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.
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.
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.