As winter starts to make it’s presence felt on the high fells there is one clothing question I get asked more than any other; “What gloves do you recommend?”
Just like any of my top tips or gear reviews I’m only going to write about items and systems that I’ve actual first hand experience of, other systems and products are available. That said I’ve been at this a long time – I’ve had cold hands, I’ve had wet hands – but I now think I have this as mastered as its likely to get.
In summer it probably is as easy as recommending a single pair of gloves; for me that would be Rab Powerstretch Contact Glove – but really any windproof thin glove with sticky fingers and preferably leather tips will work. I’ll usually have these in a dry bag in my sack should it get a bit cold.
But…they’re not waterproof – and they won’t deal with serious cold.
So next I looked at waterproof gloves – and quite quickly discovered that (in my experience) there’s nearly no such thing, they all fail in use, some more quickly than others. Now I know that probably some are technically waterproof in lab tests – but in actual use on the hill non of the half dozen or so pairs I’ve tried to spend a working day wearing have actually kept me dry. In fact my Sealskinz All Season gloves are often so water logged that they need to go in a spin cycle before drying – yet I still carry them. Whilst they’re near impossible to get on if your hands are wet* I find that in damp conditions these are the best gloves I own for dexterity and climbing – and they’re a fair bit warmer than the Rab ones. I also own a pair of Sealskinz Brecon gloves – these are slightly warmer but no more waterproof in actual use.
*thin silk liners can make a real difference to getting gloves on with wet hands.
I have however found one nearly waterproof solution – keep reading.
So what do I do in Winter?
I’ve reached the conclusion, like many before me, that you simply can’t have too many gloves with you if you’re going to play out in the winter. So you need a system.
I carry the Rabs in my softshell pocket – and I think of them that way. If I’m going to be climbing I’ll swap them for the All weather Sealskins (for technical winter climbing I’ll use Grivel Gloves with reinforced knuckles – but that might be a reflection of my clumsiness…), but I’ll still view them as softshell.
In my waterproof layer I’ll have the Sealskins Brecons paired with a silk liner as they’re close to impossible to get on otherwise with wet hands, but they seem marginally better at keeping me warmer.
But in the top of my sack I’ll have my most trusted go to gloves – Snow Shepherd Black Sheep Work Gloves – sometimes known as Chamonix Binmen Gloves. These are simply the best gloves I’ve ever had for oh so many reasons.
- They’re cheap. It’s pretty easy to spend over £100 on gloves – these retail at £27:00 – and that’s if you go for the fashion conscious black version… they are cheaper in the more traditional tan option.
- They’re exceptionally hardy – these are actually tougher than the original binmen gloves – Snow Shepherd are so confident of their ability that they offer a replacement guarantee if you can wear them out in a year.
- The synthetic wool inner makes them a doddle to get on with wet hands.
- They have a waterproof membrane – but being leather I also treat them with waterproofer.
- Being a natural material I’ve found I’ve been able to dry them out overnight in a sleeping bag when snowholing – something I’ve never managed with synthetic gloves.
Also along for the ride….
In my bag I’ll have a two sizes too big pair of old ski gloves – these are for client care. But I’ll also be carrying my secret weapon – a pair of North Face Himalaya Goretex overmits with a rough pile inner (Dachsteins would work just as well). I’ll pop these on if its seriously cold – or if I absolutely need to be dry – and if it’s really bad I may well pop them on over the already wet gloves as they’ll retain some additional insulation value. I call them my first aid gloves – but a pair of mittens is never a bad idea if you suffer from the cold, with less stitching they tend to stay dry longer.
So there you have it – in winter I’m usually carrying at least five pairs of gloves. If I know its going to be a wet activity I might even take another – I’ll often ‘sacrifice’ a pair for snow skills or snow-holing – so a dry bag to keep them in helps too!