This isn’t just a clickbait question headline; I really want to know. Of all the areas of my hiking setup, my glove system is the only one I really don’t feel that I have properly dialed in.
So, here’s how things currently stand: For my base layer, I have a pair of Outdoor Research Backstop Sensor gloves that I picked up on a whim at an outdoors shop in Boone, North Carolina, because I knew I needed to replace my fairly crappy pair of generic fleecy liner gloves. So, not a lot of research or thought went into the purchase – but I’m actually pretty happy with them. The fabric is allegedly wind stopping (you can tell by the label that says ‘windstopper’) and it has softshell feel to the face fabric, and I suppose does a fine job of cutting the wind – but don’t expect miracles, because you will be disappointed. At the same time, that’s no bad thing – for what I want these gloves for, anything less than high levels of breathability would result in sweaty, and ultimately cold, hands.
How do they perform by themselves? Well, actually really nicely. I wore them on a Presidential Traverse with Jake, the main author of this blog [editor’s note – when I’m not so busy that I go on a two-month hiatus, of course…] in mid-October. The temperatures on the hike varied from a little below freezing up to perhaps 8 or 9 Celsius – almost always with a fair bit of mountain wind. I was very, very happy to have the OR gloves immediately after leaving the car at the trailhead, when the cold was still pretty damn biting, but after 30 minutes of climbing a steep trail at max energy output they were just a little too much for the heat I was producing. However, once above the tree line and no longer climbing continuously, I wore them almost the entire 20 miles of the hike.
To highlight the degree to which personal preference plays a role, though, I was interested to note that Jake went barehanded the whole way, despite having a similar pair of gloves available to him. I’ve always suspected that I had very cold hands compared to others, despite running hot elsewhere – so bear that in mind. As running gloves, I like them – but again, I know many people who would almost instantly overheat. I wore them for a brief Thanksgiving 5k a few days ago and they were great at getting me out of the door into the November New England weather with minimal suffering, but by the end of 5 kilometers I was about ready to go barehanded.
As my outer layer, I have a couple of options. After a particularly cold hike along the Franconia Ridge loop, in wind chill of about -20C, I decided that I am a person who needs mittens to be comfortable. I had gambled on a borrowed pair of quite highly rated five-finger gloves, and ultimately found that my fingers went numb unless I balled them up in the palm – in which case, I thought, why not just be wearing mittens anyway? I had a ski trip fairly rapidly approaching, and so I tested the waters with a cheap-ish pair of Dakine mitts that were thickly insulated. This was a poor decision – I hadn’t expected skiing to be quite so energetic, and the slopes weren’t as cold as I’d prepared for, and so I ended up trapped in a miserable place, choosing between sweaty hands or frozen hands. My next step, then, was to buy a pair of Marmot Precip mittens, which are minimally insulated, but completely weatherproof. They’re also nice and roomy, leaving plenty of space for my hands, in my OR baselayers. Hopefully this winter will bring some decently chilly hikes so that I can test out what I have so far – I’m very open to suggestions. Seriously, please help; comment below, or get in touch through Jake’s twitter account: @jakeybate_mds