After having cold hands for years, I’ve developed a cold weather glove system that works for me for temperatures from -22° to 40°F. In extreme cold, having warm hands and dexterity could be a matter of life or death. I’ll share tips on keeping your hands warm even in extreme cold, and what kind of gloves I use, and their features.
Tips for warm hands
To maintain ideal temperature, the body has a circuit of veins and arteries that dilate or constrict to manage blood flow from the core to the limbs and skin. Keep in mind that it doesn’t matter how well insulated your gloves are, if your core is cold. Because your body will heavily restrict blood flow to your hands and feet first, making them cold. So put on a hat and an extra jacket.
Having a warm core is one of the best ways of keeping your fingers warm.
As a last resort, moving my arms in a circular and fast motion helps push blood to the tips of my fingers to provide momentary relief from the cold.
Another option is to stick your bare hands in your armpits, on your stomach, or groin if you are getting frostnip or frostbite.
Many people in the North swear by hand warmers, chemical packets that give off heat for a few hours, many gloves have pockets to keep them in place, or just put them in your gloves. I avoid short-term, disposable solutions, and have never tried them.
For extended periods in the cold like when winter camping, having mitts is essential.
Always bring an extra pair of gloves/mitts.
Layer just like with clothing. Don’t let your gloves become damp from your sweat. Switch gloves according to the temperature and your activity levels.
Mild Cold Weather Gloves
1) Neoprene gloves (waterproof and 3mm thick)
I use this gloves when paddling or if it is raining. The material is not very durable, so I try not to use them often. Having the mitt version of these gloves would be great for rainy, cold weather. I find I lose a lot of dexterity with waterproof gloves though. The main feature of this gloves is that they work even when completely soaked in water, from the inside. Not many gloves can do that.
2) OR Sensor gloves (Leather palm, lightly insulated)
In late spring and early fall these are my go-to gloves. Their leather palm is very durable. They are a little insulated without loosing too much dexterity. A good all around glove. Its only flaws are that the back hand part is not very durable. A full-leather, lightly insulated glove would be a good alternative.
3) Mechanix original gloves (Leather palm, not insulated)
These gloves perform almost the exact function of the (2) gloves. They are less insulated but are more durable and reduce dexterity a bit less. I carry either the (2) or (3), never both.
4) Filleting/skinning gloves (waterproof, cut resistant)
If you’ll be cleaning meat in cold weather you will appreciate having durable and waterproof gloves that preserve your dexterity. These are cut resistant as well. I use them when cleaning meat or dishes with frigid water.
5) Liner gloves
These are thin running gloves. They are not very durable, and that’s why I almost never use them. They are meant to be used under warm mitts when the weather is very cold. They prevent your hands from becoming extremely cold when taking off your mitts for dexterity.
Despite what advertisers say, gloves only work in moderate cold or when doing high intensity activity.
Extreme Cold Weather Gloves / Mitts
There is no such thing as extreme cold weather gloves.
They are called mitts.
Having big heavy mitts works for the Inuit people living in the Arctic. When the temperature gets really cold, I don’t mess around. I know only big mitts will keep my hands warm; when fingers touch each other they insulate themselves and share warmth. If I need to have a lot of dexterity I take off my gloves. My hands get cold after minutes or seconds, but then I place them again inside my mitts and they rewarm quickly. It’s simple and works when the temperature is extremely cold.
I rather have cold hands for a couple of seconds/minutes than for hours.
The inner mitts are removable to dry them out. They are not very thick which makes them very usable: I can still brake and shift gears cycling with them. This are the mitts that I use the most. They are simple and incredibly versatile.
B) Arctic mitts
I absolutely love these mitts, and I take them with me whenever the temperature is lower than -10°F. They have a soft back hand that I use to clean my nose or melt the ice from my eyelashes. They have long sleeves that keep snow out. These mitts are very bulky, but they keep my hands warm when everything else fails.
Big mitts have been used for thousands of years; they work. Yes, you lose dexterity, but you can take them off for a brief moment knowing that as soon as you are finished your hands can rewarm quickly. The Inuit people also tied their mitts to strings over their necks, to keep them at hand.
- Leather palms are better than synthetics in winter because of their durability and fire resistance.
- Waterproof shells work both ways, they trap moisture from your hand’s skin when used while very active or for extended periods, even Gore-Tex. Having a breathable, weather resistant shell is a better option for dry-cold conditions.
- Stay away from down insulated gloves if you will use them continually for many days. Moisture builds up inside.
- Removable liners are a must for drying during multi-day trips.
If I had to choose gloves for a year-round adventure in the boreal forest I would bring (1), (2), (4), (A), (B), and neoprene mitts.
I’d like to know about your preferred winter hand-wear. Let me and other readers know in the comments: