Jouni Laaksonen 11.2.2019
There has been quite cold temperatures in many places around the world this winter. Here in Northern Finland this winter has been quite normal. The coldest temperatures never arrived this winter, but still we had a two-week spell of around –25 to –30°C in January.
So, let’s talk about what you wear on your hands when it’s cold. Especially when you spend all day outside, and possibly also evening and night, it is very important to have properly warm mittens.
This gear post is not about outdoor equipment brands. I like to buy my handwear from hardware stores.
Here we are on a midwinter expedition with my wife in Käsivarsi Wilderness Area. It’s –25°C, but my hands are so warm that I can take the thivk and roomy brown mittens off every now and then for a while to take some pics. I don’t take off my Powerstretch next-to-skin gloves, though.
If your fingers are all the time freezing, or even you feel they are constantly just on the edge of freezing, you
- don’t enjoy your time in the great winter outdoors
- are afraid to take off your thick handwear, for example to adjust your ski binding or camera
- you end up taking no pictures
- may even drift into a dangerous situation, as your fingers don’t work properly to pull a zipper closed, or to push a tent pole into the proper tunnel, or something similar
It’s not only a question of handwear. Naturally your level of activity is crucial, and also your clothing in general is important.
We once spent a night in Vuontisjärvi wilderness hut in Pallas-Yllästunturi NP. It was –35°C in the morning, and a fisherman came to check his fish nets that were trying to catch fish under the ice of Lake Vuontisjärvi. We looked how he pulled the nets out of the water. He had very thick leather mittens, but when he loosened the whitefish that had been caught, and he did it with bare hands.
He then came to chat for a while in the hut with us, and I asked yow on earth can he manage to be for a while without handwear, and even with wet hands. He laughed and said something like this: “When there’s enough warmth on your shoulders, you can manage. And the water is much warmer than the air temperature.”
And that’s true. When your body is warm, there’s warm blood to circulate to your hands and feet, too.
Naturally there are many kinds of good gloves and mittens available, but here’s a rule of thumb for what I wear:
When the winter weather is very mild, like around zero or a few minus degrees Celsius, thin leather gloves is all I need for skiing. Of course if I plan to do something more passive, I wear thicker handwear.
When it’s around –10°C, I ski with thicker gloves. Some fluffy insulation can be seen from the inside of those gloves.
When it’s –15 to –25, the black-and-white mittens are great. Mittens are much warmer than gloves, and these mittens are a bit thinner and thus more manouverable than the brown ones.
However, I never carry this many gloves/mittens on my backpacking tours. During the years I have built a strong relationship with the pair of mittens farthest to right. They are thick, and they are roomy! With them I have skied comfortably numerous times in –30 to –40°C. And the predecessors of these served me very well in conditions of under –50°C.
So, usually I end up taking the warmer pair of gloves and the warmer pair of mittens. If it’s very late in the winter, like April, I might choose the lighter ones. But I never leave for a multi-day expedition in winter without proper mittens.
Let’s see what’s inside these two pairs of mittens:
On left there is a glove-like inner mitten. The material is insulating and rather thick, but as the fingers are apart, it’s not as warm as the dark green inner mitten on right. Also there is insulation inside the brown leather mitten itself.
I really like leather gloves and leather mittens. They are not waterproof as gore-tex mittens would be, but I often make a campfire, and leather is a good material to touch hot kettles, add firewood etc.
And in addition to those shown above, I always carry a thin pair of Powerstretch gloves. If not needed, they are in my jacket pocket, ready to be dressed whenever needed.
Next to skin: Powertretch gloves, so light, thin and in no way restricting. Also thin woollen gloves are good. If not needed they pack into a small space in my jacket pocket.
One more important thing: It’s crucial to try to avoid your gloves/mittens from getting wet. When it’s really cold, the snow is not wet, and your hands do not easily sweat. When it’s close to zero, the snow is wet, so you need to avoid touching snow very much. (If you are planning to dig a snow cave, you better bring a waterproof pair of mittens for just this purpose.)
And your hands may be so warm they almost sweat. Avoid this by changing to lighter handwear early enough. Sometimes in late winter I even ski with bare hands for a while, to cool my hands. A hiker needs to actively open/close zippers, add/subtract handwear and headwear, and so on. That’s her/his air conditioning.
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I’m rather busy with several writing projects right now, but I’ll try to have time to write a post about GPX tracks for next week. If not, then the week after next.