Sunday 31 October 2021

Hats & Gloves Time

Warm hats, gloves and mitts are back in my pack now and will stay there until next summer. I expect to wear them just about every day. Here’s an extended version of a piece about them I wrote for The Great Outdoors a few years ago.

As winter sets in warm hats and gloves or mitts become important items in your kit. A cold head and cold hands are painful and unpleasant and can be dangerous. A warm hat makes a dramatic difference as much heat can be lost through an uncovered head. Cold hands can make opening and closing packs and garments and handling map and compass difficult or even impossible.


The big choice in hats is between windproof and non-windproof ones. The former mean you need to put up your jacket hood less often and they are usually warmer for the weight. The latter are often softer and more comfortable though. I carry one of each. I like a non-windproof one on days with little wind and in my tent when camping. Having two hats also means I have a spare if one gets soaked or even blows away. To prevent the latter neck cords are useful. Windproof hats often have them, non-windproof ones rarely. 

For windproof hats I find cap styles with a peak and ear flaps best. These have a weatherproof shell and a fleece or softshell inner. I don’t like windproof fleece hats as these aren’t as breathable. For non-windproof hats I have half a dozen wool or fleece beanies to choose from, some thicker and warmer than others. Double-layer ones are warmest but which one I wear depends on which I lay my hands on first. An old hat I’m very fond of – it’s been on many trips – is a WindPro fleece one with a wicking lining. This has earflaps and a neck cord and resists moderate winds. I haven’t seen anything like it for a while. With beanies I like ones big enough to pull down over my ears if needed. 

Gloves & Mitts

With gloves and mitts I carry three pairs – thin, thick, and shell – sized to go over each other so I can wear them all in the worst weather. I also carry a fourth pair – usually midweight – as a spare. Mitts are warmer than gloves as they keep your fingers together, but they also limit dexterity much more. Simple shell mitts are good for pulling on over gloves for protection against wind, rain, and snow – they are pretty waterproof if the seams are taped. The thinnest gloves, often called liner gloves, allow you to use your hands easily but aren’t as warm as thicker ones. Thick gloves or mitts give less dexterity but are much warmer. Often these have a waterproof membrane in them. I’ve never found them totally waterproof though.

For use with trekking poles and ice axes gloves or mitts with reinforced fingers and palms last longest. Soft fabrics without this can wear through very quickly.

Gloves with an inner layer only sewn on at the wrist, a feature of many ski gloves, can be very difficult to get on when your hands are cold or wet as you try and push the inner fingers into the outer ones. I’d avoid them.

To prevent heat loss and rain or snow entering gloves and mitts should work with your jacket cuffs so there’s no gap here. Thin gloves usually fit inside even the tightest jacket cuff. Thicker ones may not do so. Gauntlet type mitts and gloves should fit over any cuffs. Some gloves have zips at the wrist so they can be tightened to fit under cuffs or opened to go over them.

In recent years my most worn gloves have been thin synthetic insulated ones with windproof shells. These are surprisingly warm for the weight and allow good dexterity. They’re not waterproof but do dry quickly. In blizzards I wear shell mitts over them. For maximum warmth I carry gloves or mitts with thick synthetic insulation. These are great for warming up my hands if they get cold. I often put them on after lunch and photography stops when I only wear liner gloves so I can use my hands, which then get cold. After an hour or two walking my hands get hot and I take the very warm ones off. On milder days I may not wear them at all. I never leave them at home though.

When you need to use your fingers thick gloves and mitts usually have to come off. To stop them blowing away and to keep them warm it’s best to stuff them inside your clothing, preferably in a pocket. Putting them on the ground is a good way for a gust of wind to send them soaring away into the distance. Wrist loops are useful when you’re only removing your gloves or mitts for a short while.


  1. Do you think the Montane Prism gloves coupled with an appropriate mitt would suffice for the Scottish winter? Do you have any mitt recommendations?

  2. Yes, they do suffice. I've used them the last two winters. In moderate cold they're fine on their own. I have two mitts I carry as well. Terra Nova Tuff Bags - shell mitts for rain and snow protection and a little extra warmth - and some Terra Nova Primaloft mitts I've had for years, the current equivalent is the Torres Peak Mitt. I also carry Terra Nova Furnace Pro gloves that are warmer than the Prisms but not as warm as the Primaloft Mitts.