Learn about ski gloves
This page will tell you everything you ever wanted to know about ski gloves: design, materials, waterproofing, durability, dexterity, grip, insulation, warmth... We have also created a series of informational pages about every design variable and topics related to ski gloves.
Gloves or Mittens?
The answer to that question is not as easy, or simple, as you might think. Several questions need to be answered before narrowing your choice:
1) How easily do your hands get cold? Do you have good or bad circulation in your extremities?
2) In what conditions will you be using the gloves or mittens?
3) What activities will you be doing? How much dexterity do you need?
First things first, let's stipulate to a few points:
- Mittens properly-sized will be warmer than properly-sized gloves with the same set of materials used to make them (same outer material and liner used). Mittens keep your fingers together, generating and retaining more body heat.
- Properly-fitted gloves provide better dexterity. But, poorly-fitted gloves might just have worse dexterity than properly-fitted mittens.
OK, so back to the original questions.
1) How easily do your hands get cold - do you have good or bad circulation?
If your hands get cold easily you'll either need to go with thicker gloves or even better, mittens. But do not forget, the most important variable in whether your hands stay warm is if they stay dry. And when I say dry, I mean free of moisture from the outside AND inside (sweat). Most cold hands come from clammy hands (internal moisture). Dry mittens will keep your hands warm with less insulation. Mittens with thick insulation might just make your hands colder than mittens with less insulation if they cause the dreaded hand sweats, so always be conscious of balancing the design of the glove or mitten with the outside environment where it will be used. Learn more about keeping your hands warm.
2) In what conditions will you be using the gloves or mittens?
If you're choosing whether to wear a glove or mitten based on the current day's weather, then mittens will be the choice for very cold conditions and gloves will be the choice for warmer conditions. But if you're trying to decide between buying just one pair of gloves or mittens, then mittens might just be the better option as they tend to have a wider temperature versatility on the cold end. Gloves have a wider temperature versatility on the warmer end, but I think it's better to have hands that are too warm on a warm day than having cold hands on a cold day.
3) What activities will you be doing? How much dexterity do you need?
If your're doing activities that require optimum dexterity and grip, then gloves are probably your best option. But if dexterity is not that important, then mittens offer more temperature versatility.
Personally, I use both. Mittens when it's cold, and gloves when it's warm.
What style of mitten or glove?
There are two basic styles of gloves and mittens:
Short-cuffs (undercuff) that are designed with more minimalist cuffs that are versatile enough to fit under the sleeves of your jacket as well as over the sleeve.
Long-cuffs with Gauntlet-Style forearm closures (using cinch-cord) that are designed to only go over the sleeves of your jacket:
But which style, long-cuff or short-cuff, is best for you?
This really comes down to whether you prefer to wear your glove cuffs under your jacket sleeves. Short-cuffs are essential for wearing under your jacket sleeve. They are functional irrespective of weather. Long-cuff (gauntlet-style) gloves offer more ease of putting them on and removing them than short cuffs with Velcro® (hook and loop closure). Long cuffs are very popular with skiers/riders in deep snow and extreme weather.
The benefits of a short cuff (under-the-cuff) ski glove:
- Smaller, less bulky and lighter.
- Decreased size allows them to be packed more easily in a backpack or for travel.
- Increased wrist mobility.
- Many people think they are more modern looking, more fashionable.
- They often have a more conservative appearance -less bold, in-your-face-.
- Often they have less insulation, making them less warm. That's good if you get hot hands easily or the temperatures are warmer.
The benefits of a long cuff (over-the-cuff) ski glove:
- They seal from the outside environment. Long cuffs are very popular when the snow is deep and the weather is foul. The cuff goes completely over your jacket sleeve and cinch's tight with an elastic cord.
- Ease of putting on and taking off. In many designs, short cuff gloves have cuffs that grip the wrist tightly, making their removal more challenging when your hand gets sweaty.
- They are more temperature versatile. The cuff can be worn open, allowing air to flow more freely in and out of the glove. That helps keep the interior of the glove dry from sweat on a warm day.
- The open, wide cuff can be stuck on the end of a ski pole when it gets really warm.
- They are bold looking and (depending on your tastes) quite fashionable.
Liners: what are the different types and thicknesses?
The primary variable that determines the comfort and warmth of a glove is the liner. The liner has two parts, the liner material that comes in contact with your hand (skin) and the insulation material inside the liner, which determines the warmth of the glove. The liner with insulation can be either sewn-into the shell or removable, separate from the shell.
1) Sewn-in fixed liners are the most common and are always used in less expensive gloves. But, there are also many expensive gloves with sewn-in liners too.
- Simple design.
- The liner remains mostly straight and seated properly inside the shell for their entire usable life.
- The potential of losing the liner is taken off the table.
- Easier to take on and off when your hands are sweaty.
- Slower drying.
- Often not as warm. Less air flow between the liner and shell. But that is dependent on the design and amount of insulation.
- If the liner has a twist, it's a permanent problem.
- You cannot replace the liner. Once the glove is packed out, you'll need to buy a new pair of gloves.
- Really hard to fix. Will need a professional or a new pair of gloves.
2) Removable liners can be really nice if they are designed well. That's a big IF in the world of ski gloves.
The benefits of removable liners:
- The liners can be used by themselves as an effective second pair of light mittens/gloves.
- The shells can be used by themselves as an effective second pair of gloves when it gets warm.
- Once removed, removable liner gloves dry faster.
- Often, removable liner gloves breathe better and are warmer because the liner and shell have more space between them (less condensed).
- You can replace the much-less-expensive liner without having to buy new gloves.
- You can fix the glove much easier.
The potential problems:
- The problem with removable liners is that they are often difficult to re-seat in the correct position inside the shell. And when your hands are sweaty, it could be big trouble. That's less of a problem with mittens, but gloves can be a crap shoot, depending on the design of the glove. When you try them on at the store, make sure they come apart and go back together really easily, because when you're out in the elements it will be much harder.
- The liner is not fixed so the gloves rarely fit exactly right, and dexterity is often decreased. The liner (in most designs) moves relative to the shell every time you move your hands.
As a glove designer who has spent a lot of time trying on and testing other company's designs I am constantly amazed by the terrible functionality of most removable liner gloves. Several prominent brands (which I will not list here) are barely usable at all. They are so hard to put on and take off AND re-seat once removed, that I wonder if any person from that company even tested them at all before pawning them off on the consumer. Also, I don't understand why a ski shop would carry a ski glove that you can't even get on your hand. Lots of removable liner glove designs should have been rejected outright.
Knowing all of this, Free the Powder designed removable liner gloves and mittens that fixes all these issues. They are our new RX and SX models.
What type of insulation?
There are many types of ski glove insulation, including natural fibers like wool, cotton and goose down, or synthetic fibers like Thinsulate®, Thermolite®, Qualofill®, PrimaLoft®, Breathefil™ and many others.
The different options and their effectiveness:
Cotton - Terrible. When it comes to insulation it's best to never use cotton as an insulator due to the reality that when it gets wet, it stays wet - and cold.
Wool - Decent. Wool is a bit heavy, and breathes significantly less than modern synthetic materials. It stays warm when wet but it drys slowly.
Goose Down (natural high loft) - Excellent when it's dry. Natural goose down feathers are warmer than synthetics per ounce of weight, but their loftiness is often too warm. They lack breathability and decrease dexterity, compared to modern synthetics. Your hand feels like they're floating in there - which can be really good, really bad or somewhere in between. Lofty insulation for your gloves is great when it's brutal cold, or when you require less dexterity.
Lofty synthetics (Primaloft® and others) – Good all-around when dexterity is not as important. Loftier synthetics are not as warm as down by weight, but they're more breathable, water resistant and stay warm when wet. Similar to lofty natural down feathers, these synthetics are often too warm, lack breathability (compared to less lofty synthetics), and they decrease dexterity. Your hand feels like they're floating in there - which can be really good, really bad or somewhere in between.
"Thin" synthetic insulation (Thinsulate®, Thermolite®, Breathefil™)- The best all-around insulation for most days. For general everyday use in skiing and snowboarding, I prefer less lofty insulation like Breathefil™ or Thinsulate™ because it is really warm for its lack of loftiness, so you are not sacrificing grip and dexterity for warmth, or vice versa.
How much insulation in ski gloves?
The amount of insulation is usually measured by its weight in grams.
Best for warm days and spring skiing condition:
Anything under 100 grams is for warmer days, 30+ degrees F, or for those whose hands are always warm (hot hands people).
Best for average ski days:
100 grams is just about perfect for your average winter day, 20-30 degrees F. Unless you get cold hands easily.
Best for cold days, mid-winter:
100 grams or more is for cold days, below 20 degrees F. It's great to have thicker gloves or mittens for the cold days, but they are less versatile unless your hands are always cold, you are outdoors with low activity level, the gloves are extraordinarily breathable, or you are on a seriously cold expedition in the high mountains or Arctic.
What's best all-around?
Something to consider:
The more breathable the glove, the more insulation it can use without making your hands too sweaty when the temperatures rises.
When a glove uses a "waterproof" membrane insert like Gore-Tex®, then you have to be conscious of too much insulation because the membrane is much less breathable than no-membrane. And those sweaty hands are going to turn cold. Gore-Tex® is not insulation, it is a moisture barrier. It is mostly desirable when it is wet and winter warm, not when it is winter cold. If you are going to buy a ski glove with a membrane, make sure it does not have too much insulation for the conditions.
What about grip and dexterity of ski gloves?
Dexterity in gloves and mittens for skiing and snowboarding is a complicated issue, with lots of variables that steer buying decisions.
What set of glove design variables provide the best dexterity?
A super thin glove with maximum stretch and minimum insulation.
That’s not exactly the answer you were looking for in a ski glove worn in the cold, with variable weather conditions. So, the real question is what set of glove design variables provide the best dexterity without compromising too much warmth?
I often read glowing reviews of the dexterity of certain gloves, only to find that they have 40 grams of insulation or less. These type of winter work gloves are very common and are widely available at hardware stores, Home Depot and Walmart. Many ski glove companies utilize this strategy as well (with a hefty mark-up). These are very popular with Ski Patrol, and skiers and snowboarders with lower glove budgets. The real problem in my experience is that my hands just can’t handle the cold with these types of winter gloves that maximize dexterity, while minimizing insulation levels.
So, what set of glove design variables provide the best dexterity AND are still very warm?
- Use of non-rigid materials that break in over time, stretch and conform to your hand’s unique shape and size.
- Maximum breathability: Dry hands are essential to the best grip possible. When a glove is highly breathable, less insulation is needed, thereby increasing dexterity. “Water-proof” membranes are usually the culprit in decreasing breathability of a glove. The extra layer literally puts plastic between the liner and shell, and significantly decreasing moisture transfer.
- Natural cowhide, tanned and treated for maximum softness and grip. The surface of the palm is perhaps the most important variable. It has to be soft and grippy.
- Thin, dense insulation that retains excellent warmth. Lofty insulations make your hands feel like they’re floating inside the glove. And when compressed (gripping a ski pole or climbing tool), they lose their thermal dynamics. Compress the loft, compress the warmth. “Thin” insulation retains its warmth when compressed.
- Both long-cuff and short-cuff gloves can have excellent dexterity and grip, but short-cuff gloves that employ an over-sized hook & loop closure (Velcro®) are best. The better the glove grips your wrist, the less the palm moves. Watch Major League baseball players regularly re-tighten the straps on their batting gloves. That is to maintain optimum grip and dexterity.
And the grip?
Grip and dexterity don't always mean the same thing. A glove with all the best set of design variables for dexterity may still not provide optimum grip if the palm material is not the best option -soft leather that was tanned and treated for optimum grip.
Shell material of the ski glove: what's it made out of?
The biggest determinant of the durability of a ski glove is the material and quality of stitching of the glove. Quality is fairly easy to see with your own eyes. Thicker material is tougher and holds stronger thread. As a general rule, leather palms are much tougher than synthetic palms. Just look at cattle ranchers and what they wear on their hands. Things have not changed much in a hundred years out on the ranch. The back of the hand (upper) of ski gloves is usually not the area that has durability issues, but generally they are made of either hardshell (Taslan®, Cordura® or other) or stretch soft-shell. Hardshell is usually a bit more weather/wind-resistant and soft-shell breathes better. Your best option is highly water-resistant /wind-proof soft-shell.
What about the leather?
Leather is the toughest, most cost-effective material for ski gloves, especially the palms. But not all leather palms are created equal:
1) What type of leather?
- Deerskin (typically shiny yellow colored) is the softest and most dexterous, but it gives away significant toughness due to its thinness.
- Goatskin is tougher, but a little less soft and dexterous than deerskin. A great balance which is quite popular.
- Pigskin. Fairly tough, but thin and rigid. Most common in inexpensive gloves.
- Cowhide is by far the toughest, but often gives away a bit of softness and dexterity. What you need to look out for is the quality, because cowhide leather has a wide range from the toughest, softest premium choice to less-than-ideal.
2. The tanning of the leather: How it was it made?
More important than what animal the hide came from, is what type of tanning process it went through when it was made.
Leather is made by a process known as tanning.
In ancient history, leather tanning was considered a very dirty, noxious, and toxic undertaking, relegated to the poor areas on the outskirts of towns. Even today, leather tanning by ancient methods is so foul smelling that tanneries are still in isolated locations away from populated areas.
In the ancient world, leather tanners would soak the skins in water to clean and soften them, before scouring the last bits of flesh and fat. Next, the tanner would remove the hair by soaking the skin in an alkaline lime mixture, urine, or by submerging the skin in a salt solution after months of putrefying. The sparse hair that remained was scraped off the skin with a knife.
Once the hair was completely removed, the tanners would make the skins more supple by pounding dog or bird excrement into the skin before submerging them in large vats of water and animal excrement. Children were commonly employed to collect the large quantities of animal excrement, while urine was collected from “piss-pots” that were placed on street corners by the tanners .
Excrement and urine was not always used though, as other tanning agents such as alum, tannin and oils were also employed. As the skin was stretched, it would lose moisture and absorb the agent. Often, to finish this softening process, the tanner would knead the skins with his bare feet.
The way it is done today:
The most common technique:
The animal hides are prepared and sterilized with salt, and brine-cured in salt water (“Wet-salting”) for 30+ days. The hides are then soaked in clean water to remove the salt and to bring back the moisture content of the hides to an optimum level so they can be treated with chemicals (“Soaking”). Next, the soaked hides are treated with milk of lime. Liming agents include Sodium Sulphide, Sodium Hydroxide, Sodium Hydrosulfite, Arsenic Sulphide, Calcium Hydrosulfide, Dimethyl Amine, and Sodium Sulphydrate. Sometimes sharpening agents are used such as sulfide, cyanides, and amines. This step removes hair and other matter on the skins, breaks up the skin fibers, removes grease and fats, and brings the skin’s collagen up to the proper condition.
The majority of hair is removed using a machine, while the remaining hair is removed by hand using a knife (“Scudding”). Depending on the final purpose of the leather, hides may be treated with enzymes to soften them ("Bating"). But before bating, the pH of the collagen is decreased so that enzymes will work on them (“Deliming”).
Once bating is complete, the hides are treated with a mixture of salt and Sulphuric Acid. This is done to bring down the pH of collagen to a very low level to facilitate the penetration of mineral tanning agents (“Pickling”).
Tanning can be performed with either vegetable or mineral methods. Vegetable tanned hides are commonly used for leather luggage, furniture and high-end craft leather. Vegetable tanning uses tannin, which occurs naturally in tree bark (chestnut, oak, hemlock, quebracho, mangrove, wattle and myrobalan). The hides are stretched on frames and immersed for several weeks in liquid vats of increasing concentrations of tannins.
Mineral tanning creates leather that is commonly used in handbags, garments and most ski gloves. Chromium sulfate is used as the tanning agent. Once the desired level of penetration of chrome into the leather is achieved, the pH of the material is raised again to facilitate the tanning process (“Basification”). In their raw, unfinished state chrome tanned skins are blue and are referred to as "Wet Blue".
Depending on the finish desired, the leather may be waxed, rolled with a rough surface (to get suede or nubuck leather), lubricated with fatliquors (ski gloves), injected with oil, split, shaved or colored with various dyes.
Ski glove leather is often finished with fatliqours. They are used to create the soft, water-repellent outer texture of the leather during the tanning process. (No glove-making material is truly water proof other than rubber/plastic). They are surface-active softening agent liquids that are used at the end of the wet processing stages of leather manufacturing. There are three categories: natural oil based, semi synthetic, and synthetic. They are used in rotating drums in which aluminum, chrome or vegetable tanned leathers are submerged. It takes time for the oils to penetrate and bind to the leather surface.
3. The treatment of the leather surface.
The treatment in-production (tanning) and after-purchase is important. The treatment in-production determines the texture and how water-proof it is. It's a balancing act between the two. Don't let anyone tell you any different. A totally "water-proof" leather is very rigid and does not breathe, making it a poor choice for ski gloves. The softest, most dexterous leather has little or no water-proofing, which is a poor choice as well. The key is making a ski glove as water-repellent as possible without losing too much softness and grip. For after-purchase treatment, it is best to not forget about that balance. Treat gloves regularly, but not too much, and use a good natural beeswax and oils mixture.
4. The weight or thickness.
Thickness of leather is another balancing act. Too thick and it is not dexterous, too thin and it will not be durable. So, the key is tanning and treatment that creates fairly thick, tough leather that is still very soft (We prefer 1-2 mm thickness in Free the Powder Gloves). As far as we know, every other ski glove maker uses less than 1 mm. That's probably more about building in obsolescence (They want them to wear out so you come back and buy more gloves!) .
5. The color
Another balancing act: light colored leather shows it's wear much more and many people don't like it's bold look, but it breathes much better without the pore-clogging dye.
6. Reinforcement in high wear areas.
The placement of the reinforcement patch is therefore essential. Specifically, the reinforcement patch that protects the problem areas where the glove takes the most abuse. Those areas tend to be the inside seams and center of the thumb, the bridge between the thumb and index finger, and the center of the palm.
What is the best waterproofing for ski gloves?
That is a much more complicated question than most people think, if your goal is best possible performance and fit on most days and in most conditions.
And, you have to not only consider water from the exterior environment, but also water from interior environment of the glove. Sweat.
On one end of the spectrum, and the only gloves that are truly waterproof, are gloves made of 100% non-breathable rubber (ignoring the water that can enter from the entry opening). On the other end of the spectrum are very thin liner gloves made of polyester, which have nearly 99% breathability and almost zero water-resistance. Every other glove falls somewhere in between. The more "waterproof" they are, while still holding onto the maximum amount of breathability, the more expensive they are. And that has fueled an incredible arms race-like competition between the largest chemical companies, clothing manufacturers, and ski glove companies.
The fundamental flaw in the "water-proof breathable" war is that none work as advertised, at least in regards to ski gloves. The combination of insulation thickness, liner material, exterior shell material, leather or synthetics, the outside environment, activity level and the wide range of differences between individual human sweat glands, make the solution to best possible performance and fit on most days and in most conditions really difficult to solve with modern technology.
Your hands are going to get warm and they are going to sweat. And that is going to happen a lot more than it's going to snow or rain.
The ski glove that offers the best protection from outside moisture, provides the worst protection from inside moisture.
The ultimate goal is dry hands.
Recognizing this reality, the goal of any ski glove maker should be to make the the driest glove by balancing the competing moisture problems.
But you can't forget to consider the performance of the glove in regards to USE. That means grip and dexterity.
Many leather ski glove makers finish their treating process with a silicone-based treatment. In addition, most after-market waterproofing products use silicone-based material to create the water barrier. It does an excellent job of performing that task, but it clogs the pours of the leather, and worse, it creates the shiny, slippery texture of the outside surface of the leather. That's what you really need to look for.
So, to finally get to the point, what is the best waterproofing for ski gloves to maximize the amount of time with dry hands?
A ski glove that is as water-resistant as you can make it without decreasing it's breathability.
That means no insert membrane like Gore-tex. Forget the hype, all insert membranes are essentially plastic bag liners. They are not air permeable, which means that moisture has to build up on the inside in order to open the breathing pores. Insert membranes are primarily designed to keep the water out. Even the best of them are much less breathable than no-membrane at all.
Membrane insert gloves are very practical and good to own as a specialty glove for certain wet conditions, but they have much less versatility as an everyday glove. Personally, waterproof membranes are for the kind of days I'd probably stay home - dumping rain. But sometimes, and depending where you live, major league wet conditions are unavoidable and so they should be considered.
As a glove designer, I have performed the kind of field testing that few others have. I spent an entire ski season (100+ days) wearing a membrane insert glove on one hand and a non-membrane glove on the other. The rest of the design characteristics were exactly the same. Most of the time the membrane insert caused clammy hands, whereas the non-membrane glove was almost always dry. On the days when it was raining, both gloves got saturated with water. Water always finds a way inside gloves because they have a basic, un-fixable design problem: a big hole where your hand goes in. For me and my team of testers, on most days the membrane insert gloves were less effective overall.
But someday, when we find a "waterproof-breathable" membrane insert that works to our satisfaction, we will offer them in our gloves. We are working on that now. Stay tuned.
How to make the driest glove for most conditions?
- No membrane insert.
- Use more breathable soft-shell material and not hard-shell material on the back of the hand.
- No leather on the back of the hand. It does not breathe as well as synthetic materials designed for that purpose. If you really like all-leather gloves, then soft breathable leather is really important.
- DWR (durable water repellent) on nylon fabric.
- Leather that is tanned to be water-resistant, while retaining the soft, grippy texture.
- Proper stitching of seams.
There you go. Maximize the amount of time your hands are dry!
Are wrist leashes good to have?
Often referred to as glove leashes, wrist straps, idiot leashes, or retention straps, these sometimes-helpful additions to gloves and mittens are very popular, especially with snowboarders, climbers and kids. It's really up to your personal preference whether you want to be tethered to your gloves.
Finally, how much can I or am I willing to spend? The price!
None of the above matters if you can't afford the design characteristics you'd prefer. The best way to find all the variables you desire and at the price you want is to find it online. If price does not matter, then there is plenty of top dollar ski shops to cater to your heart's desire. Have fun, stay warm.