By: Orvar Bäcklin
“There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing”
This is a follow-up to the cold weather primer I wrote. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend starting there.
The idea here is to try and produce a series of articles detailing my experiences with how to best equip yourself for dealing with extended operations in sub-arctic or just really cold environments. This first piece will go over taking care of the most important tools you have – your hands.
A typical glove setup for field ops for me consists of 3-4 different gloves. I’ll have a lightly or non-insulated work glove, a thin wool liner, a heavier five finger glove and mittens. Your hands, much like your feet, sweat and freeze fairly simple. I try to eliminate as much glove-less time as I possibly can for that reason. Classic military or outdoors problems are handling metal objects such as your thermos, stove, weapon, radios etc, most requiring some form of dexterity to maneuver. By using a thin liner glove I can take of my heavier gloves while still maintaining a shield between my fingers and whatever metal surface I just have to touch, thus eliminating much of the heat loss by conduction.
Just as with most other items of clothing in winter I also work layering. Static and cold out? Heavy glove and liner. Skiing with a sled and ruck? Thin work glove. You get the idea – don’t sweat.
Your mitten liners for example should be treated as holy. Never to be used without their shell, never to be allowed to get wet. Should it get down to it they might save your life (or hands, which just might be your life). I use a set of small, thin 2 liter dry bags for glove and hat stowage, gloves/liners not being used go into the dry bag which goes into a pocket on the over whites. Just like spare socks, a spare glove liner could be a decent idea to stuff into your pack.
These are three typical gloves pictures. With some variation, this would make up a standard setup I’d bring with me for work. From left to right we see a thinner work glove, a heavier five finger glove and mitten with liner. Missing here is a thin wool liner to be worn under it all.
This is the lightly insulated work glove. If it’s not too cold I might replace it with a non-insulated glove. I’ve tried a few of the various “tactical” gloves out there, but in my experience they simply don’t provide enough bang for the buck. This layer of glove will typically see the most wear and tear and should be seen as disposable, the price point of most “tactical” gloves negates this. Instead I’d recommend hitting up a hardware/home improvement store and look at what construction guys are using. In general you’ll get a cheaper (by far) glove that will probably stand up better to hard use and once they shit the bed – replace them. You’ll get 10 sets of decent work gloves for the price of one boutique tactical glove. If you work in environments where things such as NIR reflectivity or FR come into play you have to be vary of what you get though. The thing I look for with this layer of glove is for it to provide enough dexterity to work stoves, backpacks, comms systems, weapons and such while providing enough insulation to negate most heat loss by conduction. CAVEAT: I have no idea about the quality or models available in American workers gloves – the Swedish ones are generally excellent.
Next up is a heavier lined five finger glove. If I can get away with it considering outside temperature, I like five finger gloves since you can easily fight in them. In the age of high-end GTX-materials cotton tend to get an underserved bad reputation. For some uses, especially in the cold, a nice tightly knit cotton outer fabric is excellent. No membrane on the planet even comes close to the breathability of cotton and properly taken care of it’ll repel snow and to some extent water just fine. As we discussed previously you should always strive to sweat as little as possible – with a membrane glove your hands will have a far harder time venting your perspiration than with a cotton shelled one.
What I look for in this layer is a well thought out shell that has reinforcements where needed, I like the all leather palm as it provides fair grip and durability and if you care for it is naturally water resistant and durable. If you do any skiing the poles will wear most materials down fairly quickly. It should also have a longer cuff with a drawstring closure to deny any snow from entering your glove. The longer cuff should bridge the insulation gap over your wrist. I seldom use the wrist cinch on these, I feel it doesn’t really do anything other than compress the glove over my wrist, thus limiting the amount of space for warm air to be trapped there.
With any glove with heavier insulation, the liner should be removable. This is to make drying the glove possible – a glove will sewn-in insulation will take forever to dry out especially if you don’t have indoors access. As seen above the liner should attach to its shell via Velcro and that Velcro should be arranged in a manner that encloses the circumference of the glove in order to prevent the liner coming out when you take the glove off. Karabiner attachment points are also nice for temporary glove storage, be wary however of snow getting into your gloves if you keep them this way.
The mitten is your premier line of defense against extreme cold and should be like a fortress for your hands. I look for largely the same things as with the five finger gloves, I.E a longer cuff to bridge wrist insulation gaps, draw string cord locks and removable liner. This glove should be bombproof and impervious to wind and wet snow. They should never feel tight, if you are between sizes opt for the roomier one. They should be “grippy” enough to enable using your ski poles. As a tip your heavy five finger liner works just fine inside a pair shell mitts, this is good if you are looking to save weight or just want to keep your mitten liners separate as a safety precaution.
Also on the need-list for mittens are lanyards. This allows you to quickly doff your mitts in the event of having to take a rad selfie with your phone or shoot some communists in the face while on ski patrol while not losing them in the snow or wind. Just shake them off, shoulder your rifle and go to town with them hanging from your wrists.