Gloves By Andy
Gloves are a very hard category as there is no perfect solution, gloves always have the problem of the more insulated and more waterproof you make them the less dextrous they become. Over the years I have played around with multiple glove systems both in Scotland and the Alps and for years got very wet and cold hands. It took me a long time but I think I may have cracked it.
So lets take Scotland first [this combo I have also found works really well in Alpine winter] as this is going to be the one where everyone seems to get really wet and cold. I can remember on my first trip to Scotland having on a pair of cheap £5 liner gloves and some old snowboarding mittens. My hands where actually pretty toasty on that first trip however at the time I was only climbing grade 1& 2 gullies but when it came to fiddle gear in it got a bit hard. On my next trip, determined to climb grade 4 I decided to upgrade to some “Mountain Equipment Randonee Gloves”. These are a really hard wearing soft shell glove with a really thick pile inside and super dextrous considering how thick they where. Having spoken to older and wiser climbers they assured me that soft shell was the way to go, they gave me two reasons for this. Without the waterproof lining, which effectively is a plastic bag inside the glove which slides around in between the outer layer and the insulation the glove is more dextrous. The second reason was that when water does get in them they dry out much quicker [remember waterproof liners may stop water getting in but they also stop it getting out].
Along with a pair of three finger lobster mitts [highly recommend this type of glove for anything up to grade 3, get the best of both world, mitt and glove] and power stretch wrist gaiters I used this system for 3 years. I wore wrist gaiters as they kept the arteries in my wrist warm therefore meaning my fingers stayed warm and I had another layer where I needed the most dexterity. Then ME gloves for climbing in and the Lobster mitts for approach and descent. This system was fine but I was still getting pretty cold hands when the soft shell gave out and they got wet and also it required putting the jacket over the glove, a system which I think is flawed as water then runs down inside your jacket.
Enter the legendary alpine climber Ueli Steck and his collaboration with Mountain Hardware. He must have been having the same problem as me as in 2016 the ultimate glove appeared on the Market, The “Mountain Equipment Hydra”. This glove was exactly what I wanted. It had a big long gauntlet so my jacket would tuck in [no more water running down my sleeve], has a big pile lining, but most importantly it had a new waterproofing technology. Outdry Technology is different to traditional waterproof gloves in the fact that the membrane is bonded to the outer and insulation fabric meaning you don't get water build up in between the outer and the membrane and more importantly you get much more dexterity as the outer membrane and inner are all fused together as one which give a much better feel. However these gloves had one flaw, they lasted about five minutes. In two Scottish trips [each one a week] I went through two pairs. Great design but need to work on the durability.
One other system I did try in Scotland around this time was using a pair of oversized Polar mittens to go over my climbing gloves at belays like a belay jacket however this didn't really work as It felt like I had two oven gloves on and couldn't really hold ropes or organise gear quickly.
Having destroyed the Mountain Hardware gloves and after having had a particularly cold day on the Ben I decided it was time for some super warm gloves, enter the Black Diamond enforcer gloves. These things are monsters with 170grams of Primaloft on the back of the hands, big long gauntlets and have Eva foam on the knuckles and fingers for warmth when your hands are up against the snow. Coupled with wrist gaiters these were warmer than the lobster mitts I had and were only a little less dextrous then my old Mountain Hardware gloves. As well as all of these things seem to be bomb proof with kevlar stitching [brought from their ski gloves} and a really durable stretchy outer fabric. Despite this I still felt I need something a little more dexterous for those really hard leads as the BD enforcers still use a Gore tex membrane which is not fitted to the Outer or inner meaning the layers still slide around on each other. I solved this one with another BD glove, the Arc glove, this glove actually reminds me of my old ME soft shell gloves however these use a synthetic insulation instead of a pile so are much warmer. They also have a waterproof membrane in them, which sometimes is a bit of a pain as they only come up to the wrist so water does get in the top but as long as I swap them out for the enforcers on easier or less technical ground this isn't too much of a problem. It also means you get a bit of a sliding effect like in the enforcers but because they are so well fitted this isn't so much of a problem. On top of all of this I also carry a really small packable mitten which is not water proof but fully windproof and has 200 grams of Primaloft in them. I tend to put these on at the end of the day when my other two gloves are soaked and I am walking of.
Top Tip: I use a light weight windproof trail running glove for walking in to routes in Scotland as I run real hot when walking in put want to keep that bitting wind off.
Unlike Scottish climbing, summer alpine tends to be a bit warmer so you don't need so much insulation between you and the outside world. Saying that you are still in the high mountains and need to protect those pinkys. Also unlike Scotland where a vast majority of the time your hands are gripping axes in the alpine summer you can spend just as much time scrambling up rough granite which will destroy a pair of gloves in a very short space of time.
When I first started going to the Alps I took what I had learnt during my Scottish apprenticeship, big fat gloves and mitts, however I quickly discovered that my hands were getting too warm and I couldn't grip or climb anything.
So I moved on to some very expensive soft shell gloves that were warm and dextrous enough but I destroyed very quickly covering big granite routes in Chamonix, this could be expensive. Howeverwhen in Rome do as the Romans do, when in Cham do as the guides do. In this case go to the local hardware shop and buy some wool lined full leather work gloves for £10. These things are brilliant, super tough, windproof, hold out a good amount of snow [do cover them in boot wax every so often] and once you have broken them in pretty dextrous.
For a big summer alpine route I carry my leather work man gloves for approach, scrambling and when doing big long abseils or lots of rope handling is required [be surprised how quickly ropes go through gloves]. My Black Diamond Arc gloves [discussed in the Scottish section] for technical climbing with ice tools or if it starts getting really wet. Then at the bottom of my pack my ultralight weight 200gram Primaloft mittens for bivvying or early morning starts.
All in all this may seem like a lot to talk about just on gloves but it is one of the most complicated parts of the clothing system for alpine climbing and has taken me over ten years to finally get to a place where I can climb well and keep my hands warm and dry. Hopefully one day someone will come out with the ultimate glove, super thin and dextrous but warm as hell. Oh wait an old friend of mine did, £5 fleece glove with a marigold washing up glove duck taped around the wrist. No Joke, bit of a pain to get off though.