An Expert Guide to Ski Gloves & Mittens
Ski expert Matt B. deep dives into how to keep your hands warm all day on the slopes and how to choose between gloves and mittens.
So you’ve got the perfect ski setup after chatting with your Curated ski expert. Your kit is dialed in with both your jacket and pants being breathable and waterproof, and your goggles and helmet fit together like they were carved from the same piece of stone. Time to hit the slopes, right? Not quite—you’ve got one more decision to make, and while it seems like a small one, it’s one that can put you down for the count if you’re not paying attention: gloves or mittens (or both)?
Choosing the best ski gloves or mittens can be a little difficult (with both options presenting pros and cons) so let’s cut through the myriad options and find what will work best for you.
Gloves vs. Mittens
Some people say choosing between gloves and mittens is almost impossible, while others chose a side decades ago and wouldn’t dare try anything else now. The great thing about finding the best gloves or mittens is this: do whatever the heck works for you. Everyone has their preferences, and everyone generates different amounts of heat or has different circulation in their own bodies. And all of these factors can make a meaningful impact, too, on what is best for you.
Before we go further, one question I get on occasion as a ski expert is, “Do I need gloves to ski?” The answer is yes—always yes. I’ve been skiing in 70 degree weather in the Andes Mountains in Chile, and although I was in a long sleeve T-shirt and drenched in sweat, I needed at least a liner glove on my hands to not be miserable. Snow is still cold when you touch it, after all!
With that in mind, choosing the right gloves or mittens can be broken down into a series of decision trees, kind of like a pick-your-own-adventure book from when you were young. We’ll lay out each decision you need to make here so that you can get the right gear on your hands. First, we’ll focus on two main choices: dexterity and warmth.
Dexterity vs. Warmth
Here’s your first trade-off decision: do you value warmth above all else, or do you want to be able to “use your hands” a little easier? When looking at gloves and mittens, this will be your first choice.
You Picked Dexterity: Gloves
Gloves offer superior dexterity by allowing all of your fingers to move independently. This allows you to fiddle around with your zippers, your pack, readjust your boot buckles, or yes, even turn on your GoPro a bit easier than the alternative. Mittens constrict your fingers, meaning you won’t have the same dexterity as you would with gloves. If you’re someone who is always digging in pockets or adjusting this and that, loves backcountry skiing, or has hands that sweat a lot, go with gloves.
You Picked Warmth: Mittens
Mittens offer superior warmth because your digits are all jammed in there next to each other. Just as penguins like huddling in groups to preserve warmth, your fingers want to do the same to stay toasty. Mittens will always be warmer than gloves, hands down (pun intended). If you tend to run a little hot and your hands are always sweaty (even in the cold) then you might like the ‘cooling’ factor a glove will offer. However, if you struggle with circulation, have hands that are always icicles, or if you tend to ski in very cold climates like northern Montana or New England, go with mittens.
Expert Tip: Check out “trigger” mittens (aka lobster mitts) if you just can’t decide between dexterity and warmth. Your thumb is independent like it would be with gloves and mittens, your index finger is independent for increased dexterity like it would be in a glove, and your middle, ring, and pinky fingers are all together like a mitten. It can be the best of both worlds if you can’t decide.
Choosing the right materials for your gloves or mittens is arguably the next most important choice you’ll make, and again, you’ll have a trade-off decision to make. (Choosing gloves and mittens is easy, right?) There are two primary characteristics to choose between, waterproofing and durability—both of which typically come from two different materials, synthetic and leather.
Waterproofness (and to a further extent, breathability) primarily come from synthetic materials engineered specifically to be water resistant (e.g. GORE-TEX® inserts). Typically, synthetic gloves or mittens resemble the nylon-like materials you find in your jacket and snowpants, meaning they’re lightweight. By including “membranes” in synthetic (and sometimes leather) gloves and mittens, you can add a barrier between your hands and outside moisture. This improves warmth and comfort, preventing cold hands.
Durability is a serious factor to evaluate, because without it, you’ll be buying gloves or mittens much more often. Typically, leather gloves or mittens are the most durable things out there, and you probably see them more often than you think. Here’s the downfall of leather gloves: they are not very breathable and they need secondary waterproofing (e.g. spray-on waxes or rub-on pastes) in order to not get soaked. While synthetic fabric gloves and mittens aren't typically extra durable, adding a leather palm can help increase toughness and grip.
Expert Tip: I say “typically” here, because you can find just about every combination of waterproofing, durability, and material under the sun. I personally own a pair of leather trigger mittens that have a GORE-TEX membrane in them for waterproofing and love them. However, that is getting pretty specific—so when you’re doing your buying, reach out to a Curated ski expert to see what may be right for you.
There's a lot more to consider when choosing the right gloves or mittens beyond just waterproofing and durability. These days, gloves and mittens have evolved to feature battery-powered hand warmers with different heat settings, touchscreen compatibility, exotic materials like goat leather and hyper-engineered insulating foam, and even ski pole integration. If you have further questions about top-of-the-line glove and mitten technology, talk to a Curated ski expert to get you set up! Below, we'll cover some of the more common factors to consider.
You’ll need to take a look at what sort of insulation is going to work best for your hands. A great thing about the winter sports industry when it comes to gloves and mittens is that most brands make identical gloves and mittens using the exact same materials. This is extremely beneficial because you’ll be able to directly compare a particular set, knowing that the gloves will be more dexterous and the mittens will be warmer.
Companies are also getting more and more advanced these days with their glove and mitten technology. While down fill used to be reserved for puffer jackets, you can now pick up a pair of down gloves or mittens that will keep you super warm. Keep in mind, however, that down gear is not typically very durable, and for a sport like skiing, that can make a difference. Down gloves and mittens won’t keep you warm if you tear a glove and the feathers fall out, and down also doesn’t insulate well when it’s wet, so only opt for down ski gloves or mittens if your hands are always just freezing.
The industry standard for most gloves and mittens used by skiers and snowboarders includes synthetic materials like Thinsulate™, PrimaLoft®, and fleece inside to keep your hands warm. You probably already own soft goods that contain these materials so they should be pretty familiar, but essentially, they are just a form of insulation to beef up the warmth abilities of your gloves.
One thing to keep in mind with synthetic insulation is that it tends to “pack out” over time—basically, this is the same as your favorite pair of jeans stretching over time. We’ll get into sizing later on here, but keep this in mind, because the perfect pair of gloves may fit a little snugly at first. Also know: as gloves pack out, they lose some of their heat-keeping capability, so before you drop hundreds of dollars on top-of-the-line gloves or mittens, keep this in mind.
Finally, one 'forced' version of insulation is removable liners. These are typically lightweight gloves that fit underneath primary ski gloves, but more often, mittens. When paired with mittens they give you another layer of warmth while retaining the benefit of collective finger heat—again, like those penguins huddling together. In gloves, adding liners may decrease your dexterity by stiffening each finger section (think wearing multiple pairs of jeans at once), meaning a mitten may be preferable if this is a route you take.
Cuff Length & Leashes
There are two main choices when it comes to cuffs: over or under. To some extent, this will also depend on your jacket and how nice it plays with gloves and mittens. If your coat can cinch down at the end of your jacket sleeve, you might like the style of an under-the-cuff glove or mitten.
Conversely, if you're in deep snow or want even more warmth, the over-the-cuff (aka gauntlet) style glove or mitten may work better for you. These have long gaiters that begin at your wrist and will tuck over your jacket to keep out snow and wind.
Finally, a leash is a strap that connects your wrist to the glove or mitten, meaning you can take them off of your hands while still being secured to you. This is great for taking your ski glove or mitten off on chairlifts at the resort, but does add some extra bulk!
Sizing & Fit
Glove and mitten sizing often (but not always) follows typical guidelines: small, medium, large, etc., and most brands have size charts available to easily and accurately measure on your own. Usually, measuring consists of finger length as well as the circumference around your palm. Keep in mind a few things when sizing your gloves or mittens:
- Gloves and mittens often "pack out" as noted above, meaning it's not uncommon to gain a size or two after breaking them in. This is also especially true for leather gloves and mittens.
- If you plan to add disposable hand warmers and/or removable liners, size up for room.
Are expensive gloves worth it? Well, that's up to you. Ski brand Hestra makes some of the most expensive—but also highly regarded—gloves and mitts in the industry (like the Hestra Fall Line glove). However, working brand Kinco also makes some of the most popular leather guide gloves and mitts favored by plenty of skiers and snowboarders (myself included) for just $20-30. So what's the difference?
Largely, it's going to come down to personal preference. Hestra gloves and mittens and other expensive options (such as the Black Diamond Guide Glove) do a great job of pairing multiple materials for supreme warmth, waterproofing, breathability, and durability—but you pay for it! Cheaper options, on the other hand, may include some or all of these features, but likely won't last multiple seasons. That's a decision that only you can make, but in general, you do get what you pay for with gloves and mittens.
Should you have multiple pairs? Probably. If you ski all year long, you'll inevitably learn what works best for you in different circumstances and that's OK! Just like there's no one-size-fits-all solution to choosing between gloves and mittens, there's no glove or mitt that will truly be perfect every single day of the year. Often, pairing a glove with a warm mitt will cover the majority of ski days, and serves as a good all-around option.
So, what are the best gloves and mittens for skiing? It's cliche, but the best gloves and mittens for skiing are whatever work best for you. By now, you know enough to make an educated decision, but if you want to learn more or have further questions, chat with a Curated ski expert!