A guide to the best winter gloves and mittens for winter backpacking.
In this post, we review 10 of our favorite mittens and gloves for backpacking in cold, windy and/or rainy weather. In fact, these are the exact pairs thru-hikers use year-round to keep their hands warm and dry on the trail.
|Black Diamond Mercury Mitts||Mittens||-20F||9.2 oz||Yes||$110|
|Enlightened Equipment Stronghold||Mittens||0F||1.85 oz||Water-resistant||$65|
|Outdoor Research Alti||Mittens||-30F||12.8 oz||Yes||$200|
|Hestra Heli||Mittens||-20F||11 oz||Yes||$160|
|MLD eVent Rain Mitts||Mittens||35F||1.2 oz||Yes||$45|
|Arc'teryx Fission SV||Gloves||25F||7.8 oz||Yes||$200|
|Black Diamond Guide||Gloves||-20F||14 oz||Yes||$170|
|Montbell U.L. Shell||Gloves||35F||.4 oz||Water-resistant||$25|
|Showa 282 Temres||Gloves||20F||2.08 oz||Yes||$20|
|Outdoor Research Alti||Gloves||5F||10.9 oz||Yes||$160|
To begin, let’s take an in-depth look at the different types of gloves and how you can layer them to build a versatile glove system (jump to reviews).
A solid glove layering system not only keeps your hands good and toasty in the bitterest of temps, but it also allows you to easily adjust your hand's warmth and breathability levels as weather and climates change throughout the day.
Just like how wearing multiple moisture-wicking, breathable garments is extremely important in keeping your body dry and safe against nature, the same theory applies to your hands. Especially since your palms are actually one of the sweatiest parts of your body!
Liner Glove: 25F to 50F temperature range
Liner gloves can be worn year-around. They act as a base layer to your hands in order to wick away moisture and sweat, and they can go under a base glove or shell glove for extra insulation. If temperatures are warm enough, or if you’re really working up a sweat, they can also be worn alone. However, be sure to keep in mind that not all liners are waterproof. Liner gloves are lightweight, stretchy and designed to fit relatively snug to the hand. They’re made from moisture-wicking Wool, Spandex or other synthetic materials which make them ideal to wear during physical activities like trail running or high-intensity hiking. Any liner made from wool will be warmer and heavier than ones made from Spandex.
Best suited for: Trail running, hiking in moderate temperatures with dry conditions, wearing underneath of base gloves and shell gloves as a moisture-wicking barrier.
(You might also like: 10 Best Glove Liners for Cold Weather)
Base Glove: -30F to 25F temperature range
Base gloves (also known as mid-layer or insulator gloves) are what you’ll likely wear the most frequently. Sometimes base gloves come sold with a built-in liner that can be removed. You can wear this layer of glove alone, overtop liners or underneath of shell gloves. These will be your bulkiest and heaviest pair out of the three glove-system, but they’re also the warmest which makes them practical for cold weather or when you need to keep your hands warm while relaxing during chilly nights at camp. You can choose between gloves, mittens or a hybrid style depending on how important glove dexterity is to you. Many hikers wear liners underneath their base gloves as an added layer of moisture-management.
Best suited for: Skiing/snowboarding, mountaineering, hiking, backpacking, cold weather use.
Shell Glove: All temps, combine with a liner or base glove
Shell gloves were created to be an extra layer of protection against wind, rain, and snow. They are the outermost layer of your glove layering system, and they act as a protective barrier against your base gloves and the elements. They also help to trap heat which can improve overall insulation by nearly 50 percent. Shell gloves are lightweight and packable and only about as thick as a small stack of papers. For fit, don’t be surprised if they look rather large compared to your others. They’re specifically designed to be oversized so they can easily be slipped on overtop of your other gloves. Most come equipped with elastic wrist snitches that will help secure them in place.
Best suited for: Wet, windy, extreme cold or intense weather.
From left to right: liner glove, base glove, shell glove
Since gloves have individual fingers, they’re more versatile and offer greater dexterity than mittens when performing various tasks like tying knots or using camp tools, etc. However, it’s a pretty well-known fact that mittens will be a HECK of a lot warmer because your fingers are better insulated since they’re grouped together. To determine which glove type is right for you lets discuss some highlights of each style.
Gloves: More Dexterity
A great option to wear during activities where you’ve already got your blood pumping, a pair of gloves can come in handy when your main concern is about dexterity with the use of your hands. Gloves will make it much easier to do things where you need the use of your individual fingers like adjusting zippers or fastening buckles.
If you're heading into especially frigid terrains or sub-zero temps and your main concern is keeping your hands warm, then the extra insulation mittens provide will make them a better option. Mittens are also ideal for activities where you don’t need as much flexibility with your hands, like while skiing/snowboarding, snowshoeing, or cross-country skiing.
Hybrid (Lobster): A Good Compromise
Wouldn’t it be great if you could have the dexterity of gloves but the warmth of mittens? Well, it’s your lucky century. You can! This hybrid style of glove is referred to as the “lobster style” and it's essentially half-mitten, half-glove. In the lobster style, your thumb and index fingers remain separated while the rest of your fingers stay grouped together. So, what's the benefit here? Well, you get more flexibility than a full-blown mitten but you get more warmth than a full-blown glove.
More dexterity than a mitten and more warmth than a glove
Insulation: Down vs. Synthetic
Insulation for gloves is measured in grams, and the higher the amount of insulation a pair of gloves has, the warmer it will be. For cold conditions, it's best to select a pair of gloves that have at least 300 grams of insulation.
When it comes to the type of insulation in your gloves, there are two main contenders: down and synthetic. Down is better suited for dry, cold climates while synthetic is best in wet environments or if you’ll be having a lot of interaction with snow. Here’s a deeper look into what further differentiates these two insulators:
Down: Just like a down jacket, down insulated gloves are lightweight, extremely packable, super breathable and WARM. Down insulation comes at a higher cost than synthetic fibers, but it’s also likely to hold up better in the long run. One major setback to down, however, is that if it gets wet it becomes pretty useless. Most gloves and mittens with down insulation also have a durable waterproof shell that keeps the insulation separated and protected.
Synthetic: Synthetic insulation dries quicker than down and still insulates in the off chance that it gets wet. It also comes in at a lot cheaper cost. It’s commonly found in many snowboard and ski gloves designed today. Where it falls short compared to down is that it’s heavier, bulkier, and arguably less warm.
Permeability: Gore-Tex and DWR
Water-resistant products repel water, while waterproof products are impenetrable to water. Keep this in mind when selecting a pair of gloves - there’s a big difference here! Look for gloves with Gore Tex, Polar Tec and other DWR fabrics to ensure waterproofing.
Gore-Tex: This is a popular technology used in gloves and mittens because it's waterproof yet still breathable. If a pair of gloves doesn’t list that it has Gore-Tex technology, the company probably has replaced it with their own specifically created version that’ll comparatively provide the same protection - plus or minus a few bells and whistles. Having this waterproof barrier is important in keeping rain, sleet, and snow from penetrating through the surface of the gloves while still allowing sweat and moisture to escape.
Durable Water Repellent: This is a chemical that’s often applied to clothing, gear or other items that enhances overall waterproofing. For example, shell gloves (which are your waterproof/weatherproof layer) are often coated in a DWR treatment. The DWR agent wears off over time and will have to be re-applied.
Breathability: Keeping Your Hands Dry
When attempting to keep your hands dry while ascending that 4000 ft. elevation climb… in 30-degree sleet-spitting temps nonetheless… having multiple pairs of liners that you can switch between can really come in handy. Since liners are typically made from Merino Wool or Spandex, they are excellent in pulling moisture away from your hands if they start to sweat. Carrying multiple pairs is a reassurance that you can switch damp ones out for a dry pair if need be. Especially since once your gloves get wet and your hands get cold… well, good luck getting them warm again.
Using a seam sealer can help you ensure better permeability.
MLD's eVent Rain Mitts ship with a tube of McNett Seam Grip Seam Sealer.
Shell Material (Outer): Leather, Polyester, Spandex and Nylon
Leather: Leather is a natural water-resistant, windproof, durable material that adapts to its surrounding temperature. Winter gloves that include leather are often made from goat hide or synthetic leather, which is thinner and offers greater dexterity. Leather is an expensive fabric to purchase and to upkeep, but there’s no denying a solid pair can keep your hands warm. Today, many ski and snowboard gloves are replacing their leather sections with rubber, which is proving to be cheaper and competitively durable in comparison.
Polyester, Spandex and Nylon: Synthetic fabrics such as Polyester, Spandex, and Nylon haven’t been around in the glove world as long as leather, but these fabrics bring their own strengths to the table. They’re lighter, cheaper, offer more dexterity and breathability. They’re also much better at regulating overall temperature control. Not to mention they’re easier fabrics to care for. For overall warmth though, leather still has the leg up.
Side note: Nylon, Polyester, and other synthetic fibers burn extremely easily… be sure to keep your distance from that campfire.
Liner Materials (Inner): Wool vs. Fleece
Merino Wool: When looking for liners, ones made out of Merino Wool will be a solid choice. Merino Wool is strong, flexible, warm, soft and breathable. Not to mention it also has antibacterial properties that are naturally odor-resistant. It is going to be a bit tougher on the wallet than fleece or polyester, unfortunately. One other thing to take into account is that it won’t dry as fast if wet.
Fleece: Fleece isn’t as warm as wool but it is lighter and will give you more overall dexterity and quicker drying time. Be sure to check ahead of time the temperature ranges your likely to encounter during your trek, as suggested ranges for synthetic gloves can vary greatly. Many products now list their recommended climate/temperature ranges on their tags.
Fit: Depending on the Layer
If your gloves don’t fit correctly they aren’t going to do you much good. If they’re too small, circulation can get compromised which makes your hands cold faster. If they’re too big then airflow can get in. Here are a few things to consider when assessing glove fits.
Liners should fit the snuggest out of your three-layer glove system. They should easily conform to your hand but still, provide plenty of flexibility.
Base gloves should be able to be roomy enough to be worn with liners underneath, but not too roomy to wear you can’t wear them alone.
Your shell gloves need to fit loosely because they’re essentially just going to be worn as a layering piece. The wrist synchs on these will help tighten them in place so they don’t fly away.
Going to a local outdoor shop and trying on a few different styles and options is a good way to find the perfect glove size for you. Another thing to keep in mind is just like how our feet swell during prolonged physical activity, our hands do the same thing. Be sure to leave a little “breathing room” in your gloves.
Your shell gloves will typically be loose, light and pack very small.
Grip: Leather Palm and Fingertips
If you plan on using trekking poles, an ice ax, or if you’ll be doing a lot of climbing then get a pair of gloves with reinforced leather palms and fingertips. This feature aids grip and improves durability in these common wear-and-tear hot spots.
Cuff style: Gauntlet vs. Under Cuff
Gauntlet Cuff: This style of cuff sits overtop your jacket instead of underneath it. There’s a drawcord that seals off the cuff and tightens it to your arm which keeps out precipitation. This style is best used in extreme sports or intense weather conditions. Gloves with a gauntlet cuff will be heavier and bulkier.
Under Cuff: An under cuff sits underneath your jacket. Its cuff is made from stretchy fabric that tightens around your wrist. Gloves with this cuff design are lighter and less bulky. However, depending on the activity, it’s debatable whether this cuff keeps snow and moisture out as well as gauntlet cuffs do.
Touchscreen compatible – Many glove liners now come with touchscreen compatibility. What this means is that the thumb and forefingers contain special fabrics that allow you to surf, scroll or flip through your phone all without having to take off your gloves.
Nose scratch / Goggle wipe – Unless you’re a medical mystery you’ve probably experienced a runny nose while out in the cold. Enter the invention of the “nose wipe.” Yes, nowadays some gloves have a special fabric on the thumb that you can use to wipe away snot. Other gloves may include another soft fabric section that can wipe off sunglasses or ski goggles without scratching them.
Battery-powered heating system – Although pricier than your typical pair of gloves, if heading into subzero temps’ battery-powered heated gloves might be worth the expense.
Convertible – Gloves that are convertible can offer the best of both worlds. You get the warmth of a mitten but the dexterity of a pair of gloves. Just fold back the flap and secure it in place - either by Velcro, magnet, or tie - and you’ve instantly transformed your mitten into a pair of gloves with exposed fingertips to easily conquer the task at hand.
Attachments – Some pairs come equipped with hooks or clips that you can use to hang gloves on the outside of your pack.
Vents – Zippered openings act as vents that can be great in regulating temperature or giving your hands some air while doing a strenuous climb.
Drawcords help to seal off gauntlet cuffs and keep the rain out.
Temp recommendation: Down to -20F
Weight: 9.2 oz
Stretchy and durable, these would be a great edition to climbers or hikers’ packs who are heading into chilly terrain. They have a 4-way stretch design that’s made to “move with you”, and for the amount of warmth they provide they aren’t bulky and pack down surprisingly well. The insides of the gloves are insulated with removable fleece liners; however, the liner does separate the pointer finger which kind of takes away from the overall “mitten” design. Another thing to note is there are no built-in wrist leashes on this model.
Temp recommendation: Down to 0F
Weight: 1.85 oz
Waterproof: No, DWR finish that is water-repellent.
Handmade in Minnesota with synthetic down material, these super lightweight, ultra-compressible mittens are sure to keep your hands warm in the cold. The Climashield APEX insulation dries quickly and still retains heat even if it gets wet. The mittens also come offered in 2, 4 or 6 oz insulation options—depending on the level of warmth you want. Their ultralight design makes them great for multiple weather conditions and they even wash up pretty well to boot. These gloves are all about warmth and lightweight packability for those frigid moments out on the trail. They are not recommended to be used as work gloves.
Temp recommendation: Down to -30F
Weight: 12.8 oz
Great for extreme cold weather, mountaineering or ice climbing these ultra-toasty PrimaLoft insulated mitts are the warmest gloves Outdoor Research makes and they’ve even been described as “the warmest mittens ever invented.” They’re designed with a breathable Gore-Tex membrane shell on the outside and over 340 grams of insulation. The removable liner that comes with the glove can be worn alone, and it has added grip on the thumb and forefingers and a Velcro enclosure for a secure fit. The gloves do run a bit big on sizing.
Temp recommendation: Down to -20F
Weight: 11 oz
Sturdy, warm and well-made, these completely waterproof base gloves feature an extra soft and cozy lining on the inside, countered by a rugged and durable leather on the outside. The shell is made from breathable, waterproof Triton fabric and the glove features reinforced fingertips and a design that flows with the hand's natural curve. There’s also a Velcro bar on the wrist of the glove that helps secure its overall fit. You can wear the liners alone during warmer temps or while working up a sweat, and the shells can be added in colder or wetter climates to provide all-around protection. These gloves would best be worn for winter sport activities.
Temp recommendation: Down to 35F
Weight: 1-1.2 oz
These extremely lightweight and highly breathable rain mitts are great shells for keeping your base or liner gloves protected from the weather. They weigh practically nothing and can shrink down so small they’ll fit just about anywhere. The mitts extend a good length up the arm for added weather protection and the one-hand adjustable drawstring makes them easy to tighten or loosen during wear. Each pair also comes with a .25 oz bottle of waterproof Seam Grip + WP sealant to be applied for extra seam reinforcement. These mittens do run pretty large, so you’ll likely want to go down a size… Maybe even two.
Temp recommendation: Down to 25F
Weight: 7.8 oz
These versatile and durable gloves provide a lot of dexterity. They’re lightweight for good packability and the Octa Loft lining—the closest layer to your skin—has excellent moisture management. Designed with a soft-shell, Gore-Tex lining, the gloves do a great job keeping moisture out, and they’d best be worn during activities that work up a sweat like hiking, climbing some elevation or shredding trails in the backcountry. These gloves bide well in cool to mild temps while performing physical activity. If you're wanting a super-toasty pair to wear for standing around camp at night, you’ll likely want to opt for something warmer.
Temp recommendation: Down to -20F
Weight: 14 oz
Trusted by professional ski guides everywhere, these gloves are warm, flexible and durable with their four-way stretch shells and their abrasion-resistant reinforced leather palms. Made to be worn in the snow and ideal for the ski bums out there, these gloves have a suede leather nose wipe, the outside shell and liner both have Gore-Tex waterproofing, and the inside is filled with 160 grams of insulation. Don’t be surprised if the gloves fit a little snug and feel a bit stiff at first, after a few wears they loosen up and break in quite comfortably.
Temp recommendation: Down to 35F
Weight: .4 oz
Waterproof: No, water-resistant
Suitable for the trail runners out there, these ultra-thin and ultra-light shell gloves pack down small enough to fit in your pocket. Best worn in moderately wet climates during physical activity, these ripstop nylon shells will provide light protection against precipitation. The gloves would best be worn in cool or mild temperatures from spring through fall. For colder temps, they are best paired with a liner glove underneath. These shells are more fitted than other shell options, so wearing a liner and base glove at the same time could be a tight fit.
Temp recommendation: Down to 20F
Weight: 2.08 oz
These straightforward “rubber gloves” are waterproof yet surprisingly more breathable than they first appear. They’re flexible, lightweight, and have an insulated layer inside that even helps keep your hands warm. The Temres Technology of the glove makes it so that warm air and moisture on the inside of the glove can easily escape, which works wonders on quickly drying out your hands in the event they do get wet. These gloves work well for many situations, manual labor in the outdoors or being worn as a shell over liners are just a few examples. A practical and cheap investment, many thru-hikers favor these in wet climates. According to an article recently published by Andrew Skurka, Showa should be releasing a "winterized" version of the 282 Temres this August.
Temp recommendation: Down to 5F
Weight: 10.9 oz
Designed with Gore-Tex, PrimaLoft insulation and ripstop nylon liners, these gloves are a staple in the winter glove market. They’ll give your hands plenty of dexterity without sacrificing an ounce of warmth. Like the Alti Mittens, these babies are built for the most extreme winter conditions. Compared to the mittens, however, these gloves do sacrifice some warmth in order to provide better overall dexterity. The gloves still fare well in sub-zero arctic climates and during backcountry activities or mountaineering. Another cool feature is that the internal liners also have a wrist cinch which is quite uncommon.
By Katie Licavoli: Katie Licavoli is a content writer, author and outdoor enthusiast. When not reading or writing away, she's out running, hiking, backpacking, snowboarding, or sailing the great lakes in northern Michigan.
About Greenbelly: After thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail, Chris Cage created Greenbelly to provide fast, filling and balanced meals to backpackers. Chris also wrote How to Hike the Appalachian Trail.
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