It's the beginning of winter and the Aiguille du Midi cable car has just opened up again. We have just spent the last couple of hours trying to put a track up the 300m snow field to the Gabbarrou-Albioni and it suddenly hits me...
My hands aren't cold, in fact they aren't even remotely cold. Normally in these conditions they would have been frozen a while back, in fact my partner who is wearing my previous gloves is really starting to suffer. The not so subtle signs of swearing and banging of fists remind me of how glad I was to have dropped them in a crevasse at the base of this very climb a year ago.
Last year I was the new proud owner of an expensive pair of climbing gloves from Black Diamond called the Ice glove. Within a few days of using them I had already had enough - they may have been dexterous but that means nothing when your fingers are frozen solid. When I accidentally and foolishly dropped one of them from the top of the Gabbarou and watched it bounce its way down 600m to a gaping crevasse I saw it as a blessing in disguise- I could get a new pair without feeling too guilty.
To be honest the Ice glove is not the worst glove I have ever used, the fact is that I am really fussy when it comes to gloves. Thus far I haven't found a single glove that I was fully happy with. As usual when it comes to mountaineering gear you cant have everything. In the case of gloves you have to decide between warmth vs dexterity. Last winter saw unseasonably high temperatures across the Alps and allowed me to climb with really technical thin Cloudveil gloves which allowed me so much dexterity it was laughable. However I wasn't going to take any chances this winter as its started off on a pretty chilly note and the Cloudveils are now more ducktape than glove.
I had heard good things about the new Prodigy glove and was keen to try it still hell bent on my quest for the 'perfect glove'. In a nutshell I wasn't disappointed. Here was a glove that was waterproof, incredibly warm, and dexterous enough to climb multi-pitch WI5 without any worrying fumbling of ice screws on 90 degree ice. I spent a day at a very wet Cremerie (easy icefalls) and my hands remained bone dry even though I was fully soaked. To put it into context there was water flowing both under and over the ice and I fell through into a (small) waterfall below the ice. Having said that, it was odd that the water didn't bead at all on the surface of the glove which I would have expected from a new glove. I am not sure whether that isn't great news for the glove waterproofness in the long term or not.
Here was a glove that was waterproof, incredibly warm, and dexterous enough to climb multi-pitch WI5
Another great feature of this glove is that if the inner does get wet you can easily pull it out of the outer shell and dry it out separately. Now what's even more impressive is that when its put back inside the shell it feels like a single construction glove- no slipping at all between the shell and the inner. I've tended to steer clear of removable inner gloves for this reason and its great that BD have overcome this problem.
As for warmth well that's always going to be the main selling point of any glove. As mentioned above this hasn't been a problem. Even when the outer shell had frozen solid in parts my fingers remained snug inside so I don't envisage this being a let-down at all with this glove.
Even when the outer shell had frozen solid in parts my fingers remained snug inside
The warmth and waterproofness abilities of this glove come down to the high spec materials used in its construction The outer shell is a 4-way stretch shell with a Pittards Armortan goatskin palm- this provides excellent grip as well as easy movement and dexterity. The removable inner is composed of a 'Thermal Pro Hi-Loft' liner and a Gore-Tex shell. I've always thought that when it comes to mountaineering gear you pretty much tend to get what you pay for, and in this case you certainly get a lot for your money. The great thing about the construction of this glove is that the two parts have been fully designed to be used independently so therefore there hasn't been any skimping on the design and construction of both parts just because, say, one might do a really good job already.
The odd thing is that this glove is being sold as a skiing glove whilst in my view (and may others) its their best glove for high mountain (technical) climbing. Always keen to put it through every test possible it has now been my touring glove for a couple of months and much like its use in climbing, I have no complaints there. It is obviously a very breathable glove as it very rarely ever got damp inside even when the rest of me was dripping in sweat. As for skiing, you can often get very cold hands on the downhill as the glove is subject to a lot of wind and snow being blown on it at all times. Thankfully I've never even been close to getting cold hands whilst skiing and it's a testament to its warmth that I can happily take them off for a minute or two and take photos without getting cold fingers (I used to wear very thin inners for this but now I don't).
It seems that BD have produced a glove that will be around for a while to come. Still reeling from the disaster that was the Ice Glove, I am happy to be able to say that the Prodigy glove is light-years ahead. Do be warned however that this glove is for cold winter use and you aren't going to find the kind of dexterity that you might want on some M9 cragging venue. I don't compromise when it comes to gloves, as you might be an incredibly strong climber but if your gloves don't work properly then you wont be able to transfer your power and skill as well to the rock or ice in front of you. If we could all climb without gloves we would, so the least incumbent the better.
Retailing at £89.99 this is not a cheap glove but it certainly isn't the most expensive one either. Bearing in mind the high quality build and the fact that this would be at home on most high mountain ranges I think it's a good deal. It's worth remembering that gloves tend to fall apart very quickly due to the high-friction use they get put through, so whilst you might buy a glove for £40 it's not going to last very long.
I've used these non-stop over the whole winter and they are still in excellent condition- not a claim that many gloves would be able to make.
It also comes in women's sizes.
Jon Griffith is based in Chamonix, France. He is a professional mountain photographer, you can see his work on his website: Alpine Exposures. He has been climbing for many years, starting in the Avon Gorge, Bristol. His true passion is for "big mixed alpine routes that potentially involve a couple of nights bivying...".