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Backpacking Glove Layering Systems

I carry a multi-part glove and mitten layering system on day hikes and backpacking trips (mainly in spring and autumn) to keep my hands warm when it’s cold, windy, or raining. The “glove layering system” I use combines fingered gloves for dexterity with a waterproof/windproof mitten shell to trap warmth. The combination lets me remove the outer shell layer when I need more dexterity or when it’s too warm to use, but weighs next to nothing so there’s little weight penalty for carrying it. I use a similar system in winter, but with heavier components for more warmth retention.

As a rule of thumb, I avoid buying hiking garments that try to do “too-much” in terms of their functionality and stick to one-layer, one-function style layering components because they’re much more flexible than layers that build multiple functions into a single layer. For example, I prefer wearing a fleece hoodie and a rain shell, instead of a single insulated synthetic jacket because it’s easier to fine-tune my warmth level in changing weather. The same holds for gloves.

Fleece Liner 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. They’re also quite inexpensive. I usually buy several pairs at a time, so I can swap in a replacement when I lose one. The Decathlon Fleece Gloves I currently use are dirt cheap and quite thin, which is good for dexterity. If I need a little more warmth, I swap in a thicker pair of inexpensive REI fleece gloves for more warmth.

Rain Mitts with Long Gauntlets are Invaluable
Rain Mitts or Gloves are Desirable in Heavy Autumn Rain

Rain Mitts

Rain mitts act as a wind barrier and help retain more warmth than waterproof/breathable gloves, even though they cut down on manual dexterity. That’s not as big a deal as it sounds, because my REI rain mitts are made with a 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 still keep my fleece glove layer on.

I have tried many different pairs of waterproof shell gloves and mitts over the years including Mountain Laurel Designs Rain Mitts and Yama Mountain Gear’s Rain Pogies, but they require seam-sealing which is a messy process and I find them clumsy to wear. REI’s rain mitts are seam-taped and made with waterproof/breathable 3-layer Gore-tex which breaths surprisingly pretty well. I think they’re a good value, they have a much better fit, and you can return them if they don’t work out.

Backpacking Glove Layering Systems

A backpacking glove system, as I described above, can provide an important level of protection and comfort if you hike in cold weather, or in bone-chilling wind, mist, or rain. While may choose to use different components in your hiking or backpacking glove system, the ability to combine them or use them separately is an advantage that usually outweighs the overhead of carrying separate gloves and mittens.

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  1. Hey Philip. That was a super description of a glove system. I have such wussie wrists, I take great care to layer properly in the same fashion.

  2. CAPT Gary Andres USN ret

    Great article, Phillip. I carry the Outdoor Research pair, that I bought on a post-season sale, for my Thru-hike attempt. I like them, as they came with the Liner….and they fold up/bunch up so small, they fit in a zippered pocket built into “backhand” of the fingered glove. Like your recommended item from REI, the fingered gloves are “textured” for screen use.

  3. I’ve got both fleece gloves with touch sensitive thumb/fore finger, and rain over-mittens from Decathlon. The mittens have an elastic pocket on the back wrist, that can hold everything, both gloves & mittens. But mostly, I put the left glove & mitt in my right inner jacket pouch, and vice versa.

  4. I live in the UK and our winters can be cold but not usually that cold. For my part, I use two Goretex tubes (made from an old sleeve) which secure elastically around my wrists and are both about 1 inch longer than my longest fingers. I then wear cheap synthetic gloves. The combination of both keeps my hands warm and dry.

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