When talking about winter hiking gear, it is usually your feet which get the most attention. But your hands can get just as cold – if not colder – than your feet. Your fingers are exposed to a lot of wind, and you need to use them for tasks like opening your water bottle.
Instead of looking for the one “best” winter hiking gloves, you should be thinking of the complete system. You’ll also need to plan for all the inevitable issues that will occur – like your hands getting sweaty and wet or exposed to the elements when you need to do camp tasks.
If it’s not too cold, you can get by wearing wool gloves or insulated gloves. But you’ll be a lot warmer if you wear windproof/waterproof liner gloves too. For hiking in reallllly cold weather, you’ll need three layers: A liner glove, insulating glove or mitten, and an overmitt.
Outdoor Research Meteor Mitts (Unisex) – These mitts have a waterproof/windproof shell. They also come with a removable fleece liner that has fold-back finger flaps. They are great for dexterity and have hand-warmer pockets. To keep your hands dry, you’ll want to wear them with a liner glove (not included). Buy here
Outdoor Research Versaliner liner gloves with these thick 100% wool SmartWool gloves on top. The liner glove protects against water and wind. The wool glove on top insulates your hand and fingers, plus provides some wind/water protection.
(Moderate Weather Systems)
(Very Cold Weather Systems)
Hiking Gloves for Semi-Cold Weather
Let’s start with hiking gloves for chilly days. I’m talking about September to October in most places. Or when you’ve got an unusually warm winter. For these days, you have three options: insulated gloves, the two-layer system or wool gloves.
Option 1: All-in-One Insulated Gloves
These types of gloves have a waterproof shell with an insulating layer sewn in. The insulating liner cannot be removed.
Pros of All-in-One Gloves:
- Easy: The all-in-one system makes it very easy. Just put the gloves on your hands. No need to worry about getting multiple layers on your hands.
- Better fit: When wearing multiple pairs of gloves, you have to worry about whether the layers will fit together. You don’t have to worry about this with all-in-one insulated gloves.
- Dexterity: The more insulation you add to your hands, the less you will be able to move your fingers. These types of insulated gloves usually allow for the most dexterity.
- Affordable: These gloves aren’t designed for extreme weather and they are usually only one layer (some have removable liners). So, they are much more affordable than buying 3-layer systems.
- Sweating: Your hands will get sweaty, causing the gloves to get wet. You should really be wearing a liner glove. Then you’d be able to change the wet liner and not the entire glove.
- Cut off circulation: Take a look at your hand in natural position. Do you see any large gaps between your fingers for insulation? No! Insulated gloves will cause you to spread your fingers out unnaturally, potentially cutting off circulation. This will make your fingers cold. This is why mittens are so much better.
- Not as warm: When it comes to warmth, mittens are always going to be better than gloves. If you need to keep your hands cold in very cold weather, you’re better off wearing insulating gloves with an overmitt (shell mitten) on top.
For these reasons, I wouldn’t recommend all-in-one insulated gloves for hiking. You are probably better off wearing TWO LAYERS: A lightweight liner glove and a mitten or glove on top.
However, if you are in a situation where you’ll be able to get inside to warm your hands (like when shoveling your driveway), then insulated gloves are a great, affordable option.
Here are some insulated gloves recommended by hikers:
- Outdoor Research Extravert Gloves (Men’s): Nylon shell, leather palm, wool/acrylic lining
- Wind Rider touchscreen gloves (Men’s or Women’s): Cordura shell and Thinsulate lining
- Gordini Promo Guantlet (Men’s or Women’s): Polyester shell with Gore-Tex insert, leather palm
(Gordini Promo Gaunlet gloves)
Option 2: Two-Layer System
This is my personal favorite system for semi-cold weather (and the system I used when biking to work in freezing conditions).
You wear a windproof/waterproof/breathable base layer (Gore-tex is great) with a mitten over top of it.
The base layer keeps your hands dry. The mitten on top keeps your hands warm. If you get mittens with fold-back finger flaps, then you’ll be able to do tasks like taking photos without having to completely expose your hands.
Option 3: Wool Gloves
If you are going to wear just one pair of gloves, then wool is probably the best way to go. Wool is an amazing material. It naturally repels water. It is a fabulous insulator. And wool blocks wind fairly well too (so long as it has a tight knit).
One very cool option is boiled wool gloves are what lobstermen/women in Maine use (you can read an article about boiled wool here). Basically, you get a large pair of wool gloves (or knit them yourself!). Then you boil them for a few minutes. Take them out of the water and (as soon as they are cool enough) you let them dry on your hands.
The wool shrinks when hot and wet, so they will shrink to fit your hands exactly. The larger the wool gloves are, the more you can let them shrink for optimal warmness.
Dachstein wool gloves are boiled. They are pretty pricy but very warm. You can boil your own wool gloves. Make sure they are thick, don’t have leather or touchscreen fingers, have no liner, and are extra-large size. Something like these 100% wool gloves.
Dachstein boiled wool gloves – expensive but incredibly warm
Merino wool gloves are also great for cold-weather hiking, especially since they aren’t itchy (you might need to wear liners with boiled wool if you have sensitive skin).
You can also use the boiling method on Merino wool to make them warmer. However, it’s hard to find 100% Merino gloves. Most have other materials like acrylic which won’t shrink like wool does.
Smartwool gloves are really popular with hikers, though they are usually used as a liner and not main gloves. These ones (unisex) are a bit warmer so can be worn by themselves or as a liner.
Smartwool 100% wool gloves
Hiking Glove System for VERY Cold Weather
Forget about wearing just one pair of gloves in very cold weather. In fact, you’ll probably need to wear THREE layers on your hands:
- Liner gloves (aka base layer) +
- Insulating layer +
- Waterproof outer shell (aka overmitt)
You don’t necessarily have to wear all the layers at once. When it is warmer out, you could just wear the liner gloves. In moderate weather, you wear the liners with the shell over them. This will give your hands more dexterity to do camp tasks.
Layer 1: Liner Gloves
The liner glove needs to be very lightweight and breathable. It should be able to wick away moisture from your hands so you don’t end up getting too sweaty. The liner also needs to be somewhat water resistant. You don’t want them to get soaked with sweat!
Wool (especially soft Merino wool) is one of the most popular options for base layers. Some people love polar fleece, but others recommend against it because it gets soaked by sweat quickly. Snow also sticks to fleece so you don’t want to wear it without a shell over it.
*You’ll probably have to try out a few materials until you find one that you like the best.
- SmartWool liner gloves (Men’s or Women’s): Merino wool
- Gore-Tex cycling gloves (Men’s): Polyamide with Gore-Tex membrane
- Fox River Poly Pro liners (Men’s): Thermolite polyester
- Outdoor Research Versaliner gloves (Men’s): Nylon
- Outdoor Research Sensor Liner Gloves (Women’s): Nylon
- Mountain Hardwear Power Stretch gloves (Men’s): Polar fleece
Outdoor Research Versaliner liner gloves, with heat pack pocket
Layer 2: Insulating Mitten/Gloves
These gloves or mittens go over your liner gloves but under your overmitt. The purpose of them is to provide insulation. You will need these when it is very cold out. They will make your hands very bulky and it will be difficult to perform tasks. There’s no way around this. 🙁
Gloves are better for when you need to remove your overmitts often to perform tasks. But, overall, mittens will be warmer than gloves.
Insulating mittens/gloves should NOT be wind-resistant or waterproof. Why? Because then they will make you sweat! It is your OVERMITT which should be protecting against wind and water. That’s why you can wear liners with just an overmitt but not wear liners with just your insulating layer.
Fleece is the most popular material for insulating mitts and gloves. Look for fleece of at least 300g weight. Wool is also a great option, especially since it repels water (fleece gets drenched easily).
Recommended Insulating Gloves/Mitts:
- Boiled wool is great as an insulating layer. Knit and boil your own or invest in a quality pair of Dachstein wool mitts (unisex).
- Ojro Swedish Merino Wool Gloves (unisex) – also quite pricy, but insanely warm and soft. You can wear them by themselves in moderately-cold weather.
- Under Armor Fleece gloves (Men’s) – these are warm and affordable, but keep in mind that fleece will get wet if it is snowing.
- Outdoor Research Flurry Mittens (Women’s): Wool, polyester, nylon
Layer 3: Overmitts/Shells
Your overmitt (aka shell) serves to:
- Protect from wind
- Keep snow off your insulating layer
- As a waterproof barrier in rainy/sleet conditions
If the weather isn’t too bad, you can wear just these alone or with just the liners. That will reduce some of the bulkiness so you can perform tasks better.
Overmitts are never ultralight. But, you might be able to get away with having just one pair of them (as opposed to your other layers – you’ll need multiple pairs of them!).
Assuming that you’ve got a good liner and insulating layer, your overmitt should NOT make your hands get sweaty. If they are getting sweaty/wet very quickly, then you’ll need to experiment with different liners/insulating layers.
*Most of these come with an insulating layer, which means that you don’t have to buy one separately. However, you will still need a lightweight, thin liner glove. Liner gloves get sweaty/wet quickly, so bring along at least one spare.
*If you use hand warmers, look for an overmitt that has a pocket for heat packs!
- Nylon shell
- Synthetic palms
- Removable 300g fleece insulating layer with fold-back finger flaps
- Magnets to hold back finger flaps
- Heat-pack pocket
- Cinch gauntlet closure
- 10.8oz per pair
- Does not have a base layer/liner
- Buy here
- Gore-Tex nylon 40D with 170g PrimaLoft gold insulation
- 340g PrimaLoft gold insulation removable liner
- Anti-slip leather palms
- Extra long wrist area
- Heat pack pocket
- Designed for serious alpine and arctic use!
- 12.8oz for pair (Men’s large weight)
- Buy men’s here, Buy women’s here
- Dryride 2-layer shell, Thermacore insulation, Gore-tex insert, Microfiber liner, removable stretch screen grab fleece liner
- Heat-pack pocket
- Touchscreen compatible
- Wrist leash
- Buy Men’s here, Buy Women’s here
- Nylon 4-way stretch shell, leather palm, removable 340g PrimaLoft Gold and fleece liner
- Wrist cinches
- Extra long wrists
- Buy here
- Nylon shell, waterproof/breathable Venetia Dry inserts, Prim aloft Gold insulation, removable fleece liners
- Anti-slip leather palms
- Touch screen compatible liners
- Buy here
- Stretch nylon shell, 300g Polartec fleece palm lining, Gore-Tex insert, removable boiled wool/PrimaLoft Gold liner
- Leather palm
- Foam padding on knuckles
- Extra long wrists
- Three-finger split
- Very dexterous!
- Buy here (yes, they are quite pricy!)
Tips for Keeping Your Hands Warm While Hiking
1. Consider Your Water Bottle
You should be able to open your water bottle without having to take off your gloves or mittens. So, make sure you are using a wide-mouth bottle. Read this post about the Best Winter Water Bottles and Bottle Insulators.
2. Size the Gloves Correctly
Since you will be wearing three layers (a base, insulator, and shell), you will need the combo to come together perfectly. If the layers are too tight, it will compress the insulation and cut off circulation – meaning your hands get cold. It’s also particularly hard to get cold hands into tight gloves!
Your liner gloves should be fitted to your actual hand size. The insulated gloves will probably be a size bigger and the shells a size bigger than that.
3. Use Hand Warmers
There is nothing wrong with using hand warmers. Don’t try to be “tough” and go without them if you are going to be hiking all day! You can buy hand warmer packs here.
4. You’ll Need At Least 2 Pairs of Liners
Your hands WILL get sweaty and wet when hiking. You will need at least one extra pair of liners to change into. Realistically, hikers will blow through three pairs of liners during an all-day hike.
Liners are lightweight, so take extra pairs. It’s better to carry a few extra ounces than have frostbite from your wet, sweaty hands.
5. Consider an Extra Insulating Glove Too
On long hikes or if you have very sweaty hands, you will want to bring an extra insulating layer too. Yes, it is annoying to carry extra weight – but it is better than having freezing, frostbit hands.
6. Try Latex Gloves as Vapor Barriers
You know those really cheap latex gloves? You can wear them under your liner gloves. They aren’t breathable, but will keep your liners from getting wet. Yes, you will have to change them (and they will make your hands stink), but they are lighter and cheaper than spare liner gloves.
7. Put Your Gloves on a String
You know how children’s gloves often have a string attaching them that goes up their sleeve and through their jacket? This is a great idea for hiking gloves too.
The string (which some hikers call “idiot strings” 🙂 ) means that you can remove the gloves without having to worry about dropping them or losing them. You can also use little clamps like these “Hold ‘em mitts.”
I know they are meant for toddlers, but they are very practical for hiking too. 🙂
What gloves do you use for winter hiking and backpacking? Let us know in the comments!