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Gloves and mittens are some of the most important accessories for skiing or snowboarding. Choosing the right pair may seem straightforward, but there are some important differences and numb fingers can completely ruin a day in the mountains. Gloves that are specifically designed for skiing and snowboarding have the warmth, dryness, and features necessary for a day in the mountains. This guide will help you understand the different materials that make up each part of the glove as well as explain some other features that you may want to consider before making your purchase.
Gloves vs. Mittens, Warmth, Shell Material, Membrane, Insulation, Lining, Size and Fit
Gloves vs. Mittens
This is your first decision. Do you prefer the dexterity of gloves or the warmth of mittens? There aregloves and mitts for all occasions and conditions, and manufacturers will often make both gloves and misconstruction and materials.
Mittens generally provide more warmth because your fingers will share one compartment and generate more heat that way, as opposed to being separated like in a glove. However, mittens limit mobility in certain circumstances and may have to be removed to access your pockets, answer your phone or adjust your goggle strap while on the slopes (to be fair, you might have to take off your gloves to do these things as well). You'll also find 3-finger hybrids (sometimes called "lobster mitts") that fall between gloves and mittens. While mittens were once considered the sign of a gaper, some elite level athletes prefer them for comfort reasons.
Much like a jacket, gloves and mittens are made up of several components that help keep you protected, dry, and warm. These are the shell material, membrane, insulation, lining, and palm.
Gloves and mittens vary in the amount of warmth they provide. It is important to find a pair that fits your personal needs. If you are skiing or snowboarding in warmer conditions, you'll probably want gloves or mittens that aren't too warm but have good waterproofing.
On the other hand, if you ride in colder conditions you'll need warmer gloves. The amount of warmth you need varies from person to person.
Some people tend to get cold hands while others seem to stay warm in any conditions. Glove warmth is dictated by the type of shell material, type and amount of insulation, and how waterproof and breathable a glove's membrane is.As you will read below, dry gloves equal warm gloves, and to be dry, a glove must breathe.
Most ski and snowboard gloves and mittens start with a body of synthetic fabric, usually nylon. High quality models use waterproof breathable fabric,
and utilize a membrane or coating of ePTFE (expanded Polytetrafluoroethylene, also known as Teflon®) or PU (Polyurethane). GORE-TEX® models include a separate ePTFE insert between the outer fabric and the insulation layer.
Waterproof breathable fabrics come in both hard and softshell versions, and both are used for gloves and mittens. Usually these fabrics are combined with leather or synthetic protective materials in high abrasion areas like the palms and fingers.
Leather is the tried-and-true material for gloves and mittens. Leather is normally cowhide or goatskin, can be more durable and pliable than nylon materials and is naturally water-resistant.
With a combination of treated leather (leather that has had grease, wax, or resin added to it) and a micro porous membrane, leather gloves can be waterproof, windproof and warm. When maintained properly with leather waterproofing treatments, these gloves can last for years.
Wet hands quickly become cold hands. The major cause of wet gloves is actually your own perspiration and lack of breathability from the inside of the glove or mitt.
In a waterproof breathable glove or mitten, the membrane is placed between the outer shell and the insulation and has microscopic pores too small to let liquid water enter but large enough to allow water vapor (sweat) to escape.
How waterproof and breathable a glove is depends primarily on the membrane.
There are many good waterproofing materials used in ski glove membranes. Here are some of the more common membranes:
GORE-TEX® membranes for gloves and mittens are an insert placed between the outer shell and insulation. They typically offer the highest level of waterproof breathability for ski and snowboard hand wear.
Gloves made with Hipora® fabrics are waterproof, windproof and breathable with a polyurethane (PU) coating, which is famous for being more stretchable than other PU coatings.
It has microscopic pores all over the polyurethane coating to prevent liquid water penetration,
yet allow moisture to evaporate out.
Most waterproof/breathable fabrics have a laminated membrane or coating made of polyurethane (PU). PU coated fabrics make up a large portion of the glove and mitten market,
offering a good combination of waterproof breathability and cost. Many manufacturers offer their own proprietary PU membrane,
and combine this fabric with leather or synthetic materials in high wear areas.
Gore WINDSTOPPER® fabric is made with an ePTFE membrane that it is only windproof and breathable, not waterproof. By combining durable wind protection and high breathability,
this type of ski and snowboard glove will keep you warm and comfortable with fewer layers and less bulk and is suitable for cold and dry climates. Like most soft shell fabrics,
WINDSTOPPER® products are typically coated with DWR (Durable Water Repellent), which provides them with a modest degree of water resistance. They may wet through in heavy rainfall but can be worn comfortably in light drizzle.
Finding a ski glove with the proper insulation is very important. Properly insulated gloves provide superior warmth and breathability, without restricting movement or compromising fit.
The conditions and temperatures you ski in as well as how warm or cold your hands run will determine how much insulation you require, and you may want to consider more than one pair if you ski in varying temperatures. Also, just because a pair of ski gloves is thicker does not necessarily mean that it is going to be warmer.
Here are some different types of insulation found in gloves:
Primaloft® uses a patented synthetic microfiber insulation material to help the body retain warmth and conserve energy. This is a very good insulation choice if wet conditions are expected. Primaloft® is not as warm as down by weight, but it’s breathable, compressible, water resistant and provides good insulation even when wet.
Made of unique ultra thin microfibers, 3M™ Thinsulate™ insulation provides excellent insulating properties with less bulk, making it ideal for use in glove and mittens where dexterity is a priority.
The lining is an extra layer of material built into ski gloves to create a comfortable feel, increasing warmth and comfort. Lining material will vary depending on the brand and glove. Fleece and wool are two examples.
Typically the lining uses a synthetic material that has moisture-wicking qualities to help pull sweat away from your skin and pass it through the membrane.
You may also want to consider separate glove liners. They fit inside of an exterior shell glove as an extra layer of protection against those chillier days,
giving you the ability to add warmth when needed. Some gloves come with their own removable liners.
Size and Fit
It’s important that your gloves or mittens fit you properly. Properly sized gloves or mitts provide greater dexterity, warmth and comfort. For the best performance, a proper fitting glove should fit snugly and allow enough room at the end of outstretched fingers for you to pinch about a quarter of an inch of fabric. Also, make sure your palm is completely inside the cuff so your wrist remains covered. When you make a fist, the fit shouldn’t be so tight that is constricts your fingers from curving fully. Manufacturers use different numeric and letter sizing systems to measure hand wear, normally measuring the circumference around the widest part of the hand in inches or centimeters, so consult their sizing chart when buying.