Gloves Vs Mittens: Which is Better for Skiing & Snowboarding?

by Simon Naylor | Updated: October 27th, 2022 |  Skiing Articles

Choosing the right gear to keep your hands warm on the mountain, whether your snowboarding or skiing, will make the difference between hours of enjoyable fun or uncomfortable frozen fingers. When it comes to keeping our hands warm outside in cold temperatures, we have two main choices - gloves or mittens.

Both gloves and mittens are great for skiers and snowboarders. Gloves have individual pockets for fingers and provide the most dexterity and for doing up zips, handling gear, and holding poles. Mittens, on the other hand, have one pocket for all fingers which allows them to share internal heat. With all things equal, mittens are warmer but sacrifice dexterity. 

gloves vs mittens

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Mobility: Are Mittens or Gloves Easier to Move? 🥊

Gloves are more useful for tasks that require dexterity. Some of these tasks that you might need to up the mountain:

  • Opening up small zippers or pockets on your backpack.
  • Pealing a wrapper from a snack bar.
  • Holding your phone or camera.

In all of these cases, it would be very difficult to do so if you were wearing mittens. That's because mittens have rounded off ends like an oven glove. There is no material between the fingers so the use of each finger is restricted. You can open and close your hand and clasp objects in a rudimentary way, but you can't tightly grip objects in specific areas or use your fine-motor skills to be precise.

When it comes to mobility, gloves win out. That's not to say that all gloves are equal, however, some gloves are much more dexterous than others and it depends on the materials used, the thickness of the glove and how fitted it is around the wearer.

Three-finger mittens are also used by snowboarders who want the warmth of a mitten but extra dexterity to fasten bindings and carry out other tasks with their hands.

lobster gloves and mittens

Lobster: These are a blend of a glove and mitten with the index and middle finger joined together and the ring and pinky finger together in two separate pockets. They sacrifice

3-in-1: These are a hybrid design where the glove has a cover that comes down and wraps around the digits.

Warmth: Are Mittens Warmer than Gloves? 🌡

With all things equal except one having individual fingers (glove) and another having one pocket (mitten) - then mittens are generally considered warmer. The reason for this is that your fingers can share the heat between one another and the air pocket of warm air can circulate more easily. There is also less surface exposed to the outside cold.

 Gloves put more surface area in contact with cold air than mittens do. So they won't keep your hands as warm as the same amount of insulation in a mitten will.

The warmth of any gloves or mittens depends more on its construction and the materials used. Plenty of mittens are less warm than gloves and vice versa. The key point is that the quality of the gloves or mitten is the most important factor in keeping your hands warm. Fleece linings like Thinsulate are very warm and will help lock in your body's warmth whether you choose a glove or a mitten.

The fact is if you choose mittens over gloves but find yourself taking them off regularly than overall you will lose more heat and your hand will be colder. I'd recommend wearing glove liners inside your mittens, which allows you to preserve some heat when you take your hands out.

Gloves vs Mittens for Skiing? ⛷

Most skiers wear gloves as they provide better dexterity and are easier to handle gear. You can, however, wear mittens for skiing just fine, it may take a little to get used to the feeling of holding poles with mittens.

Skies can hold your poles wearing mittens and sit the grip between the V shape of your thumb and finger. The grip won't be as firm as with gloves and may feel awkward at first, but it's totally doable. The best compromise would be to try lobster mittens, which has a sperate pocket for the thumb and index finger. This provides much more dexterity as you can put your thumb and finger together independently of the other three fingers.

skier waving pole
Photo by Dave See

Although gloves do have more dexterity, thick bulky gloves are still hard to maneuver, so for some people, the extra sacrifice in dexterity for greater warmth is worth making.

Whether you choose a glove or mitten for skiing, it's worth investing in a quality pair that has excellent insulation and is fully waterproof. There's nothing more miserable than having cold hands.

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Gloves vs Mittens for Snowboarding? 🏂

Many snowboarders wear mittens because they don't need the extra dexterity to hold poles and can benefit from the greater warmth that mittens provide.

Many snowboards also wear gloves and it certainly makes taking off and putting on bindings at the start and end of each run easier.  That said many people find it easier to put on and take off mittens, because the fingers don't need to be precise but into each pocket (source).

snowboarding ice crystal halo
Photo by Ruth Hartnup

Some people find mittens claustrophobic and limiting, whereas others love the extra warmth and cozy feeling they provide. Every snowboarder has their own preference so if you already own a pair of gloves and wondering about switching you should first borrow a friend's mittens for a run and see how you like them.

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What is the Difference Between Skiing and Snowboarding Gloves?

Skiing and snowboarding gloves are interchangeable, but snowboard specific gloves are more protective and are designed for greater contact with the snow.

Snowboard specific gloves often have greater knuckle protection and a reinforced palm. This is because snowboarders are more likely to fall on their hands and knock them when doing up bindings multiple times per day.

I go into much more depth on my full article about the differences between ski and snowboard specific gloves

Breathability and Waterproofing 💧

Mittens and gloves for skiing or snowboarding should be fully waterproof to keep your hands warm and dry. Different levels of waterproofing exist from resistant to fully waterproof. When buying gloves or mittens always check the waterproof rating so you can stay dry after falling in the snow or during snowfall.

Glove breathability is also important to prevent sweaty or clammy fingers. The more breathable and waterproof a glove, the dryer and warmer your hand will be.

Gore-Tex and other membrane technology allow internal moisture to escape through tiny holes in the fabric while blocking wind and water from the outside.

Heated Gloves and Mittens 🔥

heated gloves
Check Price on Amazon.

For an extra boost of warmth on those bitter cold days, heated gloves can be your savior. They use small flexible batteries in the cuff to heat elements that go through the structure. Typically heated gloves last between 2-8 hours depending on the heat setting (low, medium, or high). Batteries are rechargeable and you can bring multiple batteries for all-day heat or multi-day trips. Heated gloves or mittens with longer battery life are more expensive but warmer and better made. They're not cheap but they are wonderful for those extra cold days.

If you're interested I wrote an article reviewing the best-heated gloves on the market. 

Touchscreen 👉📱

Gloves with touchscreen compatibility mean that the fingertips have materials that allow you to operate phones or other touchscreen devices like a camera through your gloves.

This means you can take calls or photos and operate devices without exposing your bare skin. That means more warmth on the mountain.

Most gloves do not have touchscreen compatibility and generally, this is found with light to mid-weight gloves that have enough dexterity to hold a smartphone. So unless you would benefit from this feature don't sacrifice warmth for touchscreen abilities.

An alternative is to wear glove liners with touchscreen compatibility, which allows you to cover up exposed skin and have more dexterity.

A Crossover Between Gloves & Mittens

Leather palms provide a good grip and are more durable than synthetic palms. They can be stiff at first but do soften up with use.

Long gauntlet cuffs are more popular today as they protect your hands from snow getting onto your skin during powder surfing days or tumbles in the snow. The longer cuffs extend further up the arm for greater wrist warmth and to protect your arm and hand from cold air seeping through.

short vs long ski glove cuffs

Wrist cinches, velcro pullies at the wrist make for a tighter fit to keep snow and cold air from getting into your interior.

Zippered pockets, on some models of glove small pockets with a zipper, allow you to open up vents on warmer days or put in disposable hand warmers on colder days.

Thumb wipes, many gloves put softer materials on the thumb tips so you can wipe your nose if it drips. (I didn't know this until I researched this article! )  It makes sense the more you think about it. (source)

Leashes, or wrist cords, allow you to fasten your gloves to one another or attach them to other objects to prevent them from falling or being lost. A handy feature for preventing glove drop on chairlifts.

Best Ski and Snowboard Gloves 

Best Ski and Snowboard Mittens

Skiing or Snowboarding in Spring 🍃

On warmer days, gloves can be too warm and make your hands feel sweaty or clammy. On these days a glove or mitten with a vent is a useful feature or you can wear thinner gloves that are less bulky.

Another option is to wear just your glove liners (if you have a pair) and sling your gloves in your backpack until the wind picks up.

While sweaty hands are less of an issue than cold hands - it can feel uncomfortable. Too much excess body heat makes it more likely for your goggles to fog up.

P.S if you're planning on a spring or warm weather mountain adventure, I wrote a guide all about spring skiing. 🍃🌤

How to Keep Your Hands Warm?

Now you know the main differences between mittens and gloves and you've decided which one you want to go for it's worth keeping in mind the following; the right gloves are critical for keeping warm but not the only factor.

Aside from the quality of the gloves or mittens, here are the most important ways to have warm hands.

1. Put Gloves On Inside ✅

This traps in room temperature air and gives your insulation a fighting chance in extremely cold weather. If you find yourself taking gloves on and off throughout the day, consider getting glove liners which will prevent skin from being exposed.

2. Don't Clench Your Fists ✅

You may unconsciously clench your fists in an attempt to warm them up. This actually has the opposite effect and cust of blood circulation.

3. Keep Your Core Warm ✅

Our hands and feet are the first to suffer when our core temperature starts to dip. By keeping warm elsewhere with waterproof and breathable jackets and clothing, a warm mid-layer fleece, and a full base layer we can also keep our hands warmer for longer.

These are extracts from my full guide to keeping your hands warm

Frostbite ⚠️

Frostbite is rare for recreational skiers, but the danger is there in cold weather or intense windchill. The more serious situations are when you get caught out in a whiteout or stuck on the mountain for extended periods of time.

Early warning signs are numbness and a loss of feeling. In extreme cases, the cold can result in permanent damage including frostbite and neuropathy. Get to a warm place as soon as possible and slowly warm up the affected areas. Seek medical attention if you feel unsafe (source).

Final Thoughts

If you're a skier or a snowboarder and considering trying either sport for the first time, but you already own a pair of gloves then there is no need for you to splash out and buy a pair of mittens. You can ski or snowboard just fine in the same pair of gloves.

Only once you really get into the sport and would benefit from the extra protection or warmth of a snowboard specific glove is it worth buying a new pair.

Either way, the mitten and glove debate is sure to continue. First off, use what works for you - not what looks cool. Stay warm and enjoy the mountains.

If you have anything to add or have any questions comment below and I'll get back to you.

Bonus: How to Keep Your Feet Warm? 🦶

Just like our hands, cold feet can ruin an otherwise fun day in the mountains. To prevent cold feet always:

1. Dry Your Ski Boots ✅

Putting on wet or damp ski boots is the fastest way to cold feet. Be sure to dry your boots at the end of each day by bringing them inside and using a boot heater or taking out the boot liners and putting them upside down.

2. Wear Thin Ski Socks ✅

It's counter-intuitive but thicker socks are not warmer. They might feel cozy when you first put them on, but thinner ski socks are actually better at regulating your body temperature. It not only allows for a better fitting ski boot it also allows moisture to escape faster and have dryer feet for longer.

Read my full guide on having warm feet while skiing