Gloves for Winter Climbing
Choosing gloves for winter climbing can be one of the hardest items of clothing to get right, but this tip article should help. 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. This makes it difficult to hold onto ice tools easily. In the worst case it could mean fumbling a clip of the rope into a karabiner and a nasty fall. I don’t know how many pairs of gloves I own, but here’s how I approach the problem.
Deciding what winter climbing gloves to carry
For a winter day out, first carry one pair of gloves that give you the maximum dexterity that you will need for your planned day. This may mean having slightly colder hands for the period that you are wearing them. Also carry a second pair of gloves that give you the maximum warmth for the rest of the day’s activities. Sometimes this is a well insulated glove, other times a mitten. Finally, carry a spare pair for when the first pair get wet, which they will do. This may mean carrying an overmitten, or at other times a liner glove, or an identical pair. Maybe you even need a combination of all of these.
This is a minimum plan and very often winter climbers will carry even more pairs of gloves, with duplicated pairs. It all depends on what the plan for the day is and what conditions you expected to encounter. It’s also good to have a plan for how to dry out wet gloves before the next day.
Recommended brands for winter climbing gloves
Next, a word on brands. There are lots of great gloves available from a variety of brands. These are all the ‘usual suspects’ of decent outdoor clothing manufacturers – Rab, Arc’teryx, Black Diamond, Mountain Hardware, Outdoor Research to list a few. However, they all fit different shapes of hands. My personal favourite brand for its variety of designs, quality, cost, and above all the fit on my tiny fingers, is Mountain Equipment. Top climber Dave McLeod has produced a video about his views on gloves for winter climbing. This includes an explanation of why the Mountain Equipment gloves are designed the way that they are. It’s very informative and gives good tips on what to look for in all winter climbing gloves.
Sizes and fitting
Having found the decent quality brands, you should then research and identify which gloves in their range best meet your needs. You should then physically try on as many gloves from that shortlist as possible to find the glove that fits you best.
We all have very different shaped hands – wide palms, narrow palms, slender fingers, stubby fingers, long fingers, short fingers. A badly fitting glove is at best annoying and at worst dangerous. If the glove fingers are too small and tight then they won’t keep your fingers warm at all. If the glove fingers are too long, then there will be an excess floppy bit at the end which will prevent you from performing simple tasks.
Purpose, quality and cost
Finally, a word of caution before finally choosing your first winter glove. I have had many clients on winter courses who have underestimated just how cold (and wet) your hands can get. You should consider carefully how far to go up the cost/quality range of your chosen brand. This is true whatever brand you decide to go with. Buying the bottom end, cheapest winter glove on offer will often end up as a false economy. The Mountain Equipment Guide Glove, for example, scrapes in at the bottom end of the winter range in my opinion. It’s a good general glove and just right for slightly cold, slightly wet conditions. But only if you are not generally holding anything cold in your hand (such as in ice axe or a wet rope). 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. Expect to pay at least £50 and even up to £100 for a decent all-round winter climbing/mountaineering glove.
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