Gloves for Winter Climbing
With winter almost upon us, what better tip to start off with than one about the hardest item in the climbing wardrobe to get right – gloves for winter climbing and mountaineering. The eternal dilemma is the balance between warmth and dexterity. The way to maintain maximum dexterity in your fingers (think tying laces, opening zips, clipping karabiners) is…wear no gloves. The trouble is, this quickly leads to frostbite. But a super-warm pair of gloves can often mean no dexterity, the inability to hold onto ice tools easily, and perhaps a fumbled clip of the rope into a karabiner leading to a nasty fall. I don’t know how many pairs of gloves I own, but here’s how I approach the problem.
For a winter day out, carry one pair of gloves that give you the maximum dexterity that you will need for your planned day (even if this means slightly colder hands for the period that you are wearing them). Carry a second pair of gloves that give you the maximum warmth that you will require for the rest of your planned activities. Sometimes this could be a well insulated glove, other times a mitten. Finally, carry a spare pair for when the others get wet, which they will. Sometimes this may mean carrying an overmitten, other times a liner glove, other times a duplicate pair – or maybe a combination of these. It all depends on what the plan for the day was and what conditions you expected to encounter.
Next, a word on brands. There are lots of great gloves available, but my personal favourite brand all round for the variety of designs, quality, cost, and above all the fit on my tiny fingers, is Mountain Equipment. Top climber Dave McLeod has written an excellent article on his views on gloves for winter climbing, including an explanation of why some of the Mountain Equipment gloves are designed in the way that they are.
Finally, a word of caution on choosing exactly what to buy as your first winter glove. I have had a number of clients on their first winter skills courses and a recurring mistake is seriously underestimating just how cold (and wet) your hands can potentially become. Having recommended the range of gloves offered by Mountain Equipment (though there are plenty of other great brands available), it’s worth considering how far up the cost/quality range you think you need to go. Buying the bottom end, cheapest winter glove on offer will often end up as a false economy. The ME Guide Glove, for example, scrapes in at the bottom end of the winter range in my opinion. It’s still a good glove – just right for slightly cold, slightly wet conditions if you are not generally holding anything cold in your hand (such as in ice axe). However, a much better starting point for all day winter use, including having to hold ice tools, ropes and cold rocks is the Couloir Glove.