UKClimbing.com gear reviewer Viv Scott takes the Marmot Expedition Mitts to Alaska for a thorough testing.
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Expedition mitts keeping Tony Stones hands warm at a evening brew-stop.
UKC Gear, Nov 2009
© Viv Scott
.....while there are loads of mitts suitable for Scottish winter/summer alpine climbing on the market, relatively few companies produce synthetic mitts that are warm enough for alpine winter or expedition use. The latest incarnation of the long-running Marmot expedition mitt is one of these, featuring a hefty filling of the widely used primaloft insulation capable of protecting the hands in very low temperatures.
With winter setting in and trips to the big snowy hills planned cold hands is one of things that no one looks forward to. Belay mitts are an essential part of the modern armoury for any alpine/winter climbing activity, allowing thin dexterous gloves to be worn for technical climbing safe in the knowledge that chilled hands can be warmed up while belaying, and providing a refuge for the fingers from cold-damage on easy ground or when the weather turns.
Belay mitts need to provide a decent amount of insulation in a simple and lightweight package but also be durable enough to cope with ropework, easy climbing and general mountain wear and tear. While for really high altitude use the warmth of down insulation rules, for alpine climbing synthetic insulation works better as it is less affected by moisture and does not leak everywhere (and lose insulation) if punctured. However, while there are loads of mitts suitable for Scottish winter/summer alpine climbing on the market, relatively few companies produce synthetic mitts that are warm enough for alpine winter or expedition use. The latest incarnation of the long-running Marmot expedition mitt is one of these, featuring a hefty filling of the widely used primaloft insulation capable of protecting the hands in very low temperatures.
How did they perform?
The mountains of Alaska have a well-deserved reputation for cold and as such are not a place to scrimp on hand wear. On a recent trip the Marmot expedition mitts performed superbly, keeping hands warm on belay duty while remaining sufficiently dexterous to allow for rope/gear sorting and camera use and proving crucial for the un-acclimatised slog through the short but bitterly cold Alaskan night to the summit of Mount Hunter.
The long insulated cuff easily swallows bulky jacket cuffs to keep the wrist warm and the basic design (no removable liner) makes getting in and out straightforward and keeps the weight to a minimum.
Marmot Expedition Mitt
A couple of little loops allow the mitts to be hung wrist down from the harness to prevent them collecting snow and a soft patch on the back of the thumb is very welcome for dealing with the inevitable cold weather nose-drip. The mitts come with cord tethers to allow them to be dropped for tasks requiring more dexterity- personally I prefer elastic for this job but the removable design makes it very easy to switch.
The fit is excellent, roomy enough to bring the thumb into the main compartment for extra warmth if needed but not feeling overly baggy and cumbersome. Sizing mitts is a matter of personal preference depending on whether you want to keep your climbing gloves on inside the mitts or remove them to dry out inside a jacket. As a fan of the second method I found mediums ideal, but suggest trying on to check especially if you want to wear anything thicker than liner gloves inside.
All-in-all a near-perfect set of mitts for winter alpine/expedition use, and light enough to be used for Scottish winter/alpine summer climbing (albeit overkill) where you certainly won't suffer cold hands. With an RRP of £90 the expedition mitts aren't exactly cheap, but decent gloves rarely are and given that it works out at cost of a few beers per digit is well worth it if heading for the cold.
Viv's expedition to Alaska would like to thank the Mark Clifford Award, BMC and NZAC for their support.
About Viv Scott
Growing up in London, Viv moved to Scotland for university seven years ago where he continues his apprenticeship in the bizarre world of Scottish winter climbing with many repeats and the odd new route. Further afield, Viv has made regular visits to the Alps and has been on a couple of trips to the Alaska Range, climbing the classic North Buttress of Mount Hunter with Tony Stone and Steve Fortune in May 2009. Despite his focus on wintry things, he probably most enjoys a cold beer after a days cragging in the sun.
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