On Thursday I start a yo-yo of the Pfiffner Traverse, a 77-mile high route in Colorado’s Front Range between Milner and Berthoud Passes, and I firmly expect at least one monsoonal drenching during the course of it, if not multiple.
The backpacking conditions for which I still have the fewest answers is when it’s cold and wet. And, unfortunately, this is the exact scenario that can be brought on by Colorado’s afternoon storms: rain falls in buckets, winds pick up, and temperatures plummet.
My hands are always the first to go in these conditions. First they get wet, then cold, and finally numb, which makes for at least a suffer-fest if not a show-stopper.
Oddly, the outdoor industry has few solutions for keeping hands warm and dry when it’s cold and wet. Let’s discuss the current options, and then my experiment.
State of the market
The industry’s conventional answer to cold-and-wet conditions is a waterproof/breathable shell worn over layers of clothing. For example: hiking shirt, fleece top, WP/B jacket.
Whereas rain jackets and pants are widely available, I know of only two mass-production shells: the Outdoor Research Revel Mitts ($60, 3.5 oz) and REI Minimalist Waterproof Mittens ($40, 2-3 oz).
More options are available from the cottage industry:
- Borah Gear eVent Rain Mitts
- LUL WPB Over-Mitts
- LUL Cuben Over-Mitts
- Mountain Laurel Designs eVent Rain Mitts
- ZPacks Vertice Rain Mitts
I believe that these products are all flawed. I’m generally skeptical of the performance of WPB fabrics already. But handwear is a particularly bad application for it: the performance of WPB fabrics is adversely affected by abrasion and body oils (due to degradation of the DWR finish), and mitts are subjected extensively to both.
Cuben Fiber does not rely on DWR, but it still has an issue with abrasion: this is its weakest performance trait. I’m also not thrilled by the associated $80 price tag.
On this trip I’m bringing with me Grease Monkey Neoprene Long Cuff Gloves, which I found at the local Home Depot for $5. They weigh 3.0 oz in size Extra Large, which I can layer over my wool DeFeet Duragloves (size M) or my Glacier Glove Ascension Bay Sun Gloves (size L). The size Large fit well, but don’t leave me room for layering.
Gloves are not as warm as mitts, but in this case I think the root issue is that my hands are getting wet (and then cold). The ambient temperatures are not the problem. So if I keep my hands dry, keeping them warm may not be as difficult.
I’m unconcerned about fabric breathability, or lack thereof. If my hands get too hot (a reason to rejoice), I can quickly remove the gloves to vent.
They are thicker (and therefore more durable) than typical dishwashing gloves. But for long-term constant use, I’d look elsewhere.
I purchased two other pairs of gloves before finding these.
Nitrile-dipped gloves from Stanley, very similar to this Firm Grip model, also available from HD (online at least) for $5. They are the lightest option (2.0 oz), but they are only waterproof to the cuff, which seemed inadequate to me.
True Blues Ultimate Household Gloves are the most durable of the bunch, but also the heaviest (5.7 oz) and most expensive ($11) for the size Large. They seemed excessively heavy-duty.
I’ll report back after the trip. If you’ve experimented along these lines before, what was your experience?
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Typo: The Boarh Gear link goes to the MLD page. It should link to http://borahgear.com/eventmitts.html.
To bad Borah Gear has (temporarily?) discontinued their mitts. I have had really good experiences with them, though my wife’s pair suffered from some decay problems. The reinforced palms held up.
I paired them originally with some fleece work gloves from Home Depot and switched to possum fur when my wife bought me a pair of those after I accidentally melted mine on a campfire.
After a lot of hiking, she finally was willing to go with Showa 282s, in spite of the way they look. 🙂
What are your thoughts on thicker wool gloves, knowing that they’ll get drenched but keep you somewhat warm? When i was in iceland a glacier guide had a pair during a pretty cold and wet day, afterwards I decided to try a pair (from RAB) and so far I’ve liked them although there is a comfort factor since the hands do get wet.
I’ve tried that multiple times, and it’s never worked. I’ve tried wool and fleece. The idea that wool is “warm when wet” is the second greatest myth of the outdoor industry, behind waterproof-breathable fabrics. The only way for wool to be warm when wet is if you pee on it, and even that only provides short-term relief. Wool is warmer when wet than polyester, but it’s not warm.
Thank you for acknowledging the myth of “warm-wet-wool” !
Any update on how they worked? I’m starting CT in few days, usually just use bread bags but quit eating bread so I’m out…need a cheap option. Just can’t see spend $50+ on true rain mitts. Bread bags came in handy on WRHR last September.
The biggest problem is for folks who use trekking poles. I don’t use them. The thin nitrile gloves are tougher than you may think. Auto mechanics use them to keep their hands clean, although they’ll go through a few pairs a day… usually because when they take them off to clean their tools and do paperwork it is just easier to throw them away and get a new pair for the next job.
I use the thin nitrile gloves from Home Depot. 100 gloves for $10. I wear them next to my skin, they work like a vapor barrier liner. When the wind howls, your hands can still get cold. Then, thin wool glove liners and cuben mitts over the nitrile gloves cover the bases for me except in winter. Mix and match. Nitrile only; Nitrile and Cuben mitts; Nitrile under wool glove liners and Cuben mitt. Yes, the cuben is expensive, but I’ve had mine for a few years now, and the dollar cost average per year gets better each year.
the problem with these would likely be the way water gets into them…
once water gets in you’ll likely face the same issue, though it rubber does block out the wind… not the icy cold rain( if u manage to get some into the gloves while wearing)…
considered making a water absorbent “protection” at the glove opening?
since the arms would be less skeptical to cold it might work 🙂
How about those: http://bit.ly/2v5ctGO – not exactly lightweight (5.1 oz.(145g)/pair) and mainly tailored for being used with Pacerpoles, but I liked them a lot in cold-and-wet conditions on my last two hikes in northern Scandinavia. Maybe a general principle worth considering?
I like the idea, but I’d rather see them made of WP fabric rather than neoprene, at least for rain. Neoprene takes a long time to dry out, especially in humid and sun-less places. A heavy-duty WP fabric could almost be flicked dry.
How about a pair of cold-weather paddling gloves like the NRS Hydroskin gloves?
It’s been a long time, but I have seen some silnylon mitts made for runners, that when seam sealed might be better than WP/B shells.
I had a pair of eVent rain mitts that delaminated quickly, I assume from body oils and trekking poles.
I look forward to your results.
I have used thin wool gloves as a base layer, plus too big for me and therefore nice and loose latex gloves as a mid layer, plus homemade boiled wool mittens (cheap and fun) as the top layer. Boiling the wool “felts” it, making it almost waterproof. I make sure nothing is tight nor constrictive.
A plastic bag works well as a midlayer too!
Here are instructions for the boiled wool mittens:
McGuckin in Boulder has a wide selection of gloves including ice fishing gloves, winter work gloves, etc.
McGuckin’s might be the greatest store in Boulder.
Dont know if this fits the bill or not …. I was looking at the equipment for climber Colin Haley’s Begguya ascent and my interest was piqued by item #13 in his clothing list-Tem Res 282 gloves. Since they were used on an Alpine Climbing trip they may be overkill for hiking but might be worth a try as they are not too expensive.
Someone recommended those on the associated FB thread, too. I will try to get my hands on these. They sound too warm for summertime conditions, but it’s good to know about them as a colder weather option.
Worked well November bicycle tour Oregon (cold, wet)
– 3.1 oz., Listed
– $70 maybe too expensive
– cuff maybe too short for you
– tricot(?) Lining felt nice even on wet bare hands
– pretty durable
I’d love to find a similar solution for my feet. I haven’t had good experiences with neoprene socks, and plastic bags are a compromise, but I could see a latex sock working well.
I wouldn’t recommend that in most conditions. In this context, the difference between socks and gloves is that you can easily remove gloves and allow your hands to get fresh air. That’s hard to do with socks. Latex is a non-breathable fabric, so any foot perspiration will remain trapped between your skin and the latex. If you have a liner sock it will be less bad, and if you are in really cold conditions (e.g. 15 degrees F or colder) then your feet won’t sweat much. But in normal 3-season conditions, even on the cooler end of the range, I think you’ll end up with some difficult maceration issues.
My solution for cold-and-wet conditions is a thick merino sock. I’ve written about it before:
Yama Mountain Gear is making silnylon pogies, which are an interesting approach to the problem. They’re waterproof on the top and sides and breathable through the bottom.
I sewed two pairs of pogies for our 2 month trip to NewZealand. They worked really well for my girlfriend and me. We use poles most of the time and they kept our hands protected from wind and rain, even without liners underneath
Have you ever used just plain sil nylon mittens (considering waterproof breathable doesn’t work)? Also, how do you think sil nylon mittens with mesh areas either in the palms or under the pinky finger (the least exposed areas) would work? That could help with the breathability.
No, I have not, but I would like to try. Except it would have to be sil/PU fabric since you can’t seam-tape sil/sil fabric.
Don’t put mesh areas in them. That’s only going to undermine the point, which is to keep the hands dry. If your hands get too sweaty, remove the mitts.
In Japan many UL and not UL hikers or back country skiers do something similar as what you propose. There are these workmen gloves for people in the fishing industry etc. That have to deal with ice and cold water a lot. They have latex gloves that have a thin thermal filling.
You also have without filling of course and then you can add your own liner.
I need to figure out how to find these…
It would be my pleasure if I could assist you with that. Just send me a mail. First would need to check sizing though. They might not fit. (I’m 184cm and their XL is a bit too small. The winter versions have a 3L and should fit me).
You can also find these here: https://www.amazon.com/Atlas-Waterproof-Breathable-Technology-Insulation/dp/B015WU52MI/ref=sr_1_1?s=hi&ie=UTF8&qid=1502816463&sr=1-1&keywords=showa+282#feature-bullets-btf
I use a heavier version for brewing beer in cold weather. I haven’t thought of taking them into the back country. Looking forward to learning what you found on your trip.
I ran into this issue while hiking in Iceland. My wool gloves quickly became useless in the wind and rain. I had a silnylon rain skirt and made some rough mittens out of it. I put the mittens over my extra pair of socks. It worked really well.
Any post-trip report on how this experiment performed? I’m about to depart on a trip with expected cold and wet conditions. Thanks.
It didn’t rain on me often enough for me to say conclusively. It’s definitely the best thing that I’ve found, BUT: gloves are not as warm as mitts; the latex is inherently cool to the touch; dexterity is fair but not perfect. If worn over a true liner glove, not just a sun glove as I was doing, I think the system would work better.
A friend of mine bought the Showa 281 Glove prior to his Pfiffner trip, and sounded more positive than I am sounding. “They’re amazing. Totally worth $25, and I’ll be using them as my new go to for bike commuting in cold/wet weather.” But he says they run small, so size up.
Hi Andrew – I wore the grease monkey large gloves over a pair of light fleece gloves during UTMB this year. Between the rain and snow affecting back of the pack runners like me, I probably had them on for 8-10 hours. i think the combination was a great solution and my hands stayed warm. Over time, moisture from sweat did build up but it did not affect heat retention. Also, gloves were durable and I had no holes or tears despite the fact that the entire time I was using poles.
My running partner used the same setup but with a thicker glove and had a negative experience. I think the problem was that if the inner glove is too tight, the neoprene can restrict blood flow to the fingers. Ideally, the neoprene shell should be over-sized to ensure that the inner glove is not compressed.
I will likely continue to use this setup, but will look for even larger sizes than the grease monkey to allow for thicker undergloves.
During the Pfiffner Traverse I was able to use the Monkey Wrench gloves for a few short periods, but nothing long enough to fully assess the system. Sounds like you did. My limited experience is consistent with yours: it works well IF (1) you’re also wearing liner gloves and (2) circulation is still adequate. Without liner gloves, your hand stays dry, but the cool precip sucks warmth from them. If circulation is insufficient, warm blood can’t get to your hands.
I wore the Showa gloves and thought they performed very well. They’re a two-in-one system: very waterproof shell (and supposedly breathable, too) with an acrylic liner. I carried liner gloves anyway because there were many hours where I only wanted a liner glove, not WP/B protection, too.
Hi Andrew, have you ever tried a pair of convertible mittens designed like this https://www.mammoth-shop.de/?cl=details&anid=c502f83fb038eb8c8c427ec117489f16&gclid=EAIaIQobChMI0rG-09mW1gIViEAbCh0W8wTIEAkYASABEgL3xfD_BwE ?
I don’t have much outdoor experience (yet), but on my first trip up to the Snowdon I used a cheap pair of wool mittens designed like this and even though they got pretty wet, my fingers could still warm each other, and when I needed something from my backpack, I could simply flip back the front part without having to take off the whole glove. Do you see any huge disadvantages of this design, especially for longer trips (which I haven’t done yet)?
It’s been a long time since I used mittens like that. Don’t derive any meaning from that — I simply found some other gloves and mittens that worked better for me.
For me at least, in wet conditions simply having a thicker wool or fleece glove does not cut it. My hands will get very cold when exposed directly to moisture. Your hands may run warmer, which is great for you.
I just noticed that LightHeart Gear is now making a silnylon rain mitten, that seems like it might be just what you’re searching for: https://www.lightheartgear.com/index.php/shop-now/rain-gear/rain-mitts
In terms of mass produced rain mitts there is also the Extremities Tuff Bags ( https://www.amazon.co.uk/Extremities-Waterpooof-Windproof-Mittens-Black/dp/B002ZO0I1U ). They are actually only WP/B on the back of your hand, the palms are much more durable plastic. But I found condensation to be a major issue, so when it’s raining your hands are going to be wet (not soaking, but wet). They do protect against wind very well though.
I love all of this interest from across the pond. Clearly, the UK knows how to manage rain.
🙂 I also heard about this: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/glovax-a-revolutionary-adventure-glove–2#/ I haven’t tried it myself though, but there are some positive reviews on the internet.
Be skeptical of anything described as “water resistant.”
These have become a standard in the PNW back country ski community for cold and wet conditions. They are kind of amazing 100% waterproof and decently breathable for $23. There’s a similar one that’s not the ‘Temres’ one but it’s not breathable like these. https://www.fisheriessupply.com/atlas-gloves-showa-282-temres
Already on it, https://andrewskurka.com/2017/review-showa-282-gloves-cold-wet-conditions/
Check out this link for waterproof gloves. Lightheart I first heard about with a completely waterproof rain jacket that does not have those breathable features that people are are scared of. I like the idea and Google their website later to see if they had gloves. No I have not purchased this I really like this idea considering I hate the idea of waking up in the morning and putting on Frozen or cold wet clothes on a cold day.
What about just putting up with the discomfort? I don’t mean to be crass.
How did the early pioneers, explorers, and trappers/hunters ever survive without gear which kept them 100% warm and comfortable at all times? This is not to say we shouldn’t embrace technological advancements, but I think there comes a point in time when it makes sense to acknowledge nature for what it is – an inherently ‘uncomfortable’ place – and the sooner we can adjust to it (mentally/physically) the better. We are incredibly adaptable creatures.
This is just one man’s opinion – but it seems to me that we are increasingly trying to blur the boundaries between the rather predictable city lifestyle (where we demand comfort) and the wilderness experience. Where does it end?
Gear manufacturers are very much profiting off of people’s fear and inexperience. Rather than being encouraged to rely on our wits, bushcraft/survival skills, fitness, grit and resillience, we are made to believe that our success is contingent on a piece(s) of equiptment.
Winter sucks. Every tree and animal bears the brunt of it. Why should we (humans) expect anything different? Unless of course we aren’t going outdoors to experience it for what it is…but to experience a fabricated version of it.
AJ- early explorers used fur
a couple of years late to this thread, but I know cyclo-cross racers definitely have used some sort of fish packing or ice fishing gloves that can be readily found inexpensively. I imagine Andrew has found a solution, but something like “Memphis Glove N9690L Ninja Ice 15 Gauge“ for $8 is rated for ice fishing and looks to weigh around an ounce or less since it’s mostly foam. I seem to recall other versions that were more durable or cut resistant (fish packing) but if they’re mostly used for insulation the lightest foam ones might just work.
Great and excellent advice, it’s very useful for me. Thanks for sharing these!
Filling up water bottles in cold weather always leaves my hands wet and freezing, it’s the worst! I’ve wanted waterproof gloves for a while but I always got stuck on the bulk (and cost) of waterproof ski gloves. Like you said there’s no perfect solution for waterproof gloves, but for 5 bucks this is beautifully simple. It’s also liberating having cheap gloves that you don’t feel bad banging around. I have a feeling these will be in my pack soon!