I won’t sugarcoat it: Exercising outside in winter sucks. No one’s shy about saying so—many people have told me they won’t even do it because of the cold. But then I ask if they have a decent pair of lightweight gloves. You can break the bank on a fancy pair of insulating pants or a teched-out $250 windbreaker, but if your hands are chilly and throbbing on a cold bike ride or run, you’ll be miserable. Gloves are one of those pieces of gear that don’t cost much but can make a huge difference when it comes to how warm you are.
Not all gloves are created equal, though. I picked five standouts and tested them head-to-head to determine the best uses for each.
To evaluate dexterity, I used the gloves for tasks that simulated using them in everyday life and in the backcountry. These included:
- Timing myself typing “Hello, how are you?” on my phone.
- Opening and closing my Spyderco ’Lil Native knife.
- Spinning the heel plate on my Dynafit TLT Radical FT 2.0 bindings from walk to ski mode five times.
- Opening and pulling a pen out of my stuffed Herschel Supply Co. Little America backpack.
- Pressing tiny buttons to turn a Ledlenser MH2 headlamp on and off.
Warmth and breathability were pretty straightforward. I wore each pair of gloves on my bike commute and walks with my daughter in temperatures ranging from the high 30s to the low 50s.
#1: Pearl Izumi Thermal Lite ($15)
Best For: Getting your money’s worth
These gloves are incredible for the price. While they weren’t the best performers in the dexterity tests (they were awkward operating the headlamp and couldn’t type worth a damn on my phone), these simple fleece gloves were on par with the others in terms of warmth. And they’re half the price of the next nearest competitor. Truth be told, the Thermal Lites I used for this test are my third pair—I have run hundreds of miles in these gloves—and while I would prefer something more dexterous (like the Rivets, below) if I found myself needing to repair a binding or ski pole in the field—these are the absolute best for the no-nonsense user.
#2: Arc’teryx Rivet ($69)
Best For: Doing Everything
The Rivets were the clear winner when it came to dexterity. I might as well have been bare-handed when I fiddled with the headlamp and bindings. They were also one of the warmest despite having the thinnest material. Not to mention the Rivets strike the difficult breathable–wind resistant balance: The Polartec Powerfleece vented heat but kept just enough warmth in, and the Hardface treatment on the exterior stifled wind and repelled water.
#3: Black Diamond Lightweight Softshell ($30)
Best For: Tasks in the field
The Black Diamond gloves were pretty clunky on the phone (I wrote “Hello Howard are you” twice before getting it right) but didn’t get in the way while I opened the knife, messed with the bindings, and operated the headlamp. The supple wrists were by far the most comfortable of the test, and the stretchy Polartec soft-shell exterior made them extremely warm during the bike ride. I wouldn’t try to repair a backpack zipper or navigate an app with these gloves on, but the water-resistant four-way stretch design would be amazing for backcountry day trips that require less dexterity.
#4: Under Armour Convertible ColdGear Reactor ($40)
Best For: Big temperature swings
Brilliant removable covers allow the Convertibles to transform from mittens to gloves, making these my favorite for the coldest days. Mitten mode kept my hands warmer than the other contenders, but the thick fleece came at the cost of freedom of movement. These gloves were second best for typing on the phone but proved clunky because of the finger size, and I had a tough time wielding the knife and working the headlamp. The adaptable covers make these my go-to for long runs or ski tours that start in the cold wee hours of morning and end in relatively warm afternoons.
#5: Giro Inferna ($40)
Best For: The bike-to-barstool transition
I kindly asked my wife to test the Infernas, seeing as they’re designed for women. The cycling gloves shone in the saddle—the gel padding on the palms was just right and not so thick as to impede dexterity. Even though reflective accents give the Infernas a technical vibe, Giro made them dotted to mitigate the look. These were the only cycling gloves my wife has tried that could pair with a nice jacket and look good on the walk out for date night. The Infernas’ snug fit (we suggest sizing up) made them excellent for finding the pen and turning on the headlamp, but they were second to worst for using the phone. The tight cuffs kept chill out but made getting the gloves on and off a pain—another reason to size up.
At the end of the day, the right pair of gloves is the one that will keep your hands from getting too cold. If you are just looking for a simple running, walking the dog, or cycling glove (and don’t live in the Arctic Circle), I recommend Pearl Izumi’s Thermal Lite. Sure, they aren’t as dexterous or warm as some of the others, but the price is right and they get the job done. If you’re looking for something more technical, splurge on the Rivets. The dexterity-protection combo warrants the high price tag.