How to Choose Gloves and Mittens

Hikers overlooking map on table, wearing gloves and mittens

We’ve all felt it: When it gets cold, your body directs more blood to core areas of your body. While that warms your heart, this response leaves your hands cold. Knowing how to choose gloves and mittens will help you keep your hands warm, dry and comfortable.

Mittens and gloves are important — even vital — when cold weather hits. The specific needs for hand protection vary greatly depending on temperature, moisture, your physiology and your chosen outdoor activities. We’ll show you how to choose gloves and mittens for any adventure.

Handwear to Fit your Needs

Gloves and mittens vary greatly in styles, fabrics, insulation, dexterity and durability and you’ll want the best match for your favorite outdoor pursuits. A downhill skier, for instance, has much different needs than a backpacker at dinner time or a worker on a North Sea oil rig. You’ll likely find that you need different handwear for different activities and tasks.

Each of us has slight differences in our circulation patterns and internal heaters. The lucky ones never seem to get cold hands, while others have to don gloves in moderately cool conditions. Your experience outdoors and your chosen activities will dictate whether you need to prioritize warmth, durability, dexterity or some other factor.

Gloves versus Mittens

Anyone who spends time in the cold will tell you: mittens are warmer. Mittens allow your fingers to share warmth, which makes a noticeable difference if your hands get cold easily or when the conditions are severe. The weakness of mittens is also well-known: they don’t allow dexterous hand movements. Mitten designs generally vary in degree of insulation and waterproofness. Mittens are a superior choice when warmth is most important and little dexterity is needed, such as downhill skiing, snowboarding, or when traveling in very cold weather.

While gloves are not typically as warm as similarly-insulated mittens, they excel in offering dexterity. Depending on their design, gloves allow you to easily adjust straps, use an ice axe, light stoves, and zip zippers. Unlike mittens, gloves are designed for many different purposes. Skiing gloves are more insulated and less flexible, work gloves are durable and dexterous enough to use small tools, whereas ice climbing gloves strike a balance between the two.

Convertible gloves strike a balance between true gloves and mittens. They are fingerless gloves with a mitten-like flap that folds down to cover the fingers for warmth. These convertible gloves are not as warm as true mittens but offer unequaled dexterity.


Proper fit is important. If your glove or mitten is too big, your hands may not stay warm. If they’re too small, you’ll be uncomfortable and restricted circulation could leave your hands cold. To offer the best possible fit, some gloves and mittens are available in women’s and youth sizes.

Generally, you’ll want about a quarter-inch of space between your extended fingers and the end of the glove or mitten. Use the manufacturer’s sizing chart to gauge what size you’ll need.


When learning how to choose gloves and mittens, you’ll find a surprisingly wide variety of features to consider.


Down — while vulnerable to moisture, down offers excellent lightweight, compressible warmth

Synthetic insulation — these types of insulation are less efficient than down, but are generally much more resilient when exposed to wet conditions

Wool — this natural fiber is renowned for it’s ability to wick moisture and insulate even when wet.

Gel — some gloves use high-tech gel substances for insulation.

Hybrid — some gloves use combinations of different insulation types to offer maximum performance.

Waterproof materials

Weatherproof gloves and mittens keep your hands dry, which is an important part of keeping them warm. Waterproof materials are especially important in the fall and spring, when wet conditions can result from temperatures that are cool enough to be uncomfortable but not cold enough to keep the moisture locked up in snow and ice.

Removable liner

Some gloves and mittens feature a heavy outer layer with a removable liner. You can use this inner liner alone in mild conditions.

Adjustable cuffs

Extended and adjustable cuffs are designed to keep snow out of your gloves and mittens. They are valuable for skiing and snowboarding and in snowy conditions.

Leather inserts

The durability of gloves and mittens can be improved by leather sections. Leather on the palms and fingertips aid in grip.

Touchscreen compatibility

In today’s digital society, many people want their digits available to operate phones, tablets and other devices. Manufacturers have responded by adding touch-screen-friendly fingertips to their light- and medium-weight gloves.

Battery-powered heat

Heated mittens and gloves utilize batteries, often rechargeable, to generate warmth. Heated handwear can be expensive but heated gloves are a great option for those needing the dexterity of gloves during short-term exposure to very cold conditions.

Leashes or wrist cords

Called ‘idiot cords’ by climbers, these leashes were originally designed to keep gloves from escaping mountaineers in steep conditions. They work equally well on ski lifts and they can also keep you from dropping your dry mittens into wet snow.


Reflective elements are featured on running gloves, offering a measure of safety for runners who are active near roads.


These small pockets are usually located on the back of the hand and intended for chemical hard warmer packs. They could also hold a key or even a snack.

Sun Protection

For use in hot weather, fingerless gloves help cool your hands and protect them from harmful UV rays.

The takeaway

Gloves and mittens have one job: to keep your hands comfortable. Many do that with insulation and waterproof materials, although a few offer battery-powered warmth and even lightweight sun-blocking fabrics. Mittens top the scale for warmth while gloves offer excellent dexterity. And from idiot cords to touchscreen-ready fingertips, you’ll find a glove or mitten with the features you need.

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Questions? Talk to a gear specialist.