How to Choose Ski Gloves

Ian Nicholson ripping knee deep pow on "the Easter Bunny" on Easter Sunday  Valdez  Ak.
Article By:
Ian Nicholson
Review Editor
OutdoorGearLab

Last Updated:
Friday

Gloves are often the only thing that keeps our hands warm on a frosty day. We demand a lot from them: we want them to be totally waterproof and warm but without being too bulky or cumbersome. So what are the best options for skiing and snowboarding? Below we help you sort it out. Also be sure to check out our Ski Gloves Review where we tested 13 of the top options head-to-head.

A few Notes on Selecting the Right Product



The Age Old Debate: Gloves or Mittens


We would regularly ski with a backpack full of ski gloves  switching them out every run or two. Even while touring in the backcountry  we did our best to put these gloves head-to-head  spinning them through the wringer.
We would regularly ski with a backpack full of ski gloves, switching them out every run or two. Even while touring in the backcountry, we did our best to put these gloves head-to-head, spinning them through the wringer.

Do we reach for the gloves that are known to offer more dexterity or do we prefer the mittens for their warmth? While those two generalizations are often true, our comparisons aren't quite that simple. The warmest gloves in our review, the Black Diamond Guide and the Hestra Army Leather Gore-Tex, are comparable and may even be marginally warmer than the lightest mittens we tested, The North Face Montana Mitt.

Important considerations when choose gloves or mittens (or both) are what types of tasks and activities you'll be attempting as well as for the length of time and in what temperatures. For example if you only ever-so-often have to take your mittens to do something small with your bear hand  it may not be a big deal. Photo Matt Hartman preforms a Compression test near Stevens Pass.
Important considerations when choose gloves or mittens (or both) are what types of tasks and activities you'll be attempting as well as for the length of time and in what temperatures. For example if you only ever-so-often have to take your mittens to do something small with your bear hand, it may not be a big deal. Photo Matt Hartman preforms a Compression test near Stevens Pass.

On the flip side, the Montana Mitt offers around the same dexterity as the super warm gloves that we referenced above; we found that this was a result of their thick, yet high quality insulation. For those that want the best of both worlds, the Hestra Army Leather 3-Finger Mitt features an independent index or "trigger finger", resulting in a hybrid option that is nearly as warm as most mittens and comes close in dexterity to several gloves.

Once you decide on a Mitten versus a Glove choose between a Gauntlet or a Cuff Length model is the obvious next decision. Is the ease and warmth of the Gauntlet more desirable or superior dexterity and storm worthiness most commonly associated with cuff-length models more important?
Once you decide on a Mitten versus a Glove choose between a Gauntlet or a Cuff Length model is the obvious next decision. Is the ease and warmth of the Gauntlet more desirable or superior dexterity and storm worthiness most commonly associated with cuff-length models more important?

Temperatures and Body Types


First question to ask: What range of temperatures do I ski in? Next: How easily do my hands get cold? Most people will have a hunch, even if they have never specifically considered their relative hand warmth before. Are you the type of person who is cold when everyone is hot or, conversely, hot when everyone is cold? Or do you run pretty average?

A little less than half of the models we tested have a temperature rating. This can be useful but any temperature rating should be considered a relative rating and taken with a grain of salt. This rating is helpful when comparing different gloves from one manufacturer, but because there is no universal standard for glove temperature ratings, once you start comparing models from different manufacturers against each other, all bets are off. It's one thing if there was a 30F temperature rating between gloves and you can confidently assume that one is warmer than another. However, once that number gets closer to 10F difference, there is no way to tell for sure by using just the rating. At that point its best to look at the amount and type and of insulation that a given glove has and use that to help best compare for warmth (see below for more information on insulation types).

Fit


Find the right fit and save hours of frustration added up over the course of several years of skiing or snowboarding. Contrary to popular belief, even different models from the same manufacturer won't necessarily be sized the same, have the same fit or even the same shape.

Things to Look for When Fitting Your Glove
  1. Your finger tips should be pretty close or just barely touching the ends of the glove. Like shoes, many people buy too big to get more width for their palm. Make sure the gloves fit well enough in the finger tips so that you can buckle your ski boots or snowboard bindings without having to remove them. A common theme is to have the fingers fit but maybe not the palm or vice versa. If this is the case, don't force the fit; it might be time to look elsewhere. There is a wide range of palm widths and finger lengths available between different models of manufacturers and also big differences in fit among models from the same manufacturer.
  1. You should be able to push down between your thumb and your index finger without too much inward pressure on the aforementioned appendages. If they are strongly pressured inward, this generally means it's too small. This is a great test when comparing two seemingly good fitting gloves.
  1. You should be able to perform a similar test between your index finger and your middle finger, although the result isn't quite as obvious as between the thumb and the index finger.
  1. Most all-leather or mostly-leather gloves have some break-in time; it's okay that they feel stiffer at first than you might like. Most goatskin leather options should feel pretty good once they stretch a noticeable amount and soften up significantly in 2-4 days, depending on the glove.

Good fitting gloves are key to performing everything from simple tasks to complex snow tests. Here Ian Nicholson airs it out preforming a Rutschblock test while teaching an AIARE Level 1 Avalanche course on Mt Rainier.
Good fitting gloves are key to performing everything from simple tasks to complex snow tests. Here Ian Nicholson airs it out preforming a Rutschblock test while teaching an AIARE Level 1 Avalanche course on Mt Rainier.

Construction and Materials


Insulation Types


All the models we tested used some form of insulation to help keep your hands warm. Ski and snowboard gloves typically either use a synthetic fill insulation, a more traditional fleece or wool insulation or some combination of the any of these. While some of these insulation's are warmer for their weight and more efficient than others, it's mainly about the volume of insulation. We found PrimaLoft to be better performing than other various materials, but you would still find a glove warmer that has 150g of something proprietary over 100g of PrimaLoft.

Insulation Types


PrimaLoft was the warmest and highest performing insulation by weight. Our second favorite was EnduroLoft, which is Outdoor Research's proprietary insulation — comparable to Primaloft but not quite as warm nor as quick drying. There are several other independent or proprietary synthetic materials that fared well, such as Quallo Fill, Thermal.Q and Micro Temp. Remember, many producers label how much insulation, which is more important than insulation type when it comes to level of warmth.

In the fleece insulation department, our top pick is the Hi-loft Polartec Wind Pro fleece. The Hi-Loft Wind Pro Fleece is denser than most other fleece on the market; it proved longer lasting and warmer. We think it dried quickly but maybe not quite as fast as some other traditional fleece. Some use traditional fleece as a stand-alone insulation or sometimes in conjunction with a synthetic insulation like PrimaLoft. Fleece feels "cozier" than most synthetics and warms up quickly. Fleece isn't quite as warm, gram for gram, but isn't far off. As with synthetic fabrics, most manufacturers label the weight of fleece they put in their gloves (100g, 150g, 200g etc).

Comparing the three removable liners of the Black Diamond Guide glove  the Hestra Heli Glove and the Arc'teryx Alpha SV glove.
Comparing the three removable liners of the Black Diamond Guide glove, the Hestra Heli Glove and the Arc'teryx Alpha SV glove.


Double Gloves vs. Single Gloves


Double-layer notes an outer shell and a separate and removable inner insulated liner. The advantage to double models is they are often but not always warmer. In our review almost all the double gloves are warmer than almost all the singles. If you ski or snowboard in the Northeast, Upper Mountain West or anywhere it's really cold (or your hands just get cold easily), get double layer gloves. Another advantage of double layer: because the liner and the shell can be separated, they dry quicker.

Single glove construction puts the insulation and the shell of the glove in one piece. Single gloves often have better dexterity and are easier to take on and off.

Gauntlet vs. Under the Cuff


Gauntlet gloves have enough fabric to extend on the outside beyond the cuff of your jacket. This style is easier and quicker to put on and take off because you don't have to try to tuck your glove into your sleeve. While not a big deal in sunnier or colder, drier snow climates, in really wet storms snow and water can run down your jacket and into your glove — a big bummer. This is where under the cuff style comes in. Under the cuff style gloves go under the cuff/sleeve of your jacket. They take a little more work to get on, but during wetter conditions they help your hands stay drier because water doesn't run down your sleeve and into your glove. Gauntlet style gloves tend to be warmer because they can have more insulation, especially further down in the glove because there isn't a restriction on how low the volume the wrist area of the glove must be so you can pull the jacket over it.

The Hestra Heli (left) is a gauntlet style glove  the Outdoor Research Magnate (right) is an under the cuff style glove.
The Hestra Heli (left) is a gauntlet style glove, the Outdoor Research Magnate (right) is an under the cuff style glove.


Gauntlet vs. Cuff Length


Gauntlet Style: These models feature a much longer cuff that extends past the wearer's wrist to their lower forearm. Gauntlet style gloves are typically easier and quicker to put on because they do not require tucking your glove in or pulling your jacket sleeve over the cuff. Gauntlet gloves are generally warmer and offer decent protection from the elements; however, if you're skiing in wet snow or rain, water can end up running down your sleeves and into your gloves. In drier snow, this is almost never a problem, as nearly all gauntlet gloves feature a cinch-system that is effective enough to keep snow out.

Dallas Glass seals himself in while descending the Slot Couloir on Mt. Snoqualmie in a pair of Outdoor Research Mute Sensor Gloves.
Dallas Glass seals himself in while descending the Slot Couloir on Mt. Snoqualmie in a pair of Outdoor Research Mute Sensor Gloves.

Cuff Length: Cuff length models are exactly that, gloves whose length extends to around the wearer's wrist (or cuff). During stormier conditions, it's important to tuck your jacket over the tops of the wrist of your gloves; this takes a little extra effort, but ensures that water won't run down your sleeves and into your gloves. Cuff length gloves are typically more dexterous and often not quite as warm (though this is not always the case).

Below we describe the specific criteria by which we evaluated each contender and compare our findings of specific models and how they stacked up against each other. Photo Colin Zacharias drops in off Alta Vista in Mt. Rainier National Park.
Below we describe the specific criteria by which we evaluated each contender and compare our findings of specific models and how they stacked up against each other. Photo Colin Zacharias drops in off Alta Vista in Mt. Rainier National Park.

Palm Materials


Leather is almost always more durable and handles better than synthetic materials. Goatskin leather is our palm material of choice. Though a little more expensive, it has proved durable and supple. Leather needs to be retreated on a regular basis, depending on use. But this is worth the trouble, especially for heavy users or folks who are hard on their gloves. While there are several good water-proofing products on the market, our favorite is the Nikwax Waterproofing Wax for Leather.
Comparing different types of palms materials and styles in our review from top right Da Kine Scout  Arc'teryx Alpha SV  Columbia Air Chamber  Lower level  Hestra Heli Glove  Black diamond Guide glove  Outdoor Research Magnate glove.
Comparing different types of palms materials and styles in our review from top right Da Kine Scout, Arc'teryx Alpha SV, Columbia Air Chamber, Lower level, Hestra Heli Glove, Black diamond Guide glove, Outdoor Research Magnate glove.

A Few Notes on Our Criteria for Evaluation



Dexterity


Dexterity, along with warmth, is most people's biggest factor when considering gloves. If your gloves aren't dexterous enough and you have to take them off all the time, not only will you become frustrated but your hands also won't be as warm. There is often a certain amount of tradeoff for most gloves, as you gain warmth by adding more insulation there is often some loss of dexterity. This is where paying a little more money means you can often increase warmth without having to sacrifice as much dexterity. We rated all of our gloves both in real world testing and by performing a series of everyday side-by-side tasks, including buckling ski boots, unlocking a car door with average-sized car keys, tying running shoes, attaching a lift ticket to a jacket, taking a photo with a point-and-shoot camera and writing our name. To help as a tie breaker, those gloves with which we could write more legibly scored higher. We also compared each during real world use, often changing them multiple times a day.

Water Proofness


This is really what protects our hands from the elements — wind, snow and, if you are unlucky, rain. This is our gloves' first line of defense at keeping our hands warm. Even the fanciest insulation doesn't work as well when it's soaking wet and then re-frozen. Look at our Ski Gloves Reviews to see which gloves performed the best during our real world comparison and during our bucket-of-water tests.

Eric Dalzell and Ryan O'Connell hope they have recently treated their gloves while storm skinning in the Chugach Range
Eric Dalzell and Ryan O'Connell hope they have recently treated their gloves while storm skinning in the Chugach Range

A Note on Warmth


We rated all 14 gloves we tested in warmth and gave approximate temperatures that most people would find comfortable while riding chair lifts for a day. That said, some people run warmer or colder than normal. Also, a "warm" day on the chair when its 30F and snowing hard might feel colder. On the flip side, a 20F sunny day where most gloves in our review should be fine could feel cold if you are on a slow exposed chair lift with high winds. Other factors like how wet your gloves are, whether from sweat or outside precipitation, even how hydrated or well fed you are, can make a huge difference and could even be more of a factor than a 10F dip in the temperature.

Durability


Durability and longevity is always hard to test. We measured this not only during our own use, punishing these products over hundreds of days during the past two seasons, but also from valuable input from dozens of other users and OutdoorGearLab friends. Durability isn't just how long until your gloves get a hole in them, but also how long the waterproofing lasts and how the stitching holds up. Gloves with goatskin leather palms held up much better than gloves with synthetic palms.

The touchscreen sensitive thumb and index finger proved to be one of our review team's favorite feature. It allowed us to scroll through music  text  and research the newest OutdoorGearLab reviews - all while wearing our gloves riding on the chairlift. Not only was this convenient but it also greatly decreased the potential for us to mistakenly drop a glove while removing it.
The touchscreen sensitive thumb and index finger proved to be one of our review team's favorite feature. It allowed us to scroll through music, text, and research the newest OutdoorGearLab reviews - all while wearing our gloves riding on the chairlift. Not only was this convenient but it also greatly decreased the potential for us to mistakenly drop a glove while removing it.

Features and Ease of Use


A feature that one person feels they can't live with out another person might not care about. As a whole, most gloves had similar features that worked at achieving the same goals, such as how they kept snow out and how easy they were to tighten and loosen, wrist leashes (a.k.a. idiot/keeper leashes) and a nose/goggle wipe on the thumb. Keeper cords are probably the feature that most people love or hate. They might seem a little dorky and old school for some, but others won't give them up because the leashes add peace of mind while taking them off on the chair lift. (From having worked at a ski resort, I can bet you would be amazed at how many gloves are found every spring under chair lifts.) We also compared features like nose wipes and how easy they were to take on and off.

One feature that stands out that could easily be the difference maker for technology minded/Facebook updating/smart phone picture taking type folks is the Outdoor Research Northback Glove. The Northback had an incredibly effective touch screen sensitive index finger and thumb. It worked even better than our normal finger, especially when cold.

Glove
Glove

Ian Nicholson after a long day near Washington Pass.
Ian Nicholson
About the Author
Ian is a man of the mountains. His overwhelming desire to spend as much time in them as possible has been the reason for him to spend the last seven years living in small rooms in dusty basements cluttered with gear and in the back of his pickup (sometimes in the parking lot of the local climbing gym). This drive and focus have taken Ian into the Kichatna Spires of Alaska and the Waddington Range of British Columbia (with the help of two Mountain Fellowship Grants from the American Alpine Club) as well as extensive trips through much of the Western United States and Canada. His pursuit of guiding has been tenacious. He was the youngest person to pass his American Mountain Guides Assn Rock and Alpine Guide exams (on his way towards becoming a fully certified International Federation of Mountain Guides Associations guide). Ian also holds an American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education (AIARE) Level 3 certification as well as an AIARE Level 1 avalanche instructor certification.

 
 

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