Tested: The Best Gloves and Mittens of 2020

Don’t let your digits go numb this winter.

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Your hands are everything in the winter: your anchors to the ice pitch, balance points while slashing powder, tools while setting up camp and utensils to help you chop and carry firewood. Between all of that, there’s walking the dog, scraping your windshield, gripping handlebars and even holding frozen steering wheels. That’s a lot of exposure to the elements in the fourth season.

But just because it’s cold out, doesn’t mean you need to sacrifice your hands’ effectiveness (or your general comfort), and these gloves and mittens prove it. Our team of testers evaluated the warmth, dexterity, durability, comfort and features of the top gloves and mittens at REI to bring you the year’s best for every activity. You can’t go wrong with these seven.


Hestra Heli Insulated Gloves

Best Gloves for Skiing and Riding

Score: 95

Hestra Heli Insulated Gloves

  • Type: Standard, five-finger glove
  • Insulation: Bemberg polyester fiberfill
  • Waterproofing: Water-resistant
  • Removable liner: Yes
  • Price: $160

Test Results: As good as it gets short of a mitten. For a glove, that’s about as much as you can ask for in terms of warmth—and exactly how one tester described the Heli Insulated after a season of use ice climbing and skiing in the Northeast. “My circulation is like Boston at rush hour,” he says, “so whenever I saw the temps plummeting into the teens and single digits, I reached for these.” The thicker-than-usual fleece liner dishes out generous warmth (it’s removable for quicker drying, but you can’t wear it alone), while the water-resistant shell traps heat inside. A longer wrist gauntlet ensures no gapping between glove and jacket.

Because the Heli Insulated stays true to its name, you might expect it to be big and clumsy, but it scored surprisingly well in dexterity. Like most ski gloves, it has precurved fingers and leather palms, but the special sauce is Hestra’s unique numeric glove sizing: Instead of small, medium and large, Hestra gloves are offered in six sizes based on the length and circumference of your hand. If you size right, you should end up with a snug, wrinkle-free fit. (This sizing allows for a single unisex model, rather than men’s and women’s.) With a precise fit, we could easily hold a ski pole, adjust buckles and clip carabiners.

Our skiing tester praised the Heli Insulated’s snow-specific features like its wrist leashes, which let him remove the gloves on the lift to check his phone (they are not touchscreen compatible) without losing them, and the oversize gauntlets, which made them easy to put back on and kept the powder from creeping inside. Ample leather on the palms and fingers kept them from falling apart after months of handling climbing ropes, sharpening ice tools and grabbing ski edges.

Bottom Line: The Hestra Heli Insulated’s mixture of warmth and weather protection with dexterity and durability gives it a Goldilocks combination for cold days playing in the powder.

Stats:

  • Days out: 25
  • Testing states: New Hampshire, New York, Vermont
  • Coldest temp: 3°F in Smugglers Notch, Vermont
  • Best testing story: During a single day of guiding ice climbers in Crawford Notch, New Hampshire, our tester sent upwards of 2 miles of rope while wearing these gloves.

Outdoor Research BitterBlaze Gloves / Ouray Ice Gloves

Best Gloves for Climbing

Score: 93

Outdoor Research BitterBlaze Gloves

  • Type: Standard, five-finger glove
  • Insulation: 1.5mm PrimaLoft Aerogel in the palm and fingers, 133g PrimaLoft Gold in the back of the hand and thumb
  • Waterproofing: Yes, GORE-TEX
  • Removable liner: No
  • Price: $135

Test Results: The first swings and ice-screw placements of the season are always rough, but the BitterBlaze made it that much easier and more comfortable for our tester. During a day spent sweeping away the cobwebs in Colorado’s Indian Peaks, the gloves seemed to melt to his hands perfectly. He could swing tools, tie knots and clip ice screws without ever needing to remove them. It makes sense: The BitterBlaze is on the thin side, offering great bare-hand feel in activities where mobility and grip are key (it scored the highest in dexterity in our test).

For such a thin glove, though, the BitterBlaze packs a lot of warmth. In the palm, Outdoor Research inserted a 1.5mm layer of Aerogel. Made using a special process that removes the water from a gel, Aerogel is an incredibly light insulator (it’s used in space suits). The placement of the Aerogel is like a shield against cold things you might handle like axes, ski poles or even snowballs. “That little bit of Aerogel kept the cold from seeping through when I was hanging from my metal tools all day,” our ice-climbing tester says. “It was also a welcome bit of padding for my out-of-condition hands.”

Because Aerogel isn’t very breathable, however, Outdoor Research offsets it with PrimaLoft Gold on the back of the hand. The clever design lets sweat vapor escape out of the back of the BitterBlaze, which kept us comfortable while hiking and skinning down to single-digit temperatures.

The GORE-TEX membrane kept our hands dry even with water dribbling down ice climbs, and the under-cuff design stayed out of the way on technical pitches. A wrist handle lets you yank them on without issue even if your hands are sweaty or the gloves are damp inside.

Bottom Line: For pursuits that demand precision and dexterity like ice climbing and backcountry skiing, there’s no better option than the BitterBlaze, which delivers both without sacrificing warmth thanks to space-age technology.

Stats:

  • Days out: 60
  • Testing states: California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, New York, Washington
  • Coldest temp: -3°F in Steamboat Springs, Colorado
  • Best testing story: We’d like to be able to say that no testers were harmed during the making of this Gear Guide, but one toproping BitterBlaze tester pulled off a dinner-plate chunk of ice while climbing in Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park that left a mean-looking cut on the bridge of his nose.

Black Diamond Absolute Mittens

Best Mittens for a Cold Crisis

Score: 91

Black Diamond Absolute Mittens

  • Type: Standard mitten
  • Insulation: 540g PrimaLoft Kodenshi synthetic
  • Waterproofing: Yes, GORE-TEX
  • Removable liner: Yes
  • Price: $219.95

Test Results: Warmth is warmth, whether you’re in Antarctica or the Lower 48. That’s why our testers loved the Black Diamond Absolute, the warmest mitt in our test. A whopping 640 grams of PrimaLoft Kodenshi, plus additional high-loft fleece, makes them suited to subzero expeditions—or any adventure where you’d prefer warm hands. “These suckers are so warm that, legitimately for the first time in my life, I had to take gloves off because they were too hot,” said our Reynaud’s-suffering tester after a single-digit ski tour on Colorado’s Huntsmans Ridge.

The insulation is split between a removable, three-finger liner (200g) and the outer shell (340g), giving you more than one way to use them. The outer shell is Pertex Quantum with a GORE-TEX membrane for weatherproofing, but if the Absolute gets too hot, ditch the liner. (Or wear the liner like a stash mitten.)

But don’t expect to perform open-heart surgery in the Absolute; warmth like this is bulky. This mitten wears more like a boxing glove than others in our round-robin. (There’s so much insulation that it can be hard to find the index finger and thumb holes when your hand is inside, multiple testers noted.) The lobster-style liner gives the Absolute just enough dexterity to pull a zipper with a long tab, but holding an ice axe and cleaning snow out of our ski bindings proved difficult (and no, these mitts won’t fit through a ski pole strap).

Bottom Line: Whether you’re climbing Mount Everest or just suffering from perpetually cold hands, the Black Diamond Absolute might be your most important piece of gear.

Stats:


Smartwool Ridgeway Gloves

Best Everyday Gloves

Score: 92

Smartwool Ridgeway Gloves

  • Type: Standard, five-finger glove
  • Insulation: 57% merino wool, 43% nylon
  • Waterproofing: Water-resistant
  • Removable liner: No
  • Price: $80

Test Results: If anyone is capable of blowing out a pair of work gloves, it’s our Bird Creek, Alaska, tester (who proudly goes through a couple pairs every season). But after a winter of cabin chores like hauling wood and water, emptying the outhouse, fiddling with his pickup truck, cutting a Christmas tree and seemingly endless snow shoveling, his Ridgeways remain duct tape-free. “They show very little wear,” he attests. A tough leather exterior and double-layered thumbs and reinforced index fingers stand up to abuse around the cabin, or while camping or cross-country skiing.

A terry-loop interior knit feels like the inside of a new Smartwool hiking sock and is comfortable like one, too. Our tester deemed the Ridgeways warm enough for quick projects in temperatures below zero. While cross-country skiing outside Anchorage in -10°F, he needed to stop a few times to warm his hands up, but once he got moving, they stayed comfortable. The merino wool on the back of the hand wicked well after he started sweating while skiing, ice skating and hiking in Chugach State Park.

The Ridgeways aren’t waterproof, but we never had issues with leaking or wetting out. The fingers aren’t precurved, but like most leather gloves, you break them in, and the Ridgeways start to form to your hand.

Bottom Line: With best-in-test durability and surprising warmth, the Smartwool Ridgeway is as suited to skiing as it is to everyday tasks like clearing snow off your car.

Stats:

  • Days out: 40
  • Testing states: Alaska
  • Coldest temp: -14°F in Chugach State Park, Alaska
  • Best testing story: “While skiing in Bird Valley, Chugach State Park, we hit an area of stream overflow that forced us to bushwhack around. The Ridgeways were the perfect antidote to the devil’s club, alder and downed trees.”

Other Top Performers

REI Co-op Merino Wool Liner

Score: 82

REI Co-op Merino Wool Liners

  • Type: Standard, five-finger glove
  • Insulation: None
  • Waterproofing: None
  • Removable liner: No
  • Price: $26.95

Test Results: Simplicity is the name of the game with these liners from REI Co-op. They slide easily under other gloves and mittens and were just enough to take the bite out of single-digit temps when our tester was forced to remove his mittens atop Colorado’s Grizzly Peak. On warmer ski tours, they were all he needed to defend against the brisk morning air while moving sweat from his skin. The liner itself is an even blend of merino wool and polyester for a best-of-both-worlds combination of warmth and moisture management. (The merino also keeps them fresh. Our pair smelled fine after a three-day hut trip near Vail Pass, Colorado.) Cool: The Merino Wool Liner is touchscreen-compatible on the thumb and index finger.


Burton GORE-TEX Gloves / Men’s

Score: 87

Burton GORE-TEX Gloves

  • Type: Standard, five-finger glove
  • Insulation: Thermacore synthetic
  • Waterproofing: Yes, GORE-TEX
  • Removable liner: Yes
  • Price: $69.95

Test Results: Quality warmth and weatherproofing don’t need to come with a massive price premium. As the name implies, this Burton glove is equipped with a GORE-TEX waterproof membrane. It also has above-average warmth and dexterity, much like many of the other options in our test, but at a fraction of the cost. The GORE-TEX Glove kept our tester warm and dry on a high-20s powder day at Idaho’s Sun Valley Resort, and she noted nice features like the removable liner and touchscreen compatibility. At this price, you get a polyurethane substitute for leather, though, so don’t expect best-in-class durability. Still, this glove should hold up fine for a season of normal resort use.


Hestra Fall Line 3-Finger Mittens

Score: 93

Hestra Fall Line 3-Finger Mittens

  • Type: Three-finger glove
  • Insulation: Open-cell foam
  • Waterproofing: Water-resistant
  • Removable liner: No
  • Price: $165

Test Results: Gloves or mittens? If the decision has you stumped, maybe the answer is to split the difference. Lobsters like the Hestra Fall Line separate the thumb and index finger for dexterity, while keeping the middle, ring and pinky fingers contained for warmth. (The liner, which isn’t removable, has five fingers.) Our tester liked them specifically for inbounds steeps where the chair-served uphills were chilly, but swinging poles out in front for jump turns was made just a little bit easier with a loose index finger. The Fall Line has a leather outer that has held up to a full season of hard testing and low-profile cuffs that easily slide under jacket sleeves.

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Smartwool Ridgeway Gloves

Buying Advice

Question number one: Do I want gloves or mittens? What it tends to come down to is that, plainly, separating your fingers makes it easier to use them, whether that’s zipping your shell, operating your phone or even pointing out the next run you want to take. Such dexterity tends to be essential in disciplines like backcountry skiing and riding, climbing and working around the house. The problem is that if you’re not moving and pumping blood into your fingertips, separating them comes at the expense of warmth.

Enclosing your fingers in one insulated pocket allows them to radiate heat to each other, keeping you much more comfortable on cold days. This might be the best bet for someone who plans to primarily use their mittens lift-skiing at resorts or as emergency backups. You might wear gloves while making camp, but switch into warmer mittens for downtime in the cook tent.

In between, three-finger gloves (or lobster mittens) like the Hestra Fall Line split the difference. They set apart your thumb and index finger for dexterity, while keeping your less useful fingers together for warmth. Many mittens, like the Black Diamond Absolute, also have glove liners, so your fingers insulate each other inside the mitten, but have a touch of dexterity. (Also, you can remove the mitten shell to use your fingers in the liner without totally exposing skin.)

Hestra Fall Line 3-Finger Mitten and Hestra Heli Insulated GloveDexterity vs. Warmth in Gloves

Question number two: Do I want usable fingers or warm fingers? When you narrow your search for gloves specifically, you still have a few considerations because dexterity and warmth are typically on opposing ends of a spectrum. Warmer gloves require more insulation, generally making them bulkier and stiffer. That trade-off is fine for most skiers and snowboarders who will use a glove like the Hestra Heli Insulated or the Burton GORE-TEX; they’re ultrawarm and allow just enough finger control to grip a ski pole or lift the restraint bar.

Gloves with less insulation can be made slimmer to conform better to your hand and fingers, which makes it easier to perform delicate tasks like tying knots, thumbing your dog’s leash or even, as one tester raved, “picking your nose.” That makes gloves like the Outdoor Research BitterBlaze nicer for more technical objectives like climbing.

But know thyself. Sometimes you just don’t need that much warmth, and a basic barrier from the elements will serve you well. If you’re planning to wear gloves during an aerobic activity like backcountry skiing or shoveling snow, consider a lighter model like the BitterBlaze or the Smartwool Ridgeway. A liner like the REI Co-op Merino Wool Liner can be worn alone kicking around town, walking the dog or even jogging as slight protection and warmth without impeding dexterity at all.

Find a glove that can do both—keep your hands warm and let your fingers do their thing—and you’ve hit on the jackpot on handwear.

Expert Advice: How To Choose Gloves or Mittens

Black Diamond Absolute Mittens

Methodology

We dished out more than 30 pairs of gloves and mittens sold at REI to a cadre of trusty testers, who spent two months using them as much as possible. We asked them to push each pair of gloves and mittens to its limits, using it in as many conditions as possible and doing as many different things as co-op members do: ice climbing, resort and backcountry skiing, shoveling the driveway, winter camping, biking to work and more.

After ample use, those testers collected their thoughts and graded each glove on its warmth, dexterity, durability, comfort and features. Those scores were tallied up and averaged; the top performers in each category are represented in this guide, as well as a handful of next-bests.


All photography by Andrew Bydlon.