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 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.
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.
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 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.