It’s the middle of winter and you know the early morning chairlift rides are going to feel pretty brisk. You also know what freezing cold fingers feel like and that your hand-warmer packets aren’t going to start working for a while. With so many brands and types of hand wear on the market right now how can you be sure you are getting the mittens or gloves that will suit your needs and match your expectations? Snowboarding mittens and gloves that are designed to handle cold temps are comprised of a number of different materials. Let’s have a closer look.
The inner liner is usually made some type of moisture wicking material such as fleece, merino wool or some type of synthetic layer. The idea is to quickly transfer moisture from your hand to the outside of the where it will evaporate. Nothing will freeze your hands faster than wetness, so keeping them dry is paramount when the weather is cold.
Insulation and Membrane
The insulation is in the middle section of the glove or mitten and is usually contained inside a waterproof and breathable membrane such as Gore-Tex or eVent. The insulation is there to prevent your body heat from escaping by trapping it within the handwear. There are several different types of insulation to choose from.
- Down is very warm, compactable and lightweight, but it does not insulate well if it gets wet. Down is best for cold and dry climates.
- Primaloft is also warm but not as compactable and light as down. The big benefit of it is that it insulates when wet. Primaloft is best for all climates but especially cold and wet ones.
- Thinsulate is insulation akin to Primaloft but is much less bulky, making it a great option for people who require optimal nimbleness with their fingers. It’s a good choice for warmer climates where less bulky insulation is an asset.
The membrane prevents water droplets from entering the glove while allowing water vapor to escape. It is encases the insulation and this is critical to keeping your hands dry and consequently warm. Both Gore-Tex and eVent are well known membrane materials and both perform very well for keeping your hands dry and warm. There are also other brands that perform very well depending on their waterproof/breathable rating.
The shell is the outer layer of the mitten or glove and can be made from leather, a synthetic material, or a combination of the two. Leather breathes and allows moisture to escape from your glove. It is also supple which allows for added dexterity of the mitten or glove and it is really tough and durable. Leather gloves and mittens need to be treated from time to time with Nikwax or a similar product to maintain their waterproofness and breathability.
Synthetic shells tend to be less expensive but do not always have the same level of durability as leather. Often leather is used to reinforce the glove or mitten and the synthetic is used in the areas that are not as prone to stress and wear. Synthetics can come in hard shell or soft shell and are often treated with a waterproof product such as DWR, which will need to be reapplied periodically. Hard shells offer better protection from the elements while soft shells offer greater dexterity and breathability.
Gloves vs. Mittens
In general, mittens tend to be warmer than gloves because your entire hand is in one enclosure generating heat that all of your fingers can share. Gloves have open spaces between your fingers exposing more surface area to the cold. That said, the amount of insulation and the quality of the liner and shell can make a glove as warm as mitten, especially if you are wearing a liner glove.
Liners are thin gloves that can come with the mitten or glove, or you can purchase separately. They add an extra layer of insulation and do not need any maintenance other than a washing periodically. They can be made of a variety of materials including wool, fleece, or other synthetics.
Some companies make “lobster claw”, or “trigger” mittens where the forefinger is separate from the rest of the glove. This gives the rider added freedom of movement while the rest of the hand is still benefitting from the mitten-like warmth.
Another company makes what’s called the Handbag mitten that comes with a Hipora liner that is worm over the shell. This gives the mitten added wind protection and waterproofness. There are also mittens that allow you to pull back the shell exposing your fingers. You can perform all sorts of tasks like work your phone, get at small zippers, make adjustments to your apparel and gear while still wearing a mitten!
Another component to gloves and mittens are cuffs. Longer cuffs tend to keep the snow out better and can fit over the sleeve of your jacket. Short cuffs can be fastened by a Velcro band around the wrist and fit under the sleeve. They offer more freedom of movement than longer cuffs. You may find other features like protective padding, pre-curved fingers (easier to grip stuff), wipers, and scrapers to clear rain and ice from your goggle lens and zippers for inserting handwarmers.
The glove or mitten should fit snuggly against all parts of your hand but should not bind or pinch in any area. When trying on handwear, make a fist, if you feel any pinching or restrictiveness around your fingers or wrists then it is probably too small. Likewise, if there is excessive space at your fingertips or if it feels loose then it is probably too large.
Think about the climate you normally snowboard in when buying snowboard gloves and mittens, and match that to the amount of insulation, type of shell and waterproof/breathability of the glove or mitten to that climate. Ask your local snowboard shop for help in picking out a pair that will serve you well.