Gloves vs. Mittens: Which is Better?

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If you’re asking yourself what’s the difference between ski gloves vs. mittens, you’ve come to the right place! Choosing the right ski gloves or mittens has a tremendous impact on your comfort levels on the mountain. Your hands are often the first body part to get uncomfortably cold. Frozen hands can ruin a ski day, forcing you to hide in the lodge or simply give up. We hope to help you avoid that! This guide covers everything you need to know about gloves vs. mittens so that you can buy the pair that’s right for you.

In This Post

Types of Gloves and Mittens

There are some key differences between gloves vs. mittens to consider when buying this important piece of attire. In addition, there are a couple of different types to be aware of. We break this down below to help you in your decision.

Gloves

Gloves have individual pockets for each finger. Because all of your fingers have freedom of movement, gloves provide the most dexterity. If you are constantly handling gear, such as a backpack, you might require the dexterity that gloves provide.

Mittens

Mittens are basically a single sleeve that all of your fingers fit into at once. The outside air touches more surface area on the exterior of gloves vs. mittens. Therefore, mittens tend to be warmer than gloves. However, the lack of separated fingers means that you will have less dexterity when wearing mittens. Doing basic tasks, such as holding ski poles and opening doors, are still relatively easy with mittens. Many skiers and snowboarders find this level of dexterity is all they really need to get through the day, making mittens a great choice.

Lobster Style

Lobster style gloves are a common blend between a glove and mitten. Your pointer finger and thumb have their own pockets, while your other three fingers are grouped together in one pocket. Majority of tasks require just your thumb and pointer finger, so this hybrid style is a great compromise. They retain the dexterity of gloves while providing the warmth of mittens.

3-in-1

3-in-1 gloves and mittens have more to do with the construction than the actual design or style. A glove, mitten, or lobster style can be 3-in-1. These systems consist of an outer shell and a removable liner. This gives you the ability to combine the shell and liner for warmth on cold days. Alternatively, you can also choose to wear just one or the other to keep cool on warm days. Skiers and snowboarders alike appreciate the versatility 3-in-1 gloves and mittens provide for changing weather conditions. Wearing liners is also nice for dexterity purposes. You can remove your hand from the shell to complete a task without exposing your bare hand to the cold. The shell and liners can be purchased as a set or individually.

Is it Easier to Move in Gloves or Mittens?

Gloves are easier to use for a variety of tasks while on mountain. This includes unzipping pockets, eating food on the chair lift, or using your phone. In general, they provide better dexterity than mittens.

Mittens have large, rounded ends and are only useful for basic tasks, such as opening doors or buckling your boots. The lack of finger separation hinders any ability to use your fine-motor skills or be precise in your movements. 

However, there is another factor that should be considered. Materials and construction also play a part when it comes to mobility and dexterity, regardless if you have gloves vs. mittens. Thicker shells and more insulation create a bulkier glove or mitten, and therefore make them less nimble. For example, an extremely bulky glove may not be much better than a mitten, in terms of dexterity.

Pair of white gloves resting on ski poles

Are Gloves or Mittens Warmer?

All things equal, mittens are considered to be warmer for your hands. Your fingers can share heat with one another, and the warm air inside your mitten circulates more freely around your hand. Also, with gloves, cold air surrounds each and every finger on the outside. With mittens, there is less material and surface area for the cold air to touch.

Make sure you are comparing apples to apples, however, when choosing ski gloves vs. mittens. Obviously a glove designed for sub-zero temperatures will be warmer than a cheap, routine winter glove bought at the general store. The amount of insulation and shell material still play important roles in the warmth of any ski glove or mitten.

Do Gloves or Mittens Stay Dryer?

The primary issue with ski gloves and mittens is finding the right balance between warmth, waterproofing, and breathability. Gloves and mittens need to provide warmth, which means protecting them from getting wet from the outside (waterproofing) and from the inside (breathability). So, dryness comes down to the material of the individual glove or mitten.

Ski gloves and mittens should include some kind of waterproof and breathable barrier to prevent moisture from snow while still allowing your hand sweat to escape. The barrier can be a membrane integrated into the fabric, a layer attached between the outer shell and insulation, or a special coating that is applied.

While it’s safe to say you need a completely waterproof glove, the breathability construction is trickier. How do you provide breathability without sacrificing warmth and external waterproofing? Gore-Tex is a popular membrane material that allows internal moisture to escape but blocks external wind and water. Many big name vendors have their own breathable technology similar to Gore-Tex for their ski and snowboard gloves.

Other Tips for Keeping Hands Warm & Dry

  • Warm Yourself Up First: Your gear will do a better job keeping you warm if you start off warm to begin with. If your hands feel chilly even when you’re inside, put them by the fire or drink some hot coco. Maybe even do some jumping jacks to get your blood flowing.
  • Put on Gloves/Mittens Inside: Gloves and mittens are most effective in retaining heat, rather than creating heat. In other words, they mainly help already warm hands stay warm, rather than turning cold hands into warm ones. So, as stated above, get warm inside first, put your gloves or mittens on, and then go outside. This helps you retain the existing warmth in your hands before the cold air can zap it away.
  • Use Hand Warmers: Hand warmers are cheap and small, so it’s convenient to keep a few pairs on you at all times. Put a few in your jacket pockets or a small backpack if you carry one. It’s nice to throw them into a zippered pocket or between your shell and liner on those extra cold days. Just make sure your bare skin doesn’t make direct contact with the warmers, as the chemicals used can burn.
  • Bring Two Pairs to Swap Out: For those of you that get warm or sweaty hands, bring two pairs of gloves or mittens with you. You can swap them out at lunch if sweaty hands start to moisten the first pair. Alternatively, you can bring a pair of liners, which are more compact, and then simply remove them once they start to get wet.
Keeping hands warm by fire with hot chocolate

How Should Gloves & Mittens Fit?

Many skiers and snowboarders think that their gloves or mittens don’t keep their hands warm. In reality, they might not fit right! The size and fit of your ski gloves or mittens can have a real impact on their ability to insulate your hands and provide dexterity.

Gloves or mittens that are too small restrict movement and don’t provide enough space to create a pocket for hot air to build up and circulate. If your glove or mitten is too small, the cuff length may also be too short, which could leave your skin exposed near your wrists. On the other hand, gloves or mittens that are too large require more body energy to heat up the air pocket and minimize dexterity

A proper fitting glove or mitten should have about ¼ inch of fabric that can be pinched at the end of your outstretched fingers. This sizing will provide the best warmth, comfort, and dexterity. If you can’t try them on, make sure to consult the manufacturer’s sizing chart.

Which is Better for Skiing, Gloves or Mittens?

Gloves and mittens are used about equally by skiers on the mountain. Contrary to popular belief, holding ski poles with mittens is not difficult and isn’t enough of a drawback to outweigh the extra warmth that mittens provide if your hands tend to get cold on the mountain.

Casual skiers and those stopping for pictures frequently tend to get colder easier because they aren’t working quite as hard and may be taking their hands out more often. In those cases, mittens may work better to provide extra warmth. On the other hand, some skiers keep a tight grip on their ski poles as they weave down thigh burning runs all day long. Gloves may be better in this scenario to avoid sweaty hands from working really hard.

Ultimately, it comes down to personal preference for each individual skier as to whether gloves vs. mittens works better. Some people can never seem to get their hands warm, while others can never seem to get their hands to stop sweating!

Skier with gloves

Which is Better for Snowboarding, Gloves or Mittens?

Many snowboarders opt to wear mittens because snowboarders spend more time touching the ground with their hands. Snowboarders must unbuckle and rebuckle their boots every run, often sitting down to do so. In addition, snowboarders generally take more minor falls than skiers do. 

As a result, sitting and pushing off the ground with your hands is a common routine throughout a snowboarders day. The extra contact with snow necessitates more warmth in the hands, which may be more important than dexterity. This makes mittens a more appealing option for many snowboarders.

Snowboarder with mittens

Considerations for Spring Time

When spring comes around and temperatures warm up, the slopes can start to feel like a beach party some days. Rising temps and glaring sun, however, can make you feel a little ridiculous wearing your extra warm winter gear. Gloves and mittens are no exception.

Once the temperatures climb into the 40’s or above, gloves and mittens can start to feel hot and burdensome. It is wise to have a lighter pair of gloves for this time of year. Another option is to simply wear your liners, if you have them, depending on the temperatures and your personal warmth profile.

Other Key Features of Gloves & Mittens

  • Heated Gloves or Mittens 
    Battery powered heated gloves and mittens now exist that can provide an extra boost of warmth on the coldest days if you need it. On the downside, heated gloves and mittens are more expensive, bulkier, and heavier than those that are non-heated. For those of you who can’t ever find gloves to keep their hands warm, it might be time to start looking at heated gloves as a solution to your problems.
  • Touchscreen
    Many gloves today are being made so that they’re compatible with phones. This helps you to avoid fully exposing your hands when needing to make a call or shoot a text. Touchscreen compatibility is most useful in gloves that offer enough dexterity to control your phone, hence why it is most common to see in light to medium gloves and liners. A common set up is to have a thick glove or mitten paired with a light touchscreen compatible liner so that you can be warm without sacrificing dexterity when you need it. Compatibility ranges from a single spot on your pointer finger to full finger and palm compatibility.
  • Short Cuff/Long Cuff
    Gloves and mittens come in different cuff lengths as well. Some cuffs may stop at your wrist, while others have cuffs that extend further up the forearm. Shorter cuffs can provide more breathability, which make them a great option for when the weather is warmer. Longer cuffs offer extra protection against the cold air and help to prevent snow from making its way into your glove or mitten.
  • Leashes/Wrist Straps
    The leash straps that wrap around your wrist and keep your gloves or mittens attached at all times are a valuable, but often overlooked feature. Fastening your gloves or mittens to yourself or another object prevents them from falling or getting lost. Using a leash or strap will keep you from making the common mistake of dropping your gloves or mittens off the chairlift. Basic leashes are often a string or cord that can be cinched to tighten around your wrist. The best type of leashes are elastic cuffs that fit snugly around your wrist and are easy to take on and off of without digging into your forearm in the process.
  • Zippered Pockets
    Some glove and mitten models have small pockets on the back of the hand that can be zipped up. These pockets are a good place to stash hand warmers or other small items like chapstick. On warmer days, you can also leave them unzipped as a form of ventilation.
  • Palm Material
    Adding leather to at least the palm of a glove or mitten is an effective way to provide additional grip and durability. Gloves and mittens without any kind of abrasion resistant reinforcement on the palms may not be quite as durable.
  • Thumb Wipes
    Wiping your nose is common on a ski day. That is why many gloves and mittens designed for use in snow have soft material somewhere on the thumb, specifically for the purpose of wiping your nose. Wiping your nose all day with rough or coarse material will rub your nose raw and make for an unpleasant day. So, ski gloves and mittens with this small feature are invaluable.

Final Thoughts

Don’t let fashion dictate your decision between gloves vs. mittens. Go with what will keep you warm and allow you to be as dexterous as you need. Skiers and snowboarders who run colder or find their hands touching the snowy ground often might want to opt for mittens for additional warmth. If you get too hot in mittens, but still can’t find a pair of gloves that suits you, then give a look at the “lobster” style hybrid ski gloves that combine the best bits of both.

Consider the information in this article, along with advice from your local shop, and try some pairs on at the store if you can. We hope this helps you in choosing a pair of gloves or mittens that will keep you comfortable and happy on the hill.

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