Three-Season Hiking Glove Systems

Philip on the Summit of Mount Jefferson (5712')

Wearing Rain Mitts and Glove Liners in High Wind, Above Treeline

People are always surprised by the fact that I carry gloves on hikes and backpacking trips, even during the summer. I need them because I hike in all kinds of conditions, in rain and above treeline. I view hiking gloves them as an extension of my clothing layering system, with multiple pairs for different functions that can be combined as needed.

For three season hiking, I typically carry two pairs of gloves, a pair fleece gloves and a pair of waterproof rain mitts. I will cover winter hiking gloves in a separate post because it’s a much more technical topic that requires a longer discussion.

Fleece Gloves

Fleece gloves are a great baselayer glove because they stay warm when wet and because your body-heat can dry the perspiration that accumulates in them while you are hiking. Thin gloves  also help preserve your manual dexterity, allowing you to open zippers, take photos with your camera, and even cook if you are careful to avoid flames.

Most of the time I hike with thin fleece glove liners that I buy a few pairs at a time from EMS because I think that EMS-branded fleece glove and glove liners are much less expensive than other brands and because their gloves are often on sale at very low prices, like $10 to $20/pair. I always buy multiple pairs in the same color and style, so I can still use them if I lose or misplace one of the gloves in a pair.

As a rule of thumb, I avoid buying wind-proof fleece gloves or specialized ones with technical tips that let you use a cell phone or touch screen gadgets. They cost more and as a rule of thumb, I like to stick to one layer – one function style layering systems because they’re much more flexible than layers that build multiple functions into a single layer. For example, I prefer wearing a separate core insulation layer and a hard shell jacket, instead of a single insulated waterproof and windproof jacket because it’s easier to fine tune my warmth level in changing weather conditions. The same holds for gloves.

Rain Mitts with Long Gauntlets are Invaluable

Rain Mitts with Long Gauntlets are Desirable in Heavy Spring Rain

Rain Mitts

If it’s raining or I’m hiking in cold wind that cuts through the fabric of my fleece glove, I add a pair of rain mitts to my glove system worn over my fleece gloves. These act as a wind barrier and help retain warmth, even though they cut down on my manual dexterity. That’s not as big a deal as it sounds, because my rain mitts are made out of thin shell material that is far more malleable that the heavy shell fabric you find in winter glove shells. If I need more dexterity, I can take them off briefly and usually keep my fleece glove layer on.

Rain mitts are not widely available from mainstream manufacturers, which is puzzling, because they are an indispensable piece of hiking and backpacking clothing. I’m still using a pair of eVent rain mitts from Mountain Laurel Designs that I purchased in 2010, although Z-packs and Black Rock Gear have also started making them out of cuben fiber. The rain mitts from MLD need to be seam sealed while the cuben fiber gloves from Z-packs and BRG come seam-taped.

While “technically” waterproof and breathable, my eVent rain mitts don’t do a very good job at keeping my hands dry when it is pouring rain because the perspiration generated by my hands quickly overwhelms the breathable fabric’s ability to vent moisture in high humidity. They also don’t do a very good job at insulating my hands when worn alone in cooler weather, so I usually wear them over fleece gloves. I doubt that rain mitts made out of cuben fiber will be any different.

Mountain Laurel Designs Rain Mitts

Mountain Laurel Designs Rain Mitts

If you’re considering getting a pair of rain mitts, I think one of the most important features you should look for are long gauntlets that cover your wrist and which can be cinched tight over the sleeve of your hard shell. There is a lot of hot blood flowing close to the surface of your skin at your wrists, and you want to be able to prevent heat escaping from that point if you are chilled. In addition, you want to prevent cold rain from running down the sleeve of your hard shell and into your mitten, hence the need for an elastic cinch that you can tighten around your forearm over your shelll to prevent any leaks. These make a huge difference.

Hiking Gloves

Hiking gloves should be a component of your three and four season clothing system and provide an important level of protection and comfort if you hike in adverse conditions. They’re probably less important if you only hike in good weather, but if you are out for a longer period of time and can’t avoid walking in rain or high wind, hiking gloves are a very worthwhile investment.

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24 Responses to Three-Season Hiking Glove Systems

  1. AlanR January 21, 2013 at 4:09 am #

    Interesting. I have never used my un-insulated gauntlet mitts outside my rain shell. I always pull the jacket cuff over the mitt. (As long as the jacket cuff is wide enough of course).
    I’m sure that rain would creep into a mitt located on the outside even with the tightest of closures.

    • Earlylite January 21, 2013 at 9:20 am #

      That is certainly one alternative, but in rain I don’t try too hard to stay dry since I know I will quickly overwhelm the mitt with sweat anyway. My purpose is primarily to stay warm.

  2. RickS January 21, 2013 at 5:07 am #

    If you want a similar set up but with gloves instead of mitts, I’ve had good luck with Marmmot Precip gloves with Smartwool liner gloves.

    • Earlylite January 21, 2013 at 9:17 am #

      Didn’t know they made a precip shell, but the description says they have a Driclime liner sewn in. Driclime is a pretty poor insulator in my experience and the glove violates my one layer, one function “rule”, so I wouldn’t really consider this as a comparable solution. Further, trying to dry these on a rainy night would be impossible versus an unlined shell Mitt or glove. The liner wrecks the utility.

  3. Keith Rayeski January 21, 2013 at 6:16 am #

    Another great article Philip! I look forward to your winter glove article. A quick note; Z-Pack are in stock at 59 dollars and it looks that Black Rock may have a limited supply at 95. I’ll be up in North Conway later this week to do some snow shoeing and I’ll see what EMS has in stock. Thanks for sharing your wisdom freely….I’ll be adopting the system.

  4. Peter January 21, 2013 at 7:21 am #

    That Rab Momentum jacket -and rain mitts- look like they have seriously wetted out. How much rain did it take to lose the DWR and were you able to restore it? I suspect you experienced a few hours of rain with some sweat there and no BWP fabric would have done any better. Hence, the myth of breathable/waterproof fabrics is again evident. Given the cost of these BWP jackets it is a wonder that this fable still survives. We all live in hope and of course there is a big industry pushing this expensive stuff too. But the facts just continue to confront anyone with experience in that sort of weather. While you probably kept warm while moving, how did it feel when you stopped? You might have done better on the day with a cheap waterproof nylon poncho with physical means of ventilation – lighter, cheaper, more effective, but sans fashion quotient of course.

    • Earlylite January 21, 2013 at 9:10 am #

      Serious wet out, despite the fact that I had washed the jacket in nikwax to reapply the dwr before that trip. I was wearing every stitch of clothing I had to stay warm. It rained 6 inches that day. Yep, in one day.

  5. Dennis A. Cooley January 21, 2013 at 10:55 am #

    Thanks for the great info!! I have Reynaud’s which makes my fingertips turn white when cold/damp. I can’t keep my fingers warm in any glove that I’ve found. I have hunting split mitts that work OK if I use a handwarmer with them. Definitely not waterproof…..I know you’ll have some ideas in your next post. :)

  6. finnski January 21, 2013 at 9:15 pm #

    Another great post Phillip.

    I really like my single layer stretch fleece gloves (no windblock etc.) for most conditions. I use them al; winter while I am moving and mostly like the fact that they dry very quickly and my hands don’t get wet (much)from sweating.
    I find most insulated or “waterproof” gloves useless as I just get too wet from sweating.

    Am jumping the gun on your colder weather options but I swear by Dachstein mitts in the real cold weather. They are a little old school but are boiled wool and so thick that you can pretty much stick your hand directly in water without it getting thru if you don’t linger. I will put on a nylon mitt shell over that and my hands are never cold. Can even add a very thin polypropylene liner under the Dachsteins for the ultimate flexible cold weather hand layering system.

    • Earlylite January 21, 2013 at 9:40 pm #

      I couldn’t find Dachsteins but I bought a big pair of Ortovox boiled wool mittens this winter from The Mountaineer store in the Adirondacks. I’m liking them too. They have long wrists that go way up my forearm and they are very old school. I saw Carey Kish from Maine wearing some in a picture of him climbing Willey’s slide in the 70′s. I asked him about them – they were Dachsteins – and one thing led to another.

      How old are your Dachsteins and where did you buy them?

      • finnksi January 21, 2013 at 10:11 pm #

        I honestly don’t remember where I got them, They are at least 25 years old. Got a hole in one of the thumbs. Think I’ll order a new pair.

        Sweaters International still sells them on line.

      • AlanR January 22, 2013 at 5:18 am #

        You can still buy Dachsteins in Uk. Here is just one example. http://www.hillandhike.co.uk/dachstein-mitts.html
        So i would imagine somewhere in the US they will stock them.
        But as you suggest, a boiled wool mitt/glove is just the same.
        I have a pair myself but wear them very infrequently.

        i have also wore Merino socks as Slowpoke suggests with acceptable results.

    • John Shannon January 24, 2013 at 11:17 pm #

      Campmor used to sell the Dachstein mitts for years but stopped some time ago.

  7. Slowpoke January 21, 2013 at 11:38 pm #

    In the spirit of multi-function items, what about using a spare set of wool-blend socks on your hands if necessary. Obviously it hinders dexterity, but for the purpose of retaining body heat, it seems like a reasonable option. What do you think?

    • Earlylite January 22, 2013 at 12:27 am #

      That’s a thought, but wouldn’t you just end up with two pairs of wet socks. I only carry two pairs..wearing one of them….not sure I want my sleeping pair to get full of hand sweat in drier weather, or wet in rainy weather.

      • Slowpoke January 22, 2013 at 12:36 am #

        Yes, that’s a very valid point. I guess I’m thinking more of an emergency situation, not a normal routine.

  8. Chris January 22, 2013 at 1:20 am #

    I bought the following REI Taped Mittens when they still produced them and they are great — while a bit heavier material they have served me well (REI Elements waterproof). I wish REI bucked the trend and kept producing them.

    http://www.rei.com/product/839609/rei-taped-mittens-2011-overstock

  9. Gary January 22, 2013 at 2:29 am #

    I use the Outdoor Research Versaliner Gloves, a two piece gloves system that has a warm 100-weight fleece liner with a removable waterproof/breathable 40D Pertex shell. Unfortunately they stopped selling them, but they are the perfect layering system for hands.

  10. Gerry Brucia January 22, 2013 at 3:52 pm #

    I wear a combination of possumdown gloves if necessary with a pair of Manzella silkweight windstopper gloves. I like the added “dexterity” of gloves in all but the coldest weather and the possumdown gloves do a very good job with warmth. Phillip, even though the windstopper gloves can sometimes make my hands perspire, it is okay, like you say, as long as they are warm.

    Since I left Maine in 1984, I forgot all about Dachstein mittens. I know I have a pair stored away but I haven’t used them in nearly thirty years. They were standard wear back then and I remember I could buy them for $10/pair at the local general store in Ashland!

  11. romney January 22, 2013 at 7:05 pm #

    For a minute there I wondered how I never noticed this problem…then ding! I take the precaution of being wide and short. Cuffs always cover my hands unless I make an effort. In dire cold I wear hand-knitted flip-top gloves such as these: http://knitty.com/ISSUEfall02/PATTbroadstreet.html

  12. Walter Carrington January 23, 2013 at 5:13 pm #

    Hi Philip, Dachstein and Ortovox boiled wool mitts are the same. The only places I know to get them are the Mountaineer in Keene Valley NY for $50 for Ortovox mitts:
    http://www.mountaineer.com/store/merchant.mvc?Screen=PROD&Store_Code=MTR&Product_Code=ArcticMitts&Category_Code=64
    and Sweaters International, $36:
    http://www.sweatersintl.com/norsocks.html

    The Ortovox are definitely great, but hard to find — I even emailed Ortovox but got no reply.
    The Sweaters International look good, but I haven’t tried them — I’d be interested in any reviews of their version. Sweaters Int. also has socks and hats of boiled wool.

    Dachsteins/Ortovox are ideal as backup mitts for winter. They’re pretty windproof, fairly waterproof (and stay warm when wet) and very warm.

    My winter system on the trail is thin liner gloves, wool or fleece mitts of various thickness, with a WPB shell over all, with spare wool/fleece mitts in my pack, plus Dachsteins in reserve.

    –Walter

    • Earlylite January 23, 2013 at 5:28 pm #

      Thanks Walter – you probably just saved me about $100. I bought a pair of Ortovox boiled wool gloves from The Mountaineer this year.

  13. Kevin (Paddy) Lane November 27, 2013 at 2:03 pm #

    I have an alternative system. I wear a pair of liners (Smartwool etc or Possumdown) under the green disposable painting gloves from Lowes, Home Depot, etc. This prevents sweat from soaking through. Over that a pair of OR Rain Mits or Tyvek Over Mits and that is fine for three season use. My oomph pair is a pair of vapor barrier gloves from RBHGear.com These things are awesome. The entire vapor barrier idea is incredible and it has been working for me for over ten years

    Footwear also uses a similar vapor barrier approach, inside a pair of Keen boots (the summit county is the one that replaced my model)

    • Kevin (Paddy) Lane November 27, 2013 at 2:05 pm #

      OOPS! The correct web page is RBHDesigns.com

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