Brrrr. There’s nothing worse than cutting an outdoor adventure short because of cold hands. I mean, you have good reason too. When you’re fingers start to get chilly, numb and even change color, it’s time to head inside and warm up. Hypothermia and frostbite are two medical conditions you want to avoid at all costs. Please also see our article entitled “How To Keep Your Hands Warm So You Don’t Get Frostbite“.
When your body temperature starts to drop, your body goes into survival mode. According to the CDC, more than 700 people die every year from hypothermia, more people suffer the devastating effects of frostbite. Keeping your hands warm in the winter is important to not only enjoying the ski hill, but it’s critical to surviving the day. You need your hands and fingers, so let’s look at how to keep your hands warm in the winter. Let’s keep your digits nice and toasty while enjoying Mother Nature.
How Our Hands Lose Heat
To come up with an effective plan to keep your hands warm in the winter, we need to really understand how our hands lose heat. Hands and fingers typically don’t have an insulation layer or fat or muscle, like the rest of our body. Our blood vessels (with all that warm blood) are also fairly close to the surface of our skin-which means that heat can escape fairly quickly.
Our hands typically lose heat through radiation (exposure to the cold), conduction (when you touch a cold object), convection (wind) and evaporation (sweat). According to some outdoor survival experts, when you’re outside in the cold, our body tends to focus on keeping the core as warm as possible. In this case, blood flow is restricted slightly to the hands, to keep the warm blood flowing to your vital organs. Some people naturally have warm hands all the time, and then there’s the rest of us!
To keep your hands warm, you need to focus on keeping them dry. If you’re wearing a soaked pair of gloves, you will lose heat fast and it could be hard to get it back. There’s a saying among outdoor guides- it’s easier to stay warm than it is to get warm. To keep your hands warm, you want to have the appropriate layers and gloves to set yourself up for success.
If you’ve read any of my other blogs, you know how I feel about cotton. Cotton is the worst material you can wear when you’re heading out into the great outdoors. Stay away from cotton like the plague. Seriously, it’s that bad. When cotton gets wet it actually absorbs all the moisture like a big old wet sponge. That sponge then draws body heat away from you and doesn’t let go. Wet hands= cold hands! Keep the cotton at home and opt for a glove made out of a synthetic material, wool or lined with fleece. See also our article entitled “Top 33 Warmest Winter Gloves“.
What’s the Best Material for Gloves?
Great question. There are so many choices on the market today. When searching for glove, take into consideration what you’ll be doing. Will you be skiing? Then you may want to go with a glove with lots of insulation, that’s equally as breathable and waterproof. Most gloves will specifically indicate how much insulation is in the gloves. Down gloves typically provide the most level of warmth.
A down, waterproof pair of gloves might be a good bet if you’re snowmobiling or ice fishing- an activity where you may be sitting more than normal. Be warned though when down gets wet, it gets really wet and it can take a while to dry out!
Fleece is also a great option for insulation. Fleece is cozy, soft and is breathable. You’ll want to make sure however, that the top layer of your glove is waterproof if you go with a fleece lined or synthetic filled glove. Synthetic filled gloves tend to be cheaper than down filled gloves, but it doesn’t give you the warmth factor you may be looking for. Pro tip: choose your gloves based on your activity and you’ll never go wrong.
This means you may need a few pairs of gloves depending on what you like to do in the great outdoors. If you’re mountain climbing you may want to opt for thinner glove with etched fabric on the fingers and palms to give you better grip. You don’t want to be 3,000 feet up the side of glacier only to find out you can’t properly grip the rope that’s keeping you safe. If this is your winter activity of choice, look for a glove with extra grip on the palms and fingers!
While you always want to go with a waterproof glove, most gloves actually get soaked from the inside out. Huh? Let me explain. Remember that time you misjudged a ski jump on your last vacation and it was too late to bail once you saw the vertical? That was a doozy. But, seriously most gloves get wet from the inside because of where the gloves hit your wrists. That open area usually lets cold and moisture creep inside the glove and before you know it, your fingers and hands are freezing.
Best defense against the weather inching into your gloves is to invest in a warm winter coat with thumb holes. I recently purchased a new Columbia coat with a liner inside that extends to my wrists. My hands have never been warmer. By closing that gap between the wrist and glove, you reduce your chances of getting snow, sleet and rain inside your gloves! If you can’t find a coat with a liner or you don’t have the budget to buy a new one, look for a base layer with thumb holes. I’ll promise you’ll notice a big difference.
If you suffer from poor circulation or just always seem to have cold hands, wool glove liners may be your golden ticket to toasty hands. Glove liners are like a base layer for your hands. Not familiar with layering? Check out my blog article about the basics of layering! Layering is a key component to staying warm in the winter. A glove liner is designed to wick away moisture and insulate your hand. Glove liners are a thin glove, that goes inside your main glove. Look for a glove liner made with merino wool or a synthetic blend.
Merino wool does a really great job of wicking away sweat to keep your hands warm. If you tend to sweat a lot or are going to be extremely active in the cold, a glove liner is probably a really good choice for you. Glove liners are budget friendly and keep that warm layer of air close to your hands. Liners also pack well, so you can put them in your coat pocket and pull them out if you notice your fingers are feeling a little frosty!
If the Glove Fits….
How your glove fits on your hand will determine how warm you will be while hiking, hunting or skiing during the winter months. If you’re swimming in your gloves, there’s too much room for cold air to creep in and settle into your hands. On the other hand, pun intended, if you’re gloves fit like that pair of jeans from college, you’ll leave your wrists exposed to artic air and you’ll lose valuable body heat.
According to outdoor experts, you’ll know you have the perfect glove fit when there’s about ¼ inch of fabric from the end of your fingers. That’s the perfect fit. Try on the gloves before leaving the store. If you plan on wearing glove liners, make sure they pair well with the main gloves. If your gloves are too tight with a liner and you lose some dexterity, you may need a larger pair of gloves.
Mittens or Gloves
There are a lot of styles on the market today designed for all sorts of different activities. First, you need to determine your activity and the weather. If you’re hiking, you may need gloves for dexterity. However, mittens may be a good choice if you’re going to watch a football game in the late fall in Minnesota. Personally, I prefer mittens because my hands stay warmer. Mittens promote body heat with the fingers all in one nice contained compartment. There are also hybrid gloves that are cross of mittens and gloves.
The hybrid is called a lobster glove, because well, they look like lobster claws. This style of glove is also a top choice because you have the dexterity of a glove, yet the warmth of a mitten. How cool is that? If you’re a smitten with mittens and you still need an extra layer, opt for mitten liners! Like the glove liners I mentioned earlier, look for a liner with merino wool or synthetic blend like polyester, nylon or lycra. Stay away from cotton at all costs!
If you’re serious about keeping your hands warm in the winter look for gloves/mitten you can cinch at the wrists. You want to keep your wrists covered, because you can lose a lot of body heat in that small zone. Another way to keep your wrists covered is to choose a glove that goes up your arm a little more. That way your wrist and arm are covered and you can prevent that cold air from seeping into your fingers.
Hand warmers are perhaps the greatest invention for people suffering from cold hands. All it takes is one wipe out on the ski hill or being stuck on a chair lift an extra 15 minutes to make your hands warm. Chemical hand warmers are those little non-toxic packets you shake to generate heat. Once you shake them, the heat radiates for hours. There are even mittens and gloves designed with little zipper pockets specifically for hand warmers. Unzip your glove, add a hand warmer and you are good to go! Plus, you can stick them in your lunch or coat pocket without taking up too much room. So, if you’re on the chair and you need a burst of heat, grab a hand warmer and you’ll be ready for that black diamond run.
Rechargeable Hand Warmers
If you’d rather have more heat than the chemical hand warmers can provide, you may want to look into the rechargeable kind. Rechargeable hand warmers are small enough to fit inside a pair of mitten and generate heat for about 5-6 hours depending on the setting. This might be a great choice if you’re ice fishing, camping or going on a nice leisurely walk. I haven’t purchased this particular style of hand warmer, but it appears you actually need to hold the warmers for them to be effective.
So, if you’re using your hands a lot, like for skiing or mountain climbing, the traditional hand warmers may be for you. A single hand warmer typically costs about $35. So, if you need two, you’ll be investing about $70 for rechargeable hand warmers. If you suffer from chronically cold hands, this might be the way to go! However, if you need something less bulky, the single use hand warmers are always good to keep in your pockets in case of an emergency or just a shot of heat!
If hand warmers aren’t cutting it against the cold, opt for heated gloves. Heated gloves are lined with tiny wires that generate a consistent flow of heat from a rechargeable battery. The pros: heated gloves keep you warm. With a steady flow of heat, you’ll never worry about your fingers freezing. Most heated gloves come with several different settings making it easy to change the temperature based on the conditions.
The cons: heated gloves are expensive. A pair of heated gloves can easily cost a couple hundred dollars. Also, pay close attention to what the gloves are made out of. In my research, I’ve discovered some heated gloves are made with a high concentration of cotton. Yikes! Remember, stay away from cotton at all costs!
To keep your hands warm in the winter, you need to keep your hands dry. Waterproof gloves will keep your hands protected from the cold weather, but you also need to prevent weather from reaching your wrists! Keeping all areas of your hand, wrist and fingers covered with the right layers, made out of the right fabric will set you up for a fun filled day in the snow! How do you keep your hands warm? I’d love to hear your ideas too!