Ortovox Boiled Wool Arctic Mitts

Ortovox Arctic Mitts

Ortovox Arctic Mitts

I saw a picture of Carey Kish, author of the Maine Mountain Guide, earlier this winter climbing the famous Mount Willey Slide in Crawford Notch as a young man. He was wearing a pair of massive white mittens which he explained were made out of boiled wool by a German company named Dachstein that used to be popular with mountaineers in the United States because they are so warm. I like vintage mountaineering gear and figured it would be fun to track down a pair and try them out.

I wasn’t able to find the Dachstein mittens available in the United States, although a reader has since pointed me to store that sells them in the UK. But I was able to find a similar Dachstein-style boiled wool glove called Ortovox Artic Mitts available from a local outfitter called The Mountaineer, in the Adirondacks. Priced at $50, they’re a great bargain IMHO.

Boiled Wool Clothing

Boiled wool mitts are made by repeatedly boiling heavy wool gloves in hot water until they shrink to the desired size. The boiling process preserves the natural oils occurring in the wool and results in a very tightly woven mitt that is windproof and virtually waterproof. Boiled wool clothing has been around since the Middle Ages and is prized for its warmth and value. It’s surprising that there’s not more of it available, if only from cottage manufacturers who could tailor it for niche winter hiking and mountaineering use.

Ortovox Boiled Wool Mitts at Norcross Pond

Ortovox Boiled Wool Mitts at Norcross Pond

I’ve been using the Ortovox Arctic Mitts on long winter day hikes in cold, 0-20F degree weather in the White Mountains. They’re very thick and warm, with long wrist gauntlets that extend up your arm and over the wrist. In terms of dexterity, the mitts are perfect for use with trekking poles but are otherwise too large and bulky for much else. I usually wear a glove liner of some sort with them, or vapor barrier gloves, so that my hands still stay warm when I need to take the mitts off to adjust my gear, take a photo, or eat a snack.

One of the things that’s really impressed me about the Arctic Mitts is their water resistance. When I go winter hiking and snowshoeing the mitts invariably get covered with snow, but the interior never feels wet, even when I’ve worn them all day. I guess that’s just the density of the boiled wool weave at work. It’s rare for me to get a full day’s use out of a fleece or wool glove before they get soaked by external moisture, so being able to wear a single pair of these the Arctic Mitts all day is a novelty.

Size-wise, the Arctic Mitts run a bit smaller than you’d expect, so size up if you plan to wear a glove liner inside them. They retain their shape well through multiple washings as long as you wash them in cold water and blot dry in a towel rather than ringing them out or putting them in a drier. When washing use a very gentle detergent like Woolite and rinse well.

Long Wrist Gauntlets

Long Wrist Gauntlets

As you can imagine, the Ortovox Arctic Mitts are simply too well insulated to wear in warmer temperatures , but they are an ideal cold weather glove worn alone or under a large waterproof shell glove, and at $50/pair, a fairly affordable one as cold weather mitts go.  I’m psyched that I own these and look forward to using them during the rest of the winter.

Disclaimer: The author purchased this product with his own funds. 

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12 Responses to Ortovox Boiled Wool Arctic Mitts

  1. steve February 11, 2013 at 2:31 am #

    I too love these mitts.

    Another Dachstein item that is also extremely warm is their ‘alp hat’. You won’t see many of these because they are hard to find and usually out of stock. I got mine from bradleyalpinist. I have no affiliation with this company–and had to wait several months to get one. My only complaint is the ‘scratchy’ feel of the wool on my head. This is easily mitigated by using a thin scarf or bandana as a liner.

  2. Andrew Mazibrada February 11, 2013 at 2:35 am #

    I tested Hestra boiled wool mitts this year, alongside Hestra insulated gloves and insulated mitts. All in the same -20?C temperatures in Norway. Of course, the Hestra insulated mitts were best but I was stunned at how good the boiled wool mitts were. Dachsteins are famous among climbers but relatively unknown among hikers. They are relatively cheap too, as the technology is not particularly new. They will definitely be on my list for winter hiking. I use Buffalo mitts normally which are much lighter and do much the same thing but perhaps not in such cold temperatures. Mitts are definitely the warmest thing to put on your hands in winter – if your hands are already cold, they warm them up far more swiftly than gloves and they keep them warm. Consider my epiphany complete!

  3. Paul February 11, 2013 at 5:27 am #

    I am a huge fan of these mittens and have used them for years. Their is a US online retailer, Sweaters International. In addition to the mitts the socks work very well. They are very warm and wear well.

    • Earlylite February 11, 2013 at 9:03 am #

      Finally found the site a few days ago and ordered a pair of the dachsteins. Limited sizes available and its hard to tell what you’re going to get from the photos on their web site. Still at $36 it worth the gamble, I guess.

      • Paul February 11, 2013 at 6:55 pm #

        I think you will be please. Good stuff at a reasonable price.

  4. Uncle Tom February 11, 2013 at 6:43 am #

    I still have my antique Dachsteins, along with my Sierra cup, and my Trailwise pack.

  5. Tim February 11, 2013 at 8:14 am #

    How is the fit of the thumb? I find most mitts the thumb is too small or short and restrictive, cutting down circulation leading to two cold thumbs.

    • Earlylite February 11, 2013 at 9:01 am #

      Roomy. Really no problems on that front.

    • Uncle Tom February 11, 2013 at 12:02 pm #

      Wow, I thought it was just me. Even with expedition mittens, wool or synthetic linings, my thumbs get cold, and I often need to withdraw them into the core of the mitt when I can. I’m a big consumer of chemical heat packets.

      • Paul February 11, 2013 at 6:53 pm #

        You may have had frost bite on your thumbs as a kid. Once damaged, it remains sensitive to the cold.

  6. John Whynot February 11, 2013 at 9:53 pm #

    Unlike Uncle Tom, I no longer have my Dachsteins, Sierra cup, or Trailwise pack. Wish I still did.

    When I still went winter backpacking, I used Dachsteins, with Army surplus wool gloves for liners. EMS used to sell a 60/40 shell with leather palm that went over the combo. Toasty warm…

  7. romney February 14, 2013 at 7:41 am #

    $50 for felted mittens?!

    If you know a knitter or crocheter these are incredibly quick and easy to make. The pattern is simple (try Ravelry for many free examples). Wool will felt and shrink (25%) in a normal washing machine cycle with no effort (in fact, sometimes its hard to stop things felting!). Just look for something thats pure wool and NOT superwash.

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