Monday, June 2, 2008

Glove Systems

Gloves are perhaps the most important component of your clothing on a mountaineering trip. We use our hands for everything. And because we use our hands for everything, we have to protect them.

Nearly every climb uses a simple combination of gloves. I generally carry a liner glove, a fleece glove and a waterproof warm glove on every trip. However, I do supplement this combo with other things in special circumstances. On training trips -- those where you practicing self-arrest and crevasse rescue -- sometimes I'll bring an extra pair of fleece gloves because things get so wet. On expeditions, I carry thick mittens in addition to the basic combination. And when I think that an alpine rock climb will be cold enough that I need to wear gloves, I will often bring a pair of tough leather gloves.

At the base layer, a liner glove is essential. These can be worn as a base layer or as minimal cover when you are doing something that requires a lot of dexterity like cooking. Sometimes I wear a light liner when it is warm out to protect my hands from sunburn as well as to protect them the snow and ice if I need to self-arrest.

A fleece glove is a nice second layer. These can be worn in combination with a liner if the warmth is needed. The fleece glove is a workhorse in conditions like those you often find on summit days in summer alpine climbing destinations like the Cascades or the Sierra. It would be wise to invest in the windstopper version of this glove as it is more useful.

The next level up is a warm water-proof glove. The glove shown to the left is a Black Diamond Veraglas Plus, but there are a number of different gloves that will do the job. You will always carry a glove like this in a mountaineering setting. When the temperatures drop, you will move up to this level of glove with or without a liner underneath.

For expeditions and winter climbing trips, it's important to have a heavy mitt. You will always wear some kind of liner or fleece glove beneath these. The Absolute Zero mitts shown to the left are just one option. You will seldom wear mitts, but when you do, you will really need them. As such it is important to buy a pair that is easy to get on and off in extreme temperatures. Make sure that they have cords that to fasten them to your wrists so that you don't lose them in the wind if you need to take them off for a moment.

As for leather gloves, any tough pair of gloves will fit the bill. I use a large pair of belay gloves. They are big enough that I can still fit my liner underneath.

Gloves are an absolutely essential part of your clothing and gear system. It is important that you develop a simple combination of gloves that work effectively for you in a variety of cold weather environments. If you do create a system that keeps you warm, you will be much happier on all of your climbing endeavors.

--Jason D. Martin

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