Thursday, February 2, 2012

Cold Weather Living: Glove Review

In a previous post, I discussed handwear systems for keeping your fingers warm and dry in cold conditions.  But what gloves to get, and how many?  While on the ice climbing leg of our road trip, I used handwear systems by Black Diamond, Outdoor Research, and off-brand items you can find at the local hardware or department store.  I’ll describe the pros and cons of each.  Each piece will be evaluated for dexterity, warmth, dryness, and durability.

By far my go-to glove on this trip was the Black Diamond Punisher glove.  For moderate output activity (read: ice climbing), the glove was insulated enough and loose enough to keep my fingers warm.  For slightly colder conditions or lower output, a supplementary hand warmer kept things toasty.  The BDry waterproof-breathable membrane did a decent job of keeping my hands dry on ice and in snow.  Unsurprisingly, the membrane was just not up to the challenge of a full-on deluge though, and soaked through when I was on a particularly wet ice climb in a bit of a sleet storm.  The fit on the glove was also a little baggy for my hand as well, with some extra space on the little finger-side of my palm.  This did not significantly affect my dexterity, except when getting ice screws started.   I was most impressed by the glove’s durability.  The goat leather palms held up against repeated ice and snow climbing, rappelling, and rope work.  This glove, however, is not designed for extreme cold and does not have an integrated gauntlet.  For harsher conditions, I would choose the Black Diamond Specialist glove, which is a very similar glove, but with a gauntlet.

Susan and I both used a pair of Outdoor Research Arete glove systems on this trip.  The system features a stand-alone gauntlet glove and an accompanying liner as well.  The liner was a fairly straightforward, but effective piece.  It had two features—some sticky silicone on the fingertips and palms and Velcro tabs for holding it in place inside the gauntlet.  While I was psyched at how well the liners fit and the dexterity they offered, I was a bit disappointed in both features.  The sticky tips and palm were a nice touch and definitely helped with the dexterity, but didn’t last more than a week before they started rubbing off.  The Velcro tabs were pretty much useless, and maybe even detrimental.  They didn’t readily match to the receiving Velcro inside the gauntlet, but they did manage to stick to all of my shirt and jacket sleeves when I wasn’t wearing the gauntlet, actually requiring me to patch a jacket sleeve mid-trip from a particularly heinous snag.  If I were to do it again, I’d get some stand-alone Outdoor Research liners to use instead, like one of the lightweight PI-series gloves.

The Arete gauntlet was a bit of a mixed bag.  By themselves, they fit well, were fairly dexterous, and had some very smart features.  The closure system was exceptionally easy to operate one handed for both putting on and taking off the gloves.  The “idiot loops” were appropriate sized, adjustable, and fit neatly and easily under the gauntlet.  I wish every glove had both!  However, when paired with the accompanying liners, the gloves were just a bit too tight, limiting dexterity and more importantly limiting warmth.  I was also not particularly impressed with the durability of the gauntlets.  The faux-leather palms are already showing wear from rope work, the middle and index fingers on one glove are fraying a bit, and the index finger/thumb joint seam on the other glove started coming unstitched almost as soon as I put the gloves on.  The gloves did keep me dry and I like some of the features, but the durability of the glove was a major sticking point for me.  Perhaps the similar but pricier Alpine Alibi would be a better choice for durability, especially with its leather palm.

I can’t say enough about cheap fleece gloves.  Depending on the particulars of what you can find, as long as the fit well, they can be great liners, are awesome for high-output activity, and I love them around camp.  The low cost makes them somewhat expendable, so you can carry 2 or 3 pairs and just change them out when one soaks through.  Daily, I would carry my Outdoor Research Arete gloves and liners, Black Diamond Punishers, and a pair of fleece gloves, with another dry pair waiting for me back in the car or at camp.  I loved the fleece gloves for the hike in, for high-output climbs, and when paired with a mitt.

Hardware store leather gloves should also not be overlooked as a cheap glove option as well.  Coupled with mink oil, they are fairly dexterous and waterproof, though not particularly warm.  They can be paired with a liner or fleece glove for some added warmth, if they are sized with this in mind at the time of purchase.  However, untreated leather gloves soak through quite quickly and become unreasonably cold in short order.

I also had the opportunity to use the Black Diamond Mercury mitt while on Mount Washington.  The dexterity was obviously not amazing, but the warmth and dryness more than made up for it.  Paired with a fleece glove inside, I could remove the mitt for some quick work and then have my fingers become almost instantly toasted once back in the mitt.  The leather palms held up quite well for the couple days I used the mitts.

On the whole, Black Diamond’s handwear selection impressed me quite a bit.  The Outdoor Research options had some good features, but did not seem to totally have it figured out with regards to durability.  Finally, the cheap fleece glove is not to be underestimated!

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