Replies from friends, all prolific winter climbers and alpinists (related to my gloves post):
Yeah, gloves are always the crux. My usual system is two pairs of relatively close fitting “leader” gloves, and one pair of super warm arctic gloves. I haven’t brought mittens on the last couple big alpine routes I’ve done. Removable liners are a plus, but right now my favorite tech glove is the Fulcrum. It’s Ueli’s [Steck] design, and they are rad for dexterous mixed climbing.
MH actually has a really good glove line at the moment, and we are just beginning to use a new fabric technology called Outdry, which is pretty damn sweet. But all that aside, there’s also the virtues of work gloves – I have summited Denali wearing Kinco insulated gloves that cost 9 dollars, and also Ironclad gloves are on par with the best technical mixed gloves available, and at 28 dollars, a steal.
I often bring only one pair of gloves on route, often two pairs, but never more than two.
I used to climb with gloves that have a removable liner, since they dry faster, but I have stopped doing this. The gloves that are completely sewn together are more dexterous for the same amount of warmth than gloves that have removable liners.
I still put my gloves in my sleeping bag at the bivy. The don’t dry out, but at least when you put them back on they are warm and wet rather than frozen! They’d get wet and warm in a few pitches anyways…
-BD Impulse (warm weather)
-BD Punisher (cold weather)
The are two things to get right when using gloves. The first is to realize that your hands will only be as warm as your core in the long run. Having warm hands is far more about managing your core temperature and sweat levels than the actual glove. I will XC ski at -20 without gloves when putting off a lot of energy–your hands are warm if your core is warm, even in very cold temperatures. If you can figure out how to keep your core temperature well regulated then you’re off to a very good start with keeping your hands warm.
The second important concept is that wet gloves are COLD, no matter what the marketing BS claims. Most people who get cold hands go and buy a pair of “fat” gloves (“rated to -20!!!”), and their hands get cold ’cause the fat glove gets sweaty inside and is then cold. So they go buy a “warmer” glove (rated to -2000!), which they then sweat inside, get cold, repeat. Imagine trying to hike and climb in a down jacket; you’d sweat to death and freeze. Yet this is what people try to do with their hands all the time, it makes zero fucking sense. Multiple pairs of light, DRY gloves will be far warmer, lighter and functional than one pair of “warm” fat gloves in the vast majority of conditions. Guaranteed. I like Windstopper gloves.
I run the three or more pairs of light Windstopper gloves “system” even on 24-hour pushes. Just put the latest wet pair into your jacket, they will dry, repeat as necessary. I’ll use up to five pairs if I expect to get wet a fair amount. If it’s really, really cold or I’m going to be digging snow caves or tunneling through cornices or some other alpine gong show I’ll bring a pair of light shelled gloves and multiple liners for the one shell. Dry liners as needed, smack the shells on a rock to get rid of condensation or exterior freezing (’cause it’s cold, everything wet freezes right away), works well. If you use fat warm gloves then the insulation/fabric inside the glove gets wet, can’t freeze and you can’t smash the frozen moisture off, cold hands result.
If it’s psycho cold I just use mittens with very thin gloves on my hands inside the big bulky mitt shell and mitt liner. Pull your hand out, deal, mitt back on at camp or belay or whatever. Multiple pairs of Windstopper gloves the rest of the time – if your core is warm your hands are warm if you have dry gloves on. Strangely, the colder it gets the less glove you need as there is less moisture around…
Sometimes if it’s moderately cold I’ll bring a pair of fluffy, light, “waterproof” gloves on the back of my harness and belay with them. I’ll dry my hands before I put the gloves on, and resist the temptation to climb in them because the insides will be wet and they won’t work…
If I’m climbing in Norway or someplace where it’s often very, very wet, then I’ll use the thinnest, most flexible Gore-Tex gloves I can find, and change the liners out regularly. In those conditions you’re more going with the approach that you’re going to get completely soaked and just live with it. I’ve considered wearing a drysuit on some routes in these conditions; it’s debatable if climbing slush with water running on top is worth the effort.
When I teach my ice clinics I’ll often spend an hour of the day working with people on gloves; nothing kills the buzz of winter climbing faster than cold hands. I can honestly say that in the last five years of winter climbing I’ve had cold hands one or two times at most.
I spent a lot of years with cold hands before figuring out the above; some people seem to radiate heat from their hands and feet, I’m not one of ‘em.
Shit, a novel just came out of my fingers…
As far as gloves go I may be the wrong person to ask because I have the warm gene. My system is simple: I bring two to three pair based on temps and moisture (AK three pair, Nepal two). I always have my lead pair, which I prefer the gauntlet-style Fulcrum XT [not currently made, but the Fulcrum XT, with the addition of the OutDry membrane, is what’s now called the Hydra] from Mountain Hardwear. They are not super warm but fit right they have great dexterity and protection. I may carry a “mixed” glove for “the business,” which I use the goat skin/softshell combo glove called the Torsion from Hardwear. But the kit is not complete with out the BD Guide glove for ultimate warmth. I always carry a tube of Nikwax to base camp and grease up all the gloves before the climb. Regular grease helps the leather stay dry and nibble. I wear the lead glove for leading only and switch at the belay and put them in my parka and put the warm ones on for belaying and following if its cold. That is the ideal for me, but on the super frosty north face of Kangtega I dropped one of my Guide gloves on the second pitch and my hands were ok.
The overall key to hand success is not always the gloves, though. I think the key is actively warming them. Diligence while climbing is more important. Taking the time to swing your hands to warm them before they get too cold is way faster then recovering from the screaming barfies [to those unfamiliar, the screaming barfies are the horrible cycle of your fingers freezing and then re-warming; as blood returns, you feel like screaming and puking at the same time]. Hydration and calories help the hands as well as you know. The best thing is rock climbing in the sun for warm hands!
Gloves? Here are some thoughts in no particular order.
Bring lots of pairs: one for the approach, a few for the climbing, possibly a pair of belay mitts.
Not a big fan of purpose-made ice climbing gloves: waterproofness means sweating, and padding means poor dexterity. I prefer softer ski-style gloves. I like some of the Schoeller models I have been using.
For multi-day routes have some gloves with removable liners, at least that way you can get them somewhat dry at night. But you should still bring enough gloves to have some dry ones in reserve. Yes, it sounds excessive, but I just do not think one pair can cut it on a long route.
At belays stick the climbing gloves deep inside your clothes so they do not freeze, and break out the belay mitts. A simpler system that also works is to slip a pair of overmitts over climbing gloves at belays.
[Note: I couldn’t help but leave-in the opening part; Duncan is the master, and around my home of Rocky Mountain National Park we have a saying for when you come across some incredible, fleeting smear of ice: Duncan probably did it 20 years ago. He knows more about the nuances of chasing thin ice and mixed climbs in the Park than anyone, and our discussions on performance clothing (he runs Patagonia’s field testing program) regularly interweave with “what’s going on in the Park?”]
Before we get started – the wall to the right of Necrophelia has given me some very nice pitches early season with the right conditions – the flakes seem to hold some ice and some bits of smears between makes it worth a look. Also, the very best conditions I EVER found on Necro was a time that Malcolm and I got up there in early season and it was, from below, dry as a bone…we hiked up to the base for the exercise and then decided to give it a roll – it was perfect – all the ice that was had settled on top of the holds and in cracks where you couldn’t see it from below – but yielded brilliant climbing. We laughed about that all the way home. It turned my head around to how things look compared to how much ice there is – when you rap off or look down from a belay in those conditions you see exactly – there’s plenty of ice – you just can’t see it from below.
This opened the way to some beauties on the left side of that wall on Meeker, the above-mentioned right of Necro, and some stuff to the left of the Hourglass.
How does Stettner’s look?
OK lad, let’s dive in.
Gloves are THE crux for technical climbing – dexterity and feel in difficult climbing is paramount for me. I think we all come to this – in the winter you have to balance connection and feel with warmth and protection…and these are mutually exclusive, a compromise from either direction. We are tactile animals – we sense so much thru the skin organ – unfortunately we also get cold…
I disagree about soft shell gloves [I had suggested that the lack of muscle mass in your hands means not enough outward-driving heat to keep them dry without a w/b barrier] – let’s be sure we are on the same page here with soft shell tho – if you are talking Schoeller type fabrics then the dry time is a compromise from the beginning, but pile and a quick drying shell?…mo’betta … Hands dump heat (watch pro bike racers doff and don gloves during races – it’s a really effective body temp control point that Walker turned me onto) and therefore can dry gloves (and soft shell fabrics dry faster by nature) – it’s a bit slower as the air circ is not as good as a shell jkt – but it does work – but this is my segue into what I feel is the crux: FIT AND FLEXIBILITY.
Blood circulation and lack of tension when closing the hand around a hold or tool or rope is THE singular most important factor for me. You just don’t want to restrict blood flow – and muscular tension does this as does a restrictive fit. I have found that using lighter and more flexible gloves has given me better warmth than heavier, bulkier, “warmer” gloves. And I must repeat that I can’t deal with gloves that take effort to close your hand.
And, of course sensitivity to task comes in here too – so the lighter materials, and shaping that encourages control and sensitivity plays a big part…but they all do go together…if you don’t have to force muscle tension to crimp a hold or to hold a tool or fiddle a cam into an icy crack, you have just allowed that much more warm blood to flow into your fingers, let alone helping those of us whose bionic forearms are but a distant memory – you save strength.
Palm fabrics come into it too – needs to be just sticky enough to hang naturally and feel the rock naturally – some fabrics work but aren’t durable, others are durable but don’t “work” – leather still seems king for a lot of applications, despite its drawbacks.
You with me?
So I would tend to favor DAS-style [DAS Parka/belay parka concept, where you dress light for movement and pull on the warm puffy when you stop] – a light soft shell glove with an overmitt for the belays and rappels and wallowing sections – take 2 sets of gloves and keep one against my skin in my chest and rotate as needed.
For shorter routes I was in love with my goat-skin calf-roping gloves fit over some expedition weight liners – not really soft shell but the dexterity and feel made them way warmer than they should have been. Another favorite for colder conditions was an “infurno” glove – soft shell with pile liner that we did a while back – terrible pattern but great fabrics. Or the Stretch Element style shell glove – but almost always over a lighter, softer liner so that there was little if any resistance to closing my hand.
Best available technology does not allow waterproof, warm and dexterous. A wpb bladder is the worst offender of all – another slippery layer between you and the task at hand adds bulk and slip/slide. I cut mine out as soon as I get them. Taping of shells hasn’t been practical due to the tight angles that gloves force the taping machines to work with and the size of the tape creates, again, more stiffness and bulk. Micro application of seam grip is the closest solution to a waterproof shell – but it’s not very durable, adds its own level of bulk, and is difficult to apply (seam grip doesn’t want to stick to DWR treated shells or oiled leather).
Having said that, Matteo Morlacchi at Nextec/OutDry gloves has got some really good things going – he is taking a very lightweight wpb bladder and basically gluing it (with an inflatable mandril) to the inside of the glove shell in such a way that it just becomes another thin bonded layer of the shell – testing has been excellent. They are designed to be put between shell and lining in a sewn shut glove, though we have been testing with removable liners – mixed success – but good enough for Chabot to call and tell me he wasn’t going to test them anymore because he was going to save them for his next trip. Max and Colin went thru some on the Ogre – but they weren’t being very careful. I have a pair here that I am sending you – might be interesting to you – our fishing glove, so close fitting and flexible – anyway you can find some liners for them and have at them – at least it will let you see how close the world is to really useable/wearable wp gloves.
But my feeling is that in most situations the WP part of WPB is not as important in gloves as the marketing gods make it out to be.