Posted by: davepidgeon | December 31, 2008

Smitten about mitts

To glove or to mitten? That’s the real question.


Hiking partner Jason shows off his mitts at an Appalachian Trail shelter.

Hiking partner Jason shows off his mitts at an Appalachian Trail shelter.

After snowshoeing 8 miles to your New Hampshire campsite, throwing up your tent and boiling water for a delicious bag of freeze-dried beef stew, keeping your hands warm and comfortable in camp is a challenge. For years, I used layers of gloves. I started with a thin liner covered by a Windpro Powerstretch layer and finally a Gore-Tex hardshell. Throw in a Grabber handwarmer, and bam! I’ve got warm hands, right? 

Actually, what I learned is wearing gloves worked against my goal of keeping the ten fingers toasty. My fingers would grow numb as they sat in the fingers of a glove. I’d pull the fingers out the individual slots and ball up my fist inside the glove around a handwarmer. What was the point of having a glove? What good was it to drop $80 on gloves if they aren’t going to save my fingers from the cold?

When you think about it, this makes sense. If you isolate each finger inside the glove, the fingers are left to own body heat to stay warm. Wouldn’t it make sense to keep the fingers together?

That’s why mitts are the preferable way to keep your hands warm while winter camping in the backcountry. Inside a mitten, your fingers are scrunched together, which means all five work together keep each other warm.

The sacrifice with mittens is you lose dexterity. Turning on your camp stove or putting on a Windstopper layer becomes much harder. But if you use a layering system for you hands, make your next-to-skin layer a Powerstretch glove and your outershell a mitt. Whenever you need to use your hands – pouring hot chocolate powder into a tin cup, setting up your tent, starting a fire and so on – pull your mitts off briefly and use your gloved hands. When you’re done with the task, throw the mitts back on.

Use gloves for skiing or while you’re hiking when dexterity is required. In camp, though, mitts are the superior choice. Look into products like Eastern Mountain Sports’ Altitude Mitt, which comes with a glove liner and a waterproof outer shell.


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