You may only have two hands, but in winter you can never have too many gloves. Going out armed with several pairs is the norm, whether you're battling the elements on a snowy hillwalk, enjoying some classic mountaineering or pushing your grade on something steep and sketchy. Which is the best? Well given the frequency of this question in the forums, and the many and varied responses it receives, there is no right answer.
It's horses for courses, with different models more suited to different conditions and activities. There's a subjective element too. Those who run warm may get away with a lightweight and dextrous glove where others boasting less efficient circulation in the extremities (that's me for one) would be groaning with the hot aches and fumbling for their belay mitts. And no handwear, however perfect on paper, will be much cop if it doesn't fit you personally, errm, like a glove.
With all that in mind we've come up with a collection that reflects a range of makes, models and prices. I've majored on gauntlet style insulated waterproof gloves, which are good all rounders for both winter walking and climbing. Added to that is a selection of non-waterproof alternatives, with something for everyone from old school traditionalists or the ultra budget-conscious, to climbers looking for something light and warm as a belay throw-on and emergency spare.
"Which is best? There is no right answer"
For the review all the gloves have been out in the snowy Scottish hills in a variety of situations from hill walks and classic ridges to mid grade mixed routes, and we even managed to take a few of them to the Alps. You don't need me to tell you how challenging the weather has been so far this season, but though it's been less than ideal for photography it has given the chance to put the gear through some fairly hostile conditions. From sunshine to storm, these gloves have seen it all. But while it's been impossible to scientifically measure each glove's performance in every weather, I've done my best to be consistent (if not objective) when weighing their relative merits. In the interests of thoroughness every waterproof glove has also had a session in a sink of cold water. None leaked. This quick home test also helped me quantify the insulation levels of different gloves.
|Price||Weight / pair size L||Warmth||Dexterity||Toughness||Summary|
Marmot Exum Guide
|£85||229g||5 / 5||4 / 5||4.5 / 5|
Fair dexterity for a beefy glove. Big protective cuff is great in foul weather
Mountain Equipment Assault
|£80||177g||3.5 / 5||5 / 5||4 / 5|
Less insulated than some, but a good technical fit and feel for climbing
|£65||222g||4.5 / 5||4.5 / 5||5 / 5|
Strikes a nice balance between warmth, robustness, feel and price
MHW Hydra EXT
|£110||169g||3.5 / 5||5 / 5||4 / 5|
Superb dexterity for climbing but it comes at a price. Don't expect max warmth
Lowe Alpine Raptor
|£60||201g||4.5 / 5||3.5 / 5||3.5 / 5|
Not best suited to the harder climber but a good value all rounder with plenty of insulation
Berghaus Mtn AQ
|£45||167g||3 / 5||4 / 5||3 / 5|
Less warm, less technical and a little less refined, but OK at the price
|£75||239g||5 / 5||3 / 5||4.5 / 5|
A bit clumsy thanks to chunky 2-part insulation, but great warmth and weather protection
Black Diamond Punisher
|£80||164g||4 / 5||4.5 / 5||4.5 / 5|
Not the warmest but tough and technical, with great kuckle padding for ice climbing
Huber wool glove
|£35||162g||4 / 5||5 / 5||2.5 / 5|
Simple, traditional and surprisingly effective. However they do wear out
Marmot Basic Work Glove
|£30||156g||2.5 / 5||4 / 5||5 / 5|
Durable, well fitting and affordable. Minimal insulation, so best for fair weather and walk-ins
|c.£5.99||147g||3.5 / 5||4 / 5||5 / 5|
The last word in budget hand wear, yet comes with some major performance penalties.
Arc'Teryx Cam SV
|£90||147g||3.5 / 5||5 / 5||3 / 5|
Superb design and build, reflected in the price. Great for walkers and walk-ins, but only for fair weather climbing
|£24||103g size XXL||5 / 5||2 / 5||2 / 5|
Basic lightweight hand warming and emergency backup mitt. Zero dexterity but that's not its job
A tough, well designed mountain all-rounder that would be equally at home winter climbing, hillwalking in foul conditions or skiing, the Exum Guide glove strikes a nicely considered balance between warmth and weather protection on the one hand, and dexterity on the other.
The pre-curved fingers give a good close fit, and as there are no seams on the pad of the fingertip the sensitivity is great; I can happily jingle wee climbing gear without removing them - if a little less deftly than with some thinner gloves. Dexterity is further improved by using slightly less of Marmot's proprietary Thermal R insulation on the back of the hand than on the palm.
From interminable belay waits and climbing in spindrift to plateau walk-offs in whiteout and high wind, and prolonged downpours, I've subjected Exum Guide gloves to some typically foul Scottish winter fun, and for warmth, breathability, waterproofness and wind resistance they're up to the job. At least until rainwater starts running down your sleeves (at which point it's time to go home anyway).
Outside, soft, supple leather panels protect high-wear areas on the palm, fingers and knuckles, with an extra layer of reinforcement where you hold an axe handle or trekking pole. It gives a good grip on metal gear, even in the wet. Elsewhere on the fingers and knuckles are small stretch panels – a sensible combination of materials that lets the fingers bend unhindered. The loosely elasticated wrist keeps the glove nice and snug without being restrictive, while the long roomy cuff fits easily over layers of clothing to provide a weathertight seal. For the last few centimetres the cuff is uninsulated, helping reduce bulk and weight. A simple cord security wrist leash and easily-operated elastic toggle complete a well-designed cuff. For those who don't like big traditional gauntlets, a closer-fitting undercuff version of the Exum Guide is available.
With its mix of tan leather and fabric panels the Mountain Equipment Assault has much in common with the offerings from Marmot and Rab, and all three make me feel a bit like a guide (at least until I start climbing). But there are of course differences.
Firstly there's the sizing, with the Assault being marginally less roomy than most of the gauntlet style models on test - on me it's a tad tight across the heel of the hand. On the outside a stretch panel aids the flex across the knuckles and backs of the fingers, except for the index finger, while from the knuckles to the cuff it's a very tough non-stretch nylon. The leather grips well on a metal axe shaft and provides reinforcement to high-wear areas, but unlike its cousins the Assault has no extra leather palm panel for double strength and I'm just a little less convinced about its potential longevity. The cuff is shorter than most, and though a single-handed elasticated drawcord closure helps create a weathertight seal I tend to feel these cuffs are better under a jacket sleeve than over; a couple more centimetres here would've made a difference. There's no wrist tether either, though you can easily add one.
Insulation takes the form of a thin fleece lining. In my entirely unscientific test I've concluded this offers a little less warmth than, for example, the deep pile of the Rab Guides, the synthetic fill of the Marmot Exum Guide or the double fleece of the Outdoor Research Arete gloves, and the Assaults' relative lightness probably reflects this. For long winter belay sessions in poor weather I might think about adding an over-mitt, and on an averagely nippy day in the Cairngorms recently I was beginning to get numb fingers after about an hour stood on a ledge. But for constantly moving while hillwalking, and when actually climbing in all but the coldest conditions, the fleece lining is perfectly adequate. As a plus the thinner lining does make these gloves very dexterous, which might be a particular attraction if you operate in the higher grades. I don't by any means, but when mixed climbing close to my ceiling I forgot I was wearing the Assaults, which has to be an accolade. Or perhaps it was just the excitement. Dexterity is further aided by the nicely shaped fingers and thumb. And on the back of the thumb, a nose wipe patch gets a thumbs up from me.
The Punisher from Black Diamond is a technical ice climbing glove. It looks very 'Black Diamond' - sharp, sleek and well put together.
Size-wise this is a close fitting glove. We took it in a size large, and it fits, but if you are in between sizes we would recommend trying them out as you might need to go up a size. The materials are all top notch, the stretchy nylon shell seems hardy enough and the leather palm and fingers are well stitched and tough.
The glove is very articulated, meaning it's easier to grip an ice axe, but perhaps a bit overkill for those more interested in winter walking than smashing up grade V ice.
These gloves are little like a beefed up version of the Arc'teryx Cam SV gloves mentioned lower down in the review, except they are thicker and have a proper cuff. Speaking of the cuff, this is one of the features we really liked about the Punisher. With no drawcord, the Punisher instead sports a fat velcro strap. The velcro is very high quality and very grippy, and the extra support of this wrapped tightly around the wrist helps keep the hand in place when climbing hard. You can wear the cuff over or under your jacket, depending on the fit. These are almost gauntlet gloves, but the cuff isn't huge, and is the smallest of the gauntlets in this review. They come without a wrist tether but you can add one if required.
Insulation is fixed, the lining is non removable, which helps make the fit very trim. They have black fleece inside and EVA padding on the knuckles to protect you when swinging into ice. The liner is totally waterproof - Black Diamond's own brand BDdry.
The gloves don't get too sweaty in use, breathe well and dry out quickly. They do make you feel a bit like the Terminator - they are pretty hard core.
This is an ideal hard climbing glove for cold but technical pitches, and a bit of an in-betweener: not super warm, yet far warmer than a thin pair of technical gloves. They're a good choice when a huge gauntlet might just be a bit too clumsy. Bring on the grade XI's, I'll be climbing them in no time with the Punishers! Ahem, well, maybe not - but at least I'll have warm hands.
These superb value gloves are warm for their weight, well fitting, dexterous (for their warmth) and well made. As Rab say, and as the name suggests, they're designed for anyone who's particularly hard on their kit, and though this hasn't been a long term test they've certainly given the impression so far that they're built to last.
The fit and feel are excellent, thanks to the pre-curved, well sculpted finger construction, seam-free fingertips and the use of stretch panels on the back of the hand and sides of the fingers. For climbing, fumbling with ice screws and small nuts, compass navigating and point-n-shoot photography, the Guide's nimbleness is hard to fault, especially in a glove this warm. I don't find them quite as dexterous as the Mountain Equipment Assault, for instance, but then they are rather more insulated - a good compromise on the average Scottish day.
There's stretch only at the key flex points, while everywhere else is reinforced with lovely Pittards leather. An extra leather pad on the palm, double stitched, adds longevity for pole or axe wielding. The long weather-beating cuff is just roomy enough to fit over jacket sleeves, but with minimal bulk here you could also slide it beneath instead. A slightly elasticated hem stands in place of a wrist drawcord. I like the simplicity of the cuff area, and you could make it less fiddly still by removing the detachable wrist leashes.
Inside it's eVent, a waterproof/breathable membrane that I have always found performs very well if kept clean. And against the skin is a two-part lining - a deep soft pile on the back of the hand for maximum insulation, and a thinner Bemberg (silky-feeling rayon) lining on the palm, where thicker insulation would hamper dexterity. A nose wipe patch ('flocking' is the euphemism, which I guess beats flicking) on the thumb puts the finishing touch to a really well thought out mountain glove. The £65 price tag looks very reasonable too, considering the quality you get for the money.
Slightly lighter and thinner than most of the gauntlet-style gloves on review, Mountain Hardwear's Hydra EXT Gloves offer great dexterity without compromising weather proofing or toughness.
First things first - the fit. For the stated size these are less generously cut than most, a touch shorter in the fingers and rather tight around the wrist thanks to an aggressive bit of elastication. If you found this constrictive enough to hinder circulation that'd be bad news for comfort and hand warmth, though the 'four way' stretch softshell outer goes some way to mitigating the close fit. This stretchiness, along with the pre-curved fingers, seamless fingertips and light insulation, adds up to a very dexterous glove ideal for harder climbing or general fiddly tasks.
At the belay however I'd be inclined to don a warmer mitt, because though the wool blend fleece lining on the back of the hand does seem to offer decent warmth for its weight there fundamentally isn't much of it, while the palm and inside of the fingers have less insulation still. For me this glove is better suited to fair winter weather than extreme cold. It'll handle downpours though. Anecdotally, Mountain Hardwear's OutDry membrane feels as waterproof and breathable as any I've tried, and because it's bonded directly to the shell they say it eliminates leakage at sewn seams.
Outside, water resistant goatskin leather on the palm and fingers gives both grip and double-stitched toughness, further reinforced with a suedey over-layer on the high-wear part of the palm. On the back of the thumb is the near-obligatory snot-soaker. Despite the tight elastication around the wrist the cuff is long and roomy, and uninsulated for a better fit under or over jacket sleeves; it's got a one-handed drawcord but no wrist tether. As a tough, dexterous climbing glove the Hydra EXT is hard to fault except in one key respect - the price.
Thick, warm and well made, the Lowe Alpine Raptor Glove is an excellent gauntlet style winter mountain all-rounder at a very fair price.
The double weave nylon shell is lighter weight than on some of the other gloves on review, but though this hasn't been a long term test it seems so far to be up to the rigours of Scottish climbing and hillwalking. Tough, grippy Pittards 'Armor-tan' leather protects digits and palm, with an extra layer where most needed. Leather aside, there's a slight stretch in the outer, which combined with the curved anatomical fit of the fingers (it's less pronounced than some) aids general freedom of movement. Roll-top fingers, common to all the gauntlet style gloves on review, mean there are no seams directly at the fingertip, but though this is good for dexterity I still find the Raptor more cumbersome than some of its rivals when manipulating small objects like climbing gear. Perhaps due to the construction, or maybe the combination of materials used, there's a slightly imprecise baggy feel at the fingertip. For hillwalking and lower end mountaineering this is scarcely noticeable, but it's probably less desirable for harder climbers.
Insulated with 133gsm Primaloft One, with a snug Bemberg lining against the hand, the Raptor has come out as one of the warmer gloves on review, in my entirely unscientific opinion at least. Waterproofing is provided by a Triplepoint AP insert, billed by Lowe Alpine as one of the best waterproof/breathable fabrics in the world. I've had no cause to doubt this so far, and married with a long, roomy, insulated cuff (one handed drawcord closure) it makes for an excellent weather tight glove - something I've appreciated in the recent poor conditions.
There's a nose wipe patch too (of course), plus a little reflective detailing (for safety, apparently, though I never would have guessed). In short, the Raptor may not be a climbing thoroughbred, but it's a warm, good value jack of all trades in wet, wind and cold.
These are the most affordably priced of all the gauntlet style gloves on review. Why? Well it's fair to say that the materials are a little less top-end: there's no softshell; no leather reinforcement (it's something polyurethane); no brand name insulation (it's plain old polyester); nor a big name waterproof membrane (you get Berghaus' own AQ fabric, which on a pair of gloves seems adequate to me).
With a stretch panel on the back of the hand that doesn't seem to do much, and a rather boxy finger shape, the design and cut give the impression of being less refined than some. I'm not sure the build quality is a match for the best either - a couple of stray threads were evident on my test pair before I'd used them. The polyester insulation is not hugely thick, and while it seems an ideal amount when you're steaming uphill it feels less suited to long cold belays or slow going in a storm. By my estimation these are the least warm of the waterproof gloves, and in the kitchen sink test the outer seems more prone to wetting out slightly too, especially the PU palm - though the glove remains dry inside.
On the upside the thin-ness of the insulation makes these gloves pretty dexterous for climbing and other fine manual jobs, and for me at least the fit is spot on. They may be a little square cut, but the curved thumb and fingers are functional enough, and seams don't interfere with the sense of touch. The insulated cuff is a good size for fitting either over or under jacket sleeves, and the plastic toggle on the elasticated drawcord is one of the better thought-out, since it sits flush with the glove and so seems less liable to snag. The wrist tether is elastic (the other gloves all sport non-stretch string), and sewn in rather than being removable. There's a nose wipe patch on the thumb.
In summary, these are a reasonable lightweight budget buy if you make allowances for the moderate warmth on offer. They are best suited to winter hillwalkers who may not be looking for the last word in design or durability, though the lack of bulk means that they do still climb reasonably well. I would not expect them to last several seasons of hard abuse, but at this price they'd not be too painful to replace.
Unique in this review, the Arete is a two-part glove, a durable weather-beating outer gauntlet married to a thin removable liner.
The liner glove is a nice soft stretch fleece with grippy pads on palm and fingers for stand-alone use on warmer days or walk-ins. It features a little sleeve on the back of the hand for a heat pad (not something I've ever used), and is held inside the outer with velcro tabs. The two layers work well together, with no noticeable movement or wrinkling between them, and though it can be a struggle to force cold wet hands into the complete glove the trick is to stick on the liner first, then slide it in. The combined layers make the Arete one of the warmer gloves on test - OR quote a minimum of -17C - and though I've not subjected them to anything like this I can certainly say they're snug in a Scottish hoolie. However the double thickness makes for a bulky feel, with less precision at the fingertips than offered by the more dexterous gloves on test despite the articulated cut. Nimbleness is improved by removing the liners, and even alone the shell is still pretty warm, with its brushed fleece lining, Gore-Tex waterproofing and general toughness.
Outside it's not particularly sophisticated - there are no stretch panels or reinforcing leather - but the grippy silicone palm/finger area is reassuring on a metal axe shaft, and you do get a nose wipe patch. The extra long, roomy cuff fits easily over jacket sleeves for a wind-tight wrist, but since there's no insulation here it can also be squeezed under your jacket sleeve if you prefer. There's a removable wrist tether, and an easily operated elastic drawcord.
Overall the Arete feels slightly cumbersome when you're climbing technical ground, but it's well suited to less fiddly mountaineering, skiing and winter hillwalking in the foulest of conditions. Of the gloves on review this is the model I'd favour if heading overseas somewhere high and cold-ish. And of course you get two pairs of gloves for the (admittedly hefty) price of one.
Simplicity is no bad thing in handwear, and though you won't win any points for style you don't get much simpler than a pair of these. In some past seasons they've been my most-used glove, and I know died-in-the-wool climbers who swear by them to this day. The fingered version of the classic Dachstein mitt, these close fitting woolen gloves offer superb dexterity and feel when climbing or fiddling with equipment, coupled with more weather protection than you might credit.
The thick pre-shrunk boiled wool keeps your fingers surprisingly snug in sub zero conditions, and its close knit resists wind well (though not entirely). A long, stretchy, double thickness cuff provides a super seal around the wrist, and slides easily under jacket sleeves. In a blizzard a protective armour plating of snow can build up on the wooly outside of the glove, though in a real hoolie I'd usually want to add a shell glove or mitt over the top. Naturally when the temperature rises above zero they wet out instantly, but they can be wrung dry and being wool still offer reasonable insulation when wet.
There are two notable downsides to wool: a) over time they shrink a little; but b) you're likely to wear right through a fingertip or two before this happens. In my experience you should get a couple of seasons' good use out of a pair, and at this price it's not too onerous to buy a replacement.
© Dan Bailey
Uncomplicated and well made, these gloves do much as described - the sort of thing you might equally wear on a hillwalk or for chopping wood on a cold day. They live up to the 'basic' billing too, but they're not quite as simple as they first appear since the box wall, pre-curved construction of the fingers makes for a more precise feel than you'd get on a cheaper DIY shop leather work glove.
Fit-wise the fingers are long and thin, while overall these are less roomy for the size than some of the models reviewed here – and of course leather doesn't stretch.
The all-leather outer (0.6-0.8mm) makes sense on an outdoor glove, being both supple and hard wearing, and though it's not waterproof and there are plenty of seams to leak, a waterproofing wax goes some way to weather-resisting them. The wind doesn't make much impression through that leather either.
Inside it's a very lightweight 'Driclime' wicking lining, which transports sweat well and gives a modicum of insulation. These are thin gloves, offering good dexterity for fine manual tasks but not a lot of warmth. I don't find them warm enough for winter climbing but on a benign day they're good for winter hillwalking, crag walk-ins, gearing up and indeed just about any other outdoor activity. As a scrambling glove they'd be ideal too. They look set to last several seasons, which given the fair price represents good value.
There's not much to dislike here, but I have thought of a couple of criticisms. Firstly there are seams right on the fingertips, which interfere slightly with the sense of touch. Secondly I'd have preferred another centimetre of cuff length.
A warm-ish, dextrous glove for under a tenner? It sounds too good to be true, but while they're not built expressly for mountain purposes these no nonsense cold weather work/industrial gloves are still fit for purpose outdoors - within reason.
Roughly as thick as the Huber wool glove, the Argon's close-woven nylon has a soft furry insulating inner that seems pretty effective for the price. It's treated with something called Actifresh to kill bacteria and stop things getting smelly. That should tell you something about this glove's moisture wicking ability, which is negligible. Since the Argon glove is not designed for high aerobic activity sweat will inevitably build up inside when you're working hard. That's hardly a surprise given that most of the outer surface is impermeable, with about 3/4 of it coated in HPT foam. This is very durable, pretty much impervious to wind, and super grippy even in wet slippy situations.
The cuff gives a nice snug (not restrictive) fit, and if only it were a couple of cm longer there'd be no chance of a cold spot between glove and sleeve. The Argon stretches well, which combined with a gently curved anatomical shape and lack of discernible seams in the fingers means decent dexterity. I can tie my laces while wearing them, and operate a DSLR camera (after a fashion). You could climb in them too - people certainly do - but bear in mind they'll quickly wet out in typical Scottish winter conditions, and neither are they really that warm. Once damp they'll stay that way, so you'd get through at least a couple of pairs over an average day, and still need a belay mitt backup too.
As someone who suffers cold fingers I'd prefer to save them for walk-ins and gearing up, then swap into something more insulated and less dank for the climb itself. I've not had long enough to try these gloves in a fair range of conditions but my mate Dave, who has, says: 'they're good for climbing, hillwalking and running providing it is not extremely cold and wet. Although the gloves are "designed to stay flexible to -50" it's probably a mistake to try to use them for a prolonged outdoor use in very cold conditions.' But then for around £6, what more could you expect? They're worth a punt at that price.
From one end of the market to the other now. For a glove that isn't even officially waterproof ninety quid seems a lot to hand over, but aside from the premium that comes with the Arc'teryx name you are getting an excellent bit of kit for your money - perhaps the most dexterous of all the gloves on test (insofar as these things can be quantified in a subjective review), and in that sense at least very well suited to harder climbing.
It's warm for its weight but this is by no means the best insulated glove in the review. If you're as cold handed as me then as a climbing glove it's probably best used on less hostile high pressure days. Remember those from last year? Even in benign weather it'd be worth saving them for leading, and packing an additional thicker glove or mitt for standing around on belays.
At first glance the Cam SV looks a bit over qualified for mere hillwalking, but on the move I've found them great in all but the most Scottish of weather, and they don't feel at all cumbersome when using a camera, phone or compass.
As you'd expect at this price the Cam SV is a neat design, and well built. The outer mixes a stretchy, wind resistant, DWR-treated softshell back with supple, durable and grippy all-leather fingers and palm. The materials do a good job of shedding snow and weather, while the articulated, anatomy-hugging cut offers superb mobility. Against the skin is a soft brushed Polartec lining, thicker on the back of the hand for warmth and thinner on the palm side for maximum feel. Down at the cuff there's no insulation, just a simple velcro tab to wrap it all snugly around the wrist out of the way under jacket sleeves.
Yes £90 is plenty to pay for any glove, especially one that will tend to be used in combination with a warmer backup pair. But if your budget will stretch and you like a little bit of luxury and comfort then it's well worth considering.
Another of the unashamedly traditional offerings, the Buffalo Mitt is a timeless design classic. OK, there's not much design involved, their being basically a hand bag in the most literal sense, but these no-frills mitts do their job perfectly.
Now let's agree from the off that that job is not technical climbing (the fit is imprecise, there's obviously no finger freedom, and the lining slides around inside the outer). Buffalo Mitts don't stand head to head (hand to hand) against the rest in this review. They are best considered a supplement to more dexterous gloves, rather than an alternative to them. Ultra lightweight and very packable, they are ideal slipped into a pocket for chilly belays or windy summit stops. Throw a pair in the bottom of your sack and you'll never notice the weight, but they'll still be there if the crap hits the fan (lost glove, accident, benightment).
The Classic Pertex shell shrugs off showers and it's windproof to 50mph, say Buffalo, while the light-but-deep pile inner provides excellent insulation for its modest weight, and wicks moisture well. The combination is quick drying too.
For these mitts, sizing is on the small side - XL fits me, while I've taken a size L in every other glove. However I chose to review the massive size XXL instead, the theory being that much like a belay jacket you can throw it on top of everything else you're wearing. Should I ever need it to, this fits over the thinner gloves on review (eg. Huber, Berghaus, Arc'teryx, Mountain Equipment, Mountain Hardwear) to give mega warm double protection. A great value belay mitt and emergency spare - I haven't left home without them since they arrived for the test. They're UK made too.
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