The affordable models are surprisingly capable, but what you get for more money is undeniable
Gloves are, frankly, less exciting to talk about than skis or bindings. That doesn’t, however, make them less important. Cold hands are the quickest way to ruin a ski day at the resort, and ill-fitting gloves could mess with your grip on poles and ropes. But how much should you pay for them? Like pretty much all outdoor gear, there’s a wide range of options, depending on what you need them for and are willing to pay for or splurge on. So I put my favorite leather gloves in the budget, midrange, and high-end price brackets in a head-to-head test to help you decide.
I took each pair of gloves skiing on a powder day at my local resort, Mount Ashland in Oregon. I don’t mean to brag when mentioning the powder, but it provided ample opportunity to get the gloves covered in snow, which was a good test of their insulation and weatherproofness. I also waited in a lift line for 40 minutes with each pair of gloves to further gauge insulation while I was immobile. For dexterity, I tinkered with my bindings, opened and closed a backpack and duffel at least five times, and tried to get my roof box open and closed with the gloves on. Then I took each pair on a backcountry skin lap, performing beacon checks, ripping skins, and tinkering some more with my bindings. I also did yard work like shoveling, pruning, and weeding with each pair, which was a great way to test puncture resistance (I cut back my rose bushes) and durability.
Budget: Kinco Lined Grain Pigskin ($18)
There’s a reason why Kincos, originally designed as work gloves, have been the choice of patrollers and ski bums for decades. They cost a fraction of skiing-specific gloves, and the burly pigskin can weather a few seasons of hard use. I love the steeze of these classic gloves. While I was expecting them to look cool, I was extremely impressed and surprised by how warm they kept my hands. During my powder-day testing, winds were blowing upwards of 25 miles per hour in the parking lot, and I foolishly took my gloves off to gather my gear. My hands got so cold that I was sure my day would be cut short. But I donned the gloves and my hands warmed up while I sat in the lift line. I credit the Heatkeep liner (finely spun polyester that creates warmth-catching dead space and wicks moisture). While the Kinco was amazing in terms of warmth, it was the least dexterous by far, with blocky fingers that couldn’t grip a key and were awkward while opening and closing my ski pack.
Midrange: Flylow Ridge ($50)
While the exteriors of the Ridge didn’t look as high-tech or as sharply built as the Hestra (below), the Spaceloft micropuff insulation hidden by the plain leather kept my hands remarkably comfortable even amid temperature swings. I waited in the lift line for 45 minutes, in 18 degrees with light snow, and my digits were only a tad cold. But later that afternoon, as the sky turned bluebird and temperatures doubled, the gloves still shined. My hands didn’t feel overheated as I sweated my way on a boot-pack to backcountry terrain. The Ridge fits perfectly in between the blocky Kinco and the downright surgical Fall Line. They were plenty dexterous for lengthening or shortening my backcountry ski poles and were great while actually skiing, but I did have to take them off when I was messing with my bindings.
High-End: Hestra Fall Line ($155)
Yeah, at this price, the Fall Line better score top marks in every category. While the neoprene wrist cuffs kept pow off my hands and the seams were on the outside (better for gripping my ski poles while huffing up and breaking trail in the backcountry), it was the fit that made me fall in love with the Fall Line. The articulated fingers hugged mine, making it easier to tinker on skis. As it turns out, they’re great gardening gloves as well. And the Fall Line was the only model I could wear to perform tasks requiring fine motor skills, like locking and unlocking my roof box and picking individual strands of Bermuda grass. They were also notably more comfortable than the other two pairs, thanks to the superb breathability and Bemberg lining, which is a natural polyester comparable to silk.
For less than $20, the Kinco can keep your digits from freezing on the mountain, not to mention it looks cool as hell. Does that mean the roughly 130-buck difference between this glove and the Fall Line makes the latter a rip-off? Hardly. It takes expensive material and craftsmanship to make a glove that interacts with your hand as well as the Fall Line. If there’s a chance you might use a rope or an ice ax, having a glove with that kind of dexterity is nonnegotiable. If you’re mainly skiing at the resort, want comfort in a wide range of temperatures, and have the extra money, $50 is still an excellent deal for a quality glove like the midrange Ridge. If you’re buying on a budget, though, the Kinco can do most everything an average skier needs (warm hands, grip a pole, crack a lift beer) at an extremely affordable price.