The hands are a very tough subject to grasp, ha-ha, just kidding. Actually the hands are pretty easy to monitor and layer up, because they are usually the first to feel the effects of cold temperatures. However, if in the past you have had frost nip or frost bite to your digits, they are more susceptible to cold issues in the future. It is unfortunate, but a large number of winter enthusiasts suffer from the ill effects of cold injuries; I am one of them.

Handwear is one of those products that every company in the outdoor industry produces. Some look great but their function isn’t quite up to par; don’t shop for style, shop for fit and function. With hand protection, it’s like the old cliché “You get what you pay for.” Handwear is relatively light and takes up minimal space, so there is no reason not to carry extra in your pack. Handwear is also the first piece to get wet and while many stay somewhat warm when wet, they soon become uncomfortable and freeze quickly when removed from the warm layer of your skin.

Gloves and mitts might seem like a very small part of the big picture. I guess, size wise they are pretty small, but in the scope of the big picture, they can be a very vital part of enjoying a safe winter experience. If you lose the use of your hands and fingers you won’t have the ability to tie your shoes, start a fire, zip up your coat, call for help, and so much more you might take for granted.  Protect your hands and they will surely return the favor.

Be sure to check out my other blogs on Layering; Materials, Headwear Protection and Footwear Protection, for more details on prepping for winter adventures.  Check back soon to see what you can do about protecting your core.


This is very important when buying handwear.  Like most clothing items, you do not want a tight fit or a loose fit. If the fit is too loose you have extra space that you have to warm up which can create cold spots on really cold days; not to mention the probability they can come off at inopportune times.

If the fit is too tight you can cut off circulation to your fingers which will cause your hands to get cold and numb, increasing the chance of cold weather injury.  A tight fit also eliminates the opportunity to fit a liner underneath for added comfort and warmth.

Outer gloves

An outer glove is the glove layer that is exposed to the elements. These gloves can be lined or not as a shell. Outer gloves are the most important part of your hand protection working as a barrier to the elements. There are several levels of insulation from light to expedition weight; it’s good to have a couple options to choose from in your closet. The outer glove should also be waterproof and in the least highly water resistant. Some company’s water resistant properties fall short under extreme conditions and unfortunately it’s a trial and error step on your part to see what works best for you. Go online and read gear reviews or maybe ask a friend or relative about their choices and why they work so well for them.  If you buy a pair of gloves from a reputable company you know the quality you are getting is high and that you can depend on its overall function and durability.

Glove liners 

Liners are a must for any winter/cold weather sport enthusiast; I swear by them and recommend them to everyone. Liners are a light, non-waterproof glove that fits under the outer glove against the skin. Liners come in a couple different weights depending on the company you choose; wool liners tend to be much heavier and warmer than synthetic versions.  The liner is an important piece for adding warmth to an outer glove that isn’t quite adequate for the conditions. Secondly, it can add a comfort layer to a pair of gloves that might be slightly too big or rough. Also, they can be a standalone piece that can be used on warm days or high activity levels where getting them wet is less probable or not of a concern. They also work great for taking pictures. For example, when you take off that outer glove to take a picture and you will still have some protection from the elements. That protection will keep your hands from quickly getting cold while you catch that memory on film. These liners are light enough to work a camera and a cell phone. Some liners even come with the ability to use a touch screen on a phone or GPS.


Everyone should have a pair of mitts in their pack; if for no other reason than for emergency purposes. Mitts are the warmest handwear out there. With mitts you have the opportunity for your fingers to be closer together, in turn, creating more heat; kind of like a sleeping bag for your fingers. Mitts come in many levels of warmth from light weight to expedition weight; somewhere in the middle is a great place to start.

The biggest downfall of mitts is the lack of dexterity. It’s slightly harder to grip a pole and do the minute tasks that fingers are so important for.

Shell mitts

Are an unlined mitt used to go over a pair of gloves or mitt liners. They are typically sized slightly big, so that you could essentially fit them over a heavier glove if needed. Shell mitts work wonders with a mid to heavy weight fleece glove.  When paired with a glove this system is unstoppable for warmth in cold conditions.

Hand warmers

Hand warmers are chemical inserts that go inside you gloves or mitts.  I typically place them on the top of my hand or in the palm if wearing gloves. Placed in the palm they sometimes hinder grip and dexterity.  In mitts they go best at the tip of your fingers. When using a glove or mitt with a liner, place the warmer between the layers for best warmth and comfort. These chemical warmers can go directly on the skin; but in some cases may be too warm for children or on delicate and sensitive skin types.

Still have questions about handwear or layering? Contact me here or stop into a local gear shop for answers to your questions.  Wish to have an introduction to winter mountaineering, snowshoeing or skiing, find me at a local guide service and we can set it up.