Over the past two years of learning how to operate in cold environments I’ve talked to, emailed and telephoned polar adventurers and guides from around the globe to get their advice on clothing. In addition I’ve tested my own kit combinations on two trips to the colder parts of Norway.

Recently I’ve begun fielding equipment questions from other outdoor folks who have got in touch via Twitter, so I thought I would share any learning I’ve done with you. This week I’m starting with my cold environment glove system. I know calling it a system sounds a bit pretentious, but it’s more than just a pair of gloves, it’s a combination worn in different ways depending upon environmental conditions.

Before talking about what specific gloves I currently use, first some basic principles which I’ve picked up:

  • As with all clothing in cold environments, perspiration is the enemy and must be limited.
  • Putting more gloves on doesn’t equal warmer fingers. Your fingers share their heat so keeping them close together is important.
  • Gloves shouldn’t be tight, this may constrict the microvasculature servicing the hand and fingers.
  • Long gauntlets that cover the wrists will help insulate this microvasculature.
  • Wind is the enemy, and thus windproof outer gloves are a must.
  • You ideally need a skin layer (often called ‘contact’) glove, a working glove, and an over-mitt.

Finding a glove system that suits you is a matter of trial and error, and your own sweat rate/cold tolerance. Like many others I use a three layer glove system. The first layer I use is a thin inexpensive polyester liner glove (about £5). Over the top I wear another inexpensive second layer glove which is fairly waterproof and windproof, with some breathability (£25 Trekmates) [Suggestion: don’t believe the marketing hype, pick the gloves up yourself in the shop and try and blow through them to see if they really are windproof. Many marketed as such simply aren’t]. In temperatures down to -10 to -15 (degrees centigrade) or so with light wind, I only wear this combination – thus the most important thing here is that the second layer is windproof. These are fairly roomy so I can fit them over my liners, they have insulation via Primaloft, and some breathability so that when I’m working hard my hands don’t overheat. This second layer should have a surface that easily sheds snow, and also have some sort of grip so you can perform manual tasks with ease e.g. fitting tent poles.

Glove System

The final outer layer is a new purchase for me, a pair of heavily Primaloft insulated (£55 PHD) waterproof gauntlet mitts (these go right down to the elbow). I have however used similar in the past so am confident on their performance. When my two layer system is tipping over to being a little cold, I would revert to the liner gloves with the mitts. Even colder and I have enough room in the mitts to wear all three (make sure your second layer gloves aren’t too bulky). If I wanted to ensure I’m not soaking out the second layer gloves with moisture I could use a pair of surgical gloves against the skin to act as a vapour barrier.

This is what works for me, but I would be very interested to hear your thoughts on what works best for you…



About the Author Ash Routen

I’m a postdoctoral exercise scientist by day, and cold expedition adventurer (for want of a better term) and outdoors and health writer by night. I’m based in Leicester in the UK, but I also spend considerable time in Cambridge where my partner lives. To find out more about me, visit my about page or take a look at my published writing.

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