If your hands are cold, you lose feel and dexterity, meaning you can’t use your hands to do stuff. But to keep them warm, you typically have to wrap your hands in such thick insulation that you, again, can’t use them to do stuff. I’ve been trying to solve this problem for as long as I can remember, and I think I’ve finally found the answer.
The traditional solution to using your hands in the winter has always been to simply wear a thick, warm set of gloves, then remove one or both if you needed to do something with your hands. The problems here are obvious:
- Removing gloves takes time.
- Your hands are left exposed to the cold while they’re off, a problem that’s exacerbated if you need to touch a cold surface.
- You need to hold onto or stash your gloves somewhere while they’re off.
Wearing a thin pair of merino-wool glove liners under a slightly oversize insulated glove partially solves problem number two. With the thick outer gloves removed, the thin liners deliver good feel and dexterity, without totally exposing your hands to the elements. But this solution does nothing for problems one and three, and the protection offered by the thin liners alone is minimal; especially in windy conditions, you will still rapidly lose feeling in your hands, and it can take time to rewarm them once you put the thick gloves back on. A thin layer of tightly woven merino wool can also be slippery, is abraded easily, and does not protect your hands if you’re working on something sharp or that pinches.
Some thin glove liners include silicone grip aids on the fingers or palms, but these can make it difficult to put on or take off the thicker gloves you need to wear over them. In a worst-case scenario, they may even pull that outer glove’s lining out, creating a fussy problem it takes even more time and dexterity to resolve. So I tried wearing a pair of fingerless wool gloves over a set of liners equipped with those silicone grip pads. While this solution enabled me to keep my hands slightly warmer than wearing liners alone, the tips of my fingers quickly grew too cold to work.
For years I wore a pair of leather ropers complete with a very thin layer of insulation. They offered decent feel and dexterity, were easy to take on and off, and were treated regularly with Sno-Seal, and they even did a pretty good job of cutting the wind and staying dry. But they were too thick to deliver the fine levels of feel I need to perform delicate jobs like operating the trigger on a handgun or manipulating my bow release. And the necessary warmth, even in mild, around-freezing temperatures, just wasn’t there. My hands still got cold.
I tried a pair of insulated rubber fishing gloves. They’re the kind of solution the internet loves: cheap, quirky, and unexpected. While thin and obviously offering excellent grip, they’re impossible to size with total accuracy, leading to folds of extra material around your fingers. And this bulk gets frustrating really fast. They also made me look like a serial killer.
So in the run-up to this winter, I posted a cry for help on social media. Most of my friends unhelpfully suggested one of the above options, which I’d already eliminated, but two suggestions did seem appealing: Mammut’s PR person suggested the brand’s new fleece-wool hybrid Passion Glove, and several people raved about the Hestra Ergo Grip Actives.
Those Mammuts looked good, promising the formfitting stretch of a liner glove with a little added thickness for more warmth. I’m also a big fan of fleece-wool hybrid materials; I find they offer a considerable level of warmth in relatively minimal thickness, good next-to-skin comfort, and a surprising degree of weather protection. And the initial signs were positive: the gloves were warmer than expected and not so thick that they totally compromised feel and dexterity. But, as employed here, the material does nothing to block the wind. So the ability for these gloves to insulate disappears in windy conditions.
The Mammuts are touchscreen compatible, so this is probably a good time to talk about that. While it is possible to text (slowly) in a very thin pair of touchscreen-compatible glove liners, you start running into all of the same problems discussed throughout this article. Gloves like the Mammuts, which offer a higher level of insulation, are obviously thicker, reducing feel and increasing the size of your fingers. While these are technically capable of operating a touchscreen, you’re not going to be able to do much more then click the camera button or pinch and zoom a map on your phone while wearing them. Having said that, if the work you perform in cold weather only amounts to doing it for the ’gram, these Mammuts will be perfect.
I’d had my eye on the Hestras for a while, and the recommendations from friends were just the push I needed to order a pair. I’m glad I did, because they are just what I was looking for.
In the Hestras, goatskin covers your palms and the undersides of your fingers. Goatskin is thinner and softer than typical leather. The result? Excellent feel and an impressive level of protection both from penetration and abrasion. The fingers feature distinctive stitching that helps pre-curve the fit, to eliminate bunched material inside your grip. The back of your hand and fingers is covered by a very light polyester face material backed by a Gore Windstopper membrane. Inside the glove is a layer of brushed polyester insulation that feels really nice to the touch and is connected to the outer layer of the glove throughout, making these incredibly easy to take on and off. They don’t feel like gloves that will be very warm, but my theory is that the windproof membrane on the back of your hands helps prevent heat from escaping the glove, making them warmer than the thin insulation alone could.
In these gloves, I’m able to operate the locking carabiners I use as clasps on the leashes of my three dogs with ease. The lack of bulk means the fingers have no problem fitting inside a trigger guard, and in terms of dexterity and feel, these things complement the natural abilities of your hands like a good, thin pair of work gloves would. How warm are they? Everyone experiences temperatures differently, but my hands run cold, and in these Hestras I’m comfortable down to about 25 degrees if I’m remaining static. While hiking or engaging in similar activity, I’ve worn these gloves down into the low teens.
That surprising level of warmth, combined with the lack of bulk and extraordinary levels of feel, makes these gloves extremely versatile. They’d be the ideal gloves for climbing ice or skinning up a ski hill. Hunters will obviously benefit from them. And they’re perfect for off-roaders looking for something to wear while operating a winch or loading cargo in cold weather. You’ll still need a thicker, warmer glove for downhill skiing or very cold temperatures, but for active wear in most winter conditions, these Hestras are the perfect pair of gloves. In them, I can finally do stuff with my hands in cold weather, without my hands getting cold.