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how to choose the best ski gloves

How to pick the best gloves and mittens for skiing


how to choose the best ski gloves

Good gloves and mittens are an absolute necessity when you go skiing. But how do you choose which ones to buy?

Here is a quick overview of different types of gloves and mittens, what to expect from them, together with some personal recommendations of the best for skiing.

For the sake of readability, I’ll treat mittens (and other variations) as a subset of gloves from now on, except when it makes sense to differentiate them.

Why do you need gloves?

Good gloves will keep your fingers warm and dry at all times. That means they should have some insulation, but also be breathable at the same time. They should also be wind resistant, and to some extent water-resistant.

Gloves also protect your fingers from frosty metal surfaces, like those found on chairlifts, or the cold sharp edges of your skis.

Gloves vs mittens – what’s the difference?

There’s a lot of different types of gloves on the market. And every manufacturer ads their personal touch to the design.

So I’ve tried to break it down to some basic categories. 

There is basically three type of designs available when it comes to keeping your hands warm and dry on the slopes: Gloves, mittens, and 3-finger mittens.

Gloves have five separate finger sheaths. These offer the best mobility for your fingers. However, by separating each finger on your hand, they can get cold more easily in ice conditions, because of the large surface area needed to keep each finger warm.

Buyer’s Tip: the Tough Ski & Snowboard gloves (for both men and women) have a nylon shell, leather palms, and thermal insulation. They’re of good quality and offers good value for the money. Buy now.

Mittens have one sheath for your thumb, and one bigger opening for the rest of your four fingers. Your fingers will be less mobile than with gloves. However, the large opening for your fingers is excellent for keeping your fingers warm. This is because your fingers maintain their warmth better when they are in contact with each other. And because of the surface area of a mitten is smaller when compared to gloves, there is less heat loss.

Buyers tip: The N’Ice Caps Ski Mitten is an affordable good quality basic mitten (for men and women). It comes with a breathable water-resistant membrane an 100 grams of Thinsulate insulation, which is perfect for most (except icy) recreational mid-season skiing. The gauntlet style over-the-cuff design is good at keeping the snow out. Buy now.

3-finger gloves have one sheath for your thumb, one for your index finger, and a bigger opening for the rest of your fingers. The separate sheaths for your thumb and index finger ads to the mobility, but also increases the surface area of the mitten as a whole, thus making it less warm, than a regular mitten. It’s a compromise, but a good compromise nonetheless. Plus, it’ll make your hands look like a lobsters claws, which is always cool.

Buyers tip: The Hestra Army Leather 3-Finger Winter Mittens (for men and women) are a high-quality glove, which is really warm. It is made from windproof, water-resistant, and breathable fabric with goat leather in the palms. The gauntlet style together with velcro and lock straps will help keep out any snow and keep your hands warm and dry. It comes with removable liners, which are interchangeable with other liners from Hestra. It’s not the cheapest on the market, but worth every penny. Buy now.

Short cuff vs gauntlet length ski gloves

When it comes down to the cuff length, it depends on whether you like to wear the glove cuff over or under the sleeves of your jacket. 

If you prefer to wear your gloves under-the-cuff, you’ll need gloves with a short cuff.

If you prefer to wear your gloves over-the-cuff, you’ll need gloves with a long cuff aka gauntlet style gloves.

Short cuff gloves are smaller and less bulky, and they can be a great choice at the end of the season when the temperature rises.

You can get warm gloves with short cuffs, which can be used for early and mid-season as well, but they are generally not as warm as gauntlet style gloves. I find that it can be a bit of a hassle to put on short gloves.

Over-the-cuff gauntlet style ski gloves are pulled up over the sleeve of your jacket. They are held in place by an elastic cord around your wrist. Because of this, I find they are easy to take on and off.

Over-the-cuff gloves are excellent in cold conditions and for shielding against the elements, e.g., in deep snow or when it is snowing or raining. You can tighten the cuff opening when the weather turns sour, or leave it open on dry sunny pistes, to let out some steam. 

The ski glove shell: leather, synthetic, and the hybrid

Some gloves are made purely from synthetics, some purely from leather, and some are made from a mixture of both.

Gloves made from synthetics are often made from materials such as nylon and/or polyester. This makes them light-weight and breathable, but not nearly as durable as leather gloves.

The face fabric in high-quality gloves is usually water-resistant and breathable and can be either a hard shell or a soft shell.

Gloves made from synthetics normally use some kind of membrane (e.g. Gore-Tex) and/or a coating (e.g. polyurethane) in order to make them waterproof and breathable.

Leather gloves are highly durable and usually made from cowhide or goatskin. In cheaper gloves, you can also find pigskin. The leather is inherently water-resistant but needs to be treated with wax on a yearly basis in order for them to keep this ability. You can use something like Sno-Seal or Nikwax Waterproofing Wax for Leather for this. If you take good care of your leather gloves, they can last you for years.

Buyers Tip: The Kinco 901 gloves and the 901T mittens are a favorite among people working the lifts and ski patrol. They are high-quality leather gloves at an affordable price, which are tried and tested by the folks actually working on the slopes each day. Get some Sno-Seal Wax to treat them with, and you’re good to go.

Buy the 901 gloves.

Buy the 901T mittens.

Hybrid gloves are made from a synthetic soft shell together with leather in the areas most prone to wear like the palms and fingers. In a lot of ways, the hybrid glove is a good compromise between leather and synthetics. The synthetic outer fabric allows for water-resistance and breathability, and the leather allows for extra protection, where it is needed.

There are a lot of really good hybrid ski gloves on the market. But a favorite of mine is the Hestra Army Leather Heli Ski Gloves. It’s not without reason, that this classic glove gets mentioned year after year in reviews. Buy now.

Ski gloves and membranes

As with all outdoor clothing, the compromise between breathability and being waterproof at the same time also applies to gloves.

When it comes to ski gloves in particular, often the problem isn’t, that they get wet from the outside. Instead, the gloves get wet from the inside, due to sweaty hands and snow entering the glove.

Wet gloves that freezes again are useless. So it is always a good idea to keep an extra pair in you backpack. Especially if it is raining.

Keep in mind though, that a membrane (like, e.g., Gore-Tex) is still an extra layer, you add to the glove. Thus the same glove without a membrane will be more breathable, than the one with the membrane. And you want to keep your hands as dry as possible at all times.

Membranes are excellent for making clothing water-resistant. But they are still a compromise between waterproofing and breathability.

Ski gloves and insulation

Ski gloves are supposed to keep you hands warm and dry, so they need some kind of insulation.

One pair of gloves will usually not be optimal in all conditions. Some are too warm for skiing late in the season, while others are too cold for skiing early in the season. Some might be good for the Alps, but too cold for Norway.

The most common and versatile form of insulation in gloves today are synthetics.

There are basically two kinds of synthetics being used in gloves today: thin and lofty.

Thin synthetics (e.g. Thinsulate) offer great dexterity and warmth while still being thin. Thin synthetics are great for all-round versatile gloves. This makes thin synthetics a popular choice among manufacturers of ski gloves and skiers alike.

Lofty synthetics (e.g. PrimaLoft) is the man-made attempt to emulate the qualities of down. Though not as warm as down, lofty synthetics are more breathable and water-resistant. Lofty synthetics are also good at staying warm even when wet. You lose some dexterity in gloves with lofty synthetics.

Polar fleece (polyester) is nice and is quite warm, but not quite as warm gram for gram as the other synthetics. I’ve skied in gloves with fleece at the end of the season, with great results.

If you’re skiing in icy and dry conditions, you can go with a pair of mittens with goose down. However, that’s the only condition, you should go with down. Down is warm, lack breathability, and is horrible when wet.

At all cost, you should avoid gloves with cotton! When cotton gets wet, it stays that way, and your fingers will get cold in minutes.

Insulation is usually measured in grams. Go with 100 grams of insulation is a good starting point for an average versatile ski glove for the recreational skier. If you have cold hands or go skiing in icy climates look for gloves with more insulation. If you have hot hands or go skiing late in the season, look for gloves with less.

Ski glove lining

Glove lining is the innermost material next to your skin. It is usually made from synthetic materials, which are designed to wick away vapor from your skin, to keep your hands dry.

Some gloves come with separate liners, which can be removed. These type of gloves are also known as double-layer gloves or double gloves.

Double-layer gloves are usually warmer than single-layer gloves, and they dry quicker because you can remove the liner. However, double-layer gloves don’t offer the same level of dexterity as single-layer gloves.

Other features to look for in ski gloves

Until now, I’ve written about the need-to-have features in ski gloves. Now it’s time to look at some of the nice-to-have features.

Electric Heated Gloves come with a built-in heating system and a rechargeable battery. These are great if you suffer from cold hands. And if the temperature rises, you can leave the heating system off. I have yet to try heated gloves myself, but I hear good things about the Savior Heated Gloves, which are also priced fairly.

Goggles Squeegee is meant for wiping your goggles and is usually sown on the thumb of the ski glove.

Leashes and Lanyards – either at the end of the cuff or around the wrist are nice to have. That way you can secure your gloves to the sleeves of your jacket. This is really nice to have if you can get over the “I-don’t-wanna-look-like-I’m-in-daycare”-phase. My advice is you use them. It sucks to lose a glove from a chairlift!

Thumb Wipes are pads made from soft material (e.g. Ultrasuede) on the thumbs. They are meant for wiping your runny nose.

Touch-screen Compatibility allows you to use your mobile phone without having to remove your gloves. Some work well, others… well not so much. In my experience, the touch-screen capabilities tend to become worse over time.

Zippered Pockets on the back of the gloves are designed to fit a disposable hand warmer packet. Nice to have if you are born with cold hands, or for taking a walk in the evening.

Ski glove fit

For a ski glove to work and keep you hands dry and warm it needs to fit properly. Not too big, and not to tight.

A glove should have about a quarter of an inch (6-7 mm) of material left at the end of your outstretched fingers. And when clench your hand into a fist, the glove shouldn’t feel too tight over the back of your hand or on the fingers.

Keep in mind, that gloves made from leather usually requires some break-in time and can feel quite stiff in the beginning. They usually require a couple of days to soften.

Please share if you got some tips for a good quality ski glove.

Further reading:

If you are looking for ski clothing, you should check out Recommended ski clothes – from baselayer to shell which has some nice suggestions from everything from baselayers, socks, jackets, and pants.

Read my list of best goggles for skiing, where you’ll find some excellent options, which offers some great value for the money.