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When deciding between gloves and mittens, the question is often one of dexterity. While mittens offer lots of benefits on the mountain including better warmth, waterproofing, ease of access, among other things, gloves have dexterity on their side. The ability to move each finger individually makes adjusting bindings or opening bags that much easier. In colder conditions, despite mittens being warmer, gloves are a better choice because you’ll need to take them off less often to perform dexterous tasks. If you don’t need to perform such tasks, however, mittens are a good choice. Or, you could get a pair of ‘trigger’ mittens, which combine the qualities of both.
Most ski gloves are branded as ‘waterproof’, but when it comes to gloves, this often has a slightly different meaning. Gloves must endure more elemental punishment than a jacket, for example, so their waterproofing works differently. A jacket only has to deal with moisture hitting the jacket naturally, while gloves will have moisture massaged and pushed through the outer fabric. By using and moving your hands, you cause moisture to be forced into the fabric of the gloves, meaning that despite them having a ‘waterproof’ label, they may not perform quite as well. Tough polyesters, nylons, and even leathers are used to enhance waterproofing, and waterproof membranes are also added. Waterproofing is not only affected by these choices, but also your usage of the gloves. The more they are used or dragged on the ground, the faster water will penetrate the shell.
Many gloves have a thin layer of insulation, but will likely be fleece-lined, to help your hands retain their heat more efficiently. Hands generate a lot of heat and moisture, so while keeping them warm is important, breathability is also crucial to make sure you don’t feel clammy or sweaty. The membranes added are often seamed, or highly breathable, to allow the egress of moisture while still keeping water out. Breathability is key for your hands, as keeping them dry of sweat will mean they will stay warmer for longer.
Natural materials such as leather will often be used on high-end gloves. These natural materials have good breathability and great waterproofing, as well as excellent strength and abrasion resistance, making them ideal for snow and ski gloves. Polyester and nylon are often used as synthetic alternatives due to their high strength, significant breathability, and the variety of fabric options available. From thickness to colour, synthetic materials can be tweaked and tuned to suit the needs of the glove, and they are often more cost-effective, too. Neither is superior, and a glove should be chosen based on its features and your needs as a rider.
Gloves come in many different forms. Park or resort gloves are often lightweight, made from synthetic materials, are designed for warmer weathers, and feature high breathability at the cost of waterproofing. All-mountain gloves will offer a good blend of waterproofing and breathability, and are designed to lock warmth in thanks to their insulation. These gloves may be synthetic or leather, and come with non-slip palms, DWR coatings, and wrist straps to keep them secure. Backcountry or powder gloves may be leather or synthetic, will be insulated, and will offer the best performance and protection from the elements, focusing on true all-day waterproofing, at the cost of breathability.
If you like to ride park or rarely put your hands in the snow, then a park glove may be fine for you. If you find your hands get cold easily, you’re often putting your hands in the snow, or your normal gloves get wet easily, then investing in a good pair of backcountry gloves is a great choice. For most riders, however, a resort glove that offers a solid mix of waterproofing and breathability is a good choice. These gloves are good all-rounders and are ideal for changeable conditions, warmer and colder days, and may be made of leather, synthetics, or a mix of the two.