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Neoprene Winter Glove Idea

Neoprene Gloves

Lightweight Winter Glove Woes

I've been having a real problem this winter dialing in my lightweight winter gloves. I sweat a lot when climbing up peaks or breaking trail and I have a tendency to soak out lightweight polypro or gore windstopper gloves. I can easily go through two pairs in a day, but it becomes a real problem if I need to dry them out on an overnight hike.

So, I tried a little experiment last week with a pair of lightweight neoprene gloves for winter hiking. I have lots of pairs of these gloves in all kinds of different thicknesses for winter whitewater kayaking, ranging from 0.5 mm NRS Hydroskin Paddling Gloves (left) to super-heavyweight 3.5 mm NRS Reactor Gloves (right).

This particular experiment was motivated by an interaction I had with an employee named Nick at the EMS store in North Conway. We were talking about light and mid-weight gloves and he recommended that I try on a pair that had neoprene in them. Unfortunately, I can't remember who made them, but I figured I'd just try the ones I already own instead of buying a new pair.

Neoprene 101

Neoprene is the primary material used in wet suits. It provides insulation by trapping a thin film of water close to your skin where it is heated by your body, providing a layer of warm between you and the surrounding water. Thicker neoprene suits and gloves reduce the rate in which your body and this insulating layer of water dissipate heat.

The Experiment

When I climbed Mt Avalon a few weeks back, I wore the thin 0.5 mm Neoprene Hydroskin Gloves, pictured above. I was snowshoeing and breaking trail on that trip, and sweating a lot. 

As I climbed, my hands stayed nice and warm, but when I started to descend they actually got quite cold. Anticipating this, I'd brought along a pair of eVent overmitts from Mountain Laurel Designs to act as a hard shell around the gloves and limit convection. Unfortunately, wearing them didn't do much and my hands stayed cold until I put my heavy OR mountaineering gloves on. These heavy gloves are great, but they're too warm for climbing and soak out quickly if worn on ascents.

Why the Gloves Failed

The Neoprene gloves were warm when I was climbing because I was climbing and breaking trail  Any glove would have felt warm under those circumstances.

The Neoprene gloves didn't work as I'd hoped because my hand sweat did not provide enough liquid for their insulating action to kick in. Ironically, I would have probably been better off dipping my gloved hands in the icy stream running alongside the trail, in order to fill them with water that I my body heat could warm up.

What Would Work?

I'm guessing that a better design would have a lightweight polypro inner glove or liner, with a thicker Neoprene outer glove or mitt that is tightly bonded to the polypro. As you exert yourself, the polypro will wet out, just like it does today. But if it is inside a Neoprene outer shell, the Neoprene can begin to exert it's thermal insulation properties. Ironically, the wetter your hands get, the more effective the Neoprene will become.

But why bother at all? People just bring multiple pairs of thin polypro or windstopper gloves and dry them out in their sleeping bags at night. That's true, and I do it too. But I'd rather not have to compromise my down sleep system to dry out my gloves, night after night. It would be better to have a glove that keeps my hands warm, even when the inner glove is soaked, and continues to get wetter throughout the day.

Lightweight Neoprene Hiking Gloves

A quick search of the Internet shows that some skiing gloves include a Neoprene component, but that it's usually just used in the cuff and not on the rest of the hand.

Can anyone recommend a pair that include even more Neoprene and would be good to and keep my hands warm over a multi-day trip, even when they're soaked out from exertion?

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22 comments

  1. I have more gloves that I care to know about .. the ones I keeping coming back to is my pair of woolpower wool mittens. They keep my hands drier and more comfortable than anything else I've tried – which does not include neoprene, to be fair. But windstoper fleece, various polypro and other polyester variants etc. etc., all didn't do it for me. If necessary I also have a pair of gore-tex overgloves, but down to 0F, I never needed to use them …

  2. I disagree about neoprene being more warm when more wet. Water is a terribly bad insulator and what neoprene does in a wetsuit, is that is restricts the convective heat loss by creating a still layer of water between skin and the neoprene. In addition the neoprene itself works as a insulation layer almost like CFF in sleeping pads. When walking there is no water surrounding you and it would be better to keep the skin and insulation dry instead of trapping water into it.

    The solution for cold hands while descending would be thicker gloves, be it neoprene or more traditional pile or other puffy layer.

    I find Primaloft insulated Goretex (hard shell, not windstopper) gloves and thin powerstretch gloves to be a good combination in most winter outings. Both can be dried with body heat under clothing and neither gets terribly wet and feels quite warm even when damp. And for really cold (below -30C) add puffy over sized mittens.

  3. I'm glad you mentioned this. I had been thinking about trying neoprene this winter myself. Another idea I'd had was to do a vapor barrier on my hands, after a good test run with VB's on my feet. A surgical glove would fit underneath any kind of handwear, and would keep your sweat from wetting out your insulating gloves. Of course, it's possible you'd have two hand-shaped water balloons by the end of your uphill section.

  4. Guthook – I'm glad you mentioned the VB liner. I totally forgot that I carry a pair of surgical latex gloves for this very purpose in my first-aid kit! Gotta try that next. Awesome!

  5. Korpijaakko – that doesn't work for me. While my primaloft line OR gloves and mitts are warm, they wet out with any kind of exertion, and then they stay cold. I did this just last week and my lined gloves stayed cold for days.

    The problem, as I see it, is to find an insulator that will stay warm when wet or will insulate a wet layer without degrading also.

  6. I use a neoprene suit (not the full diving suit, but one that covers my trunk) for safety while winter canoing/kayaking (38-39F 1-2C water isn't fun to swim in) and find that it keeps me quite warm – up until it fails. Basically with a bunch of other layers I can be out for 1-2 hours in near freezing weather and then I'm cold. The transition is very fast – not like conventional insulation where you have a lot of warning that you're getting cooler. In essence the water layer near the skin eventually gets cold and then that's it.

  7. Earlylite – I second Chris's opinion above that the "waterproof Seirus Xtreme" gloves are excelent – very warm, really waterproof, breath well and relatively light. Great for hiking. For Very cold weather where you are not hiking – like being in camp at 10 degrees The Gordini Down "Qquatbloc Elite" are the very warmest waterproof gloves I have yet (really made for skiing, can be too warm sometimes).

    Robin

  8. I have hot hands and I fiddle more with the gloves than I do any other layer. For winter use prefer using a wool glove liner under a plain leather glove and carry a couple of spares of each. Currently using the Shak liner by Ibex. When I come to a stop I slip off the leather and pull on a heavy wool fingerless glove / mitten combo (with a Gore-Tex shell as the need be). I must admit to a sentimental attachment to military surplus wool gloves. As for pure man-made, I prefer the Seirus.

  9. "that doesn’t work for me."

    Sorry to hear that. It would have been the easy way out. I try to avoid getting my hands wet and occasionally ski without gloves if the weather is mild (around 0C, no wind). And the big difference might be that I am usually able to dry out gear in tent with a white gas stove…

    Maybe wool mittens would work? Or thicker neoprene? IF cold, I'd go with mittens instead of gloves. I have not tested VBL systems but they seem to work for others while others hate them. But trying is cheap and easy.

  10. I don't think neoprene is the way to go. I've tried them and find they get wet inside and stay wet. Fine for gross motor skills like paddling. No so fine for untying shoelaces below freezing. I think the problem is that they are stretchy to the point of restricting circulation.

    I've used alpacka gloves inside half-finger mitts, with the mitt part folding back to expose the fingers when sweating. Alpacka is a super wool, warm and only damp when wet. Better than polypro. On a hard climb I'll either wear just the alpacka glove, or take it off and wear the fingerless part of the mitt, then flip the mitten part back on if my fingers get too cold.

    By the way, the Serius glove at REI got mixed reviews, and some really bad reviews.

    Marty Cooperman

  11. Korpijaakko – I snowshoe without gloves too, but if the VB liners don't work, then maybe bringing several pairs of thin wool gloves is the way to go. They'd be easy to dry in my jacket.

    Marty – I hear you, but if Chris says that the Serius gloves work, I'll try them. The guy has been 100% spot on with gear recommendations for me for 2 years…

  12. I am a keen cyclist and ride year round. I use a glove made by Canari (Sierra TP) . These are windproof, water resistant and breathe very well (designed for high exertion activities). I had a pair of gloves by serius that were very similar/good but they don't make anymore. I use the canari gloves on very cold days when I snowshoe and my hands are warm without accumulating too much sweat. I also carry lava wool liners (http://www.rei.com/product/793248) and as soon as I feel my hands overheat I put these on and take the canari gloves off. When it is very very cold I wear the wool liners plus the canari gloves. I think the tight elastic cuff on the canari gloves helps stop sweat dripping down from my forearms into the gloves. There are many cycling specific gloves that work well – remember you are going along at 20 mph in 30 degree weather so wind chill is a big factor and you don't want sweat accumulating too much.

  13. I have experimented with a lot of different gloves/mittens and have poor circulation and yet sweat a lot, here's what I have come up with… US Military Cold Weather Wool Trigger Mittens from Amazon.com for $2.98. Use latex gloves under them to keep them from wetting out and a pair of the MLD eVent overmitts over them in wet/snowy weather. I wear these hiking, snowshoeing, skiing and trail running in the winter. I only use the latex gloves if I know I'm not going to get a chance to dry them out. They stay pretty warm for me even when damp from sweat. Very simple and cheap (well except for the MLD mitts). I sometimes wear a lightweight polypro liner glove underneath as well for really cold weather. I've tried neoprene and it hasn't worked well for me. YMMV

    I also use a pair of 100% wool military gloves around camp when I need a little more dexterity… They're also perfectly safe to use around a fire as they won't melt or burn (the wonder of wool!)

  14. Phil, if you try the VB gloves let me know. I will try them sometime when I have a chance. But I think my hands sweat a lot less than yours in general :)

  15. I use smartwool liner gloves and found that they are just about perfect for me. Warm but also breath well so that they typically do not get wet from sweating.

    I do need to avoid getting them wet for melting snow or directly wet when doing camp chores.

    I bring two pair of the wool liners and they are easily dried with bodyheat at night by putting them under my baselayer.

    I have a pair of wool mittens and I have to add those as a temporary layer during long stops or in camp, especically if it is windy.

  16. I use a magical secret technique to keep my hands dry and warm in cold weather. No gloves! Play with snow! This works down to minus 20, as long as your core is warm then I find no gloves leaves my hands dry. If they start to feel chilly I pick up a lump of snow and knead it for a few minutes, by the time it's melted away my hands feel like they're on fire.

    That, and wool gloves for really low temps. Even when they get soaked through they feel warm after being worn for a few minutes.

    The only time this fails to work for me is in the early morning, packing up all the gear and skiing. Too early for the exercise to heat me up, my hands feel like shit until a half hour into the skiing. I am thinking seriously about starting the winter mornings with a half hour of calisthenics.

  17. Earlylite – I faced the same dilemma that your are facing. I even tried the same neoprene gloves that you used and got the same results that you did. I picked up the Black Diamond Arc Glove and have found it is exactly what I am looking for. I can wear it while doing high output stuff and it has the perfect mix of warmth and waterproofing. This comes in handy when scrambling up hills where my hands would typically be buried in Snow. I have also found that the dexterity is great.

  18. I used a pair of Neoprene Glacier Gloves for the Sierra in CA and the San Juan Mtns in Colorado. I liked them because they gave me a lot of grip on my iceaxe and insulated my hand from the cold aluminum of my Camp Corsa axe.

    What i found was my hands would dry out and crack after a week of using these gloves off and on 14 hours a day. I switched to Seirus fllece gloves but found them very difficult to take on and off once my hands got wet from sweat or whatever. Although the Seirus gloves did prove to be very windproof.

    Now I use a home made rip stop shell and micro fleece lined set of mittens. However they would not be safe to use with an ice axe so i am back to the neoprene gloves.

    The hidden consequences of using a UL aluminum handled ice axe like the Camp Corsa is that you need serious insulation to protect from the extreme cold conduction. Especially when on a side hill and using the axe as a belay on the up hil side. That aluminum becomes wicked cold! Anyhow even though my hands got trashed with the neoprene I was VERY glad to have their superior grip when self arresting in the San Juans. By the way, my Glacier Glove brand neoprene gloves were $15 at outdoor world.. and of course i have never seen them for that price since!

  19. Why don't you just tape your corsa, say with duct tape. Wouldn't that help a bit?

  20. That is an awesome Idea. I was about to put that in my original post but i hav not tried it. I suppose as long as the tape was grippy enough. Maybe bicycle handlebar tape?

  21. Neoprene insulates well because it is a rubbery, synthetic material that traps thousands of tiny air bubbles in it during production. A common misconception is that wetsuits and other neoprene pieces insulate by trapping a thin layer of water next to the skin. While this does occur, neoprene's insulating properties come from it's low thermal conduction achieved by the tiny air bubbles in it's "fabric," not from the water trapped within, as it will only be as warm as the skin it gets its heat from. I work as a scuba instructor and was told the same things that many of you believe. I am only expressing concern because the author suggested dipping his gloves in stream water would have improved his overall thermal inventory. Not so! The energy needed to heat near-freezing water would go a long way in sucking valuable heat from your system! A very interesting experiment indeed.

    I suffer from Reynaud's Phenomenon, a cardiovascular disease that causes the body to induce shock prematurely, squeezing blood from the extremities (hands and feet) in relatively moderate conditions. I have found that a combination of layers works best. I too have tried expedition weight neoprene (3mm or more) gloves as liners underneath a water-proof/breathable shell, and experienced wonderful results! Did my hands get terribly sweaty? Of course. Neoprene is a type of vapor/barrier glove in this case, thus freeing my insulated weather-proof shells to function at full throttle. In essence you have 4 layers here. Against the skin you have the sweat (a side effect of overheating that while undesirable, is nullified by the inability of evaporative heat loss to occur through the neoprene). Next you have the neoprene (which as a flexible material goes, has much better thermal insulating properties that wetted-out fleece or wool). Then you have your gloves' insulation (which retains it's properties best when dry). And finally the weather-proof shell.

    This system has proved excellent on summit's of rocky mountain peaks and ski hills across the map in bitterly cold conditions. I hope others have similar luck!

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