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What is the best way to layer with gloves to prevent cold hands?

My hands get cold fairly easily. I always use gloves/mittens and sometimes a liner but I've recently discovered articles on layering your hands as we do the rest of ourselves. 

But it almost seems that by the time I'd have a liner, glove/mitten, and a shell my hands would look enormous. 

If I have a pair of gloves that have liners sewn in does that constitute the first two layers or would I still need a liner?

Also, sizing seems like it would be difficult because each layer would have to fit over my hand plus the previous layer.

Can you give me an explanation of the best way to layer my hands?

My warmest mittens are down. But I think I've had them long enough that they've packed down and aren't what they used to be. I'd be open to down or synthetic.

I'm in Buffalo, New York. It used to get pretty cold here but lately, not so much. Still cold enough to chill the fingers pretty well.


5 Replies


Thanks for reaching out!

Utilizing a layering system for your hands is a great way to combat the cold, particularly in places like Buffalo, NY. I lived in Fairbanks, AK for six years and a good layering system was critical to spending time outside in the long, cold winters. Generally speaking, a layering system consists of three parts: a thin base layer, an insulating mid layer, and a protective shell outer layer. The same reasoning applies to your gloves, however, often two of those layers are combined into one, and there are some additional considerations (like the importance of dexterity or the option of mittens or gloves).

A glove or mitten that comes with a liner (sometimes called a 3-in-1 glove) is actually often the first part of the layering system (a thin base layer) and the second and third part of that layering system combined (an insulating layer and shell). A couple of good examples of this are the REI Co-op Switchback GTX Gloves or the Burton Gore-Tex Mittens, both of which come with fleece liner gloves in addition to the synthetic insulation in the outer layer. A liner glove is a critical piece to this system as it allows you to remove the bulky glove/mitten and still retain some warmth in your hands while you take advantage of the dexterity of the liner glove (like for taking a picture with your phone, or trying to find your car keys, or configuring a binding on a snowshoe).

Sometimes, like with the Outdoor Research Alti Mittens, it is actually the second and third part of that layering system (insulating mid layer and an outer shell, which, in this case, also has insulation). If that is the case, particularly with mittens, you could easily add a liner glove like the REI Co-op Power Wool Glove to the equation for some extra warmth and dexterity (after removing the mittens) if you needed it.

There are a couple of other factors to bear in mind when thinking about keeping your hands warm. To start, you want to remember that your gloves/mittens don't actually produce warmth, they simply insulate whatever temperature is inside them. As such, the best way to keep your hands warm is to start out with both your hands and your gloves/mittens warm. If you are in a situation where that may be unavoidable, some gloves/mittens (like the Burton ones listed above) have a pocket on the back for putting a hand warmer in. Another factor in the warmth equation is the circulation of blood to your finger tips. This is where you'll want to make sure the glove/mitten system is not too tight on your hands, or you may adversely impact the circulation in your hands and actually make them colder. Solving that may require you to size up if you want to fit a liner glove inside another one.

Personally, I used the REI Co-op Power Wool Gloves as my base layer, the REI Co-op Fleece Gloves as my mid layer, and the shell from the REI Co-op Switchback GTX Mittens. While it did, at times, feel like my hands were enormous, it was worth it to stay warm and active outside in the winter. I also find that mittens tend to keep me warmer as it allows my fingers to work together to stay warm. As a bonus, some of those layers could be subtracted if I got too warm.

Don't hesitate to reach back out if you have other questions. Hopefully this helps, thanks!

At REI, we believe time outside is fundamental to a life well lived.


Thanks for all that info. I may have been making things more complicated than I should have. I was picturing 3 distinct layers that were all separate from each other. Didn't think that something like the Alti mitts would take care of two layers.

Finally getting cold in these parts. Need to get moving on this.


Hey John,

Thought of one other thing. When I'm figuring size for a glove or mitten, should I measure my hand with my liner on to avoid a too snug fit?

Again - Thanks.




Hey Kevin,

Great question! I would say that measuring your hand with the liner glove on would be the best way to make sure you don't end up with a system that is too tight. This is particularly important if you're crossing brands to build your system, such as an REI liner glove with a Burton mitten, as an example. Generally speaking, brands will run fairly consistently within their product lines (a large in one REI glove will fit similarly to a large in another REI glove style), however, there can be variability between brands. 

One other thought is to think about the proportion of your hands. That is to say the length of your fingers and the width of your palms. As an example, I have really big palms (wide) and relatively short fingers. So I have to make sure that I fit my palm first, because if that part of the glove is too tight, my circulation is affected and I will be cold. That means that often times the fingers in my gloves are just a bit too long, but I've learned that is just a thing I will need to deal with in order to have warm hands in the winter. That also means that when I find a great fitting pair of gloves that work for me I buy two pairs because I'm not sure I'll be able to find them again when the first pair wears out!

Hopefully this helps, thanks!

At REI, we believe time outside is fundamental to a life well lived.

Thanks for the great write-up, @REI-JohnJ  - I just bought the REI liners and they were great the first time I used them. In addition to adding thermal protection, they're also moisture wicking. When I hike, I try to keep a brisk pace so I sweat and having those gloves pull the sweat off of my hands goes a long way to keeping them safe and warm.

So, to add to the original question - no, they don't add any noticeable bulkiness to my gloves and I use a pair of gloves I had before I ever bought the liners. And, @KFridman , I'd also say make sure your liners will be moisture wicking, too.

“Between every two pine trees there is a door leading to a new way of life.” (John Muir)

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