Most of us know that we need to layer our clothes to stay warm in cold weather. The same principle also applies to winter hiking gloves. If it’s not too cold, you can get by wearing insulated gloves. But, when it gets really cold, you’ll need to wear three layers: A liner glove, insulating glove or mitten, and an overmitt.
This system will keep your hands from getting sweaty, keep them warm, and still allow you to use your hands for tasks like opening water bottles. Here are some of the best winter hiking gloves, plus how to wear gloves so your hands actually stay warm when hiking in cold weather.
Best Winter Hiking Gloves and Mitts
1. Outdoor Research Meteor Mitts
These are one of the most popular winter gloves and are made with hiking and backpacking in mind. The best thing about these gloves is probably their dexterity; the fold-back fingers on the fleece layer mean you’ll be able to get your fingers out for camp tasks. They are also pretty lightweight compared to other winter hiking mittens. Just note that you’ll still need to wear a liner glove with these to wick sweat away.
- Waterproof/windproof nylon shell
- Synthetic palms
- Removable 300g fleece insulating layer with fold-back finger flaps
- Magnets to hold back finger flaps
- Hand-warmer pocket
- Cinch gauntlet closure
- 10.8oz per pair
- Men and women’s versions available
- Buy here (Amazon)
2. Outdoor Research Alti Mitts
These are another pair of winter mitts by Outdoor Research. Compared to the Meteor mitts above, they are much warmer. The shell itself is insulated. It also includes an insulating liner mitten.
Both the shell and the liner mitten use PrimaLoft insulation the back of the hands and thumbs. This insulation is very good at resisting moisture. The palms are insulated with fleece.
Compared to the Meteor mittens above, these mittens are much warmer. The tradeoff is that the mitts are bulkier and heavier (and quite pricier). If you need more dexterity, then go with the Meteor gloves. If you need more warmth, then choose these. As with the Meteor gloves, you’ll still want to wear a liner glove under these.
- Gore-Tex nylon 40D shell with 170g PrimaLoft gold insulation
- Anti-slip leather palms
- Removable 340g PrimaLof insulating mitten
- Extra long wrist area
- Hand-warmer pocket
- Designed for serious alpine and arctic use!
- 12.8oz for pair (Men’s large weight)
- Men’s and women’s available
- Buy men’s here, Buy women’s here (REI)
3. Burton Gore-Tex Mitten
Burton is known for making ski and snowboarding gear. Their gloves and mitts also work great for hiking, especially this one. It consists of two parts: an insulated shell and a liner glove.
The shell is made from Dryride with a Gore-Tex membrane. This makes it waterproof and windproof yet still breathable. The shell also has built-in insulation made from Thermcore. When the weather isn’t too cold, you can wear just the shell.
The removable liner is made from DRYRIDE Thermex, which is a very stretchy material. There is rubber-like texture on the fingers for improved grip. The shell is good for semi-cold weather hiking.
- Dryride 2-layer shell with Thermacore insulation and Gore-tex membrane,
- Removable liner
- Hand-warmer pocket
- Touchscreen compatible
- Wrist leash
- Men’s and women’s available
- Buy Men’s here, Buy Women’s here
4. Black Diamond Mercury Mitts
These mitts by Black Diamond are very warm without costing a fortune. They consist of a shell made from BD Dry, which is mostly nylon with a bit of spandex for stretch. It’s rated to 10,000mm waterproofness! The palm is from goat leather, so extra durable.
The removable insulating layer is waterproof and made from 340g PrimaLoft Gold fleece. The design of this layer is unique in that it has a split-finger: the thumb and index are separate, and the remaining three fingers are together. This gives you the warmth that comes with mittens but some of the dexterity of gloves.
Because the fleece layer is waterproof, I’d still recommend wearing a wicking liner glove with these mitts.
There are wrist cinches on both the shell and liner glove, but a few features are missing. There aren’t any wrist straps, nor is there a pocket for hand warmers. This is why they don’t get a higher rating in the list of winter hiking gloves.
- Waterproof shell made BD Dry
- Leather palm
- Removable waterproof fleece liner with 340g PrimaLoft Gold insulation
- Wrist cinches
- No wrist leashes or hand-warmer pocket
- Buy here on Amazon, or here on REI
5. Hestra Heli Three-Finger Gloves
These gloves are very popular for hiking and winter camping because of their three-finger design. You get more dexterity without sacrificing the warmth of a mitten.
The outer shell is windproof and water-resistant (not waterproof, but good enough for most snowy conditions). The three-layer fabric is fairly breathable and the leather palms are very durable.
The removable liner is insulated with polyester. It’s a 5-finger liner, so it’s the better choice when you need more dexterity.
There are some nice extra features, like wrist cinches and wrist leashes. These are probably also the most comfortable gloves thanks to their pre-curved fingers. They definitely are a pricier option, though they overall get great reviews.
In very cold weather of it you get sweaty hands, you’ll still want to wear a thin moisture-wicking liner glove with these mitts.
- Waterproof, water-resistant 3-layer breathable shell
- Leather palm
- Removable insulated liner glove
- Wrist leash and cinches
- Pre-curved fingers
- Buy here on Amazon; here on REI
6. Dakine Leather Scout Mittens
These are the most affordable winter hiking mitts listed here. They lack a lot of the features of the other (pricier) options, but are still very good for cold weather hikes.
The mitts consist of two layers. The outer shell is made from a nylon/polyester blend with a water-resistant coating. There is 110g of insulation on the palm and 280g of insulation on the back of the hand. This gives you good dexterity and enough warmth to wear the shell by itself in semi-cold weather. The palms are made from leather for durability.
The liners are made from 150g stretch fleece which have rubber-like fingers for touchscreen compatibility.
- Water-resistant shell with 110g of insulation
- Removable 5-finger insulating liner with 280g of insulation
- Wrist leash
- Nose wipe thumb panel
- Touchscreen compatible liner
- Very affordable
- Buy here on REI
7. Boiled Wool Gloves
One hiking glove option that a lot of people don’t know about is boiled wool. It is made by getting a too-large pair of wool gloves and boiling them for a few minutes. Then you take them out of the water and (as soon as they are cool enough) you let them dry on your hands. They shrink to fit over your hands. The larger the wool gloves are, the more you can let them shrink for optimal warmness.
The boiling process means you get a very tight-knit wool glove. It gives you all of the insulating properties of wool plus makes them even more water- and wind-resistant. Boiled wool is actually what lobstermen/women in Maine use (you can read an article about boiled wool here).
If you want to wear just one pair of gloves while hiking (though a liner glove is still recommended), this is the way to go. You’ll get the most dexterity and still stay warm. Dachstein is one of the few brands that makes boiled wool gloves.
- Naturally water-resistant
- Good insulator
- Superb dexterity
- Can be used as a liner with a waterproof shell mitt
- Buy here (Amazon)
8. Wind Rider Touchscreen Insulated Gloves
This is a pair of very cheap winter gloves that, for the price, actually keep you pretty warm. Since they are gloves and not mittens, they definitely won’t be as warm as the other mitts listed here. They also don’t have a removable insulating layer. You could end up sweating up a storm. If that insulating layer gets soaked, you’ll have to remove the entire glove. To wick away moisture, you’ll definitely need a liner glove with these – but I still wouldn’t recommend them if you have sweaty hands!
For the price point though, these are a great hiking glove for temps around 30F. There’s even some nice extra features like touchscreen fingertips and a storage pocket that can fit your keys, a hand warmer pack, or a lift pass.
- Water-resistant Cordura nylon shell
- Non-removable waterproof liner with 70g of Thinsulate insulation
- Good for semi-cold weather
- No wrist leash
- Touchscreen compatible
- Storage pocket
- Very affordable
- Buy here (Amazon)
How to Layer Gloves for Winter Hiking
Forget about wearing just one pair of gloves when hiking 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.
Note you shouldn’t wear just the insulating layer by itself. The insulation isn’t windproof, water-resistant, or wicking. Your hands will probably start to sweat and drench the glove. If any snow gets on the glove, it will stick to the insulating material and melt, causing it to get wet.
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. Because wool is wicking and insulating, you can sometimes get away with using it as your base and insulating layer – which means one less layer that you have to wear.
Some people love polar fleece as a liner glove 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
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 unfortunately.
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). Most winter mitts have a built-in removable insulating layer. So, you usually don’t have to buy this layer.
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.
Guide to Buying Winter Hiking Gloves/Mitts
If you are confused about what type of hiking gloves to get for cold winter weather, here’s a rundown of the types and features you want to look for.
Gloves versus Mittens
When it comes to warmth, mittens are superior to gloves. Because your hands are together and surrounded by the insulation, you lose much less heat than if you were wearing gloves.
Compared to mittens, gloves also 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.
However, the downside is that gloves lack dexterity. If you need to perform a lot of hiking or camp tasks, then gloves are the way to go.
The solution? To get the best of each world, choose a mitten shell with a glove insulating layer. You can remove the shell and expose the glove for dexterity when you need to use your hands. Just make sure that there is a wrist leash so you don’t lose your overmitt!
Types of Winter Hiking Gloves/Mitts
All winter gloves/mitts can be broken down into a two types.
1. Insulated Gloves
These are a glove made from a waterproof shell with built-in insulation. The insulating layer cannot be removed.
The benefit of this type of glove is that they are easy: Just put the gloves on your hands. No need to worry about putting on multiple layers or losing your overmitt. You also get more dexterity. They also tend to be much more affordable.
On the downside, an all-in-one system isn’t going to be as breathable. Your hands will probably end up sweaty, which means your gloves could get drenched. Since the insulation is sewn-in, you can’t remove it.
2. Shell Mittens with Removable Liners
These consist of a waterproof/windproof shell. Sometimes the shell contains a bit of insulation. Then there is an insulating liner that can be removed.
The two-layer system gives you a lot more versatility. You can carry an extra pair of insulating gloves (like a cheap pair of fleece gloves) to put on in case the liner gets sweaty and wet. You can also choose to wear just the shell with a liner glove if the weather isn’t as cold.
The downside is that shell mittens tend to be very pricy. They are also pretty bulky, which can make them annoying to wear when hiking or doing camp tasks.
Here are some of the main features to look for when buying winter hiking gloves or mitts.
- Wrist leash: This is a loop that goes around your wrist so you don’t lose the mitt when you remove it. You definitely want this feature with shell mittens.
- Reinforced palms: The palm gets a lot of use when hiking with poles (which you are probably doing in winter). Leather palms are the most durable but many synthetics are nearly as tough.
- Hand-warmer pocket: This isn’t absolutely necessary since you can put hand warmer packs right into the mitt between layers. But a pocket helps keep the pack in place so it doesn’t move around your glove/mit.
- Touchscreen compatible: If you use devices frequently while hiking, then you need this feature. It is usually the insulating layer that has touchscreen compatibility, so you’ll need to remove the overmitt to use devices.
- Insulation amount: Insulation is usually listed in grams. For very cold weather, you’ll want around 300g total of insulation. Better gloves/mitts will spread out the insulation so there is less around the areas where you need more dexterity.
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!
Some resources for this article include:
“Can I call this a totem pole ?” (CC BY-NC 2.0) by Bram P
“Grand Canyon – serious gear for serious” (CC BY-NC 2.0) by Al_HikesAZ
“Snowshoe” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by Umnak
“Jeff – almost done” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by brewbooks