. Larsen says he prefers a taller cuff that is somewhat ridged and won’t bunch.
Design: Gloves and mittens come in a couple of styles. Removable insulation can be handy for drying gloves at night, however the insulation can be tough to re-install in some models and may inadvertently be removed when pulling a hand from the glove.
Liner gloves: These light extra layers add warmth to any pair of gloves with enough space to accommodate the added material. They are also handy in very cold weather if you must remove the main glove.
Fit: A glove needs to fit perfectly to function correctly. It should not constrict any area, which could lead to reduced blood flow and cold hands. It also cannot be too baggy or it will be hard to perform tasks while wearing the glove.
Dexterity: Larsen says it’s important to be able to do simple tasks, like zipping up a jacket, while wearing a glove. Otherwise you will be forced to remove them regularly which can be potentially dangerous in subzero environments.
Frank Kvietok, the director of advanced development at American Recreation and insulation expert, says the breathability of a glove is important particularly when they’ll be worn for long, multi-day outings.
“You can get away with poor breathability in day use. The game changes pretty dramatically if you need that system to dry out and be ready to go the next morning,” Kvietok said. “For overnight trips a highly breathable, layering system works best. If my hands aren’t in the snow or moisture I want my hands to breathe as best they can and will remove the shell layer.”