Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Lightweight Gloves

At the risk of drawing attention to my gear geekness, I decided to address the topic of “gloves” closer to summer to avoid the mass number of people who will recommend therapy groups for my gear addiction. Besides, if you read something you like, you could probably find a better deal on it now instead of waiting for winter.

To a lightweight backpacker, gloves are often considered a luxury item. After all, a pair of spare socks worn on the hands, or pockets on a jacket, both tend to do the job sufficiently without the extra ounces. If you’ve decided a pair of gloves is worth the weight and utility, than you have a couple of decent options.

When selecting a pair of gloves for backpacking, there are a couple features worth considering other than fit, pack size, and weight. First, what kind of temperatures will you be experiencing and what will be sufficient to keep your hands warm? Second, will your hands be getting wet (i.e. will your hands be exposed while hiking in the rain, for example, if you use trekking poles)? Third, do you need to worry about wind (some very warm gloves can be made fairly useless in substantial and constant windy conditions)? Fourth, will you be wearing the gloves when you hike or only at camp (hand sweat and need for durability on trekking poles may be an issue and the wrong gloves used with trekking poles can give you blisters)? Lastly, do you need to use them to handle anything fresh off the stove or fire which would easily burn (wool can handle hot items whereas fleece and synthetics will burn/melt)?

Yes, there is a lot to consider.

First off, it is worth mentioning that a “mitt” style glove is more efficient at maintaining warmth between fingers. Unfortunately, mitt gloves are more difficult to maneuver for finite handling. Also, constantly taking on and off a pair of gloves to gain use of your fingers is quite miserable, especially if your hands are wet or gloves are too tight. To get the same benefit of a mitt and gain finger dexterity, some people use half-fingered mitts which have fabric to pull over the fingers to form a mitt if desired or otherwise leave the fingers exposed if necessary. Unfortunately, these are often heavier than other options. Others choose the standard 5-fingered glove to both keep warm and to maintain some finger movement.

Different fabrics also perform differently when warmth is desired. Fleece is inexpensive, doesn’t perform well when wet, and is heavier than lightweight wools...but is generally a decent lightweight, inexpensive, and reasonably functional option. Wool is generally more expensive, dries poorly, retains decent warmth when wet, and is lighter than fleece. Possumdown is on par with the price of wool, dries fairly well, retains excellent warmth for minimal weight, and is lighter than wool. Ounce for ounce, Possumdown shows the greatest weight to warmth ratio, second only to goose down.

Different fabrics also offer different benefits when staying dry is a concern. GoreTex is heavier than microporous polypropylene (DriDucks/FroggToggs), is expensive and fairly durable, but does not breathe very well. Polyproplylene is lighter than GoreTex, is inexpensive and breathes well, but it isn’t very durable. eVENT is lighter than polypropylene, breathes fairly well and has decent durability, but it is fairly expensive.

Despite knowing these things, my “glove journey” has run the gamut and ultimately I ended up with a variety of options. Below are some of my findings for your consideration. Please reference the labeled picture (weights are based on size XL gloves, so if you have smaller hands, you have lighter gloves):

- PossumDown (1.62 oz) – Best general lightweight glove for warmth and function
- DeFeet Wool (2.50 oz) – Best heavy duty wool glove and has a gripping surface
- SmartWool (1.58 oz) – Solid lightweight wool glove, although more warmth can be gained from PossumDown for the same weight
- Mountain Laurel Designs eVENT Mitt (1.23 oz) – Best rain mitt
- ULA Rain Mitt (1.26 oz) – Close “second” rain mitt when durability is not a concern
- Mountain Hardwear Fleece/Windstopper (2.11 oz) – Excellent cold weather gloves used while hiking
- Outdoor Research Nylon Mitt (2.92 oz) – Excellent cold weather mitt used while hiking
- Fingerless Fleece Mitts – Generic (3.42 oz) – Good all-round option, extremely warm, durable, best for finite finger movements, but a little heavy
- Outdoor Research GoreTex Cold Weather Mitts (9.41oz) – Best for very cold weather, but irrelevant in most circumstances as they are too warm to be worn while hiking and too cumbersome for camp (for most reasonable conditions)


RedYetiDave said...

The PossumDown gloves you mention - are they the ones sold by BPL? I've not come across those before. I've just got a pair of Possum/Merino blend from Chocolate Fish (who took over making Merino in New Zealand when Icebreaker went to China).

They look excellent but I've yet to try them.

As someone that gets cold hands (great for keeping your pint chilled) gloves are essential all year around for me.

Jolly Green Giant said...

Thanks for stopping by RedYetiDave -

Waiting for BPL to have their PossumDown gloves in stock is like waiting for a condo on the moon.

I owned a pair of BPL PossumDown gloves before and I wasn't really impressed. I should also mention I wasn't as appreciative of their insulating qualities, however, and their flimsy nature more or less scared me off.

After learning more about PossumDown, I ended up buying a pair from Chocolate Fish ( after comparing them to another vendor ( which both offer very similar products.

I'm actually quite happy with the quality of the Chocolate Fish pair as they are both very warm and comfortable. I also bought a beanie which I think is a bit over manufacturered (it is a typical knit-style beanie and is therefore two layers which means it is very warm and heavier than something that is just one layer).

The bottom line is that I really haven't found anything lighter or warmer than these. It's a good purchase and good choice to put in your pack.

Best of luck.

RedYetiDave said...

Aha - we have the same possum based gloves after all!

I'd not normally take them along at this time of year (it's a bit too warm) but I think I'll bring them this coming weekend in case I get a chance to try them.

Usually, a pair of Extremities Power Dry liner gloves work fine for me during the summer. Along with the MLD eVent Mitt if it's wet and windy.

For the winter I find there's nothing to beat Buffalo Mits in combination with liners.

Have you tried them? They're well worth it.

Will have to see if the possum based gloves will work in them instead of the North Face Powerstretch I've used so far (they're a bit thicker and heavier than the Extremities).

Philip Werner said...

I have the same gloves addiction. For winter hiking I have BD Alti gloves and BD Cornice Mitts. Both are two layer with primaloft liners, and I often remove the liners - very nice. They are large, so they interfere with hiking pole straps - which I don't use anyway.

For shoulder seasons, I have two pairs of windstopper fleece gloves - one BD and the other OR. For 3 season, I use even lighter weight synthetic glove liners and have two pair of these - can't even remember where I got them. I've never used rain mitts - it's never been cold enough where I hike. I just hike with wet synthetic gloves. Not an issue since my hands are pumping out heat.

Regarding BPL gear shop inventory...I don't buy much gear from BPL anymore since it's always out of stock. Frustrating.

RedYetiDave said...

BPL stock levels are very frustrating I agree - but the email alert that you can sign up to helps out in letting you know when something actually is available.

Jolly Green Giant said...

RedYetiDave and Philip -

You guys are both right. BPL has good stuff but it is often hard to get in stock. Their automatic stock alerts are a nice touch, but having no clue when something will arrive is what bothers me. The PossumDown gloves from Chocolate Fish are a great example for me as I purchased them after waiting four months for stock to arrive at BPL. As far as I know, they are still out and it looks like things will only start to trickle in towards fall when there is no guarantee that the items desired will actually be an item they'll carry. I think it is fair to say they are being careful in a tough economy, but it does put a damper on things being that backpacking is a year-round activity. Oh well. As I tell my wife, when the world revolves around me and my needs, it will be a better place.

I haven't tried the Buffalo Mitts, but they look promising.

Thanks for your comments!

samh said...

> ...At the risk of drawing attention to my gear geekness,

Attention has been drawn! ; )

RedYetiDave said...

Aye - stock alerts have arrived months after I'd placed them - and sourced elsewhere!

Re. the CF gloves. Although it was (for once) scorching-hot in South Wales this weekend I was up at dawn taking some pictures when it was flipping cold.

The gloves made an amazing difference - and quickly. I'm impressed already.

Jolly Green Giant said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jolly Green Giant said...

Funny enough, I got the same stock alert yesterday. Ah, always a buck late and a dollar short.

Now drawing attention where attention is due, and please correct me if I'm wrong as I wholly embrace my gear geekness, but… "samh" is the merchandiser for BPL. That is the pinnacle of gear geekness!! KETTLE! BLACK!!

Being that samh stops by every now and then and is by all accounts a righteous fella, I only have one request for him. (As noted in my other comments to this post), if you and my wife could simply ensure the world revolves around me and my needs (BPL stock in this case), it will be a better place.

ccorbridge4 said...

I have many of the gloves you mentioned. In addition I've found Wintersilk silk/wool Glove Liners to work well with Possum Down for 3 season backpacking. They weigh in at 0.80 oz and give me great dexterity with a nice feel. Made of 70% silk/30% wool, most of the time they're all I use when it's chilly. I add the Possum Down as needed.

Jolly Green Giant said...

Thanks for the tip ccorbridge4 and for stopping by.

RedYetiDave said...

Well look at that - the BPL PossumDown is back...

The power of this blog perhaps? :)

Jolly Green Giant said...

If that's the case, I'm going to go play the lottery now...